Pensacola looks across the bay to the town of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach, located on Santa Rosa, a razor-thin barrier island. You can get from downtown to the beach in eight minutes by car (paying a dollar toll on the bridge).
Anchored by the recently renovated and expanded 1925 Spanish Baroque Saenger Theatre, a venue for live music, ballet, and Broadway shows, Palafox Street is studded with restaurants, bars, and clubs, such as the Vinyl Music Hall (located in a renovated Masonic temple) and Blazzues (in an Art Deco–style historic building), the Leisure Club for espresso and brunch, Hopjack’s for gourmet pizza and famous Belgian fries cooked in duck fat, and Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille overlooking Palafox Marina.
There are many to choose from, but Fort Pickens—on the western tip of Santa Rosa Island, part of the protected Gulf Islands National Seashore—features silky-smooth sand and secluded, undeveloped dunes.
In an 1860s-era mercantile building overlooking the waterfront, Jackson’s Steakhouse is a local favorite for surf-and-turf fare, such as steak topped with fried green tomatoes and crabmeat. Or opt for fresh shrimp scampi pizza at Tre Fratelli in Seville Square. The downtown Leisure Club is a great choice for espresso and brunch
Pensacola’s average year-round temperatures are in the mid-70s. July is the hottest month, with an average high of 91; January is the coolest, with an average low of 43.
Try catching a show at the Saenger Theatre, home to performances ranging from Broadway’s Monty Python to the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. Take the kids to a musical at the Pensacola Little Theatre. Browse the paintings at the Pensacola Museum of Art in the Old City Jail building. Attend one of the many local events, such as the Crawfish and Seafood Festival in late spring, or meet friends at the Palafox Farmers’ Market on Saturdays (May through October).
A diverse population of about 58,000 includes retirees, young professionals, marine scientists, students, and military personnel who enjoy the typical Gulf activities of golf, boating, fishing, and beach lounging. On the patio at Dharma Blue on historic Seville Square, you’ll often find locals debating civic issues.