When it comes to places to stay and things to do in Pensacola Florida, this is the blog post you’ve been looking for! Recently, my family and I took a much-needed, week-long vacation to this beautiful area and we made sure to make the most of it. From beach hopping to eating at some of the area’s best restaurants, below are our personal experiences.
Places to Stay and Things to Do in Pensacola Florida
Before we get into the good stuff, you should know that I’m a die-hard planner at heart. I’m talking meal planning, putting together an itinerary, everything. For this trip, I was honestly a little behind on it all. But, since we were staying a full week, we had time to make last-minute plans and adjustments.
Places to Stay in Pensacola Florida
Ever since our first Airbnb home in Manhattan, KS, we will never choose any other lodging option. It’s much better for our large family to have a home-like place to stay with all the amenities. Hotels are too small and condos, apartments, etc. don’t always offer everything we need. We actually stayed in two different homes this trip and had the opportunity to visit a friend in Orange Beach and check out their Phoenix Condo.
This was our original first housing option. I book places after reading 99% of the reviews and looking at the pictures 20 times. Upon arrival, everything seemed the same as the pictures shown. It had an extremely homey feel and filled with all types of antique type decor. The beds were soft, there were enough toiletries, towels, amenities, etc. Although the air unit went out before we got there, the window units kept it cool.
After staying one full day, we began to notice bugs. Now in Richard’s defense, he did give us details in a book about upcoming repairs, apologies for stains on the ceiling (which you couldn’t really see), and a heads up about bugs. Thing is, we started seeing roaches primarily in the kitchen area, and spiders.
This would have typically been okay if they didn’t seem to come out more and more. Richard was very responsive and extremely accommodating once we brought this to his attention. As a matter of fact, he was okay with us finding another place and he refunded us for five days. That was very generous of him. It was crazy because I never saw a bug alert in ANY of the 20+ reviews I read! We still recommend staying in this home if you have a large family or group visiting Pensacola.
It’s super close to downtown, a 10-minute drive to the beach, and near all the best food spots! See a full walkthrough of this home here!
This was the home we spent the rest of our vacation in and it did not disappoint. Every single bedroom had a king size bed, a mini refrigerator, TV, and a charging station. The appliances were futuristic and the overall layout was very welcoming and beautiful. It was only 3 miles from where we were already staying so it didn’t hinder things to do in Pensacola Florida. The highlight of this home (for me) was the carport area they turned into a little cafe/bistro area.
Check out the walkthrough below. We highly recommend staying here. They also have 20+ other places and I have my eye on a few of them when we visit the area again!
Earlier I mentioned that we were able to visit some friends in Orange Beach. They stayed in a Phoenix I Condo and although it’s not quite our cup of tea (yet), it’s still worth mentioning. If you’re a somewhat smaller family and want to be positioned directly on the beach, these may be for you. They are a lot smaller than a home, think small apartment, but you get the commodity of several pools, hot tubs, and a gym on site. Not to mention, you are steps away from the beach!
We did like the size of the bedrooms. Our friends had a two-bedroom, two-bath and it had a nice sized living room and dining room area. The balcony was a great size and makes for a good cup of morning coffee overlooking the ocean. However, having small kids, it may be a little nerve-wrecking if you have climbers. While we don’t think a kiddo would actually make it over, we would probably have a door guard, LOL!
Grocery Stores in Pensacola Florida
If you’re a grocery shopping on vacay of person, then you’ll want to know a few things about getting your food essentials in Florida. Grocery food is generally tax-exempt in Florida. Compared to the cost of food in my home state (Kentucky), things are a little more expensive. This could be a Pensacola thing since it is kind of a tourist spot. We ended up visiting three different places.
Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe
This was one of the first places we stopped and it was super-triple overpriced. We didn’t realize they carried organic only, and we all know the truth behind “organic.” If we knew the source and could trust that it was made as God intended (my husband’s words), we would’ve shopped there. However, $5+ for a small can of tuna – no thank you!
We’re familiar with this chain of grocery stores so we figured we hit jackpot… until we walked in. Over half of the stores lights were out and ALL of their produce and fresh foods were covered. One of the workers said they had lost electricity which means everything fresh had to be tossed. We were able to land some packages of bottled water, adult beverages, and a few other things. Still no major food shopping though.
This was the winner. Just like any other Publix, they were stocked and packed with everything we needed. They even had our favorite wine (Manichewitz)! Staying as close as possible to the meal plan and $173 later – we finally wrapped up our grocery shopping for the week. We typically spend about $120 a week at home but factoring in higher food costs and extra items, it was fine.
Best Places to Eat in Pensacola Florida
When we meal plan, we typically throw in a few eat-out meals because we know we are going to check out a few local spots. Here are the places we opted in for checking out.
Since our private beach date was cancelled by the host (because the threat of Tropical Storm Fred that never happened), we visited The Oar House for our first date night. We were placed at a table on the deck overlooking the water, which was super romantic. Our meal started with beef macho nachos, a margarita (for me) and a locally brewed beer (Pens Bay Amber) for Bryan. As a main course, Bryan had the blackened Mahi platter and I had a blackened Grouper platter.
The food was super good and filling. Needless to say, we had to get a couple of to-go boxes. Before packing up, though, our sweet server, Casie, talked us into a yummy brownie with ice cream. This place gets 5 out of 5 stars from us!
Bryan and I were first introduced to this place by our friends we keep talking about (LOL). We joined them for a few beverages after The Oar House, but eventually went back a few days later for another date night. They were not kidding when they told us we’d get tons of food. As an appetizer, we enjoyed Reuben Rolls with thousand island dressing. I ordered a New York strip steak, salad, and baked potato. Bryan ordered what we thought would be a filet mignon, but it had fat in it and seemed look a lot like my steak. He also had a caesar salad and garlic mashed potatoes.
In addition to all this food, we were also given a full mini loaf of black bread with butter and a half-cut tomato topped with cheese. Overall, this was a great meal and the environment screams all things Irish from the decor to the live music.
After getting back from our dolphin cruise (more on that below), we went next door to The Cafe Nola. This place was really neat and definitely had a unique set up. You seat yourselves and order at the counter. Then, your food comes out to you fresh. The back end faces the ocean, which makes for a pleasant view. We decided to sit inside to make sure we had a table big enough, plus we had a sleeping baby wore out from the cruise.
It was a pretty pricey meal; however, they have an a la carte type menu, so every dressing, side, and drink had a price. The kids enjoyed kids’ chicken fingers and fries. My mother-in-love had a fish fingers and fries. Our oldest son had a grouper fish sandwich and cheese added to his fries. Bryan tried to full french fry debris and I had the bayou burger (that had a fried green tomato on it). The onion rings and coleslaw were good as well.
I can’t say we’d eat there again because our daughter got sick from drinking the fruit punch Hi-C and she said she never wants to eat that again. Side note: our kids rarely drink anything outside of water so the slightest bit of drinks with yucky ingredients will typically make them sick.
After spending the day in Destin, we wanted something we could pick up and take home. The Tuscan Oven came up in reviews as one of the best pizza places in Pensacola so naturally we went there. They told Bryan it would be 45 minutes to an hour before our pizzas would be done and took his number to give him a call when they were finished cooking.
Since we were only 15 minutes from the place, we took G-ma and the kids home to start getting bathed. After about 30 minutes, we headed back to get our food, only to find out that our pizzas had been done for awhile and the front desk girls saying they tried calling 4 times.
I was a little upset because we had no missed call from them and had spent $80+ on pizza that was now barely warm. After talking with the owner, she gave us back $25 and even offered to make fresh pizzas. We’re not that picky, plus we didn’t want to wait any longer. The pizza was okay. Maybe it would’ve been better if it was fresh out of the oven, but we ate what we got. We recommend sticking around if you order takeout. Better yet, just dine in.
Things to do in Pensacola and Surrounding Areas
Now the moment you’ve probably been waiting the most for. What is there to do in Pensacola, especially if you have a large family with kids ranging from 1 year old to 13 years old? There’s quite a bit to do actually…
Visit the many beaches.
On our first full day, we went to Park West Beach. Since we were unfamiliar with how beaches worked in this area, we learned quite a bit. Again, Tropical Storm Fred never hit our area but we could see the remnants of it. So much so, the waves were HUGE and there was a red flag alert. This meant that the rip currents were vigorous, making it not very safe to get into the water. We did put our feet in and the kids enjoyed playing in a gathering of water back upon the beach area.
Orange Beach is a must-see. Even if you don’t have friends that can get you direct access from a condo, there are many public access points. The sand is soft, clean, and filled with shells. We enjoyed time in the condo’s pool, but the best time was seeing our kiddos jumping and swimming in the waves. Our 1 year old couldn’t get enough!
While visiting Destin, we went to a lifeguard-less beach because our experience at Miramar was HORRIBLE. We drove about 10 minutes back toward Pensacola and stopped at Princess Beach and we had a BLAST! The waves were amazing, the water was beautiful and again, another amazing time with family enjoying God’s great creation. We left just in time before it started raining, but it was only in that area.
Take a dolphin cruise.
Between this and parasailing, I wanted to experience at least one of them – so, dolphin cruise it was! We chose Premier Dolphin Cruise mainly because they were reasonably priced and had enough room for our party of 8. We were on a nice sized boat with about 30+ other people and the Captain was hilarious. He drove us out to even catch the Blue Angels doing their thing.
The only thing I noticed is that any time someone saw dolphins, the captain would immediate try to go to them, which ultimately made the herd and flee. In our opinion, he should’ve just sat still and let them come to us, like they were trying to do so many times. It was still totally worth it though!
Take scenic drives.
While we didn’t dedicate any part of our trip for scenic drives, it was beautiful everywhere we went. If you’re wanting to hit a few scenic strips, we highly recommend the US 98 from Pensacola to Destin, Scenic Highway 98 in Destin, and the Gulf Coast Scenic Drive.
Other Things to Note About Visiting Pensacola
Of course it depends on where you’re driving from, but we also highly recommend utilizing Love’s and Pilot Flying J gas stations and travel stops along your journey. These have always had the cleanest restrooms, a restaurant/fast food place connected, and wonderful customer service. They also have some of the best gas prices!
We were so blessed to be able to take this family vacation and boy was it needed. I’m also grateful that my mother-in-love was able to join us. Having her experience these moments with us and help Bryan and I enjoy some alone time is indescribable. If you’re planning to visit Pensacola, Florida, we hope this blog post will help you plan an amazing, unforgettable vacation with your family! There are so many amazing things to do in Pensacola Florida! Don’t forget to grab our free Large Family Travel Essentials and Family Road Trip Planning packs!
CHIME IN: Have you visited area? Tell us about your experience and things to do in Pensacola Florida the comments below!