Next to my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, Pensacola is definitely my most visited city. My boyfriend Mark and I frequent there a lot because it is actually his hometown and lots of his family still lives there. I remember the first time he took me there to meet his dad and visit the rest of his family. I was absolutely smitten and that very first trip will forever stand out in my mind. With the Emerald Coast waves, cotton white sand beaches, fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and strong drinks (known to cause unwary individuals to get sick on the side of Interstate 10), how could I not fall in love with this special place?
Pensacola just has this vibe. After the countless trips we have taken, I have a running list of places we have to go eat while we are there and things we must do. Keep scrolling to check them out and get some ideas for your next road trip!
McGuire’s Irish Pub (Downtown): Dollar bills covering the ceiling, Irish music blaring and the dimming red lights add to this true Irish pub ambiance. This is an absolute must whenever we come to P-cola. Tons of people frequent McGuire’s because of their juicy steaks, burgers and authentic Irish dishes like shepherd’s pie. The main reason for me is their icy mugs of beer (of course) that they brew in house and their cheesy potato skins (again…of course). For my boyfriend, it is the giant tower of nachos that can honestly feed about 10 people or more. They have to lay a cloth napkin over the table before they set the plate down just so you can get a visual. It’s all about the pub food here. Open until 2 a.m., it’s the perfect late night bite for after the bar munchies or for a night cap. If you’re feeling bold try an “Irish Wake” which is a green version of an amped up screw driver. I’m not sure what they put in it exactly but I just know that they are potent and they limit you to 3 before they cut you off. Keep the Uber app open and ready.
Joe Patti’s (Harborside): This seafood market is both pure chaos and heaven. People are everywhere, ticket numbers are bounding from the intercom and there is so. much. seafood. It can be a little overwhelming so it helps to have an idea what you want to eat prior to going. Aside from the endless cases of fresh fish, crab, shrimp and other sea dwellers, they also have a sushi bar, hot bar, ice cream counter and market area with condiments and sides galore. Did I mention that there is also a beignet truck out front? It’s a seafood wonderland that I never want to leave. Grab some fresh shellfish and have them steam it for you to-go. Try some of their bomb ass clam chowder at the hot bar. Enjoy a sugary beignet or three on the tailgate next to the shrimp boats. You absolutely can’t go wrong at Joe Patti’s.
Tu-Do’s (Davis Highway): A tucked away Vietnamese gem. I have never met a dish I didn’t like at Tu-Do’s. Everything is made fresh and the price is right. Try their pork egg rolls served with sweet chili sauce and then…order another batch. My boyfriend claims that they are the best egg rolls he has ever had and I have to agree. Their menu is huge consisting of noodle and rice dishes, pho and traditional Vietnamese chicken, beef and seafood entrees. Try anything and make sure to grab a cold cantaloupe boba drink to. Heavy on the tapioca pearls, duh.
The Fish House (Harborside): If you want a meal with a view then this is your place. It is the perfect brunch or date night spot. They have a vast amount of seafood dishes but I have one honorable mention. Their signature shrimp and grits ya’ll…are on another freaking level. Creamy Gouda cheese grits topped with applewood smoked bacon, mushrooms, spinach and juicy jumbo shrimp. Let me here ya say “Yassss!” Start with their peachy and crisp white wine sangria and end with this. 10 out of 10.
Taqueria El Asador (Davis Highway): I’m not gonna lie…you pull up to this food truck sandwiched in between a Dunkin Donuts and a Shell gas station and think, “Maybe we should just go to McDonald’s.” I felt the same way until I saw the line of people and finally tried the food. Mexican cuisine that is authentic, fresh and insanely affordable keep people coming back for more. Quesadillas, tacos, burritos. Check, check, check. It’s all delicious and makes a quick take-out lunch that will undoubtedly leave you satisfied.
Lambert’s Cafe (Foley, AL): Even though this is not in Pensacola, it is close enough. A 40 minute drive will take you to a comfort food paradise where the food tastes like your grandma made it and the rolls are “the size of your head”. And…flung to you from across the restaurant. No really. Beware of flying bread. They serve every down home country meal you can think of from thick cut meat loaf to creamy chicken pot pie. Not to mention the “pass-arounds” which are basically giant pots of fried okra, fried potatoes and onions or whatever they prepared that day, taken by your table. Just flag them down and the waiter will plop some on your plate. The meal portions are absolutely massive. Between the rolls and the pass-arounds, there is just no way you can finish your meal. My personal favorite is the pot roast dinner but anything you try is going to put you into a blissful food coma.
Things You Gotta Do:
Visit a Beach: I feel like this goes without saying. Even if it is cold or if you “don’t like the beach” (First of all, who are you?) you must take a walk on the beach at minimum. The most popular is Pensacola Beach, of course, but any beach along the Emerald Coast is going to have that soft white sand and blue-green waves. Johnson’s Beach in Perdido Key is a great one to visit and way less crowded.
Naval Aviation Museum (Navy Base): Even if you aren’t big on museums, or airplanes for that matter, this is something I feel people of all ages would enjoy. It’s just plain cool to see all the different kinds of planes from various points in history up close and read about what wars and such they flew in. Best of all, it is free admission.
Pensacola Lighthouse (Navy Base): 177 winding steps gives one of the best views of the Pensacola Bay. The lighthouse costs a measly $7 and word on the street is it’s haunted.
Visit Downtown: Downtown Pensacola is packed with great restaurants, bars and shops. Walk down the picturesque cobblestone sidewalks and window shop or chill by the water to get a beautiful view of the bay. There is always a festival (Seafood Festival, Crawfish Festival, etc.) or event (N.Y.E. Pelican Drop, weekend farmer’s market, etc.) happening downtown.
Gulf Breeze Zoo: For under $20 you can visit this zoo and feed a giraffe! Hop over the bridge to Gulf Breeze, FL and see gorillas, rhinos, antelopes and pygmy goats too. If you love animals then this is a must do.
Stuff You Gotta Try:
Try a Bushwacker: You can kill 2 birds with 1 stone and drink a bushwacker on the beach. Originally concocted at the Sandshaker Lounge on Pensacola Beach, this drink is so good and so popular that is has a whole festival dedicated to it. You can get one at basically any restaurant though. The sugary goodness of the cream of coconut, Kahlua, crème de cacao, dark rum, vanilla ice cream (omg), and a 151 rum floater make this the best dessert one has ever had. You’ll want another, I promise.
Try a Diesel Fuel: If you love a strong “one and done” drink then you only need to know two words: Diesel Fuel. Available only at Flounder’s Chowder House on Pensacola Beach, this is another must try drink and one you might forget. Made with double shots of gin, rum, vodka and triple sec and who the ef knows what else, it’ll have you lit off of just one. They have many flavors to choose from but all of them are heavy on the booze. You’ve been warned.
Try a New Coffee Spot: I love my daily black coffee, but whenever I am in Pensacola, I love to go to this quaint coffee joint called The Drowsy Poet and get an iced latte or chai tea latte. They roast their coffee daily so it is always fresh, no matter if you want a cappuccino, frappuccino or one of their signature drinks. They have several locations around town so definitely give this one a go.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Hopefully now you have some ideas if and when you travel to Pensacola, FL. Make sure to pack a swim suit, an extra tummy and a liver and you should be set!