Florida Scenic Highway: Pensacola Bluffs, First in Florida
By Dalia Colon
Where: In northwest Florida, about 100 miles west of Panama City.
Length: 11 miles.
How to get around: Car or motorcycle.
Best time to visit: Spring or fall, for weather that’s warm enough to enjoy the beach but not yet too hot.
Fun fact: The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola offers free admission daily. Or just look up to see the Blue Angels practicing. (Note: Admission to the National Naval Aviation Museum is currently limited to Department of Defense ID cardholders and their guests, and veterans with a Veterans Health Identification Card.)
You could say Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway comes in first place, both in terms of geography (it’s the first scenic highway you’ll encounter as you cross the Alabama-Florida border) and because it was the first scenic highway designated in Florida, back in 1998.
It might also top your list of scenic drives for more qualitative reasons: As the name implies, this highway’s vistas put on quite a show.
“This area is really wonderful. I came here from California and couldn’t get over the terrain, crystal clear water and the white sand that looks like snow,” said Jean Wallace, vice president of the Scenic Highway Foundation.
The star of the show is Escambia Bay, whose gorgeous water views are flanked with longleaf pine, live oaks and other indigenous trees and undergrowth. To see the cliffs up close, wander along the boardwalks of Bay Bluffs Park through canopies of oaks and pine.
As you approach I-10 stop at the Dairy Queen, have a drink or ice cream and take in the scenic view from Stony Point.
“It is said on a clear day in winter, when the tide is low, rock formations may be seen under the water,” Wallace said. “Your trip is ending when the scene changes completely, the trees give way to the river of sawgrass of the tidal wetlands at the head of the bay.”
When hunger calls again, head for Marina Oyster Barn, where locals go for seafood. And if you think you’re seeing pink, you’re not crazy.
Notes Wallace, “The large bluffs of red clay, once used to make bricks, line the beach and tint the sand a soft pink hue.”