Pensacola: Celebrating 450 Years

April 16, 2009 | By | Comments (21)


Photo: Robbie Caponneto

A 450th birthday calls for some serious celebrating and Pensacola plans to commemorate its founding all year long. The Florida Panhandle city, home to a festive lot of residents well rehearsed in the art of merriment, has planned a slew of events throughout 2009 and in the process remind St. Augustine which city was actually settled first. (See below for the answer.)

The King and Queen of Spain officially kicked off the celebration back in February with a visit and salute to Spanish explorer Don Tristan de Luna who, in 1559, founded the settlement that later became Pensacola. During the first weekend in April, the city held the Pensacola Spanish Food and Wine Festival, during which 12 Spanish wine makers – a turnout so large as to surprise even the event’s organizers – offered samples of their delicious wares.

Upcoming Events

In the coming months, Spanish artist Miguel Zapata will present an exhibit of his work and the city will be treated to a visit from the Juan Sebastian de Elcano – the world’s third largest tall ship. Even annual events, like the Pensacola Seafood Festival, Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival, and the Blue Angel Homecoming (the Navy’s jet acrobatic team is based at NAS Pensacola) will offer extra touches in honor of the birthday.

Pensacola 0409 040  

The Lee House offers visitors a terrific view of the bay from its porch and balcony.

Downtown Pensacola

The anniversary-related events are, however, just a part of Pensacola’s storyline. Over the past decade, Pensacola has emerged from the shadow of sister Pensacola Beach — at least where tourist coverage is concerned — and established itself as one of the hottest destinations on the Gulf Coast. The sound-side city has quietly renovated its historic downtown, creating a roughly half-square-mile district that is eminently walkable, mischievously fun, and plenty romantic. Restaurants and shops offer local fare and hard-to-find wares, while three new inns have recently opened downtown: New World Inn, Sole Inn and Suites, and Lee House B&B. The latter, operated by local restaurateur Norma Murray and her pediatrician husband Patrick, offers spanking new, eco-friendly accommodations along the waterfront.

Shops fill storefronts up, down, and around Palafox. For instance, Artesana Imports and its wine shop, located on West Garden Street, sell hard-to-find flatware and other housewares, as well as wines that run the gamut from budget to top-shelf. On Palafox, Distinctive Kitchens offers a wide selection of kitchen wares, wines, and cooking classes, while artist JY sells her art, jewelry, European cosmetics, and other items just across the street at Art Praha.

Restaurants, such as stalwarts Jackson’s, Global Grill, and Fish House, offer locally influenced fare, knowledgeable staff, and that singular Gulf Coast sense of fun that insists we not worry about tomorrow’s wake-up call, as it’ll be waiting for us whether we go to bed early or not at all.


Beyond the central business district the city offers even more, such as the National Naval Aviation Museum, the Noble Manor Bed & Breakfast, and restaurants, such as the Coffee Cup (520 E. Cervantes, 850-432-7060) and Chet’s (3708 W. Navy Boulevard, 850-456-0165), the latter, according to a reliable source, offers some of the best mullet on the planet. Of course, if you've made it all the way to Pensacola, you should definitely spend a little time at Pensacola Beach and enjoy some of the whitest sand on the Gulf Coast.

Alas, there’s much more to see and do in the Pensacola area, much of which we’ll cover in upcoming issues of Southern Living. In the meantime, make a beeline for P’cola. A 450th anniversary doesn’t come around all that often, you know.

See for a schedule of anniversary-related events and other information. For general info about the city of Pensacola see

Pensacola 0409 birdcrop

Pelican sculpture's dot the Pensacola landscape. This bird, near Seville Square, depicts the five national flags that have flown over the city. Photo: Stephanie Banks

Who’s Older: Pensacola or St. Augustine?

Spanish explorers first attempted to settle Pensacola in 1559 — some six years before St. Augustine – but abandoned the former about two years later due to storms and other hardships. The Spanish didn’t return for another 100 years, instigating something of an identity crisis for Pensacola and most of the Florida Panhandle, as it was traded and taken by a variety of countries and quasi-government entities. In all, the flags of five nations have flown over this section of the Panhandle: those of Spain, France, United Kingdom, Confederate States of America, and USA.


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    Congratulations to all Pensacola citizens..
    There’s nothing more powerful than history.. so congratulations to all.
    It’s difficult for a city to survive time…

    February 19, 2011 at 11:53 am
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    A real acomplish of perseverance and hard work from a hole city!!

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  15. bailey

    Pensacola has some great events going on this year! Don’t miss Pensacola Beach’s Rudolph’s Red Nose Ramble on Dec. 20. It will be at the Sandshaker at 2p.m. The Santa Look Alike and Sexy Elf contests will be to die for! See more about this at

    December 10, 2009 at 4:39 pm
  16. Richard

    Thanks for the compliment. I’ve straddled the state line a few times while enjoying a nice cool beverage at the FloraBama. It’s on my list of faves.

    May 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm
  17. Nick

    Great Article Richard.
    Next time you’re in town, you should check out Perdido Key. No trip to the area is complete without enjoying a drink at the Flora-bama.

    May 8, 2009 at 10:30 am
  18. Patrick O’Sullivan

    ‘Nuf said.
    Sorry to go off like that, but I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen Pensacola slighted in national/regional press coverage. I certainly agree that this is a nice place to live, and, every now and then, I feel I have to defend its reputation. At times I may be a bit overzealous about it.
    Your edit also helped to clarify things a bit.
    A “thank you” is probably in order for your taking the time to give Pensacola (and especially the downtown area) the attention and praise it deserves.
    Thank you. I hope you will continue to enjoy your visits here.

    April 16, 2009 at 6:55 pm
  19. Richard

    No offense was intended and I certainly am not calling Pensacola a podunk town. I’m simply noting that Pensacola Beach received the lion’s share of the tourist publicity until about 10 years ago. That’s when I began to notice a change in how the national tourism press covered the area. (I made a change to the post to make that clear.)
    As to implications that I didn’t spend enough time researching the story or time on the ground, all I can say is that such a measure is probably subjective. I don’t claim to know the area as well as I would if it were my hometown, but I greatly enjoy visiting – both the beach and Pensacola the city hold a lot of special memories for me and I have some very good friends there who at least try to keep me informed of goings on.
    For what it’s worth, I’ve been to Pensacola several times in the past year and hope to get back soon. You’ve live in a terrific little piece of heaven, a point that I think comes through pretty clear in the post. ‘Nuf said?

    April 16, 2009 at 4:41 pm
  20. Patrick O’Sullivan

    Last sentence should read:
    “It is nice to get publicity, but when that publicity implies that Pensacola is a podunk town in the shadow of a relatively insignificant tourist strip, it is slightly frustrating.”
    But, whatever.
    I should say that I’m not dismissing this article entirely. Pensacola was mentioned in a well read magazine (or on its website, at least), that is nice. I would hope our revitalized downtown continues to draw positive attention and, hopefully, new business to the area.

    April 16, 2009 at 4:23 pm
  21. Patrick O’Sullivan

    “Over the past decade, Pensacola has emerged from the shadow of sister Pensacola Beach…”
    Just thought I should note that anyone who lives here in Pensacola, has ever visited, or knows someone who lives here, is going to find that sentence to be completely bizarre.
    All of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties can generally be called “Pensacola,” and, in fact, that is exactly the area that constitutes the U.S. Census’ “Pensacola Metropolitan Statistical Area.” The Pensacola MSA, at last count, had a population of over 450,000 people. (source:,_FL_MSA)
    Pensacola Beach is an unincorporated area lying on a barrier island with a population of a little over 2,000. Pensacola Beach is a suburb or an “exurb.” Pensacola Beach is not a “sister” city to Pensacola, it is considered to be an area *of* Pensacola. Pensacola Beach is where Pensacolians spend their weekends and send their kids to their first jobs in high school, it is not a separate autonomous community.
    This simple and slightly off the wall error is very telling as to the depth of time spent and research conducted while the contributors were in the area.
    It is nice to get publicity, but when that publicity implies that (up until ten years ago, apparently) Pensacola is a podunk town in the shadow of a relatively insignificant tourist strip, it is slightly frustrating.

    April 16, 2009 at 4:14 pm

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