Coincidence: I am from Northwest Florida and I know a crud-ton of people going to Northwest Florida this very summer. Destin, to be more exact, seems to be the destination of choice among beach-going Oklahomans. Which is so great–Destin has gorgeous beaches and is super tourist-friendly.
But today I’m pushing Pensacola, Florida. Look at this business:
See? It’s glorious. I’d be there right now if it weren’t for Caleb’s job, the kids’ school, and our (landlocked) real life here in smalltown Oklahoma. But when given the choice of where to vacation, it’s Pensacola–hands down, every time. Believe that. Why? All the stuff to do. In Destin, there’s the beach, the beach, Fudpuckers, and the beach. And maybe the Gulfarium. In Pensacola, you have some serious choices:
1. The Navy Base: A whole day wouldn’t cover it. Like looking at old school airplanes and stuff? The Naval Air Museum is a little boy’s dream come true. Catch some Blue Angels’ practice action a couple mornings a week. Think going up to the top of a lighthouse and and barfing over the rail sounds awesome? You would be right! Get all military and junk at Fort Barrancas-one can’t go wrong where giant stone walls, moats and cannons are concerned.
2. The beach: This one’s a no-brainer. There’s Pensacola Beach, with its big fat beach ball in the sky, boardwalk, restaurants and tourist shops. Obviously you can swim in the ocean, either on the gulfside (prettier) or the soundside (calmer–great for people with small kids.) You can rent just about any kind of water entertainment equipment you can think of: jet skis, paddle boards, etc. And, I found out this past trip about FREE Bands on the beach, where a band plays–wait for it–on the beach while you rock out on your beach blanket and your kids run around like nutballs with everyone else’s kids in the grass.
Fort Pickens is at the very west end of Santa Rosa Island (a few miles from where Pensacola Beach is). It’s a big fort–with big walls and cannons, but it’s mainly cool because of the tunnels. A girl could get lost or arrested playing illegal trespassing flashlight tag out there…orrrrrr a family could spend a few hours checking out the actual structure of the fort, then do some hiking in the scrubby beach woods that surrounds the fort; and of course you can swim and fish and whatnot when you’re totally over the fort, which I never really am because I just love forts.
And then there’s Perdido Key–on the other side of Pensacola, near the Florida/Alabama line. It’s just as pretty, maybe a little more woodsy, and I’ve found it to be a lot less crowded most days. I have to say this place is special to me, because it’s where Caleb and I got married–on a freezing December afternoon, just months after Hurricane Ivan hit. I heart Perdido Key.
3. Downtown Pensacola: It seems like they just keep building stuff down there, like this brand-spanking new ballfield, right on the bay, for their brand-spanking new baseball team, the Blue Wahoos. And that’s fantastic for baseball people like us. My family had so much fun. Plus, there’s some kind of WWII Memorial just beyond the field closer to the water.
Food? Please keep in mind that my kids are midly picky and we’re usually on at least a semi-tight budget: My ritziest choice is The Fish House because I like to eat amazing food whilst staring at big white boats in the water. Don’t be lame and not try their Grits-a-yaya. I’ve been to The Oar House once and the food there was not too shabby for Toni. If I had to cook something for myself, Joe Patti’s Seafood would be my first stop since it’s the best place in the entire United States to get fresh seafood, and I’m not talking about stupid fried catfish.
Downtown Pensacola is pretty cool to walk around. It’s got this city-ish Key-Westy New Orleans vibe and there’s unique little shops and cafes and art galleries and museums out the yin-yang. It’s all kinds of historic so if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ve come to the right place. Caleb and I met at Seville Quarter, went on our first date in Seville Square, and fell in love sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time.
Not really. It just sounded good. We probably fell in love at the bowling alley by the mall or something.
Anyway, my goal was to give my hometown a shout out and I think I’ve done that. So if you’re looking for a family vacation spot in Northwest Florida, seriously consider Pensacola. You cannot go wrong.