WHAT TO DO IN PENSACOLA, FL WITH KIDS
Ever since moving to Florida, we’ve been dying to visit the Emerald Coast, otherwise known as the Florida Panhandle. This area is known for its pristine beaches and deep green water. In contrast, we live on Florida’s east coast, and our particular beach has cinnamon sand and great waves for surfing. We were excited for a change of pace and some different scenery!
This summer we got the chance to visit Pensacola, which is part of the Emerald Coast and right on the border of Alabama. It was a spectacular experience, and there was so much to do with kids that even with a 3-night stay we didn’t have time to fit everything in.
If you’re looking for a kid-friendly Florida vacation destination with beaches, outdoor recreation, history, and culture, Pensacola is a perfect spot. We would have happily stayed for an entire week!
Disclosure: Our trip was hosted by Visit Pensacola, which means our accommodations and entrance to most of our activities was covered. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
WHERE TO STAY IN PENSACOLA
I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to the vacation rental we used called ResortQuest by Wyndham Vacation Rentals. We enjoyed having a condo with a bedroom and built-in bunk beds for the kids to use, a stocked kitchen for preparing our own food and saving some money, and a cozy living room for watching movies on a rainy afternoon.
We were just steps from the beach and had a heated pool to use whenever we wanted. It was located on Perdido Key which was a short drive from downtown Pensacola, but we appreciated the peace and quiet of being in a more remote location.
We were also on the same road as the entrance to Gulf Islands National Seashore, so if you’re a National Park-loving family, this is a great spot to stay. So much to explore and wildlife to observe!
You can read all the details about it here.
Or check bookings at local properties here:
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS
THE PENSACOLA CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The Pensacola Children’s Museum is located in downtown Pensacola and teaches kids about the fascinating history of the area with hands-on exhibits. Kids can dress up in period costumes to represent the past, steer a ship, work or shop in a marketplace, and build forts or buildings or whatever their imagination comes up with.
Tickets are good for 7 days, so if you don’t get to everything or your kids just really want to go back (like mine did), you’ll be able to head back at any time during your stay.
HISTORIC DOWNTOWN PENSACOLA
Once you’re done at the Children’s Museum, it’s just a short walk (a block or two) to Historic Downtown Pensacola. The same ticket you purchased for the Children’s Museum is also good for the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, the Historic Pensacola Village, and more.
You can encounter actors dressed as people from the past, ready to share stories of what life was like in historic Pensacola. Learn why Pensacola considers itself to be older than St. Augustine, and why it’s known as the City of 5 Flags.
I never realized just how rich Pensacola’s history was. It was really interesting to hear all about the different settlements throughout the years. Although our kids were still a little young to appreciate it all, they still thought it was cool! (They are 2, 4, and 6 for reference. If you have elementary-age kids, I think they’ll absolutely love it!)
NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM
This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Admission to the National Naval Aviation Museum is completely free, which blows my mind because there was so much to see and do. AND it’s the largest Naval Aviation museum in the world!
There are real planes everywhere, and a worker came up to us to point out the first plane to complete a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. We took our time wandering through the museum, admiring the planes and reading the placards.
The kids’ favorite part was definitely the planes where they could climb into the cockpit and pretend to fly. There was even a Blue Angel! There was also an airplane-themed playground for them to get their wiggles out, which was so nice. Even though my kids are obsessed with transportation, there’s only so many planes they can look at before they need to be active again.
Make sure you head upstairs for a great picture in front of the Blue Angels suspended from the ceiling, and to check out all the upgraded experiences you can do, like flight simulators and virtual reality.
Pensacola is known as the home of the Blue Angels, so don’t miss the chance to see this amazing air show! The Blue Angels are a precision flying team with pilots from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corp, and Pensacola is their home base. I’m from Milwaukee, which is one of the destinations the Blue Angels come to do their shows, so I was excited to find out we could watch one of their practices in Pensacola! Practices usually take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
We did the Blue Angels Practice Cruise with Pensacola Bay Cruises. This was such a fun way to watch the air show because we got to enjoy the scenery during the boat ride and also have access to air conditioning and shade if we needed it.
If you want to get autographs and meet the Blue Angels pilots after the practice, you can view the practice from the National Naval Aviation Museum.
HIT THE BEACH
Of course you can’t go to Florida’s Emerald Coast without spending some time on the perfect beaches! The sand is soft and bleached white, and the water is that perfect blueish-green shade that gives this area of the state its name.
We loved the beach right behind our condo rental in Perdido Key, but Pensacola Beach is supposed to be really beautiful as well!
GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE
We were lucky enough to be right down the road from Gulf Islands National Seashore, so we made a pitstop one afternoon before going out to dinner. We got to see some gorgeous birds and a few turtles and crabs. I’ve heard it’s also fairly common to see dolphins from the beach. We were wandering the beaches right before a storm, so we didn’t see much going on offshore.
Gulf Islands National Seashore is actually 160 miles of sea, barrier islands, beaches, and sand dunes. If you or your kids are into history, check out Fort Pickens which was originally designed to defend the Pensacola Bay area.
Entrance to Gulf Islands National Seashore is $20 per vehicle, and is good for 7 days.
Pensacola Lighthouse was on our list of places to visit when we were in the area. We had heard the view was amazing and really wanted to check it out. However, we arrived after a full morning of exploring at the National Naval Aviation Museum so the kids were already tired, crabby, and hungry, plus it was about to storm.
We were in the parking lot of the Pensacola Lighthouse when we scrapped the idea of climbing so many stairs with little ones and decided to do lunch and a movie while we rode out the storm.
Anyway, it looked cool, and the museum sounded really interesting, so if your kids are a bit older or you have the energy to do it, then go for it! It’s $7 for adults and $4 for kids 12 and under.
TRY SOME SEAFOOD
We ate at Nick’s Boathouse and The Crab Trap, both of which were kid-friendly. Pensacola is known for its delicious fresh seafood. We loved the fish tacos at Nick’s Boathouse! It’s in Pensacola Bay and close to the downtown area, so it’s a great restaurant to hit after exploring museums.
We loved visiting The Crab Trap with little kids because they didn’t just have the typical coloring pages and crayons, but they also provided Wiki Stix and a playground in the sand out back. The Crab Trap is in Perdido Key, so if you’re planning to check out the beaches there, try this place out.
ENJOY THE ARTWORK
I love a good display of public art, especially if it’s a wall mural or something the kids can pose with. While wandering Historic Downtown Pensacola, we stumbled upon some public art displays across from the Children’s Museum. The kids had fun running from display to display admiring the art. You’ll also find wall murals scattered around the downtown area.
GO ON A PELICAN SCAVENGER HUNT
You’ll also find pelican statues scattered around the city. We made sure to stop and take a picture with them whenever we stumbled upon one. Look for them around the downtown area and outside of popular attractions! Kids will really get a kick out of them. Don’t be fooled by the second photo of my kids with the pelican - they loved it!