People flock like seagulls to Pensacola, Florida to put their toes in the sand of the World’s Whitest Beaches. But there’s more to our fair city, for ‘shore’. While some may argue Historic Downtown Pensacola has forever been the heartbeat of Pensacola (and history would back up the claim), a recent rejuvenation has made it even more intriguing.
Over the past several years, a vigilant and progressive Downtown Improvement Board has revitalized the district, taking it from a place of doing business to a destination for doing all the good things in life – from dining and entertainment to shopping, exploring and more.
The Downtown Pensacola of today has a decidedly renewed energy, steadily pulsating through the workweek and growing palpable on steamy weekend nights. With a regular calendar of events and a new baseball team drawing crowds, the Downtown scene now rivals our beaches as a top attraction to both locals and visitors.
Palafox Street is the main drag, but we’ll venture slightly off the strip as we make our way through a perfect Downtown day.
Next, indulge in a little window shopping, with a stroll up Palafox to discover wares from shiny to sudsy. Jewelry lovers will find no shortage of studs and stones at the five fine jewelers on the lane. Or, follow your nose into Belle Ame, purveyor of handcrafted lotions (we recommend ‘Oatmeal, Milk & Honey’). If it’s a new outfit you’re after, deck yourself in designer duds at Don Alans for men and Scout for women. Close, but no cigar? You can find one of those, too, at Grand Reserve Cigar & Smoke.
You’ve probably worked up quite an appetite, so order your lunch to go from the food trucks of Al Fresco, and settle down for a picnic under the magnolias in Plaza Ferdinand. Take note of the cannons and bust of Andrew Jackson. Named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain, this was the site where General Jackson declared Florida a territory and Pensacola its capital. (And where he would later be sworn in as the first Territorial Governor.)
Keep the momentum going with a tour of the City of Five Flags – past and present. Whether through Historic Pensacola Village or around Belmont Devilliers (‘Home of the Blues’ in music, art, and food) … by bike or by Segway with Emerald Coast Tours, you’ll learn how past Pensacolians lived while taking in the spots that make Downtown what it is today.
“I think one of the most interesting stories of Pensacola’s past is that of Bernardo de Galvez and his role during the American Revolution,” says Nic Schuck, owner of Emerald Coast Tours. “A lot of people aren’t aware of how important the Siege of Pensacola was to the American colonists’ victory.”
Though most people associate the American Revolution with only 13 original colonies, the addition of West and East Florida brought the tally to 15 at the time of the war.
For more fun facts, it’s time to explore our myriad museums. Depending on the interests of your crew, there’s one for you. If your tour left you wanting more, history awaits at the T.T. Wentworth. Art lovers can view traveling exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection featuring modern and contemporary works at Pensacola Museum of Art.
Kids in tow? Head to the Pensacola MESS Hall – that’s short for Math, Engineering, Science and Stuff – so whatever mess you make is bound to be educational. There’s also living history (complete with a trading post and sailing ship) at the Pensacola Children’s Museum, covering our multicultural heritage, military, and maritime roots.
If you’re anything like us, you’ve got to be hungry again. Fine dining, you fancy? Book a table at Jackson’s Steakhouse or Global Grill. Looking for a more casual evening meal? Try the pizza at Hopjacks or small plates during sunset on the bay at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille.
“Working downtown in the historic district is spectacular,” says Melissa Bailey, Private Events Coordinator for Great Southern Restaurants, whose office sits atop two of the best local restaurants (The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House) overlooking beautiful Pensacola Bay. “Happy Hour on a Friday Downtown always leads to dinner and dancing on the lively streets of Palafox … Follow up dinner by visiting the many local watering holes while listening to live music as you make your way to what will most likely be a night to remember.”
She’s right – there’s more. Downtown only gets brighter as the sky gets dark. Depending on the time of year, you could take in any number of monthly or annual events, including:
And if you’re still ready and raring to go … well, there’s always Dueling Pianos at Seville Quarter.
– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels