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