Sweet summertime, the season of waterlogged beach towels, sandy floors, pool hair and half-read books. Entertaining is light and casual, with lots of backyard grilling and cold drink sipping. As daylight lingers, so do guests. And sometimes it can feel as though the longer they stay, the shorter our list of local activities grows.
But located just 60 miles from downtown Mobile sits Pensacola, whose history rivals the richness of the Port City and whose proximity offers the perfect opportunity for a day trip. MB did just that.
The editorial team scoured the city and found a few can’t-miss places, some of which may be unfamiliar to you. Whether you prefer cheering alongside hundreds of baseball fans or reflecting quietly on a park bench, you are sure to find something on our list to tickle your sightseeing fancy.
While we are not cartographers, for travel purposes, we’ve taken the liberty of dividing Pensacola into four districts: Palafox Place, SOGO, Old East Hill and Bayside. Within each section are our favorite things to do, see, hear and taste. This guide is certainly not meant to be all-inclusive; its purpose is to provide a starting point for planning your jaunt.
So, pack your day bag, and take this guide with you. As you stroll the shaded sidewalks and hallways of places familiar or new, you’re sure to scribble down a few new favorite stops of your own. Happy exploring!
When thinking of Pensacola, one street comes to mind: Palafox. It’s known as the gateway to Pensacola, Downtown’s main line. The stretch of road between Garden and Government streets was officially named “Palafox Place” in 1979. In 2013, the American Planning Association designated it as one of “10 Great Streets in America,” due in part to its blended British, Spanish and American architecture and the area’s commitment to commercial revitalization. Palafox’s sidewalks are dotted with casual watering holes, restaurants highlighting international cuisine and performance venues. Expansive glass windows and awnings invite shoppers to linger and ogle store selections and menu offerings.
Take a tour de food down Palafox, starting with waffles and crepes at Fosko Coffee Barre. For lunch, nosh on the Velvet Elvis, a banana-peanut butter-bacon-honey hot dog at Dog House Deli, or The Tin Cow’s Spam Monster, made with Spam, fried egg and bacon sandwiched between two grilled cheeses. End the day with a sampling of tapas from Global Grill or Southeastern Asian cuisine at Khon’s.
Three can’t miss spots located just off Palafox Street include Bluetique, offering coastal-inspired women’s fashion; Properly Posh Baby, delighting shoppers with upscale children’s clothing; and Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe, boasting locally grown produce and the area’s only organic juice cafe — be sure to grab a smoothie.
Spirits are a-plenty, including the hundreds of whiskey selections at Old Hickory Whiskey Bar. For vino aficionados, Urban Swinery boasts over 100 wines that can be served alongside an entree of pork or beef, and Wine Bar offers an enclosed, brick-lined breezeway for midday sips. Be sure not to miss Play, touted as Pensacola’s first “barcade” — the perfect mash-up of neighborhood bar and arcade.
If your trip is timed right, you’ll be able to catch a Broadway-worthy show at the historic Saenger Theatre. For regional and national bands, check out the more intimate setting at Vinyl Music Hall.
Centered on the southern portion of Palafox Street is Pensacola’s hottest new shopping district. The area known as “SOGO” (an acronym meaning “South of Government”) has enough boutiques, restaurants and activities to whet any visitor’s hankering for uniquely high-end fashion, art, eats and Bay views.
Need a spot with lots of options? Al Fresco, Pensacola’s permanent food truck court, is the place to be. Other lunch options, including made-from-scratch dishes, such as the crab melt sandwich at Carmen’s Lunch Bar or noodles and sashimi from Nom Sushi Izakaya, can’t be beat. For dinner, pork tenderloin at Dharma Blue or a wood-fired filet at Jackson’s Steakhouse can cure even the heartiest appetite. Want a view with that meal? Check out Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille.
Be inspired at Scout, where thoughtfully chosen women’s clothing and accessories await the most discerning shoppers. Located a couple doors away is Don Alans, offering timeless menswear. Looking for gifts? Visit The Mole Hole for one-of-a-kind art pieces and Fiore of Pensacola for unique treats and floral arrangements.
Within the SOGO district are four parks, all of which make for a picture-perfect picnic spot or a relaxing respite from shopping. Located on Palafox is Plaza Ferdinand VII, an outdoor garden and park with a fountain and a bust of Andrew Jackson, located at the spot on which he was inaugurated as the first governor of the then-Florida Territory. To the east of Palafox is Seville Square, a small park with mature oaks and a gazebo, and Fountain Park, which, as its name suggests, features a decorative fountain highlighting various Pensacola scenes. Situated on Pensacola Bay and replete with grassy lawns, water views and paved paths is Bartram Park, so named for William Bartram, a botanist from the 1700s who identified flora and fauna in the region.
Take a nostalgic look back at candies of yesteryear — and treat yourself to fudge and one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors — at Bubba’s Sweet Spot, owned by two-time Masters winner, Bubba Watson. After a confectionery pick-me-up, walk south on Palafox to visit the Pensacola Museum of Art and the nearby Quayside Art Gallery, the largest co-op gallery in the Southeast. [Local tip: “Quayside” is pronounced “Keyside.”]
Old East Hill
While many visitors to downtown Pensacola instinctually turn south off Garden Street, the area to the north, known as Old East Hill, is surely not to be forgotten. In the 1800s, the area became one of the most desired locations for business owners and professionals to live, with the high ground offering protection from storms. Now, the tree-lined streets are known for an eclectic style, creative residents and one-of-a-kind shopping and dining spots.
Touting itself as a vegan cafe, coffee bar and art space, End of the Line Cafe offers a new menu every week, including Sunday brunch, inside its rustic quarters. But if it’s fried chicken you’re after, get your fix at Five Sisters Blues Cafe, where down-home deliciousness is their specialty. Iron, open for dinner only, also sticks to Southern cuisine, serving up reimagined dishes with a contemporary twist.
The place to be on Saturdays is the Palafox Market, a year-round farmers market featuring fresh produce, art, plants and baked goods. Duh, located a couple blocks north of the market, is comprised of three showrooms, a warehouse and an on-site restaurant (the chicken salad is divine). Shop for home and outdoor furniture and accessories until you drop. No trunk space? They ship! Located almost directly across the street is Waterboyz, a place to find all things board-related, from paddleboards to skateboards. In addition to an in-house repair and customization shop, the store also boasts an indoor skate park and cafe. [Local tip: Want to surf? Waterboyz offers daily board rentals and lessons.]
Some of Pensacola’s best-known spots, such as the Naval Air Station, are located within about a 20-minute drive of the seaport. Other well-loved destinations are a bit closer to the water, just southwest of Palafox. No matter how many times you visit these places, you are bound to see something new each time.
No trip to Pensacola would be complete without a stop at historic Joe Patti’s Seafood. Open since 1931, Joe Patti’s sells the freshest and hardest-to-find seafood — from whole octopus to tuna belly — along with seasonings, sides, wine and craft beer. Your selections can be packed on ice in preparation for the trip home. More of a landlubber? Check out Shoreline Foods International Market & Deli and shop the indelible selection of Cretan wines, olives and bottled water. For a quick bite, try the deli’s tri-tip steak sandwich and Caesar salad.
Beat the afternoon heat at the National Naval Aviation Museum located at the nation’s oldest naval air station. The Navy base is also home to the world-famous Blue Angels and the Pensacola Lighthouse. With a little prior planning, visitors can go atop the lighthouse to watch the Blue Angels practice. Head back northeast, but not before “refueling” at The Drowsy Poet Coffee Company. Then buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack and cheer the Minor League Blue Wahoos on to victory. [Local tip: The Wahoos’ stadium is located within Community Maritime Park, so it’s worth spending a few minutes before or after the game strolling along Pensacola’s harbor.]
Museums & Galleries
National Naval Aviation Museum, 1878 S Blue Angel Pkwy, 800-327-5002
Pensacola Children’s Museum, 115 E Zaragoza St., 850-595-1559
Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S Jefferson St., 850-432-6247
Pensacola Lighthouse, 2081 Radford Blvd., 850-393-1561
Pensacola MESS Hall, 116 N Tarragona St., 877-937-6377
Quayside Art Gallery, 17 Zaragoza St., 850-438-2363
Bluetique, 212 S Alcaniz St., 850-432-1264
Bubba’s Sweet Spot, 412 S Palafox St., 850-332-6696
Don Alans, 401 S Palafox St., 850-439-1762
Duh, 501 N 9th Ave., 850-439-0640
Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe, 315 W Garden St., 850-438-0402
Fiore of Pensacola, 15 W Main St., 850-469-1930
Joe Patti’s, 524 South B St., 850-432-3315
Palafox Market, Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on N Palafox St., 850-434-5317
Properly Posh Baby, 150 S Jefferson St., 850-542-4269
Scout, 403 S Palafox St., 850-607-7105
Shoreline Foods International Market & Deli, 1180 W Main St., 850-433-8852
The Mole Hole, 425 Zaragoza St., 850-434-7329
Waterboyz, 380 N 9th Ave., 850-433-2929
Bartram Park, 211 Bayfront Pkwy
Fountain Park, Zaragoza St.
Plaza Ferdinand VII, Corner of E Government St. and S Palafox St.
Seville Square, 311 E Government St.
Splash Pad, 980 S Palafox St.
Restaurants & Bars
Al Fresco, 501 S Palafox St., 850-438-1999
Carmen’s Lunch Bar, 407 S Palafox St. B, 850-542-4334
Dharma Blue, 300 S Alcaniz St., 850-433-1275
Dog House Deli, 30 S Palafox St., 850-432-3104
End of the Line Cafe, 610 E Wright St., 850-429-0336
Five Sisters Blues Cafe, 421 W Belmont St., 850-912-4856
Fosko Coffee Barre, 8 S Palafox St., 850-332-7737
Global Grill, 27 S Palafox Place, 850-469-9966
Iron, 22 N Palafox St., 850-476-7776
Jackson’s Steakhouse, 400 S Palafox St., 850-469-9898
Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille, 997 S Palafox St., 850-432-5226
Kohn’s, 34 S Palafox Place, 850-912-6762
Nom Sushi Izakaya, 410 S Palafox St., 850-466-3125
Old Hickory Whiskey Bar, 123 S Palafox St., 850-332-5916
Play, 16 S Palafox Place, Suite 200, 850-466-3080
The Drowsy Poet Coffee Company, 1023 N Navy Blvd, 850-602-7524
Tin Cow, 102 S Palafox St., 850-466-2103
Urban Swinery, 19 Palafox Place, 850-332-5536
Wine Bar, 16 Palafox Place, 850-607-2089