quayside communitymaritimeparkcom

Pensacola’s Quayside Art Gallery, with a mural of the old firehouse on the building’s east side. Photo courtesy communitymaritimepark.com

Ever visit a place only to realize, hey, they just had a gigantic outdoor arts festival…last weekend…and we missed it?! There’s a fix for that in downtown Pensacola. Quayside (pronounced “key-side”) Gallery, the largest artists’ cooperative in the Southeast, offers three floors of arts and crafts by more than 200 of the area’s most talented creatives. That’s three floors of clay, glass, fiber, precious metals, wood and more, in addition to oils, watercolors, photography, inks, and mixed media. I think there’s even some jewelry and batik in there.

The building itself, once the headquarters of the Germania Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company, once housed a horse-drawn fire engine. It’s a historian’s delight – built in 1873, it stood just one block north of the wooden “quays” or wharves where sailing ships from all over the world once moored. Believe it or not, the building stayed put and the waterfront actually moved – several acres of land were created by ballast offloaded from ships that came from distant countries and didn’t need the ballast once they reached Pensacola. Plaza Ferdinand, across the street from Quayside, has a low fence made of ballast.

But I digress. (Shocking, I know.) Back to Quayside. Are there other local galleries? Yes, absolutely. Is this one of the best? Again, absolutely. It’s staffed by local artists who volunteer their time and know their stuff and even offer free tours. There are workshops throughout the year for hands-on one-on-one time in a variety of artistic mediums.

quayside workshop cwatlanta cbslocal

One of Quayside’s popular hands-on workshops. Photo courtesy cbslocal.com

If you love Pensacola so much that you need to take some of it home with you and hang it on your wall or set it on your shelf or table or wear it around your neck or wrist, or you need a really nifty non-traditional gift for a special occasion, start here: http://www.quaysidegallery.com.



Gulf Islands National Seashore

If you prefer your Florida relatively remote, unpopulated, and wild, you might enjoy visiting a unique national park. Stretching 160 miles from Mississippi’s Cat Island to the eastern tip of Florida’s Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a great way to explore the Gulf Coast’s natural and historical features.

Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo courtesy pinterest.com

Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo courtesy pinterest.com

You can be as active as you care to be while setting your own pace: opportunities for swimming, bicycling, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, beachcombing, wildlife watching, boating, and camping abound. The seashore offers well-maintained trails and picnic areas, comfortable campgrounds, and museums and visitor centers at Naval Live Oaks, Fort Pickens, and Fort Barrancas.

The wild, windswept naval live oaks preserve near Gulf Breeze, FL. Photo courtesy filmnorthflorida.com

The wild, windswept naval live oaks preserve near Gulf Breeze, FL. Photo courtesy filmnorthflorida.com

What is Naval Live Oaks? It’s the country’s first federal tree farm in the Florida panhandle. President John Quincy Adams wanted to preserve the timber found in the stand of sturdy live oak trees for shipbuilding purposes, so he established Naval Live Oaks in 1829. Markers along the trail that meanders through the preserve identify sections of trees that were particularly valuable in the era of wooden ships. Some of the timber from the early 1800s is still preserved underwater in Commodore’s Pond, and some was used during a recent restoration of the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.”

A week-long pass to the seashore will set you back just $8. For $25, you can buy a pass good for a whole year, which is popular among the locals. For more information: nps.gov/guis, or thingstodo.com/states/FL/nationalparks/gulfislands.html.

Fort Pickens

ftpickens nwfloutdooradventure

Pensacola’s Fort Pickens. Photo courtesy Northwest Florida Outdoor Adventure.

The largest of a group of coastal forts built to protect Pensacola’s harbor, Fort Pickens was constructed between 1829 – 1834 on the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island. The fort was named for Major General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, a Revolutionary War hero known as “Wizard Owl.” Slave labor laid about 22 million bricks in the fort which was designed to be impenetrable. Fort Pickens was the only coastal fort held by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1886, it was used to house Apache prisoners, including their chief, Geronimo.


ft pickens tripadvisor

Inside the fort. Photo courtesy tripadvisor.com.

A free 45-minute daily tour by park service rangers gives insight into the fort’s features and history. You’re also free to explore the 850-acre park. If you’re intrigued by features like casemates, sally ports, dry moats, cisterns, chambers, tunnels, reverse arches, and bastions, Fort Pickens is a must-see. And even if you’re not, the cool, shadowy brick-lined passageways and dim interior rooms whisper volumes about the people who once manned the fort and lived their lives within its defenses. I’ve never seen it in person, but there is a particular view of the broken-away edge of a brick wall that is called “Geronimo’s Profile.” It’s only visible when the light is just right.

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier


pcola beach pier charlotte aguilar

A favorite place to catch the sun, whether rising or setting. Photo courtesy Charlotte Aguilar.

Extending 1,471 feet (that’s more than a quarter mile!) into the Gulf of Mexico, the pier is a vivid salt-water panorama of sea life, birds, fishermen reeling in a variety of local seafood, and even a pierside restaurant and gift shop. On summer Sunday nights, if you’re there at just the right time, you can spot the Navy’s Blue Angels flying in formation along Pensacola Beach back to their home base after a weekend air show.

Most days, the pier’s Facebook page captures a morning and evening view of Pensacola Beach – so if you’re needing a Pensacola Beach sunrise/sunset ‘fix,’ here you go! http://www.facebook.com/gulfpier.

pcola beach skiffingtonbrogancom

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier. Photo courtesy skiffingtonbrogan.com

The Grand Dame of Palafox Street

Built in 1925, Pensacola’s Saenger Theater is often referred to as “the Grand Dame of Palafox Street.” Historically, Saenger theaters throughout the South as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico immersed patrons in the opulence of French Renaissance, Italian Baroque, Neoclassical Revival, Art Deco, and Spanish Baroque/Rococo styles. If the patrons couldn’t travel to Europe, the Saenger brought Europe to them.

Saenger night shot

Pensacola’s Saenger Theater. Photo courtesy visitpensacola.com

Why so many Saengers? Brothers J.H. and A.D. Saenger of New Orleans saw a trend – palatial atmospheric theaters showing moving pictures – and jumped out in front of it in a big way. Built during the 1920s era of silent movies, pipe organs, and vaudeville shows, these “movie palaces” still add an atmosphere of European elegance to live performances and classic films.


saenger theater interior pensacola saengercom

Inside the Saenger. Photo courtesy pensacolasaenger.com

A multi-million dollar renovation in 2009 restored the elegant but aging Pensacola landmark to its original luster. From symphony concerts to Stomp!, an evening at the Saenger is an occasion to savor. For a look at upcoming local shows and events:


Dining Al Fresco

al fresco brian butler

Putting the “fresh” in “fresh food, served fresh.” Photo courtesy Brian Butler

Spotted recently in downtown Pensacola: four sleek silver Airstream trailers. They’re not just passing through, either; you can find them at the intersection of South Palafox and Main Streets. If you’re looking for a delicious outdoor dining option with out-of-the-box menus like fresh Gulf seafood, authentic Southern barbecue, a Tex-Mex taqueria, and Asian fusion, and you like the idea of people watching while perching at a pub table under a patio umbrella just a few steps from Pensacola Bay, this is probably a great fit for you. “Gouda Stuff” has a menu dedicated to grilled cheese lovers. Can you even imagine?

If you want your lunch to be a combination of great local food, a perfect heart-of-downtown setting, and breezes off the bay…call me and I’ll join you. It’s like taking an hour-long vacation without leaving the zip code. Most places are open for lunch and dinner, there’s a daily happy hour, and on Mondays, kids 12 and under eat free. Explore menus to your heart’s content here: www.eatalfresco.com.