Pensacola is found in stunning surroundings on the northwestern coast of Florida, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and just a few miles away from the state border with Alabama.
For beach lovers, Pensacola is one of the best destinations to visit in the southern United States, because the shoreline here is absolutely outstanding.
Much of the long coast is protected as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, offering ample opportunity to get out of Pensacola and to experience the spectacular white sands that the region is so famous for.
There are many great day trip opportunities to beautiful beaches, sandy offshore islands and charming coastal communities.
Pensacola is the perfect base from which to experience a part of Florida that most visitors to the state will miss in favour of the better-known destinations in the south-east.
Pensacola is also perfectly located for inter-state trips, being just a short drive away from Mobile, Alabama’s coastal city and just a few hours from the diverse Louisiana city of New Orleans.
To help inspire you to visit Pensacola, here are our favourite day trips to make from the city.
1. Pensacola Beach
Pensacola is best known for the beautiful beaches that are found all along this northwestern portion of Florida’s expansive coastline.
There are many pristine beaches within easy reach of the city, but one of the best day trip opportunities from Pensacola is a trip to Pensacola Beach.
Just 10 miles to the south of the city centre, this is part of the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore, and you will find white sands, clear turquoise water and endless sunshine.
You can swim, relax on soft sands or take on water sports activities in the ocean.
The Pensacola Beach Boardwalk also offers visitors great restaurants, cafes and shops to enjoy while you are spending the day down at the beach.
2. Perdido Key
Perdido Key is a spectacular barrier island that’s just a few miles to the west of Pensacola.
The island itself stretches across the state border into Alabama, but the small community that’s also called Perdido Key is found on the Floridian side of the border.
The island is one of the most breathtaking to be found along the Gulf Islands National Seashore and you will quickly become enamoured with the soft, white sand and incredible vistas.
The area is also a haven for wildlife, and much of the island is protected as a wildlife reserve that helps to preserve the diverse bird population that calls the area home, while offshore you can frequently see dolphins swimming through the waters close to Perdido Key.
Navarre is a coastal town that’s located 20 miles away from the city, on the eastern side of the wide Pensacola Bay.
While the small town itself has little in the way of attractions for tourists, it’s the beaches here that are the real reason to visit.
Just across the Santa Rosa Sound from Navarre is Santa Rosa Island, the location of the Navarre Beach Marine Park.
Mile after mile of glimmering white sand is protected for public use, while off the coast there are several colourful coral reefs, which are wonderful for snorkelling and diving.
4. Fort Walton Beach
Further along the coast to the east, the city of Fort Walton Beach is one of the most interesting destinations to visit in the region.
This is a beautiful place to explore, as the city overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and the far eastern end of Santa Rosa Island.
This is a popular place for visitors, as the nearby beaches are stunning and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to be found both in the city and in the nearby tourist zone of Okaloosa Island.
5. Yellow River WMA
Away from the coastline, you can find the inland scenery of the Yellow River Wildlife Management Area.
While Pensacola is known for its beaches and islands, an often overlooked part of the region is the wild contours of the Yellow River.
This protected area is home to a huge variety of wildlife that calls the river and the wetlands here home.
Combined with the diverse scenery, this becomes a unique part of Florida to explore, and there are plenty of hiking trails, biking routes and kayak and canoeing opportunities that open the area up to outdoor lovers.
6. Fort Pickens
Fort Pickens is found at the western end of Pensacola Beach, and while the area here is absolutely stunning to see, it’s the history that’s the real attraction.
At the end of the Santa Rosa barrier island is Fort Pickens, a US Military Fort that was established in 1834 to fortify the coast of Pensacola and Florida against any invasion during a time of American expansion.
The fort saw action during the American Civil War and remained a strategic point throughout the conflict and even into World War II.
Now, there is an intriguing Discovery Centre that tells the story of Fort Pickens, and it’s possible to explore the fort and the surrounding historical area.
7. Fort Barrancas
Fort Barrancas is another important historical site that makes for a great day trip from Pensacola.
The fort is actually located across the water from Fort Pickens, as it formed part of the defense of Pensacola Bay, but on the mainland rather than the barrier islands.
The fort can trace its origins back to Spanish settlement in the area, and through the centuries it changed hands numerous times.
In more recent times, it has been converted into a museum to give visitors a chance to learn more about Pensacola’s long military history.
8. Panama City
Panama City – the city in Florida, not the capital of Panama of course – is a two-hour drive to the east of Pensacola.
The scenery around the city is superb, and the St Andrews Bay, which Panama City overlooks, is a beautiful place to take a cruise on the water, surrounded on one side by beaches and barrier islands, and looking out to the skyline on the other.
Apalachicola is almost 200 miles away to the west of Pensacola, and although it’s a long drive from the city, it’s well worth the three-hour journey to enjoy one of the coast’s loveliest small towns.
Apalachicola overlooks the Apalachicola Bay and fishing has long been the primary industry here, although tourism may soon exceed it as more visitors arrive each year looking to experience the delights of small-town Florida.
Also 200 miles away from Pensacola, but located inland, is Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida.
This is a must-visit city, and it makes for a great break from exploring the coastline. This lively and bustling place is a great place to learn more about Florida, by visiting the Museum of Florida and the other many institutions such as the Capitol Buildings which are found in the city.
A little closer to home, the quaint fishing community of Destin is found just an hour down the road from Pensacola. Famous for its ‘Emerald Coastline’, Destin is both an aesthetically beautiful city and a charming place, that’s full of character.
Fishing is huge here and you can enjoy some of the best seafood along the coast.
12. Mobile, Alabama
Less than an hour away to the west of Pensacola is the city of Mobile, across the state border in Alabama.
This is one of the most diverse cities along the southern coast of the United States. In Mobile you will find a huge array of restaurants and cafes that showcase the different cultures that have all merged to produce the city’s incomparable atmosphere.
Originally founded by the French, the city has at times been Spanish, British and is now uniquely American.
13. De Soto National Forest, Mississippi
To get to De Soto National Forest, you will cross two state borders, as it is located to the west of Pensacola, in Mississippi.
This is one of the best national forests in the southern states.
The vast pine forests here are distinct to this region of the Gulf Coast and the protected area is home to a huge diversity of wildlife and other flora.
There are some exceptional hiking trails waiting within the forests, which lead through this natural wonder and allow you to see the great landscapes firsthand.
You can even camp out if you fancy spending more than a day away from Pensacola.
14. Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Hattiesburg is a two-and-a-half-hour drive northwest of Pensacola and offers visitors the chance to experience Mississipi culture in a small city environment.
The city has some great galleries and museums showcasing the local history, while the surrounding area is absolutely beautiful and will make a welcome change from the scenery of the coast around Pensacola.
Enjoy the local restaurants and cafes and hang around in the evening for a drink or two.
15. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is world famous for its lively culture of music and art and is world-renowned for its excellent culinary scene.
Located a three-hour drive away from Pensacola, it’s well worth the long journey to experience one of the most exciting cities in the United States.
Stroll through the historic streets of the French Quarter, discover the origins of Jazz music and eat as much as you can in the many varied restaurants across the city.