Pensacola, located in the Florida Panhandle, is a bustling city with BEAUTIFUL beaches. We’ve visited in the summer and winter, and while most people probably prefer a beach vacation in the summer when the water is warmer, we absolutely love going in the winter while crowds are low. Keep reading to check out some of our favorite things to do in Pensacola with kids.
NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM
The National Naval Aviation Museum on Naval Air Station Pensacola is the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most popular museums in the state. While the museum has long been open to the public, NAS Pensacola has been open only to DOD ID cardholders and their guests since December 2019. The museum is currently open for DOD ID cardholders and their guests.
The museum houses an impressive collection of aircraft and free guided tours are offered several times a day from retired military volunteers and I definitely recommend checking those out!
NAS Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, and if you’re visiting from March-September, you can check out one of their practices. The schedule is posted online here, but as with anything, it’s always subject to change.
Just west of Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island, Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built in the 1800s to protect Pensacola Bay. Interestingly, it is one of only four forts in the south that was never occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War and is the only Floridian fort under Union control throughout the entire Civil War.
The kids LOVE wandering around Fort Pickens. We highly recommend picking up the Junior Ranger book from the Fort Pickens Discovery Center and completing it while you explore. Technically the book is for the Gulf Islands National Seashore so you can also pick up a copy at the Fort Barrancas Visitor Center or the Davis Bayou Visitor Center.
With brick tunnels galore, including these mine tunnels, Fort Pickens is a fun place to explore. The tunnel system ultimately led to 3 chambers, each designed to hold as much as a thousand pounds of gunpowder- in the event that the fort was overrun with attackers, the chambers could be detonated.
Open year-round and with self-guided walking tours as well as ranger-led tours, Fort Pickens is a can’t miss stop when you’re visiting the Pensacola area.
GULF BREEZE ZOO
Gulf Breeze, in the middle of Pensacola Bay between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, has a small-town feel and is home to the Gulf Breeze Zoo. The highlight of any trip to the GB Zoo is definitely the giraffe feeding. The leafy greens are an additional charge, but it’s well worth the $5 to feed all of the giraffes and see their loooooong tongues!
There are 50 acres of wild adventure at the Gulf Breeze Zoo and animals ranging from the goats in the petting area to tigers and gorillas. In fact, there’s something for everyone- click here to read more about our visit to the Gulf Breeze Zoo!
Built in 1859, the Pensacola Lighthouse is still in use by the US Coast Guard. Like the Naval Aviation Museum, the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is located on NAS Pensacola. Currently, only DoD ID cardholders can get through the gate and drive to the lighthouse. However, there are tours available for the general public that include a shuttle to and from the lighthouse, but they do need to be booked ahead of time
If you just want to look at the lighthouse from the parking lot, that’s totally free. But if you want to get an up-close look at the lighthouse, including climbing the 177 steps to the top, then you must purchase a ticket. For less than $10/person, you get access to all the museum exhibits, the grounds, and climbing to the top of the lighthouse. The restored 1869 keeper’s quarters are definitely worth a look!
And check out the view from the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse!
PENSACOLA BEACH WITH KIDS
Perhaps the most popular attraction in Pensacola: the beach. With sugar-white sand and emerald green water, Pensacola Beach is one of the most beautiful in the country.
With an average water temperature of 73° kids and adults alike can enjoy the water year-round.
The (usually) calm waters are great for the little ones- they can splash and play to their hearts’ content without worrying about getting knocked over by waves.
Plus, as the tides change, there are fun tide pools and sandbars to play on!
The kids love digging holes on the beach- maybe even more than making sandcastles! Make sure to fill in any holes with sand before you leave so that people don’t inadvertently trip in them.
One thing to mention, just like at any beach, make sure to check the surf warning flags. On our most recent trip, we were introduced to the purple flag signaling dangerous marine life (like jellyfish). It turns out, there were tons of Portuguese man o’ wars in the water and washing up on the shore. They look more like an inflated plastic bag than a jellyfish, and they can have tentacles up to THIRTY feet long! Definitely worth it to stay out of the water and make sure not to touch the ones washed up on the beach – they can still sting!
WHERE TO EAT IN PENSACOLA
Trying local restaurants is one of our favorite parts of traveling, and Flounders Chowder House is one of our Pensacola Beach faves!
If you love shrimp, the Shrimp Boat Platter is our recommendation since you get to try their fresh-caught shrimp so many ways: shrimp cocktail, shrimp on a stick, beer-battered fried shrimp, popcorn shrimp, “U-Peel-‘Ems,” and coconut shrimp, along with hushpuppies and fries.
Plus, the restaurant has a playground for the littles and offers outdoor seating as well as inside seating with a view of the playground if you want to let the kids play while you eat.
Also a Pensacola Beach institution, Peg Leg Pete’s is another one of our family’s favorites! It’s loved by locals and tourists alike, and has the wait time to prove it! We put our name on the list – a 2-hour wait! – and hung out at our hotel while we waited for a table. Get there early for a shorter wait. You can’t go wrong with any of the grouper entrees and make sure to also get a cup of fish chowder!
PENSACOLA NIGHT SKY
I LOVE beach sunsets, and the ones at Pensacola Beach do not disappoint.
Check out that cute crescent moon in the sky above Pensacola Beach!
Did you know that in the summer, you can see the Milky Way over the gulf?! Pensacola Beach has official stargazing events one weekend a month at the Pensacola Beach Pavillion. In the winter, the Milky Way is not visible, but you can still see tons of stars, more so the further away from the city lights you are. Make sure to bring a tripod if you want to take pictures of the night sky (I forgot mine ????).
Pensacola is a great place to visit with the whole family and I hope we have the chance to get back again soon- I could really use a day (or a few!) relaxing on that sugar-white sand while the kids play in the water, couldn’t you? Have you ever been to Pensacola?? What’s your fave Florida beach??