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11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Pensacola

In its popular culture, its inspiration, and even its cuisine, Pensacola has closer ties to the Deep South than to the rest of Florida. Here, many people still say "ya'll." They still love shrimp 'n grits, perhaps the most classic of Southern foods, and Pensacola is even in a different time zone than the rest of Florida. Sitting in the northwest of the state, in the Panhandle, Pensacola is actually much closer in distance to Birmingham and Atlanta than it is to Miami.

Pensacola also has the distinction of existing under five different flags. The Spanish established the first European settlement in America when they landed here in 1559. The French arrived in 1719. Then the British came in 1763 and were chased away by the returning Spanish after the American Revolution. In 1821, Pensacola became part of the United States and was incorporated back into the Union after the American Civil War.

Today, Pensacola is a relatively small city, but you'll find plenty of things to do. Among its many attractions for tourists are professional performing arts companies in the symphony, ballet, orchestra, and opera; engaging museums; family fun parks; and beautiful beaches.

1 Fly Off into the Wild Blue Yonder at the National Naval Aviation Museum

National Naval Aviation Museum
National Naval Aviation Museum Alan Wilson / photo modified
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Here, the sky is - literally - the limit. These planes, and the young pilots who flew them, helped shape history with their roles in two World Wars. Some 150 classic combat aircraft are here, lovingly-restored and cared for and now in mint condition. Many of them are the only ones of their kind still in existence, including the first plane to land at the South Pole and one that flew in the epic Battle of Midway in WWII. At this museum, the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of combat come alive, along with the daring of the pilots who flew these planes. But this museum is not just about aircraft, it's also about the people who designed them, built them, repaired them, tested them, and flew them into combat. You'll also get a walk back through time, with the uniforms, tools, machines, maps, newspaper headlines, communications equipment, training, and other memorabilia from that era.

Address: 1750 Radford Blvd. NAS Pensacola, Florida

2 Step Back in Time at Historic Pensacola Village

T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum
T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum
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Twenty-eight beautifully-restored buildings, four museums, and a walk in the footsteps of the pioneers: there are so many interesting things to do at this historical complex. The T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum takes you on a wild ride through the cast of characters and countries that have made Pensacola what it is today. The Children's Museum makes history come alive - interactively - for the younger set. At the Museum of Commerce, you can walk along an 1890s street and step inside a trolley car. The Museum of Industry depicts this city's transformation from a tiny wilderness outpost to a manufacturing and transportation center. Voices of Pensacola depicts the multicultural mix that helped this city become what it is today. Old Christ Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Best of all, your ticket to all these attractions entitles you to come back for free any time within seven days.

Address: 120 Church Street, Pensacola, Florida

Official site: www.historicPensacola.org

3 Catch a Memorable Performance at the Saenger Theatre

Saenger Theatre
Saenger Theatre
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For a night in the Roaring Twenties, catch one of the singing, musical, orchestral, lecture, or theatrical performances at what locals call "The Grand Dame of Palafox Street." The Saenger Theatre was built in 1925, in the midst of the opulence and excess that preceded the Great Depression, and featured many of the world's greatest stars. Fifty years later, after being used for years as a movie theater, and in a state of neglect, the Saenger closed down. It later underwent extensive renovation and expansion and re-opened with the same glorious ambience that it had in the old days. Today, it again hosts world-famous performers. You can see them in one of America's cultural gems, and just outside the door, Palafox Street has some wonderful shops.

Address: 118 South Palafox Place, Pensacola, Florida

Official site: www.pensacolasaenger.com

4 Stand on Top of the World at the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum

Pensacola Lighthouse
Pensacola Lighthouse
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Spanish explorers like Ponce de Leon and Hernando de Soto arrived here 500 years ago, but they never experienced the stunning views from the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse that you can. The beacon from this historic tower has been lighting the way for mariners since 1859. There are 177 steps to the top, but it's a worthwhile workout. When you reach the top, you might be able to see one of Pensacola's most thrilling sights - the famous "Blue Angels" from the adjacent Pensacola Naval Air Station performing their incredible acrobatics. The lighthouse has been haunted by ghosts for many years, according to local legend, and there's even a ghost tour on which you may see a few "hidden" residents yourself.

Address: 2081 Radford Boulevard, Pensacola, Florida

5 Explore Historic Fort Barrancas

Fort Barrancas
Fort Barrancas
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The setting is not only historic but also beautiful - Fort Barrancas, completed in 1844, lies on the Gulf Islands National Seashore. It's one of three forts built to protect the Pensacola naval base in the 1800s. The others are the Spanish Battery and the Advanced Redoubt Grounds, and all are open for your exploration. When you walk on the hiking trails here, you'll be following in the footsteps of the soldiers who were garrisoned here. You'll see camouflaged artillery bunkers, underground passageways, brick-fortified cannon placements, food storage areas, ammunition depots, soldiers' quarters, and more. And you'll have one pleasure probably never afforded the soldiers who were stationed here - you'll be able to enjoy a picnic on the tranquil, green grounds.

Address: 1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze, Florida

Official site: www.nps.gov

6 See World-Class Art at the Pensacola Museum of Art

Formerly a jail, the Pensacola Museum of Art is now a place of beauty, light, and learning. Built in the Spanish Revival style in 1906, the building also served as home for the city courthouse, police department, and shore patrol. Times change, of course, and it became the Art Museum in 1954. Now, instead of vertical bars and police uniforms and the clanking of chains, it's filled with masterpieces by the likes of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Thomas Hart Benton, and Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as distinctive collections such as glass art and African art.

Address: 407 South Jefferson Street, Pensacola, Florida

Official site: www.pensacolamuseum.org

7 Claim Your Piece of Paradise on Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore
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Imagine beautiful - and empty - beaches stretching for 160 miles from the Florida Panhandle into Alabama and Mississippi. Imagine the calls of seabirds, the soothing sounds made by the wash of blue-green water onto beaches of fine white sand, and the caress of tropical breezes on your face. Imagine a place where all the cares and stresses of the outside world melt away, and where you can revel in the simple joys of life again. Well, this is it! Along this strip of peaceful pleasures are trails and campgrounds with no other people, kayak spots (and rentals) that you'll think are just for you, historic forts where the past is still present, and wildlife you'll probably never see anywhere else. Once you're here, this place will be hard to leave.

Address: 1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze, Florida

8 Answer the Call of the Wild at Adventures Unlimited

kayak on the beach
kayak on the beach
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If the adventurer in you - or the kayaker, zipliner, canoeist, camper, or hiker - is itching to get outside, this is the place to go. Adventures Unlimited can also take you on afternoon forays or on guided, overnight river trips. In fact, they even have a resort where you can lodge in authentic old log cabins or in a wooden schoolhouse that's now an inn. Or, you can really make out like the old-timers did and camp out in the woods. The kids can enjoy scavenger hunts along beautiful nature trails, and adults will enjoy the wildlife and colorful birds that make their homes here. You can zipline over five different streams on the "Soaring Stream" experience, or enjoy seven different zipline sensations on "Taste of the Tours." This is Panhandle nature at its finest, with a large dose of adrenalin, too.

Address: 8974 Tomahawk Landing Road, Milton, Florida

9 Enjoy a Great Family Day at Fast Eddies Fun Center

Fresh air, family fun, and Fast Eddie's - it's a combination that makes for a great day. Here, you and the kids can whiz around your choice of four different go-kart tracks, geared to different ages and skill sets. You can play mini-golf at a beautifully landscaped and tricky "tropical" course. The arcade has a great collection of old classics and new games that will test adults as well as kids, and at Water Wars, tagged as "The Ultimate Water Balloon Game," you'll get splashed, sprayed, and soaked. If you're feeling peckish after all this excitement, the snack stand has all the great American favorites.

Address: 505 W. Michigan Ave, Pensacola, Florida

10 Engage Young Minds at the Pensacola MESS Hall

At the Pensacola MESS Hall, science isn't school, it's fun. This place is interactive with a capital "I." MESS stands for Math, Engineering, Science & Stuff. Your kids are the ones actually performing the experiments, trying new ones, and searching for solutions. There are no planned outcomes to the experiments, only the ones kids discover. The children are given MESS kits, designed to help them develop a solution to a specific problem in the area they've chosen. When they solve the first one, they can move on to the next.

Address: 116 N. Tarragona Street, Pensacola, Florida

Official site: www.pensacolamesshall.org

11 Catch a Ball Game at the Blue Wahoos Stadium

Blue Wahoos Stadium
Blue Wahoos Stadium Rusty Ray / photo modified
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Minor League Baseball is Major League fun at the recently-built Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola. This ballpark is the home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, who play in the Southern League and are a minor-league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Ballgames here are just plain fun. Crazy contests, unusual prizes, sing-alongs, great food, and the big Blue Wahoo mascot (a tropical fish in local waters) are just some of the attractions. You'll also find an atmosphere of relaxed informality that you don't usually find at Major League games, and, oh, yes, some pretty good baseball. There are actually a good number of baseball fans who prefer Minor League Baseball to the majors, and an evening at this ballpark may show you why.

Address: 351 W. Cedar Street, Pensacola, Florida

Official site: www.milb.com

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