But the sugar-sand, indeed, is a good place to start.
Santa Rosa Island is one of the longest barrier islands in the world, and Pensacola Beach, located in the northwestern corner of Florida, sits atop it. TripAdvisor named it among the nation’s top 10 beaches for good reason.
The sand is a brilliant white that always stays cool, a soothing delight for your eyes and your toes, and the waters are shallow and inviting, an emerald-hued concoction that invites even the most timid to swim.
It features the Pensacola Beach Pier, an iconic wonder that stretches out in to the Gulf of Mexico a whopping 1,471 feet. It also features Portofino Boardwalk, complete with open-air bars, restaurants and shops.
And the beaches come in all varieties.
You’ve got active stretches of shoreline, like the one behind the Hilton Pensacola Beach.
In summer, you can enjoy free beach concerts four nights a week on Pensacola Beach.
The Paradise Bar and Grill, a beach-shack bar, provides drinks, casual eats and live music, just across the street from the beach.
It's right on the bay.
If you prefer empty sweeps of sand, the area offers that in abundance, too.
Pensacola Beach is home to Gulf Islands National Seashore, the nation’s longest stretch of protected seashore, which is snuggled against the Gulf of Mexico on both sides of Pensacola Beach. It’s ideal for biking, snorkeling and kayaking, but most of all, for reconnecting with nature and loved ones.
On the north side of Pensacola Beach, you’ll find Fort Pickens, a brooding military fort named after American Revolutionary War hero Andrew Pickens. The fort was completed in 1834 and remained in use until 1947.
It’s feels old, with thick brick walls that are never quite dry.
Cannons bristlie atop a rise, pointed at the beach.
Visiting feels like stepping into a different time. Geronimo was held captive here, a story that comes to life as you explore.
Fort Pickens also offers free periodic events, like this star gaze, where I watched the rings of Saturn tremble in vivid colors, seemingly only inches from my eyes.
On the east side of town, you’ll find this dog beach, a joyful place for your best friend to dig in the sand and frolic in the waves.
All this is located just a splash from the city of Pensacola, which is technically a different city than Pensacola Beach. Pensacola is home to the famed Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron.
And that's not all you'll find on the base.
You can explore the free-admission Naval Aviation Museum.
It has mind-boggling displays.
It makes you feel very patriotic.
It offers a cool lighthouse that you can climb.
When you do, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the Gulf and the Bay.
In the town of Pensacola, Joe Patti’s is famed for its fresh seafood.
Even if you don’t feel like cooking you should drop by it just to see the offerings.
And Perdido Key—which means ‘lost island’ in Spanish—is located even farther west than the town of Pensacola. It boasts stunning luxury condos, like Eden Condos, and miles of pristine, quiet beaches that beg to be explored.
This is the view from my room at Eden Condominiums. The beach goes on forever.
But that’s a whole other story—and a whole other vacation!
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA