Pensacola offers so much more than your typical beach town
Words by Paige Townley
As anyone who lives there will tell you, there’s something special about Pensacola. The area is obviously known for its beautiful sugar-white beach and emerald green waters, but this Florida Panhandle city offers just as much away from the beach. From military sites and museums to cultural offerings, breweries, and fine dining, Pensacola provides an experience that can’t be found anywhere else. “You may come here for the beach, but you’ll soon find an incredible amount of arts and culture that will show you a whole other side to Pensacola,” says Visit Pensacola’s Director of Marketing & Communications Nicole Stacey. “There’s a real community here that offers more than many other coastal destinations.”
That’s one of the many reasons that led to the establishment of the Pensacola Foo Foo Festival, a 12-day celebration held each November that features a variety of cultural events that promotes tourism to the city. Major organizations all around the city come together to create installations and events for the festival, which began about eight years ago. “This 12-day period has so much going on each year,” says Maria Goldberg, a founding committee member of the festival and this year’s festival Chair. “Over the years, those cultural offerings have really grown. There really is something for everyone, and as part of attending Foo Foo Fest, we hope that visitors will make a vacation out of it because there’s so much to do and see beyond the festival.”
While thoughts about what to do in Pensacola around Foo Foo Fest may begin at the beach—as it should because the fall provides the absolute best weather for which to enjoy the coast—the city is also quite well-known for its military history and military sites. The city is commonly referred to as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation” as it’s home to NAS Pensacola, the very first naval air station commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1914. Celebrating that military history, Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park features the Vietnam Veterans of Northwest Florida’s “Wall South,” a one-half scale model of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. History or military enthusiasts will also enjoy a visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum and watching the Blue Angels, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, perform their Homecoming Airshow at Pensacola Beach the opening weekend of the festival.
The Foo Foo Fest will be highlighting many of the city’s cultural highlights over the course of the festival, from the opera and ballet to the local theatre groups, community theatre, and symphony. “What city the size of Pensacola has a professional opera, professional ballet, professional theater, professional symphony, community theatre, and everything in between?” adds Pensacola Little Theatre Executive Director Sid Williams-Heath. “All of that can be found right here in Pensacola.”
The Pensacola Cultural Center in downtown Pensacola houses the Pensacola Little Theatre, ballet, and more. After partaking in some of the festival’s events highlighting these organizations—including a 3D digital projection and a musical performance bringing together the opera, children’s choir and more—it’s easy to continue perusing these offerings downtown. “Pensacola is unlike other beach towns that are in and of themselves only a beach town,” Sid adds. “We have a downtown that includes an insane cultural experience and is completely walkable but includes plenty to do.”
Those downtown hotspots include many culinary offerings and breweries. There are 10 breweries all within the downtown area, as well as hundreds of restaurants for every particular palette. Many of the restaurants, breweries, and bars are participating as Friends of Foo during the festival, and many will be featuring exquisite can’t-get-it-anywhere-else experiences during the two week period. Jackson’s Steakhouse’s Executive Chef Irv Miller will be presenting a special meal featuring five courses and four wines. Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano’s Executive Chef James Briscione—the first-ever two-time champion of the Food Network’s Chopped and who frequently serves as a host and judge on television—will be presenting a food and wine event during Foo Foo Fest as well. Atlas Oyster House will also be hosting Atlas Beverage Classes, which will feature a local brewery and their beers and pairing them with small plates. “These special food and beverage offerings are going to be incredibly unique,” says Goldberg, who is also the Director of Marketing for Great Southern Restaurants. “Even if visitors miss out on these, the restaurants, bars, and breweries offer so many great opportunities to pop in before or after the festival for a delicious meal or cocktail with friends.”