The Kingdom of West Pensacola
Typically, and predictably, and maybe a little bit lazily, we tend to define the Pensacola region by its King and Queen - Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. The Duke of Hipness - Historic Downtown Pensacola - also earns copious kudos.
But, there’s also their sweet second cousin, the Princess of West Pensacola, who is not as celebrated as the high royalty. Yet, she still has plenty of diamonds in her crown, as well as, how shall we say it, some sequins and rhinestones. Translation, the Kingdom of West Pensacola is a cultural and economic gumbo. It’s a blend of suburban and urban, swanky and funky, upscale and downscale. It’s bountiful in history, museums, eateries, golf courses and a haunted lighthouse that has shined since 1859.
Sure, we have a healthy smattering of rapid cuisine eateries, including, by the way, a new Chick-Fil-A and five of Pensacola’s 12 dignified Waffle Houses. But there’s also the ritzy Pensacola Country Club, with 18 championship holes, the world-renowned Naval Air Museum and the ultra-high-tech National Flight Academy, a $40-million-dollar facility that even Elon Musk envies.
Diversity. That’s West Pensacola. Intriguing and enigmatic.
The Royal Castle, to continue this silly metaphor, is unequivocally the Naval Air Station. It’s Pensacola’s heartbeat. Has been since it was founded in 1913 when we became the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It followed Fort Barrancas, 1787, and Fort Pickens, 1834. Now, with 14,500 military personnel, NAS impacts everything. And, visitors are welcome. You can climb the 177 stairs of the spirited Pensacola Lighthouse. Just across the street is THE museum - a must see that’s packed with more than 150 retired flying machines. And it’s free! But the IMAX theatre will cost you a few bucks. Hanging majestically from the ceiling is a squadron of our beloved Blue Angels. The real, working Blues practice every Tuesday and Wednesday and the show is easy to find. Just look up. For the full body rush, you can experience a Blue Angels Airshow up close in early November. Parking is at the museum and earplugs are optional but suggested.
Geographically, West Pensacola encompasses a huge swath of coast and uplands that connects historic downtown to the far reaches of the Perdido area. We have three golf courses, the western campus of Pensacola State College and Antique Row, a collection of shops that line both sides Navy Boulevard.
To the far west, nature enthusiasts get tingly at Tarkiln Bayou State Park, an unspoiled kayaker’s heaven and Big Lagoon State Park, a camping/boating/fishing Mecca.
The west side also boasts a $12 million, 60-acre sportsplex with everything from soccer to football to lacrosse that was built in 2013 and plays host to local and visiting sports teams.
So, when you tire of burdens like sunning on pristine white beaches or consuming gourmet food downtown, switch on your blinker and head west. Whether you prefer diamonds or rhinestones, or both, you’ll discover the mother lode in this fairly land of many personalities.