The Florida Panhandle is known for it's sugar sand beaches, it's raucous spring break parties and it's aqua green water - so much so that it's nicknamed the Emerald Coast. After a brief stopover there a few years ago, I had always wanted to go back. Unfortunately, it's a 10 to 12 hour drive away for us so it couldn't just be a weekend jaunt. That is, until budget airline Allegiant started offering flights from my neck of the woods to New Orleans - a two to three hour drive to the beaches of the Gulf. So for an extremely low fare, a backpack in lieu of a suitcase and a brief two hour flight later, we were visiting Pensacola Beach, Florida as our April Beach of the Month.
|The famous Pensacola Beach beach ball water tower|
|Santa Rosa Bay|
Pensacola Beach is located on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Santa Rosa, just across the bridge from the historical city of Pensacola. It has quite a few high rises, a boardwalk with shops and entertainment, Gulf Islands National Seashore, a family friendly zoo and a military fort from 1834. We spent the majority of our visit on the beach enjoying that sugar-white sand and watching a few of the brave take dips in the ocean. We lucked out with a windy but sunny day with perfect temps for a gorgeous beach day. Here's the details:
Where to Stay
Holiday Inn Resort
We used our Holiday Inn points and stayed at the family friendly Holiday Inn Resort. Located right on the Gulf, with a heated lazy river ride, two hot tubs and a tiki bar, the Holiday Inn Resort is a favorite with families. It was crowded, but not overly so, and the service was excellent. Free parking is included and you can walk to shops and restaurants.
|The view of Santa Rosa Bay|
Margaritaville Beach Hotel
Singer Jimmy Buffett has branched out into owning Margaritaville restaurants, hotels and even retirement villages. If you love the parrothead lifestyle, then this is where you want to stay in Pensacola Beach. It's done up in true beachy style and includes the Frank and Lola Love Pensacola cafe (from the song Frank and Lola love Pensacola) and the Landshark Landing Beach Bar which is, just as it sounds, a beach bar with volleyball, hammocks and a fire pit. The price for all this is a bit hefty, though, in my opinion. But if it's worth it to you, then go for it.
|The white building in the distance is Jimmy's Place|
Holiday Inn Express
Holiday Inn has a newly opened Holiday Inn Express located on the more residential and quieter side just up the beach from Margaritaville. Rates include breakfast and there is an oceanfront pool. Unfortunately, it was sold out the weekend that we were visiting.
And per usual, you can try your hand at Air BnB, Home Away or VRBO for a condo or studio.
What to Do
Gulf Islands National Seashore
This National Seashore is located along the coast of Florida and Mississippi including 7 islands. There are recreational opportunities by land and by boat. The cost to enter is $20 per car.
This military fort was built in 1834 to protect Pensacola Bay. You can take a self-guided, or guided, tour daily. It's located within Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Gulf Breeze Zoo
Take the family to the zoo and enjoy seeing the animals, a farm, train ride and wildlife preserve.
And, of course, visit the beaches. It's what Pensacola Beach is most known for. If you're not staying oceanside, you can visit Casino Beach which has it's own parking lot, lifeguards, the pier and restrooms. A word of warning - this public beach was extremely crowded on the weekend we were there.
Where to Eat
Shaggy's is a chain of seafood restaurants - this one is located on the bay - that has been voted one of Coastal Living's Best Seafood Dives. Coastal Living has never steered me wrong before but I was quite a bit disappointed in Shaggy's. The outdoor dining and view was fine but the food was definitely off. Mr. UR and I can eat just about anywhere - and neither of us liked our meal. And that's saying something. So hopefully if you decide to go here - or one of it's other locations - your luck will be better.
Frank and Lola Love Pensacola Cafe
Located inside the Margaritaville Beach Cafe, Frank and Lola's is a fun beachy cafe with ocean views that serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We ate breakfast here - the service was great and the food was good, too. Mr. UR loved his blue crab, shrimp, and chorizo omelet topped with hollaindaise sauce.
Red Fish, Blue Fish
A casual bay side eatery that gets good reviews, this is where I wish we had gone instead of Shaggy's. But hind sight is 20/20 - coulda, woulda, shoulda, right? Next time.
All in all, it was a fun two days at the beach. Pensacola Beach was one of the cleanest beaches I've ever been to - and though it wasn't my favorite beach town ever, Mr. UR really liked it and it's laid back, fun vibe. It was fun to get away for a few days, see a new place and get my toes in the sand. Cheers!
How about you? Have you been to the Florida Panhandle?
I try my best to only use my photos for this blog. Unfortunately, I lost my camera at the end of this trip - so all photos are from my phone, hence some being a bit less than ideal. Some photos that I had taken of certain locations have been replaced by those from the internet - a source has been cited if so. If I locate my camera - which I realize is a long shot - I'll update with more photos, and high quality ones at that.
Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!