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Adventures in Pensacola: The Hidden Gems

  • Pensacola Downtown
  • Bookstore and Cafe in Pensacola
  • Palafox Market
  • Walking in Downtown Pensacola
  • Blue Angels
  • Ice Flyers
  • Pensacola Beach
  • Breakfast on the Beach in Pensacola
  • West Campus Outing
  • Red Lobster Outing in Pensacola
  • Student outing

When the sun is out and the temps are just right, Pensacola Beach is a popular getaway for Pensacola Christian College students. The crystal-clear emerald waters crash and recede from the squeaky quartz sand underfoot. Seagulls squawk and dive overhead. At certain times of the year, a deafening roar will slice the cloudless blue skies, followed by sleek blue fighter jets charging overhead. Witnessing the U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly over Pensacola Beach is one of the most patriotic experiences in Pensacola.

With its naval history, rich past and culture, coffee shops, eateries, beaches—and so much more—Pensacola, Florida, is more than a top destination town; it’s an ideal backdrop for one to explore, learn, and find community.

Downtown Pensacola’s Diversity

At over 460 years old, the city of Pensacola is known as America’s First Settlement and “The City of Five Flags.” Since 1559, France, Spain, Britain, the Confederate States, and the United States have each claimed ownership of the city, leaving their mark behind through diverse cuisine and architecture. Palafox Street leads through the heart of Downtown Pensacola, ending at the city’s original wharf. Old live oaks shade the road lined with trendy shops, bistros, and galleries. Surrounding storefronts and office buildings exhibit intricate French ironwork verandas, Spanish brick and stucco, and British-style cottages made from timber and clapboard.

Pensacola sign by a local artist.

For a lovely blend of past and present, Downtown Pensacola exhibits quite a selection. Explore the historical district, art museums, and theaters for an enriching experience. Local PCC grads, Shining Light Players, present soul-stirring performances at the REX Theatre. And every Saturday morning, many students love supporting local artisans and other vendors at the Palafox Market.

While PCC students devote hours to study, many take planned—and unplanned—breaks off campus for a change of scenery and a time to connect with others. “There are different sights, smells, and people [than] from the ones on campus,” said Makayla Sanchez, (Sr., AL), a performance studies student. “Besides, get outside as much as you can! The green trees and blue skies improve mental health and the general day so much more than you realize.”

Get Off Campus

Pensacola offers a wealth of places to go and things to do. There is literally something for everyone. Want a place to eat with friends? Try for the first time—or hundredth time—Taqueria El Asador (ranked #3 on Yelp’s top 100 restaurants in Florida), Bagelheads, Pieology, Rodizio Grill, Sushi Masa, and so much more. Love to shop? Browse at Cordova Mall, 4 Targets within a 13-mile radius, and at least 11 Walmarts. For those without vehicles on campus, PCC offers a $2 shuttle service that transports students to local stores each Saturday and class-free days.  

Pensacola offers a wealth of places to go and things to do.

Students from PCC get to enjoy special discounts at a number of local businesses when they show their student ID. Nearby Christian-owned shops like Maynard’s Donuts, Drowsy Poet, Crumbl Cookies, Coffee Guy Café, and more offer about 10% off student purchases. And local dentist Dr. Elias Gonzalez (Pre-Medicine ’09) gives free consultations to PCC students, staff, and faculty.

Students at a La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant during a Student Outing.

Pensacola has shops, restaurants, and experiences that Chloe Ballard’s (So., ID) hometown doesn’t. “I am from a small town,” she explained, “so I enjoy going shopping or out to eat without having to turn it into a whole day trip. Back home, it takes at least an hour to get to Walmart.”

To discover places solo, there are several libraries, bookstores, 50+ coffee shops to choose from, and many other quiet places to study or get a mental break. For books, explore the quaint Bodacious Bookstore & Café or sift through the rare and $1 books at Open Books. Get a caffeine fix from trendy options like downtown Parlor Doughnuts, the new Scooter’s drive-through, or the retro Coffee Cup. “I absolutely love the beach and downtown areas: downtown because it has some really nice coffee spots!” shared Davita Reynolds (Fr., FL).

Stay Outside

With an average of 220 sunny days a year, be sure to get outside and absorb some vitamin sea and D. Looking to work up a sweat or relax in a hammock? Explore historical Fort Pickens, toss a football across Pensacola beach’s white sands, or find a shady spot on the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Students can check these out on their own or with a Student Outing group. Other excursions include paddle boarding, hiking, cheering for local sports teams, and a beachside breakfast.  

With an average of 220 sunny days a year, be sure to get outside and absorb some vitamin sea and D.

Coming from South Florida, Elizabeth Chung (So.) feels that Pensacola is new, but still like home. “Not having a car on campus, I take advantage of Student Outings,” she said. “For example, I enjoyed attending an Ice Flyers game last semester.”

Taking advantage of the pleasant, warm weather, Skyler Ploszaj (So., CT) socializes in the local area with his mixed group of friends, a new change implemented last semester. “Normally, when I go off campus, it’s to Walmart for necessities, Christian Service, or a restaurant with friends (3+ pass for the win!). The 3+ pass has been very helpful with making off-campus plans, so I greatly appreciate that,” he said. Skyler also toured the historic Fort Pickens. “I found it very cool to see a piece of history still around today.”

Kayakers during a West Campus Student Outing.

Joseph Swanson (Jr., NC), who studies cybersecurity, enjoys Pensacola’s laidback vibe. He recommends Maker’s Coffee Co., and “the Bodacious Café is a nice place to study and get lots of work done in a fun environment.” Joseph has his favorite spots. “Bayview Park is a relaxing place to walk or skate around. You can also cook on the community grill,” he said. “The [local] seafood and coffee are incredible, and I always miss them when I go back home. Pensacola is a unique city that you can explore for years and still want to come back.”

The beach, of course, is on top of most students’ outdoor plans. Whether going to Park East or Park West, be sure to enjoy attractions like island boutiques and open-air restaurants on the water—before or after soaking up the sun. Davita escapes to the beach “to get away from all the hustle and bustle. And [it’s] great for photos too.”

“Pensacola is a unique city that you can explore for years and still want to come back.”

Perfect Location

The Florida Panhandle is a corridor to more endless adventures such as day trips to neighboring states. Discover the outdoor shopping mall in Foley, stroll the quaint town of Fairhope, savor authentic beignets in New Orleans, or stay a little closer to kayak and catamaran on PCC’s very own stunning West Campus. Even at Christmastime, a trip to the Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Alabama, can be simply magical. “The Christmas lights are breathtaking!” said Elysia Aldrich (Sr., KY). “Bellingrath Gardens is a beautiful place to visit.”

Rain or shine, there’s always something for everyone to do—and so much yet to be discovered. Just remember to keep an eye on the weather from day to day! “It can be sunny one minute and then downpouring the next,” warned Davita. “I guess that’s just Florida in general, but you have to always have an umbrella on hand.”