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Travel Pensacola Beyond the Naval Base

Ready to escape to Pensacola's white beaches?

Pensacola is much more than just a U.S. Naval base. It is a pristine paradise with glistening white beaches, beautiful waterways and endless blue skies which provides an excellent getaway from the hustle of the workplace, or a relaxing atmosphere for business meetings.

The first explorer to land on the shores of Pensacola was Don Tristan de Luna, who came in 1559. The Spaniard arrived with 1500 soldiers and settlers, four Dominican priests and numerous Mexican Indians. His mission was to establish the first settlement in America, to build a defensible fortress and to bring Christianity to the Native Americans. He did not succeed in any of these endeavors as the settlement lasted only three years before being destroyed in a hurricane.

Just recently the wreckage of Luna's 1559 ship was found in the shallow water just off the shore from the Pensacola Convention and Visitors Center. Nearly 350 other shipwrecks are believed to be in the waters close to shore. What fun it would be to snorkel or dive near these wrecks!

In order to get the flavor of the town and to learn some of its history, I took a tour of the Historical Preservation district. My guide not only gave historical facts and described the lovely architecture, but told haunting stories for every block in the area. Blue lights on porches, little girls in windows and ballerinas who forever practice in upstairs rooms are among the ghosts of Pensacola.

One piece of history that I learned is Pensacola is known as "The City of Five Flags" because it has been under control of French, Spanish, English, United States and the Confederate States of America. Each year in early June, the city puts on The Festival of Five Flags. This year, my friends and I were included in the celebration at the Seville Quarter. Each restaurant in the Quarter chose to represent a different country and provided ethnic foods and drinks. We danced, ate and drank our way through the Quarter to the music of (surprise) five distinctive bands. The celebration had a Mardi Gras flavor, though they also throw parties to celebrate Mardi Gras, too. In fact, the Pensacolans take any excuse to have a shindig. Rarely a month goes by without some sort of celebration.

When the Pensacola residents aren't involved in a celebration, they fall back on traditional activities.  On Thursday nights throughout the summer in the Olde Seville Square, people bring lawn chairs and coolers or small tables, linen table cloths, candelabra and wine and sit under the huge oaks for a dinner and concert in the park. Hundreds spend the warm summer night cooled by the breeze drifting in from the Gulf of Mexico and lulled by the good music.

A celebration of sorts is continual at Trader Jon’s, a downtown bar. Martin Weismann, a native of Brooklyn, a born trader, and a Florida resident since the early 1940s, came to Pensacola in 1946. He converted an old warehouse into a bar and in order to attract business, he provided drinks in trade for something of value. 

Weismann, known as "Trader Jon", had trained during World War II for the parachute corps, an ankle damaged during training left him with an obvious limp and permanently bowlegged. He magnified his affliction by wearing socks of different colors and by making one pant leg longer than the other. His love for flying and his friendship with one of the original Blue Angels gave him the desire to collect souvenirs from aviators.

Over the years the Blue Angels made Trader Jon’s their off-base headquarters. Now under new owners, the walls and ceilings of Trader Jon’s still resemble a museum. You can spend hours inspecting the collection of items from Blue Angels, the Snowbirds and the Thunderbird aviators as well as from distinguished dignitaries from around the world. If you visit Trader Jon's, make sure to sample the Bushwacker, the house drink which looks like a milkshake but carries a wallop.

Pelicans are a common sight along the shore in Pensacola. 

Since Pensacola is noted for its seafood, I took a tour of Joe Patti’s Seafood House. Pelicans were perched on the nearby pilings, hoping that the shrimpers unloading their boats would be distracted long enough for them to grab a bite. 

Inside the fish house, numerous workmen went about the business of cleaning the fish, shrimp and shellfish. Visitors are allowed to watch the process of preparing the fish from the boat to the sales table. Surprisingly, I found it clean and almost odorless. As the fish house is retail as well as wholesale, I ordered fish to be shipped to my friends and to myself back at home.

If good food, economy, and camaraderie is your goal, go to Hopkins’ House at 900 North Spring Street. I arrived early and visited with the other folks on the shady front porch while we waited. For $6.95, the cook (who has worked there for 40 years) prepares Southern home cooking and serves it family style.

The dining rooms are the actual living area of a 1900 home. I entered the hallway, found my way through the various rooms with their old-fashioned sash windows, high ceilings and brick fireplaces to the room where I and other guests shared a large table. We passed an endless supply of such home-cooked dishes as cornbread, biscuits, squash casserole, carrot salad, potato salad and rice. After the meal, which ended only when I was too full to eat more, I cleared my place at the table and returned the dishes to the kitchen window.

For more elegant dining, try Jackson’s. This fine restaurant occupies the ground floor of a revitalized 1860s era building. The decor is elegant, while not being ostentatious. The wrought iron trees which hang upside down from the ceiling make impressive chandeliers. Each of the various rooms is decorated in a different style. Eleven-foot French doors with transoms provided us with a panoramic view of the plaza. The walls are made of lumber from an 100-year old giant cypress, giving the restaurant a 19th century look. A waiter in formal attire greeted us at the door, and with the help of other waiters, spent the evening pampering us. 

It was hard to hold back the tears at what I think is the most touching monument in Pensacola, The Wall South Veteran’s Memorial Park. A half-scale replica of the wall in Washington, D.C., the wall contains the names of the American men and women who died in the Vietnam War. On site is a computer which allowed me to type in the name of a loved one and find the exact location of the name on the wall.

Sailing is just one of the many outdoor activities Pensacola has to offer.

Pensacola is a sportsman's paradise. Fishing, swimming, boating, parasailing-all are readily available. Canoeing and kayaking on beautiful Florida rivers are only an hour away at Milton. Adventures Unlimited has canoes and kayaks for rent and puts you on the rivers for a four or seven hour journey downstream, or an overnight adventure. They also have cabins for rent for those who want to spend more time on the river.

The lovely city of Pensacola keeps calling me back.  It is one of those places where I will never be bored.  Something is always left for the next time. 

(Please note that due to the devastation from the 2004 hurricane season, some locations in this article are no longer in service.)

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