I am going to try to share some of our favorite itineraries here. I get asked about what our days are like when we travel so I thought that I would share them! These itineraries are what worked (or didn’t work) for us but hopefully it might help when you are planning your trips! What better place to start with but my hometown city! Today I am Monday Dreaming with Mother of All Trips. I am dreaming of visitors coming to Pensacola, a city I know and love, and falling in love with it themselves. I am dreaming that they make their own Pensacola memories with their families!
Day One – Breakfast, the beach, pre-Civil war fort, and a walk on the pier
Begin your day with breakfast at one of our favorite local bagel shops, Bagelheads. My favorite is a Create Your Own with a garlic bagel, plain cream cheese and pastrami and my husband always gets the Double Smoke. Both of the kids split a huge cinnamon roll. After you have had your fill of bagel sandwiches, it is time to head to the beach! Drive out to Pensacola Beach to explore. You will need a dollar to pay the toll to get on the beach. We usually skip the place to see and be seen, Casino Beach, and head to the Gulf Islands National Seashore where you will not only find gorgeous white sandy beaches but you will always be able to mark another national park off your list! It costs $8 to enter Gulf Islands National Seashore but the pass is good for a week. Once you are in the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS), pull into one of the first two parking lots on the left. This is a great spot to be because the crowds are minimal, the sea life is plentiful and it is a great place to park it while the kids splash in the water.
Know Before You Go: THERE ARE NO LIFEGUARDS here and riptides can come in quickly. Tragedies occur at the beaches every year because swimmers do not know what to do in a riptide and they do not heed the warning flags. Pay attention to the warning flags as you arrive on the beach and heed the warnings. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK. Also, there are no bathrooms in this area. If you prefer a spot with bathrooms, you can park in the parking lot right before the entrance to the GINS. You will find relatively clean restrooms and I believe that there is a lifeguard station here.
After playing in the sand, looking for shells, and splashing in the water, drive further into the GINS and visit Ft. Pickens. You can take a guided tour or self-guided tour. See the canons, get a bird’s eye view of the ocean and learn more about this fort built before the Civil War to guard the Pensacola Bay. It was completed in 1834 and was prison to Geronimo.
When you have finished exploring the fort, exit the Gulf Islands National Seashore and head to Peg Leg Pete’s for a late lunch or early dinner. There may be a lengthy wait but we think it is worth it. Grab a drink from the bar and head downstairs to let the kids play on the playground while you wait for a table. The food from the kid’s menu comes in their signature teal sand bucket with a pirate eye patch. The oysters, grouper sandwich and peel and eat shrimp are great but, truly, order whatever looks good because we haven’t had a bad meal there yet.
If you aren’t ready for your day at the beach to end, drive down to Casino Beach and take a walk along the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier. You will see fishermen bringing up their catch and if you are lucky you might spy a shark or a turtle in the water.
Day Two – Airplanes, a Lighthouse, State Parks, Dinner on the Deck
If you like doughnuts, stop by Krispy Kreme if you see that Hot Doughnuts Now sign flashing. The kids will love to see the doughnuts come out of the oven and get covered with that famous glaze. Day two is all about helicopters, planes, and space capsules. Drive out to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and tell the gate guard that you are going to the National Naval Aviation Museum. They will need to see your driver’s license, give you a parking pass and can also send you in the right direction of the museum.
Know Before You Go: Check the Blue Angels practice schedule before you head out to the museum. If they are practicing be sure to arrive early enough in the morning to catch the aerial acrobatics. The practices are sight to see. There are bleachers to sit on but you can bring a blanket and chairs if you wish. Bring earplugs for the children because it gets very loud but if you can sit near one of the volunteers you might hear the pilots through the volunteers’ walkie talkies! After the Wednesday practices, often the pilots head into the museum for an autograph signing.
Spend a few hours wandering around the museum where you will see many restored aircrafts, uniforms, mementoes, and Blue Angels hanging from the ceiling! Both of my children could spend an hour on the second floor climbing in and out…and in and out…of the cockpit trainers. They can push the buttons, pull the levers, and pretend to be pilots. If you have smaller children, stop by the USS Kiddie Hawk, a play structure set up to resemble an aircraft carrier. There is also an IMAX, guided tours, and more at the Naval Aviation Museum! If you are hungry, grab a snack or lunch at the Cubi Bar before you make your way back to your car.
After the museum, drive down the road to the Pensacola Lighthouse, supposedly one of the most haunted lighthouses in the United States! The Pensacola Lighthouse offers tours, ghost hunts, and Light of the Moon tours (spooky!).
Know Before You Go: Children must be at least seven years old and at least 44 inches to tour the lighthouse. No flip flops or spike heeled shoes are allowed in the lighthouse.
After being inside most of the morning, the kids will be itching to get outside. Drive to Big Lagoon State Park where you can walk along a pretty boardwalk and spy birds or other wildlife. There are guided walks and ranger programs available throughout the year. The cost to enter the park is $6 per vehicle.
At dinner time, take the drive to the Oar House where you can eat outside overlooking Bayou Chico while you watch the sun set. The fish sandwiches are delicious but if you would like to order a burger you can!
Day Three – A History Lesson
Pensacola is rich in history. It claims to be America’s first settlement but unfortunately it wasn’t continuous. Take it easy on day three and spend the day wandering around our beautiful downtown area and Historic Pensacola. Take a guided tour of historic Pensacola and then head to the TT Wentworth Museum where you can head to the top floor and let the kids play with the interactive exhibits in the Discovery Gallery.
When the children are done pretending to be colonists take a walk to the Pensacola Museum of Art where the current exhibit (until September 4, 2011) is Chagall for Children on loan from the Kohl Children’s Museum.
Are you hungry yet? Stop by one of the many delis (my favorite is Norma’s!) downtown to pick up lunch and head to Bayview Park to have a picnic lunch. The children will love to climb on the playground equipment and you will enjoy the breeze coming off of the water.
We finish off our day with an early dinner at Atlas Oyster House. The deck is beautiful and very family friendly. The kid’s menu includes the typical items like chicken tenders but they also different choices like sushi, crab cakes and fish. Watch the sunset over the water while you enjoy a delicious meal with your children. If you have had your fill of seafood, head over to Five Sister Blues Café where they cook up true Southern soul food. The fried chicken is mouth watering but be sure to save room for some bread pudding!
If you are downtown on a Thursday, head to Plaza de Luna and visit the splash pad, listen to a band play and watch the sun set at Sunsets in the Plaza. You can go to Evenings in Olde Seville and listen to a band as well.
Pensacola, Florida is such a wonderful place to take the family. Even though this is just a three day itinerary you could spend two weeks and not see everything Pensacola has to offer! Have you been to Pensacola? What is your favorite family friendly activity?