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Sunset at the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, Florida
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Strolling along the shoreline at Pensacola Beach, Florida
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The historic Fort Pickens at Gulf Island National Seashore in Pensacola Beach, Florida
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Cannon at the historic Fort Pickens, Pensacola Beach, Florida
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The historic Fort Pickens, Pensacola Beach, Florida
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Gulfside Pavilion, Pensacola Beach, Florida
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Fishing on the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier in Florida
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Surfing at Pensacola Beach, Florida
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Live music, Pensacola Beach, Florida
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You’ll get no argument from me that there’s nothing like a day at the beach, and what beaches you’ll find on Santa Rosa Island!

One thing that may surprise you, though, are the many activities and entertainment offered in this friendly Gulf of Mexico beach town. Pensacola Beach, which is on Santa Rosa Island in Northwest Florida, offers toes-in-the-sand relaxation along with some great historical attractions, live beachfront concerts and plenty of fresh seafood served up at local hangouts. This is what vacations are meant to be like.

Escape to a Natural Beach at Park East

If you’re looking to start your vacation off with a little peace and quiet, begin on the beautiful sands of Park East. This quiet, secluded beach is an ideal place to relax and read a book, or take a walk and marvel at the emerald-hued water. While exploring this natural area, I got a chance to learn about the area’s natural habitats on the new Pensacola Beach Eco Trail. As you stroll the beach, keep an eye out for fun signs along the way that tell you all about Pensacola Beach’s sand, shells and sea life.

Explore Historic Fort Pickens

Another Pensacola Beach must-see is Fort Pickens, set among the wild dunes of Gulf Islands National Seashore. One of only four forts never to be occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War, this impressive structure offers the perfect blend of nature and history. You can wander among archways and alcoves dating to the 1830s, exploring the fort where Apache leader Geronimo was once imprisoned. Be sure to climb to a high vantage point on the fort to take in panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico and Pensacola Bay.

Shopping and Dining in Pensacola Beach

After you’ve spent some time in the sun, be sure to check out all the fun in Pensacola Beach. From boardwalk to beachfront, I found plenty of tempting cafés and restaurants, as well as unique beach and souvenir shops to browse. Dining ranges from casual to upscale, and you’ll find plenty of al fresco options, often with a water view. For a real treat, try the area’s signature cocktail, the Bushwacker, a frozen concoction of vanilla ice cream, rum, and coffee and chocolate liqueurs.

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Casino Beach: Activities, Concerts and More

Just steps away from shopping and dining, you’ll find lively Casino Beach, one of Pensacola Beach’s most popular spots. Centrally located, it offers tons of beach activities, and the same soft white sands and sparkling waters that make the beaches here famous. Anglers flock to the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, but even without a fishing pole, the iconic pier offers great views and fabulous people watching. If you’re visiting from April to October, be sure to check out Bands on the Beach, a free outdoor concert series every Tuesday evening right on the beach at Gulfside Pavilion. You’ll hear live music, feel the Gulf breezes and catch a dramatic sunset. I can’t think of a better way to cap off a day at the beach.