Ideas for Your Family Vacation in Pensacola and Pensacola Beach

    By Jodi Mailander Farrell

    Known for its white-sand beaches and emerald-green waters, Pensacola has bragging rights to one of the best naturally-preserved coastlines in the nation.

    It also happens to be packed with affordable family fun, earning it accolades from Southern Living magazine as one of the country’s top family-friendly destinations.

    Beaches

    Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key are part of the 160-mile Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally-protected seashores in the United States.

    Pensacola Beach is on the barrier island of Santa Rosa Island, where one of its most relaxed beach areas is called Quietwater because it has no waves, no rip currents and lifeguard protection – ideal for small children.

    Perdido Key’s Rosamond Johnson Beach, named for a fallen, 17-year-old black Korean War hero, has fine, white sand and picnic areas that are a big draw for families.

    Amusement Parks

    Sam’s Fun City, 6709 Pensacola Blvd., is a waterpark featuring more than 20 rides and games for kids, including go-karts, bumper boats, miniature golf, water slides, laser tag and an arcade.

    Fast Eddies Fun Center, 505 W. Michigan Ave., offers go-karts, batting cages and mini golf, as well as a fun Water Wars water balloon game.

    Family Hangouts

    The Pensacola Beach Boardwalk, 400 Quietwater Beach Rd., is lined with cafes and shops, with regularly planned festivals and events.

    The interactive fountain at Plaza de Luna, 900 S. Palafox St., is a favorite of families with small children. Overlooking Pensacola Bay, the splash pad is walled-in to keep little ones safe.

    Science Fun

    With hands-on science activities, the Pensacola MESS Hall, 116 N. Tarragona St., in downtown Pensacola is designed for school-age kids.

    The Emerald Coast Science Center, 31 SW Memorial Pkwy., in Fort Walton Beach if filled with more than 200 exhibits, including a nature discovery room, holograms, a STEM maker space and animal presentations.

    The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, practice and sign autographs at the National Naval Aviation Museum.

    The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, practice and sign autographs at the National Naval Aviation Museum.

    - National Naval Aviation Museum

     

    Adventure

    Climb 177 steps to the best view in town at the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, 2081 Radford Blvd. (There are 30-minute Ghost Hunt tours for ages 12 and up.)

    The lighthouse is one of the many family-fun attractions at Pensacola Naval Air Station, 190 Radford Blvd., which is the training ground for the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron.

    Other must-see stops on the air base include the National Naval Aviation Museum, entered through the station’s west gate at 1878 S. Blue Angel Pkwy., is where there are flight simulators, a 4D theater experience and the chance to see the Blue Angels practice on scheduled days.

    Explore Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore then cool off at the beach.

    Explore Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore then cool off at the beach.

    - National Park Service

     

    History

    Living history interpreters bring the past to life at Historic Pensacola, 120 Church St., which covers 8 ½ acres and 11 public buildings representing different time periods, from Colonial Days to World War II.

    Fort Pickens, 1400 Fort Pickens Rd., is an 1830 fort and natural history museum.

    The hill-top Fort Barranacas, within the Pensacola Naval Air Station at 3182 Taylor Rd., dates back to the 16th century, when the Spanish founded a colony there.

    Arcadia Mill, is a free archeological site at 5709 Mill Pond Lane, in nearby Milton, with an elevated boardwalk running through the remains.

    Daredevils

    Adventures Unlimited, 8974 Tomahawk Landing Rd., in nearby Milton offers zip lining and river trips on paddleboards, kayaks, canoes or tubes.

    Ages 3 and up can go parasailing over Pensacola Beach with Radical Rides, 444 Pensacola Beach Blvd., which also rents wave runners, kayaks and paddleboards.

    Play Time

    The unique playground at Perdido Key Kids Park, 10015 Gulf Beach Hwy., has an intricate maze of wooden forts, including a lighthouse, play Blue Angels planes, swings and slides.

    Bounce House Pensacola, 6241 N. Davis Hwy., has open play time for kids to explore the world of inflatables, slides and bouncy castles plus a toddler area for little ones.

    At Sky Zone Trampoline Park, 5007 N. Davis Hwy., wall-to-wall trampolines provide fun for freestyle bouncing and dodgeball, as well as Toddler Time on Thursday and Saturday mornings.

    Animal Encounters

    Explore the Gulf Breeze Zoo, 5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy., on the elevated boardwalk or aboard the popular train. There’s a farm with pygmy goats, pigs and chickens, plus a giraffe feeding area.

    Fun Food

    Along with popcorn shrimp, chicken fingers and other kid favorites, there’s a large, sandy playground next to the tables at Flounder’s Chowder House, 800 Quietwater Beach Rd., in nearby Gulf Breeze.

    Peg Leg Pete’s, 1010 Fort Pickens Rd., in Pensacola Beach is a pirate-themed seafood restaurant with a children’s play area.

    Overlooking Santa Rosa Sound, Red Fish Blue Fish, at 5B Via de Luna, offers southern food, burgers, tacos and lawn games.

    Bubba’s Sweet Spot, 412 S. Palafox St., is a fun place to stop for ice cream and wall-to-wall candy after strolling downtown Pensacola, where some of the Victorian, Spanish and Mediterranean Revival houses date back to the early 19th century. The shop is owned by two-time Masters champion and golf megastar Bubba Watson, who was born and raised in the area.

    Museums

    Inside Historic Pensacola, there’s hands-on learning fun at Pensacola Children’s Museum, 115 Zaragoza St., where the first-floor pretend play area is designed for children under the age of 9.

    Also in Historic Pensacola, local history is on view at the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, 330 S. Jefferson St., housed in a 1907 three-story Mediterranean Revival building that was once Pensacola City Hall.

    The only art museum in the region, the University of West Florida’s Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St., has a contemporary collection, story time in the museum gallery and family-friendly activities every Sunday.

    Sports

    Catch the Blue Wahoos – the local minor league baseball team and Double-A affiliate for the Cincinnati Reds – at Blue Wahoos Stadium, 351 W Cedar St. If the kids get restless, there’s an indoor “Imagination Station” play area on the lower level with PBS Kids computer games, books and educational resources.

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