The Gulf Coast of Florida and Alabama boasts a surprisingly interesting and little-known past, and countless ways to explore.
On August 15, 1559, Don Tristán de Luna established America’s First Settlement in Pensacola Bay. Since that time, the flags of Spain, Britain, France, Confederacy and America have flown over the city, giving Pensacola the name, “City of Five Flags”. Pensacola, FL and Mobile, AL also played a historically significant role in the Civil War.
Fortunately, local business owners and residents have done an excellent job preserving their rich heritage, providing many interesting cultural and historical sites and tours. As tempting as it may be to spend every moment of your vacation with your toes in the sand, we urge you not to miss out on the area’s rich history.
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 north to Mobile County, documenting the military movements and way of life in Mobile Bay during the Battle of the Bay (August 1864) and the Overland Campaign (March to 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 through these historic events.
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. Take a stroll through Mrs. Bellingrath’s historic mansion or enjoy a river tour, complete with ecological insights and historic facts.
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. Numerous great restaurants and shops housed in atmospheric historic buildings or behind beautiful wrought-iron balconies are a legacy of the city’s past.
The Historic Pensacola Village in Seville Square consists of 27 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, 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.
Grab some comfort food before learning the history of jazz in Pensacola at the DeVilliers Cultural Heritage Museum, or book evening tickets to a rousing dramatic or musical performance at the Pensacola Little Theater.
The nearby North Hill District contains 50 square blocks of residential streets listed in the National Register of Historic Homes. This southern architectural wonder was once populated by descendants of Spanish nobility, timber barons, French Creoles, Buccaneers and Civil War soldiers.
This is the site where the Creek Indians conducted the most brutal settler massacre in American history in 1814.
Located 22 miles west of Gulf Shores, AL, this fort was completed in 1834 and 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. It’s considered to be one of the finest examples of military masonry in North America and was constructed with more than 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. The fort 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. Click here to read about Fort Morgan on Toes in the Sand Blog.
Fort Pickens provides a great opportunity to explore a massive brick fortress 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 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 uncrowded 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.
Gulf Coast Exploreum
This science center, museum and IMAX theater in Mobile, AL is an awesome place to spend a day with the kids.
National Museum Of Naval Aviation
The National Museum of Naval Aviation — one of the world’s largest aviation museums and one of the most visited museums in the state of Florida — features thousands of artifacts and more than 150 restored aircrafts representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. The museum is a perfect place to bring the family to participate in experiential fun including the Blue Angel 4D Experience, Flight Stimulators and the IMAX movie theater. Also located on the premises is the Cubi Bar Café where you can treat yourself and the family to delicious dishes. The museum is free to visit, but donations are appreciated. The Naval Air Station is also home to the Blue Angels Flight Squadron.
Orange Beach Arts Center
Housed in the historic Orange Beach Hotel, the gallery is home to works by more than 100 local artists and artisans. Exhibits change regularly, so there are 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 through Saturday.
Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum
Built in 1859, the Lighthouse situated on Pensacola Bay across from the Naval Aviation Museum, offers indoor and outdoor history exhibits, a gift shop, Blue Angel and Light of the Moon Tours, ghost hunts, weddings and special events. You need to climb 177 steps on a spiral staircase in order to get to the top of the tower, but you can’t beat the view that overlooks the Pensacola Pass, three forts, the Pensacola skyline and the historic Navy Yard. The museum and gift shop are located in the completely restored Keepers’ Quarters.
175 acres of history and seven decades of heroism in Mobile, AL make this a great place to stop on your way down to visit us.