Pensacola Ecotourism Attractions and Activities

    By Julie Landry Laviolette

    With miles of protected shoreline, a national seashore, scenic bluffs and natural preserves teeming with wildlife, Pensacola, Fla. offers diverse ecosystems and terrain for the eco-tourist.

    From eco-attractions to earth-friendly accommodations, Pensacola has plenty to offer visitors interested in green travel.

     

    ECO-FRIENDLY ATTRACTIONS

    Whether you’re looking for pristine beaches, a serene nature trail or a chance to interact with wildlife or marine life, Pensacola has an eco-attraction for you:

    Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Gulf Islands National Seashore along Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key is home to the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the U.S. The pristine seashore offers miles of peaceful views along the Gulf of Mexico, along with opportunities for bicycling, kayaking, walking and solitude. The national seashore also has a thriving ecosystem of marine and land-based wildlife with a nesting and hatching ground for shorebirds.

     

    Scenic Bluffs Highway

    The Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway overlooks Escambia Bay and includes natural, historical, archaeological and recreational resources in the corridor of land adjacent to the highway. The corridor includes a variety of native and invasive plants species and informational kiosks.

     

    Bay Bluffs Park

    Bay Bluffs Park has nature trails down from the cliffs to the water with panoramic views. The park has picnic areas, fishing and a boat launch.

     

    Big Lagoon State Park

    Big Lagoon State Park offers a variety of ecosystems, from saltwater tidal marshes to pine flatwoods. The park is the gateway to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a network of 510 of the best viewing sites for native and migrating birds, butterflies and other creatures and their unique habitats across the state. It attracts more than 23 species of migratory birds along the shore and extensive coastal forest.

     

    Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida

    Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida is a non-profit that cares for injured and orphaned indigenous wildlife, providing medical care, rehabilitation and release back into the wild. The sanctuary is home to more than 100 animals that cannot be released. Visiting hours are Wednesday to Saturday and group tours are available.

     

    MESS

    Pensacola MESS (Math, Engineering, Science and Stuff) Hall is a hands-on science museum with exhibits and experiments that teach visitors about ecology, geology, mineralogy and other science-related topics.

     

    ECOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES

    Getting back to nature is easy in Pensacola, with low-impact, ecologically-responsible activities that were made for relaxing or adventure, whatever your vibe:

     

    Footprints in the Sand Eco Trail

    Footprints in the Sand Eco Trail on Pensacola Beach stretches more than eight miles with 29 educational signs that highlight the island’s ecology and answers questions about plants, animals and birds with colorful photos and maps. Visitors can walk, bike, run or even swim the trail.

     

    Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail

    Kayak, canoe or paddleboard the beginning of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, which starts in Big Lagoon State Park’s scenic waterways and marshes. The 1.515-mile sea kayaking journey is divided into 26 sections around the state.

     

    paddlers in Pensacola

    Paddle the Pensacola Bay area’s rivers, bayous, bays and the Gulf of Mexico to explore coastal habitats and diverse ecosystems.

    - Visit Pensacola

     

    More Paddling

    Paddle the Pensacola Bay area’s rivers, bayous, bays and the Gulf of Mexico to explore coastal habitats and diverse ecosystems.

     

    The Florida National Scenic Trail

    The Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens on Pensacola Beach, just on the north side of the Gulf Island National Seashore’s historic Civil War-era fort. Like the paddling and birding trails, this trail also meanders around the state.

     

    Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Dive Trail

    Scuba dive Pensacola Beach’s five sites along the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Dive Trail, including Three Coal Barges, the San Pablo, Pete Tide II, YDT-14 and the USS Oriskany, the world’s largest artificial reef, also known as “The Mighty O.”

     

    Snorkeling

    Snorkel and swim the emerald waters of Pensacola Beach, which has public beach access on both the gulf and Santa Rosa Sound. Pensacola Beach has two artificial reef systems for snorkeling. Park East is about 1.4 miles east of Portofino, with a reef about 500 feet off shore that attracts fish, sea turtles and other marine life. Another reef is located on the bay side at Park West, just before the entrance of Fort Pickens. 

     

    Spearfishing

    Spearfish at the site of the 400-foot freighter Antares in Pensacola Pass or take a spearfishing charter trip.

     

    couple walking onto white sand Pensacola Beach

    Gulf Islands National Seashore along Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key is home to the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the U.S.

    - Visit Pensacola

     

    Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Head to Gulf Islands National Seashore for a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and bird watching. Snorkel the clear waters to see sand dollars, starfish and crabs. Launch a kayak to explore on your own. Take a ranger-led nature walk.

     

    Big Lagoon State Park

    Visit Big Lagoon State Park for outdoor adventures ranging from birdwatching on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail to swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling, stargazing, geocaching and paddling.

     

    Bay Bluffs Park

    Explore Bay Bluffs Park’s network of wooden boardwalks and trails from the scenic highway to the bluff’s shoreline overlooking Escambia Bay. The corridor has abundant recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, bicycling and bird watching.

     

    Bayou Texar Boat Launch Park

    Visit Bayou Texar Boat Launch Park, a small city park with a boat launch and dock fishing with views of the bayou and wildlife.

     

    Ciclovia

    Ciclovia is a one-day event that closes major downtown streets to motorized traffic so visitors can ride bikes, walk, run or play.

     

    Walking Tours

    Walking tours, including the Colonial Archaeological Trail, the African-American Heritage Trail, the Pensacola Cultural Heritage Trail and the Pensacola Maritime Trail, highlight Pensacola’s unique history.

     

    Tech Tours

    If you prefer to let technology be your guide, the Explore Pensacola GeoTour may be more your speed. Use your personal GPS devices – including most smartphones – to find hidden locales in Downtown Pensacola and elsewhere around town in a modern form of touring called “geocaching.”

     

    FOOD AND DINING

    Tempt your taste buds with a low-environmental impact in the Pensacola Beach area. From fresh catch to locally-sourced, organic fare, there is plenty of sustainable cuisine here.

     

    Palafox Market

    Palafox Market in downtown Pensacola is a Saturday farmer’s market with vendors selling fresh produce, live plants, baked goods, fine art and more. Bailey’s Produce and Nursery and Flora Bama Farms also offer farm-fresh and organic goods.

     

    Restaurants

    Pensacola boasts a variety of both upscale and casual eateries serving local seafood, including Red Fish Blue Fish, Marina Oyster Barn, Shux Oyster Bar, and Captain Joey Patti’s Seafood Restaurant.

     

    Steaks

    Award-winning Jackson’s Steakhouse has a fine dining menu of grass-fed beef and fresh local seafood.

     

    Union Public House

    Union Public House seeks ingredients that are sustainably and humanely harvested by focusing on local garden produce and gulf seafood.

     

    Farm-to-Table

    Other farm-to-table movement restaurants to try on the westernmost end of the panhandle include Restaurant IRONThe Fish House and Atlas Oyster House.

     

    VegFest

    Pensacola VegFest is a free one-day event to celebrate vegan vendors selling food, clothing, soaps and more. The event features cooking demonstrations, speakers and kids’ activities.

     

    ECO-FRIENDLY TRANSPORTATION

    Earth-friendly transportation in Pensacola is as easy as 1-2-3 with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, through the trolley system or by renting a bike or scooter.

     

    family biking down Pensacola street

    Bicycle your way through downtown, on the beach or cruise along the scenic waterfront.

    - Visit Pensacola

     

    Biking

    Bicycle your way through downtown, on the beach or cruise along the scenic waterfront. Biking is also a clean, green way to explore park trails and the gravel trail at Fort Pickens on Pensacola Beach.

     

    Walking

    Walk the Pensacola Bay area’s miles of paved paths, boardwalks and natural unpaved trails.

     

    Bus

    Escambia County Area Transit, known as ECAT, offers bus routes throughout the county. All buses have bike racks.

     

    Trolley

    The Pensacola Beach Island Trolley is a free service that transports visitors around the island. The summer-only, open-air trolleys are energy efficient and have a GPS system that allows riders to track their location.

     

    Scooters

    If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a scooter or scoot coupe to zip around the island.  Try a dockless Blue Duck Scooter, the eco-friendly electric scooter you find by download an app and conducting a location scan.

     

    ECO-FRIENDLY LODGING

    Eco-friendly lodging in the Pensacola area can take the shape of camping under the stars, opting for a resort with a conservation pledge or even doing small things yourself like conserving water or re-using towels.

     

    Big Lagoon State Park

    Big Lagoon State Park has 75 camping sites surrounded by picturesque pine flats and a variety of outdoor activities ranging from paddling and swimming to birdwatching and stargazing. Camping areas have electricity, water, picnic tables, fire rings and restrooms.

     

    Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Gulf Islands National Seashore offers 180 tent and RV camping sites with water, electricity and shower facilities. The camping area is located on the island’s remote western tip and boasts outdoor activities from fishing to biking and snorkeling.

     

    Green Hotels

    Residence Inn Pensacola Downtown, Best Western Plus Blue Angel Inn and TownePlace Suites by Marriott Pensacola are certified by the Florida Green Lodging Program for a commitment to conserve and protect the state’s natural resources. Find an interactive map of Green Lodging sites here.

     

    VOLUNTOURISM

    Give back to the earth, its ecosystems and wildlife through a volunteer program that helps preserve and take care of natural resources.

     

    Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida

    Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida, a non-profit that cares for injured and orphaned indigenous wildlife, accepts volunteers to help with chores ranging from washing dishes and laundry to feeding baby birds and helping with fundraisers.

     

    Friends of Pensacola State Parks

    Friends of Pensacola State Parks is a volunteer organization committed to the preservation of Florida state parks in the Pensacola area. The group helps out at Big Lagoon State Park, Perdido Key State Park and Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park.

     

    Keep Pensacola Beautiful

    Keep Pensacola Beautiful volunteers help beautify public spaces by picking up litter, recycling, planting trees, adopting parks and highways and collecting oyster shells from restaurants to help restore oyster reefs in Pensacola Bay, among other programs.

     

    Cleanup Opportunities

    OceanHourFLEarth Ethics Inc., The Pensacola Scenic Highway FoundationUniversity of Florida Sea Grant ProgramKeep Pensacola Beautiful and the City of Pensacola hold monthly cleanups. All supplies are provided. Sign up in advance at OceanHourFL.

     

    Enjoy Pensacola’s natural treasures and earth-friendly attractions, activities and dining for an ecotourism adventure of a lifetime.

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