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Perched on a white-sand barrier island, Pensacola Beach is sandwiched between the Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico and book-ended by the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The eight-mile stretch of shoreline is a very different place than its urban namesake Pensacola, offering a more relaxed getaway that’s been mostly shielded from large-scale development. The town is generally known for its parades, festivals, and celebratory vibe. Pensacola Beach is also one of the Panhandle’s most accessible shorelines, with wheelchair rentals and Mobi-mats to help folks easily navigate sand.
Pensacola International Airport (PNS) serves this beach town, but lately the ride between the two is slightly longer than usual. Ever since the Pensacola Bay Bridge was taken out in 2020 when Hurricane Sally impacted the Gulf Coast, visitors have simply had to drive around it, cruising in from the east on Highway 98. For updates on the status of the bridge and highways, visit Santa Rosa’s County’s website.
Interestingly, you can arrive in Pensacola Beach by boat, and there are quite a few marinas in the area that make this convenient. You’ll notice plenty of people getting around on foot, but it’s always nice to have wheels if you’d like to do some exploring in the region. Rideshare, taxis, and rental cars are all available.
Students and families descend on Pensacola Beach during the summer months, when the weather is hottest and temperatures range from the high 70s to the low 90s Fahrenheit. For those seeking a quieter time of year, mid-September and October are mild months, with temperatures hovering around the 70s and 80s, and are also devoid of crowds. The temperature drops considerably in wintertime, ranging from the 40s to the 60s Fahrenheit, making this the low season and a great time to visit. Hurricane season stretches from June to November, but it can rain anytime in Pensacola Beach, so remember a coat or umbrella (along with all the sun protection and flip-flops).
To both the west and the east of Pensacola Beach lies this unspoiled paradise, complete with quartz-sand beaches, sandy dunes, windswept nature trails, and intriguing historic sites. Fort Pickens, an 1834 fort on the west side of Santa Rosa Island, can be visited on a self-guided tour. Maps are available at the visitor center.
Another section of Gulf Islands National Seashore, this reservation contains 7.5 miles of hiking trails through maritime hammock (low forest). Knock on the wood of a live oak and think about how this hard timber was once used to build a nation’s warships.
Move over, Roswell, New Mexico. Over the last few decades, hundreds of UFOs have been spotted from this park near the Pensacola Naval Air Station (which may or may not be a total coincidence!). Locals seem permanently camped out here in their lawn chairs with their binoculars, and stargazing is also a popular pursuit.