Looking for free things to do in Pensacola? You’ve come to the right place. This historic port city is located in northwest Florida on the Gulf Coast. It boasts some beautiful, powdered-sugar beaches and crystal clear water. Pensacola also offers some great values on many things to do. This year-round beach destination can really give your budget a break. Many of the area’s most popular attractions are totally free.
4 Free Things to do in Pensacola
1. Step Back into History.
Pensacola’s downtown is full of historic sites. More than 450 years of history can be found here! The Pensacola Bay Area was home to the first European settlement in the New World, founded by Spanish explorer Don Tristan de Luna in 1559. Over the centuries, the flags of Spain, Britain, France, the Confederacy and the United States all have flown over the “City of Five Flags,” each new culture influenced everything in the area from the art and food, to religion, architecture and the general way of life.
The best way to see all the historic sites is to break out your walking shoes. Start at Plaza de Luna with the waterfront monument and work your way through the heart of Downtown Pensacola. Stroll through Ferdinand Plaza where Andrew Jackson took back Florida from the Spanish in 1821. Some of the houses in the area date back to the early 19th Century, and are built in the Victorian, Spanish and Mediterranean Revival architecture styles. If the kids start to complain about walking, make sure to take a break in Bubba’s Sweet Spot. A candy store/ice cream parlor tends to do wonders for kids’ attitudes!
If you dare, stop by St. Michael’s Cemetery, one of the two oldest cemeteries in the state of Florida, dating back to the mid 1700s. The eight-acre cemetery has approximately 3,200 marked graves, with potentially 4,000-plus unmarked graves, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2. Visit military memorials.
Barrancas National Cemetery, located at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, traces its history to 19th century forts that once guarded the entry to Pensacola Bay, what was considered one of the best natural harbors in the Gulf of Mexico. Today the cemetery is the final resting place for more than 36,000 military veterans, including several Medal of Honor recipients. The cemetery is open to the public Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Pensacola is also home to the “Wall South,” the only permanent replica of the National Vietnam Memorial. At Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park, there is a half-scale version of the Vietnam Memorial as well as a WWI Memorial, WWII Memorial, a Korean War Memorial, and a series of plaques to honor local warriors who have fallen in the Global War on Terror. There is also a Purple Heart Memorial and a monument to the submarine lifeguards who rescued many Navy pilots in WWII.
3. Learn about flying.
The Naval Air Station Pensacola is the home base for the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s elite, death-defying flight demonstration squad. One of the most popular free things to do in Pensacola is to catch the Blue Angels practicing their maneuvers. On most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings visitors can see the Blue Angels practicing their aerobatic performances for free. You might even be able to snag a pilot’s autograph afterward.
In addition to the Blue Angels, Pensacola is also home to the world’s largest naval aviation museum, which spans more than 350,000 square feet. Visitors can see biplanes from WWI, along with more than 150 fully-restored aircraft. Kids (and adults too) can climb into airplane cockpits and check out vintage military planes from earlier decades, along with more than 4,000 artifacts, posters, pictures and military uniforms on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is always free. (For an extra fee, you can test your air-combat skills in a jet simulator or watch the IMAX film, “The Magic of Flight,” on the Giant Screen Theater inside the museum.)
4. Go to the beach.
One of the best free things to do in Pensacola (or honestly anywhere) is to go to the beach. It is an especially good choice for families with lots of kids. Pack or pick up a lunch, grab the sand buckets and an umbrella and chairs and you are good for the day! Pensacola has some of the best beaches in Florida. It’s no wonder they have won “Best Florida Beach” and “Best East Coast Beach” in polls before. Unlike other overcrowded, over-commercialized beaches in Florida, Pensacola has one of the best naturally preserved coastlines in the nation, and consistently ranked in Trip Adviser’s Top 10 beaches in the country. To find some of the most pristine beaches head out along the barrier islands in Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach.
We visited the area in early October and the weather was still hot. The water was surprisingly warm too. Since it was low season, we didn’t have to fight a lot of traffic or pay high hotel rates either.
From toes in the sand to angels in the sky, there are a variety of free things to do in Pensacola. While it is beautiful year round, think about planning a trip in the early spring before the Spring Breakers and summer vacationers take over. Or in late Fall when most kids are back in school. The weather is typically pretty temperate and beachfront accommodations, even to fit a family of many kids, can be affordable.
Looking for more free things to do in Pensacola, check out the fun things Judy Antell, Vegetarian Traveling Mom, found. And before you book your hotel in Pensacola Beach, read these tips from Allison Taylor, Research Traveling Mom.