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Pensacola welcomed its first visitor over 400 years ago, when a man named Don Tristan De Luna landed on the shores of Pensacola Bay with 1,400 troops. The famed Spanish conquistador liked what he saw and he quickly set up a colony with over 1,000 residents. Two years later De Luna abandoned the colony. Ironically, the city of St. Augustine, known as our nation's oldest city, was founded four years later. And it would be another 139 years before Pensacola became a settlement for the second time.
In 1698, Don Andres de Ariola and 350 Spanish soldiers became the second generation of visitors to colonize Pensacola. They succeeded in constructing the first permanent post and fort at the present day Naval Air Station on Pensacola Bay. The Spaniards built a second fort in 1719 near present Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. The French took control of it soon after.
After Spain regained control of the area in 1722, they moved their settlement to Santa Rosa Island where it could be better defended. A hurricane wiped out the colony and Spain abandoned further attempts to settle it. A small stockade, erected in 1752 near Historic Pensacola Village, is one of the few remaining sights of that turbulent time. In 1763, Spain ceded the area to the British as part of the Treaty of Paris. The British stayed 18 years (1763-1781) and added mapped streets of today's Pensacola Historic District, gardens and a public water well - before Spain recaptured Florida in 1781.
In 1821, Pensacola became part of the United States and Andrew Jackson became the first governor of the new territory. Then came the Civil War, 40 years later, when the city was involved in a standoff between Union and Confederate soldiers. Like much of the South, Pensacola ended up being divided--with the Yankees holding Fort Pickens and the Rebels controlling Fort McRee. But Confederate forces evacuated the city in 1862 and many residents fled. An industrial boom of lumber, shipping, and fishing in the 1870s brought these residents, Northerners and freed slaves, back and provided much-needed fuel for the city's growth. Pensacola's past comes alive in the Historic Pensacola Village, the Pensacola Historical Museum, the Pensacola Historic District, and The Civil War Soldiers Museum, all located downtown.
The Pensacola area is blessed with two beautiful islands making up part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore offering miles of unspoiled sugar-white sand and shimmering crystal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key were first discovered by Spanish explorers. These beaches are rediscovered daily by visitors from across the continent.
Pensacola Beach is a barrier island with a diverse atmosphere from the casual to the elegant. A strong flavor of history lives in Fort Pickens, located at the west end of the island. Once a federal preserve, Pensacola Beach retains a strong emphasis on nature. Much of it is protected from development, preserved by a determination to maintain its natural beauty for generations to come.
Perdido Key, fifteen miles west of Pensacola, is a quiet barrier island connected to both Florida and Alabama by bridges. High-rise condos and stylish vacation homes overlook the Gulf and Old River, part of the intracoastal waterway, while beach-oriented shops and a handful of memorable old-time nightspots keep the good times rolling for natives and visitors alike. Perdido Key offers the Perdido Key State Recreation Area and nearby Big Lagoon State Park with an outdoor amphitheater that hosts concerts all summer long
Watersports abound off these islands-windsurfing, jet skiing, water skiing. You can rent just about anything imaginable from bicycles to scooters to jet skis to roller blades and even rods and reel. There's diving, hiking, picnicking, camping, golf and tennis and many more activities. Both islands offer a selection of accommodations from cottages to condos, dining in an array of restaurants, and shopping in fun and memorable shops.
Experience another natural side of the Pensacola area through camping, hiking or fishing at Gulf Islands National Seashore, a 150-mile-long strip of barrier islands, harbors, and submerged land that's one of the most beautiful and well-preserved national environments in the country. Established in 1971 - with over 25 miles located in the Pensacola/Perdido Key area - it includes Santa Rosa Island (home of historic Fort Pickens and World War II batteries), and Naval Live Oaks Reservation, a 1,400-acre tract and seashore headquarters along Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze. The Gulf Islands National Seashore also contains an extraordinary collection of wildlife - including 280 species of birds.
To the west, you can camp, hike or picnic at Big Lagoon State Recreation Area located near Perdido Key on the Intracoastal Waterway. Birding, boating, concerts, and special night beach tours offer something for the whole family.
Not far from Pensacola you'll find "The Canoe Capital of Florida." It contains the spring-fed streams of the Coldwater, Blackwater and Sweetwater/Juniper creeks, which flow through state forests at a tranquil, relaxing pace. Canoe, kayak, paddleboat or inner tube down the Perdido River or through the Blackwater River State Recreation Area northeast of Pensacola. On shore, cabins, campsites, nature trails and picnic areas abound - especially at Adventures Unlimited, an 88-acre park (complete with a ropes course) that's widely regarded as the center of all the action.
There's a lot to do in the Pensacola area! Don't miss the National Museum of Naval Aviation where admission is free and the hands-on exhibits abound. Follow the history of naval aviation from wooden planes to the Skylab Module.
And for those who enjoy history, you'll love exploring our barricade forts on the beaches and beautiful historic areas in Pensacola. Visit Veteran's Memorial Park which honors all veterans of all wars and is home to The Wall South, a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Pensacola area is just one of the many reasons why Florida is the country's top golf destination. Affordable golf packages are available too. And if tennis is your sport, the area has over 30 courts available (free and for hire).
The ZOO is home to over 700 wild, not-so-wild and endangered animals and lush botanical gardens. Hand-feed the giraffes. Ride the Safari Line train. See an elephant paint. Watch the animal shows. Get a bite at the Nairobi Restaurant. Group rates are available. Try your luck at Pensacola Greyhound Track. The track is open rain or shine. The sprawling Pensacola Soccer Complex draws regional, national and international teams alike. From quaint, unique shops to sprawling malls, our area has it all for the shopper in you!
Cycling, in-line skating and jogging are popular on the beaches and equipment rentals are easily available. Plus there's wholesome entertainment for the whole family such as go-carts, miniature golf, bowling alleys, batting cages and more than two dozen movie theaters, just to name a few.
Local art is on display at Quayside, the South's largest cooperative art gallery. And national tours of art exhibitions frequently appear at the Pensacola Museum of Art and Art on the Tracks, as well as the galleries at the University of West Florida and Pensacola Junior College. Our area offers a wealth of music from symphony to jazz to big band. A host of musical groups may be performing during your visit to Pensacola. Several fantastic theatrical and dance companies give performances throughout the year. Professional touring companies frequently perform in the Saenger Theatre, a beautifully renovated 1926 theater in the downtown district. From jazz to ballet to contemporary and artistic, dance takes many forms with a variety of dance groups.
Step Through Time at The Civil War Soldier's Museum and the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum. The new Colonial Archeological Trail Project displays the remains of forts that once protected Pensacola. The Pensacola area is the year-round place for great festivals. Just pick a weekend and check out what's happening. In the fall we have the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, a picture-perfect weekend of art, music, food and fun. Spring is the time for JazzFest and Springfest, both full of music and fun. The Fiesta of Five Flags celebrates the founding of Pensacola. And the annual Fourth of July musical celebration and fantastic fireworks display over Pensacola Bay are always fun! The Pensacola Seafood Festival is full of savory seafoods, live entertainment, children's area, and arts and crafts. In winter downtown Pensacola comes alive with Christmas In The City.
Groups, reunions and convention-goers are welcome. Our climate and location, coupled with a wide range of facilities and accommodations, have earned us the appreciation and loyalty of hundreds of groups and thousands of conventioneers.
Our Convention and Visitors Information Center is always available to provide advice, expertise, and other services to ensure the success of your event, reunion or business meeting. We can suggest itineraries, provide video tours and welcome packets, assist with publicity, and coordinate special tours and events. With more than 7,200 hotel, motel and condominium rooms to choose from, you're sure to find Pensacola very accommodating!