The Gulf Coast of Florida and Alabama boast a surprisingly interesting and little-known past, and there are countless ways to explore it.
On August 15, 1559, Don Tristán de Luna established the 1st American settlement in Pensacola Bay. Since this time, the flags of Spain, Britain, France, Confederacy and America have flown over the city, where Pensacola coined the name City of Five Flags.
Pensacola Bay also played a historically significant role in the Civil War.
Luckily, local business owners and residents have done an excellent job preserving their rich heritage, which is why there are a lot of interesting cultural and historical sites to explore. So, as tempting as it is to spend every moment of your vacation with your toes in the sand, we urge you not to miss out on the areas historical and cultural offerings.
The Palafox Historic District is like a theme park for architectural buffs. You will find beautifully restored Spanish Renaissance and Baroque buildings including the Pensacola Saenger Theatre - a 1925 movie palace that is now home to the Pensacola Opera and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. There are numerous great restaurants and shops housed in atmospheric historic buildings or behind beautiful wrought-iron balconies that are a legacy of the city’s Creole past.
The Historic Pensacola Village in Seville Square consists of twenty-seven buildings listed in the National Historic Register. Eleven of these are open to the public. There are thousands of exhibits to enjoy at the at the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum and Pensacola Historical Museum. Admission to all is free.
There is a statue of Andrew Jackson in Plaza Ferdinand VII square which is located on Palafox Street between Government and Zaragoza. This is the spot where General Andrew Jackson accepted the territory of West Florida from Spain in 1821. Another interesting site is the Veterans Memorial Park located just off Bayfront Parkway near 9th Avenue. Here you will find a three quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The nearby North Hill District contains fifty square blocks of residential streets listed in the National Register of Historic Homes. This southern architectural bonanza is clearly populated by descendants of Spanish nobility, timber barons, French Creoles, Buccaneers and Civil War soldiers.
Fort Pickens provides a great opportunity to explore a massive brick fortresses that, despite its southern location, once housed Union troops. It’s located on the far western end of Santa Rosa Island and is maintained by the National Park Service. It was originally built to defend Pensacola Harbor from foreign invaders but during the Civil War, it was manned by Union troops, who used it to attack the nearby Confederate occupied forts. The fort also enjoys notoriety for imprisoning Geronimo. There are both guided tours and self-guided tours available. It’s located near a spectacular sparsely crowded beach and several nature trails so bring your beach gear and make a day of it. Entry to the park costs $8 for a carload and the pass (which is good for all Gulf Island National Seashore entries) lasts a week.
Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum
Built in 1859, the historic lighthouse is one of the tallest in the United States. Climb 177 steps to the top for amazing panoramic views. The fact that it is located on Pensacola Bay across from the Naval Aviation Museum makes it the best place to watch the Blue Angels practice. Don’t miss the ‘Ghost Tour’ or ‘Light of the Moon Tour’ for a family friendly evening of ghost stories. Tours are held monthly, with more dates added during summer season. Note the tours often sell out, so book early.
National Museum Of Naval Aviation
Be sure to check out Pensacola’s most famous attraction. It’s located aboard the Pensacola Naval Air Station and has 300,000 square feet of displays. This makes it the world’s largest aviation museum. You can experience what it feels like to stunt fly in one of their Max Flight Simulators. There’s also an IMAX movie theater. The Naval Air Station is also home to the Blue Angels Flight Squadron. Check their website for their practice times! Entrance to the exhibits is free.
From the early Native American settlements and the legacy of Spanish explorers, to the Civil War battle where Admiral David Farragut issued the infamous command, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” history buffs will find fascinating stories on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
Battle of Mobile Bay Civil War Trail
Exploring this trail is a a great way to make a family car trip more educational and entertaining. The Battle of Mobile Bay Civil War Trail stretches from the Gulf of Mexico over 90 miles to north Mobile County, and documents the military movements and way of life on and around Mobile Bay during the Battle of the Bay (August 1864) and the Overland Campaign (March – May, 1865). A series of interpretive signs at more than a dozen sites tell the stories of the ship captains, fort commanders and fighting men who lived these historic events.
Located 22 miles west of Gulf Shores this fort was completed in 1834. It was occupied during four wars including the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. It’s most famous for its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. On August 5, 1864, the fort was surrendered to Union forces after a two-week siege when Admiral David Farragut’s immortalized the expression, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” It’s considered to be one of the finest examples of military masonry in North America and was constructed with over 40 million bricks. It houses a museum detailing the military history of Mobile Point between 1814 and 1945 with exhibits of weapons, uniforms, letters, photographs, and personal items of soldiers. It hosts an annual event commemorating the Battle of Mobile Bay. During the summer, a living history program is conducted daily and candlelight fort tours are held every Tuesday evening.
Orange Beach Arts Center
Housed in the historic Orange Beach Hotel, the gallery is home to works by over 100 local artists and artisans. Exhibits change regularly so there is always new things to enjoy. Admission is free. The Arts Center is also home to The Hot Shop, Alabama’s only public access hot glass studio. Play with hot glass under the supervision of a master glass-blower at their Make Your Own Glass program, 10am-4pm every Tuesday to Saturday.
The Amphitheater at the Wharf
Located in Orange Beach Alabama. Big acts, big sound in this 10,000 seat outdoor theater.
Baldwin County Heritage Museum
Located in Elberta, Alabama, between Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.
175 acres of history and 7 decades of heroism in Mobile Alabama. Great place to stop on your way down to visit us.
This is the site where the Creek Indians conducted the most brutal settler massacre in American history in 1814.
Gulf Coast Exploreum
Science center, museum and IMAX theater in Mobile, Alabama.
Bellingrath Gardens & Home
This 65 acre garden estate blooms with camellias in the winter, azaleas in the spring, roses in the summer, chrysanthemums in autumn and Christmas lights during the holiday season. You can also tour Mrs. Bellingrath’s historic mansion or enjoy a river tour complete with ecological insights and historic facts.