Why Pensacola is Florida’s ultimate coastal escape

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Why Pensacola is Florida’s ultimate coastal escape

Located in Florida’s panhandle on its western border, you’ll find the relaxed coastal city of Pensacola. With miles of protected shoreline, the city’s picture-perfect beaches are not only a joy to discover, but also considerably quieter than most in the state. Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key are home to sparkling white beaches, mesmerising wildlife and endless unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico. From spotting sea turtles to riding waves, discover what these waterfronts have to offer.

Locals head to Pensacola Beach to relax in the midday sun and cool off in the Gulf of Mexico.

Photograph by Visit Pensacola

Pensacola Beach

Tumbling towards clear Gulf waters, you’ll find Pensacola Beach on the skinny island of Santa Rosa. Roll out a towel along the federally protected shoreline, the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and you’ll have views of the balmy Gulf of Mexico to the south and a pristine bay to the north. The beach here is serene and adorned with flour-soft sand, dunes crowned with sea oats and water so clear that the sea floor is still in view far into the depths.

Away from the crowds, great blue herons pick through the shallows, the fins of dolphins slice through the waves like butter and crabs scuttle along sands that shimmer in the hazy sunlight. Within the Gulf Islands National Seashore, there are paddling trails and hiking guides, cycling trails and camping pitches available. Thanks to the warm and clear waters, scuba diving has taken off in Pensacola, allowing more opportunities to explore a shipwreck or hover amid an artificial reef. 

Those looking to explore the coast a little further should sign up to a guided tour of Fort Pickens. West of Pensacola Beach on Fort Pickens Road, the pre-Civil War fort is perched dramatically overlooking the beautiful shoreline. The military fortress, which dates back to 1843, is a must-visit for history buffs looking for incredible vistas.

Perdido Key

A 15-mile car journey from Downtown Pensacola, the barrier island of Perdido Key is carved into the far western shores of Florida and suspended in the emerald waters. Here, white dunes ripple towards the water, beach grass sways in the breeze and gulls, terns and pelicans swoop offshore. From May to September, many species of sea turtles clamber onto the sands of Perdido Key to lay their eggs. Around eight weeks later, the hatchlings begin to appear and make their first trip to the foamy shallows. Perdido Key is, first and foremost, a truly mesmerising haven for wildlife.

Pensacola’s Perdido Key invites visitors to get active and kayak amidst breathtaking natural beauty.

Photograph by Visit Pensacola

Discover a tangle of dunes, marshes and coastal forests on the 16-mile-long island , where shorebirds cling to the branches of pine trees and the elusive Perdido Key ghost crab scuttles out of sight. Walk along the boardwalks and reach the shoreline where shells, sand dollars and black mermaid’s purses have washed up onto the sugary sands.

After finding the perfect spot, gaze out at the seemingly endless water stretching out to the horizon. There are paddleboards and kayaks available for rent or, to make a full day of it, fishing and boat charters will take you deeper into the emerald-green waters. And, if one day is not enough, there are plenty of hotels in Pensacola to bed down in to prolong your trip even further.

Plan your trip

There are regular direct flights to the U.S. from Heathrow. Connecting flights to Pensacola are available from most major U.S. airports, including George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston, Texas. For more information on how to plan a trip to the city, head to visitpensacola.com

This paid content article was created for Visit Pensacola. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveller (UK) or their editorial staffs.

To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine click here. (Available in select countries only).

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