Known as the "City of Five Flags," Pensacola has been under the rule of the Spanish, the British, the French, the Confederacy, and the United States since the first conquistadors landed in America in 1559. Today, the city on the Florida Panhandle is home to the United States’ first Navy air base (current home of the flight-demonstration squadron the Blue Angels) as well as the National Museum of Naval Aviation, earning the city the additional nickname the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” Located on the Gulf of Mexico about an hour east of Mobile, Alabama, and less than two from Biloxi, Mississippi, Pensacola is protected by the barrier island of Santa Rosa and boasts more than 50 miles of white-sand beaches. The humid subtropical climate makes for balmy summers and moderate winters that rarely see snowfall.
The City’s Culture
P-Cola’s coastal location means that seafood is plentiful, and several local festivals celebrate the sea’s riches. Not surprisingly, watersports are popular among Pensacolans, as are outdoor activities in general, thanks to the abundance of protected land and national parks. The city’s history under various rules has resulted in an ethnically diverse population, which is reflected in the numerous attractions that celebrate each culture’s legacy and the Fiesta of Five Flags, an annual commemoration of the city’s history as a whole. Pensacolans take pride in the Blue Wahoos, a minor league baseball team, and the Ice Flyers, part of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Historic Pensacola Village consists of more than 20 buildings that each tell a portion of the area’s history. A trek up the 177 steps of the Pensacola Lighthouse, built in 1859 and still in use today, provides scenic views over the gulf. Five Flags Speedway features auto racing, with the popular Snowball stock-car derby held each December. For culture buffs, the Spanish-Baroque Saenger Theater hosts performances of opera, ballet and orchestra. In addition to its natural wonders, the Gulf Islands National Seashore features two forts—Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens—and numerous activities ranging from hiking to kayaking.
Where to Explore
The downtown area contains the Pensacola Historic Village as well as street after street of historic homes. The main drag of Palafox Street boasts the highest concentration of restaurants and shops, and the entire area stays open late once a month for Gallery Night, which turns the streets into a cultural block party. Local islands and beaches make for popular day trips, particularly Santa Rosa Island, known for being the first settlement in the continental U.S., and Perdido Key, with its beach-town attractions such as mini-golf, go-carts, and water sports.