This week we left Pensacola, after spending an entire month on the beach.
Pensacola is an excellent family destination. It hosts several inexpensive and free venues that are perfect for exploring during your family travels. We spent the month of March on Pensacola Beach, and found fun activities that we definitely recommend experiencing:
Fort Pickens, in the Gulf Islands National Seashore
Fort Pickens is the largest Civil War era fort that guards Pensacola Bay. This fort was quite important in the 1860’s, after President Lincoln’s election and the firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This fort was one of only four forts that was never occupied by the Confederate army in the south. You can read more about Fort Pickens HERE.
The best part about visiting this fort is exploring the tunnels. My kids absolutely loved discovering the ammunition tunnels and ducking down to enter into the maze of rooms. Some tunnels are lit, some are completely dark. My teenager and tweens equally enjoyed the fort. You will find that much of it is stroller accessible and there is ample bench seating in the middle of the fort for mature visitors.
We truly enjoy viewing the relics of the past and observing the affects of time on these historical monuments.
Overall, my kids explored the passages for a couple of hours and could easily have done this for half a day.
The views from the top of the fort are beautiful, especially when the skies are clear.
We LOVE visiting our national treasures. Since we obtain a National Park pass each year, visiting these locations is quite inexpensive for our family. For information on obtaining a park pass, click HERE. If you have a fourth grade student in the United States, you can enroll in the Every Kid In A Park program. This will give your ten year old a free pass for the current school year, which includes admission for the rest of your family. You will find details for this pass HERE. These park passes make it very feasible for families to explore the history of our nation and the National Park Service does a phenomenal job of maintaining many of these beauties. I should also note, that almost all of the National Parks offer a free Junior Ranger program for children. We have only visited two National Parks, that charged a fee for our kids to participate…so be sure to ask about the Junior Ranger program when visiting a National Park.
There is also this great wall at Fort Pickens, that provided a killer back-drop for this photo:
Another bonus to this park is that it contains some lovely beaches that are mostly crowd-free.
The fort is at the end of the island. If you plan to visit here, this is what I would suggest:
- Pack a lunch and water. There is nothing nearby for purchasing supplies and food.
- Participate in the Junior Ranger program if you have children with you.
- Take fishing gear if you have time to utilize the fishing pier on the bay-side of the island.
- Bring beach gear and take time to enjoy the beach. We found accessible parking lots with bathrooms and a reasonable amount of parking spots available.
- Allow 30 minutes to drive from Pensacola Beach to the Visitor Center.
- Allow at least 2 hours to explore all that the fort has to offer. Your kids will want time to explore the tunnels as well.
- There is a $1 toll if coming from Pensacola when crossing the bridge. You will also want to fill up with gas before you leave the town of Gulf Breeze, as there are no gas stations on Pensacola Beach or near Fort Pickens.
Pensacola Beach is a great place to put a kayak in the water, walk around, window-shop, enjoy a snack and relax on the beautifully sandy beaches.
We love the beach. This is always one of our favorite ways to enjoy an area. If you are a beach lover, be sure to set aside time to savor the beautiful coastline.
Watch The Blue Angels Fly
Watching the Blue Angels fly was definitely one of the highlights of our stay. The amazing thing is that you can view their practice show for FREE! You can visit the Pensacola US Naval Air Station on designated days and watch them from the air field up close. The day we went, the place was packed.
You can visit their website HERE and find their practice schedule. Fortunately we had several folks mention to us that this is a very popular event, so we knew to arrive early. The day before we visited, they Blue Angels had 6,000 people show up to watch them fly. There is also the National Aviation Museum on this site, which has amazing reviews (click HERE to view the reviews). We had hoped to visit the museum after watching the show, but it was way too crowded. Here are my recommendations for attending this event:
- Obtain the practice schedule for the Blue Angels ahead of time (see link above).
- Plan to visit the museum on a separate day from watching the air show if you don’t want to be in the midst of the crazy crowd. We were actually going to go in (it’s FREE also), however they do not allow you to bring any water bottles in at all…and I was not going to toss my favorite Nalgene bottles…and we did not have time to walk all the way to the car and then back to the museum as we were pressed for time.
- Arrive at least an hour and a half early. Bring a blanket to sit on in line, or collapsible camp chairs to sit on while waiting in line. You can opt to sit in your chair, rather than the bleacher for viewing the practice. If you bring a blanket, it will provide a good cushion for the hard, metal bleachers that you will sit on.
- You will be on the Naval Base, so allow extra time in case you have a vehicle inspection. The line of traffic getting on the base can be crazy long!
- Bring plenty of water, there is no shade and it gets very hot.
- Bring snacks. They do sell water, gatorade and limited snacks, but I would suggest bringing your own.
- Don’t forget your GoPro video camera, as we did. Be sure to have your cameras fully charged…you will want to take a ton of pictures!
- Pack a lunch to eat after, if you are planning to stay and enjoy the museum.
- If you are unable to get to there early, you may not get onto the base in time, as this is such a popular event. In that case, opt to visit Fort Pickens and sit on the beach with a picnic. You will be able to view much of the action from across the bay and the view is beautiful.
Campground/RV Park Options
If you are traveling with your RV and want to center your trip around Pensacola Beach, consider Pensacola Beach RV Resort. You can visit their website HERE. This small park is in the middle of the action and will make you feel as if you have your own little beach house property. If you seek a more quite and rustic spot, consider the campground at Fort Pickens (link HERE). Both of these parks will require a reservation considerably far in advance.
We enjoyed our lengthy stay at Pensacola Beach RV Park. You can read my review on Campendium HERE.
Here are some photos from this park:
These are just a few of the things you can do in Pensacola. During our time here, we found many visitors who said this has become one of their favorite family destinations…it has definitely become one of ours! I hope you enjoy these ideas on how to have a frugal visit to Pensacola. These savings may just allow you to enjoy a couple of the many restaurants that are in the area. Happy Travels.