48 Hours in Pensacola, Florida
This past Saturday marked five weeks here in Pensacola Beach, Florida. It seems like we arrived yesterday. We are so, so fortunate to be able to spend time at a family member’s home while we’ve been looking for RVs and establishing residency and all of the super fun details that come along with those items. Blerg.
Andrew and I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, less than five hours from here, but most of our spring breaks and summer trips were spent east of here in Panama City, Florida. Before we came down here last April for a visit, my time in Pensacola had consisted of one trip in college to see a friend. It didn’t leave an impression.
Maybe Pensacola has changed, maybe I have changed (fingers crossed), but I have been impressed with this little town. Besides the Gulf beaches, which I will go to my grave proclaiming as some of the prettiest beaches in the world, there has been delightfully surprising food, drink, and shopping. If you’re here for a weekend, hit some of our favorites, listed below.
If you didn’t drive to town, I’m going to suggest you rent a car. Like most Southern cities, it’s in your best interest. Otherwise, we have used Uber once but haven’t used any public transpo besides the beach trolley that, while free, only runs Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you’re here during that time, I highly suggest it, if only for the crazy stories the drivers will tell you about their inebriated passengers.
Day #1 (Evening, Post-Arrival)
While the beach may be calling to you, try to tune it out until you spend a little time in Pensacola’s adorable downtown.
Old Hickory Whiskey Bar
123 S Palafox St, Pensacola, FL 32502
Besides a signature cocktail list that includes gin, vodka, and the other usual suspects, there is a wall of whiskey to choose from for a sip. If you want to get a seat at the bar, you might want to arrive before dinner. Also, please take a moment to appreciate the lights above the bar, old whiskey bottles, and the decanter chandeliers. Be still my nerdy, design-loving heart.
22 N Palafox St, Pensacola, FL 32502
Reservations available through their website via Open Table. We’ve been there twice and haven’t had anything we wouldn’t try again, but the standout for us has definitely been the Gumbo. I am generally scared to order Gumbo as I usually am not impressed, but I am so glad I took the chance here. They serve it with a scoop of potato salad, which I had never seen before, but is apparently pretty common in Louisiana. We usually order a lot of starters and a small portion of the catch of the day so we can try as much as possible. They also have a limited late-might menu if you stayed a little too long at Old Hickory.
Make your way back to Palafox (are you seeing a pattern here?) for the Farmer’s Market, 9am-2pm. There is some fresh produce, eggs, homemade bread, grits, and amazing corn tortillas. Even if you’re not in the mood to lug okra back with you on the plane, you can get coffee, snacks, or a cinnamon bun from one of several bakers. There are a lot of crafts for sale as well if your mother-in-law has had a hankering for an SEC-themed door wreath. And whose hasn’t?
If you’d rather sit down for breakfast, the line outside the Ruby Slipper (509 S Palafox St, Pensacola, FL 32502) seems to attest to its greatness, and you can avoid the line by checking the app No Wait, where you can see the wait times or get in line before you even arrive. While I am sure it’s delicious, we have a soft spot for a Waffle House breakfast (too many locations to list) and we like to share the bacon, egg, and cheese on Texas toast with double hashbrowns scattered well, smothered, and double-peppered. Translation: Scattered and crispy with onions and a double-dose of pickled jalapenos. You’re so welcome.
After breakfast I highly suggest wandering around downtown and exploring some of the little shops.
407 S Palafox St, Pensacola, FL 32502
One of our favorite spots. You can taste all of the different olive oils and vinegars, and they have three different size bottles to choose from. An ideal hostess gift or souvenir, there is also a coffee shop, bistro, and gourmet kitchen store.
There are also quite a few art galleries, restaurants, and the Pensacola Museum of Art is just a block away from the Bodacious Olive.
Nom Sushi Izakaya
410 S Palafox St, Pensacola, FL 32502
For lunch, wander over to Nom. Super cute with some outdoor seating. My favorite small plates are the fried chicken, tuna tacos, and I love the octopus sashimi. Next time I’m determined to get Ramen with house-made noodles. Slurp. A perfect lunch.
After lunch, head to the Naval Aviation Museum (http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/). Open daily, it’s free, and on certain weekday mornings you can watch the Blue Angels Practice. Plan accordingly. Additionally, if it’s the season, I suggest checking out a Blue Wahoos (www.bluewahoos.com) game. The park is probably the prettiest I’ve ever seen for the minors, right on the water, and tickets are very reasonable.
Hot Spot BBQ
901 E La Rua St, Pensacola, FL 32501
If you didn’t eat at the Blue Wahoos game and the game ended early enough, please go get a pulled pork sandwich from Hot Spot BBQ. They close at 8pm but their pulled pork is spectacular and you can get an extra rib added to your meal for 3.99. You should do that. Also, make sure to tell them it’s your first time visiting and you get a free cookie. They make the conconut macaroons in house. Yum.
On your third day, I suggest breakfast at whatever place didn’t make the cut on Saturday, and then getting ready for the beach!
524 S B St, Pensacola, FL 32502
Last June I was flying solo down to Atlanta for a family get-together, sitting next to a woman who was ultimately headed to Destin, Florida. When I told her that I had recently spent time in Pensacola she said, “Oh, yes, we drive over there for Joe Patti’s!” Take that in, folks. This woman drives over an hour for Joe Patti’s. So the least you can do is visit when you’re in town.
Joe Patti’s is special because they have an amazing selection of fish and seafood at wholesale prices. They also have a market, fresh bread, a sushi shop, and frozen items. It is mecca. You can wander around and look at the seafood as they operate on a number system and no one will worry you until you are in the queue. Once you have your order figured out, then take a number.
I’m going to recommend that you have your bathing suit and beach gear and be ready to hit the coast. After you meander at Joe Patti’s, get some steamed shrimp, maybe a prepared salad or two, and a baguette. Put the shrimp, etc, in your cooler, and head down to the beach. Get your dollar ready for the toll and stop for some cold beer – no glass on the beach, please.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
After you have crossed the bridged and paid the toll, take a left at the Boardwalk (the road naturally curves that way). Pass the hotels and the UFO House (on your left, http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/2825 ) and you’ll hit the National Seashore pretty quickly. This beautiful, undisturbed area has limited facilities but stretches of beach where you can truly appreciate the beauty of the Gulf. Pick your area based on your facility needs, unload your picnic, and enjoy. Or keep driving and enjoy the view.
Peg Leg Pete’s
1010 Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
After your afternoon at the beach and drive down the seashore, you’re probably hungry again. I know I am. Head back along Fort Pickens Road and continue straight where you would normally turn back towards the bridge. Peg Leg Pete’s is constantly packed, which is why we have never eaten in the dining room. We head downstairs to the Underwhere Bar and sit at the bar. Be warned, smoking is allowed, it’s divey, and the menu is a limited version of the one upstairs, but it hits the high points and the bar provides quick service. If you prefer upstairs, I’ll refer you back to that No Wait app I mentioned earlier.
I won’t tell you everything at PLP is good. It isn’t. However, we have found a few favorites that we order every single time we go, which is almost weekly. You can’t beat the $11.99 dozen raw oysters, which is how we like to start, with saltines and their in-house pirate sauce. Then we split the Cajun catfish plate. If you’ve had better anywhere else, please let me know. I haven’t.
It may be strange that I waited until Day 3 to send you to the beach, but there’s a strategy at work here. If I had done it on Day 2, that would have been the end of it. You would have stayed there all day and then returned bright and early on Day 3. And if you want to do that, I’m not going to judge you, but know that there’s more to this little beach town than just the beach.