By Rebecca Alwine, Army Spouse
For Navy and Marine families, being stationed near the water may be par for the course, but ask anyone how they feel about being stationed in Pensacola and you’ll see their eyes light up. The weather is great. The beaches are beautiful and seafood is fantastic.
Pensacola is the oldest European settlement in mainland America, though it changed ownership several times. Throughout the years it went from Spanish control to French, then back to Spanish, then British, then to Spanish once more. Even its American history is broken up, as it was part of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Now, Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels and Naval Aviation. But you’re going to find all branches here. (Even the Army!) Families come and go, and often they begin their career here in training and then come back several times before retirement.
Housing on Corry Station, NAS Pensacola, and Whiting Field are all operated by the same privatized housing company, Balfour Beatty. Service members assigned to this area can choose to live in any of the communities, though most people tend to live off the installation, out in town.
Escambia County, Florida (where these installations are located) is the second-poorest county in the state. This makes education a concern for many parents and pushes them to live off of the installation and utilize school choice whenever possible. Most people live outside the back gate, heading towards Perdido, or up north towards Milton, Pace, and Cantonment.
While traffic has its moments, overall it’s not a bad commute, even if you are driving 20-30 miles away from the installation. Though, on summer weekends, the traffic to and from the beach areas can double that drive time.
Pensacola plays host to two minor league sports team, the Blue Wahoos (baseball) and the Ice Flyers (hockey). These games are a great place to mingle with the locals and appreciate live sports, at a fraction of the cost. Wanna bring the kids to the Wahoos stadium? Get “standing room only” tickets, bring a blanket, and head out to the grassy hill right field. Hockey kicks off in late October and there are several military appreciation nights with steep discounts, as well as a chance to nominate your hero to drop the puck in center ice for each home game. Show your new hometown pride and cheer on your local Pensacola team!
Pensacola has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. A favorite among military families is Johnson’s Beach, located in Perdido. As a national park, it’s free to military families, and the amenities make it a very desirable location. The beach on NAS Pensacola is often the first one families experience, as the Navy Lodge looks right out onto it. The waters are pretty calm and the sand is soft. Pensacola Beach plays hosts to many events throughout the year, which makes it busy but fun.
Yes, Pensacola is in Florida, but the weather isn’t always hot. In the winter, it can get quite cool, but you don’t need to worry about snow storms here. Even into October, you’ll be running your air conditioner and cherishing the slightly cooler mornings. The humidity, however, is something you’ll have to get used to. It’s hot, it’s sticky, and the summer rain just makes it worse!
Food & Seafood
The food in Pensacola is something else. Why not try seafood when you can see the beach from your table in the restaurant? There are some great bars, gastro pubs, burger places, and even fine dining. A popular chain restaurant called The Shrimp Basket is a favorite for weekday lunches. Several beachside restaurants have a contained sand area for kids to play while adults relax with a cocktail. Master’s Champion Bubba Watson is a native of the area, which makes Bubba’s Sweet Shoppe a great place to visit for fudge or ice cream.
Things to Do
Historic Pensacola Village
Downtown Pensacola has something for everything. Restaurants, galleries, ice cream shops, a park and museums. The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is one of the history museums that is housed in a three-story building. Close by is the Pensacola Museum of Art and the Pensacola Children’s Museum in the Seville Quarter. All tickets purchased, at any of the museums in the group, are valid for seven days, so you can easily view them all. Annual membership is also quite affordable for those who like to revisit
Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum
For those wishing to climb the historic lighthouse, the views are spectacular. Coast Guard history, maritime history, a museum store and the restored 1869 keepers’ quarters are included in the available exhibits. It’s only 177 steps to the top, and frequently ghost hunts are available for those with an extra sense of adventure.
National Naval Aviation Museum
Pensacola has so much aviation history, that it’s impossible to see it all in one day. But those visiting the aviation museum have the best chance. Located on NAS Pensacola, this museum has over 150 restored aircraft that represent the history of Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. It’s huge, with inside exhibits filling the 350,000 square feet and outside exhibits across the 37 acre grounds. On certain weekdays, the Blue Angels practice right over the museum, so special seating is available to view that. And on extra special days, the pilots will come to that area and meet with fans.
For fresh produce, homemade bread, and a great atmosphere, the Palafox Market on Saturdays is the place to be. Grab some coffee at Fosko’s Coffee Barre and then stroll through the market. Be sure to stop and listen to the String Farm play and admire the handmade souvenirs that are sprinkled in among the vendors.
Pensacola truly has something for everyone, with just about the perfect population size. Not too many people that you’ll be stuck in traffic, but just enough that you’ll quickly find your tribe.
If you currently live in the Pensacola area or have been stationed there recently, please tell other military and veteran families what you liked and maybe didn’t like about the area in a PCSgrades housing or neighborhood review.
PCSgrades Author: Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com.