By Suzanne Tuzzeo

Palafox Street, known as the gateway to Pensacola and the core artery of the downtown community, has deep roots in the city’s rich past.

Named after General Jose de Palafox y Melzi, a Spanish nobleman and military hero, the thoroughfare is listed on an 1812 street plan as Calle de Palafox. Today Palafox Street and its southern end, Palafox Place, have grown to include bustling boutiques and retail shops, casual and fine dining, art and culture, and live music and theatrical venues, all residing within a harmonious blend of historical architectural styles.

For generations, Palafox Street has been a work in progress, a favorite haunt for people of all ages and the center of things to do in Pensacola. The continued development of Palafox Street moved the American Planning Association (APA) to announce Palafox Street as one of “10 Great Streets in America” for 2013. Each year, the prestigious APA’s Great Places in America program names 10 ideal streets across the country highlighting the role planning and planners play in developing the community.

The association chose Palafox Street in Pensacola, FL for its European influences, eclectic mix of Spanish, French and British architecture, and expansive medians, sidewalks and plazas. Other Florida Top 10 streets include Duval Street in Key West (2012), 7th Street in Tampa’s Ybor City (2008) and Ocean Drive in Miami (2007).

Being named one of America’s great streets only confirms what locals and visitors have long known and is just one more reason to make Palafox Street and downtown Pensacola a destination location. However, there are other compelling reasons to discover what keeps the heart beating in downtown Pensacola.

Local Art in Palafox Street

A is for “art” on Palafox, where the local art scene includes a two-fisted gallery punch. Blue Morning Gallery, a local cooperative gallery of 50-plus artists, offers a wide variety of award-winning art, including iconic images of Pensacola and Pensacola Beach landmarks and an assortment of fine handcrafted items.

“Downtown Pensacola's the place to be, Palafox Street, especially,” says Connie Wendleton, president of Blue Morning Gallery. “The restaurants and shops are the perfect complement to the gallery. A lot of good memories are made here.”

Artel Gallery, an experimental gallery featuring a rotating compilation of art that’s considered a bit more edgy, is located in the old Escambia County courthouse on Palafox. The historic architecture continues directly across Palafox with the Seville Tower, which was erected in 1910 and was the tallest building in Florida at the time of its completion.

Southernost Point Palafox Street

Located at Palafox’s southernmost point is Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille, which overlooks the Palafox Pier Marina and Plaza de Luna, named for Pensacola’s founder, Tristan de Luna. The area combines history, natural beauty, local delicacies and art. The Plaza de Luna, a waterfront park of more than two acres and 1,200 feet for fishing, provides the perfect backdrop for family fun. Jaco’s art extravaganza, Art à la carte, highlights local artists and kicks off the first Wednesday of each month.

“We started the Art à la carte series to support and highlight local artists, and give our patrons one more reason to enjoy the environment,” Jaco’s events manager Jehan Clark says. “Our location on Palafox is the only spot in Pensacola with a sunset view on the bayfront and we wanted to complement it with personal art created by some of our great local artists."

North Palafox Street

Travelling north along Palafox Street, a multitude of boutiques and storefronts – many featuring large glass windows and intricate wrought iron – beckon. Jewelers, fashion for the family (including the family pet), the sweet tastes of a family-owned bakery, imported olive oil and fusion vinegar, and retro chic specialty shops feature a blend of local and designer merchandise.

“We were here 5 or 6 years ago and it is much more upscale now. We’re really impressed with the culture, restaurants and shops,” says visitor Don Drummond of Hastings, Michigan.

Places to Eat in Palafox Street

A walk along the tree-lined street reveals clusters of colorful umbrellas and outdoor seating. The low murmur of conversation, the clink of glasses as a toast is raised and wafting culinary aromas complete the sensory tour. Along Palafox, relaxed, informal restaurants include sports programming complexes and the quirky California-style outdoor eatery al Fresco, which creates a retro 1950s feel with small Airstream trailers. Award-winning fine dining on Palafox includes Global Grill, an upscale tapas bar and restaurant, and Jackson’s Steakhouse, considered one of Florida’s top 25 restaurants and in the top 2 percent of all fine dining restaurants in the country by Distinguished Restaurants of North America.

A cool drink or quick bite is easily within reach with more than 500 craft beers and other tavern tastes at locally owned World of Beer, and Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom serves up more than 200 micro and craft beers and delectable pizza. Palafox is also home to an assortment of bistros serving fine wines and scrumptious snacks, and a retro, urban space offering coffee and espresso.

Nightlife in Palafox Street

After a drink or dinner, musical and theatrical venues such as the Saenger Theatre, often called the Grand Dame of Palafox, can offer a night at the ballet, a professional opera performance or an evening with the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. Live musical performances also abound at the Vinyl Music Hall, an intimate concert club located in the 112-year-old Masonic Building.

The music continues as the festivities and good fun of a neighborhood block party come alive on Palafox Street during Gallery Night, where a unique atmosphere and an assortment of eclectic musical styles radiate from the street and its balconies. Gallery Night brings visitors and locals together one Friday each month to enjoy music, art, food and refreshments provided by dozens of local businesses, many of which offer extended hours.

Palafox Market, a year-round farmer’s market and outdoor art show where vendors meet each Saturday, fosters the neighborhood feeling. The market is located between Garden and Wright Street where the Pensacola streetcar system formerly ran.

For centuries, Palafox Street has provided vitality and joie de vivre in downtown Pensacola with festive parades and holiday and seasonal celebrations. And yet it’s the perfect site for a casual, relaxed stroll or intimate romantic evening as well.

Wanting to check out one of the top streets in America is a great reason to explore Palafox Street. But the most important reason is to create your own wonderful memories and make your own special connections.

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