Have you ever seen the Travel Channel's series called "Top Secret Beaches of the World?" Well, if you have, then you know that out of all 20 international beaches featured on the show, Pensacola is the only one located in the continental United States. That’s just one of many accolades that Pensacola Beach has to be proud of. Others include being named one of the “Top 10 World Travel Destinations of 2010” by Frommers, and one of the “15 Best Secret Beaches” by the Associated Press in 2011.
You probably already know that Pensacola is host to a famous Naval Air Station. But did you know that it is actually the first Naval Air Station ever commissioned by the U.S. Navy? All the way back in 1914 the government decided that the Pensacola region was the ideal place to set up more than 8,000 acres of air force training ground that produced such notable graduates as Neil Armstrong and John Glenn.
Sure, women have the right to vote and join the army. But what about the right to be part of a yacht race? Surprisingly, it was not until 1980 that women were integrated into the sport of yacht racing—a vital societal contribution spearheaded by members of the Navy Yacht Club of Pensacola. The establishment of what became known as the Bikini Regatta owes its requirement of a 50% female crew to the pioneers at Pensacola’s Navy Yacht Club. Now that’s progress!
Pensacola history is marked by its status as the first European settlement in the continental United States. Pensacola’s 450th birthday was in 2009, during which residents gleefully celebrated the city’s 1559 settlement led by Spanish Fleet Commander Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano. Since then, ownership has changed hands numerous times, leading to Pensacola being dubbed “the city of 5 flags” to pay homage to the Spanish, French, British, Confederate and American flags that have all flown there.
Pensacola got its name from the Pensacola Native Americans who lived on the land long before the Spaniards arrived in 1559. Hurricanes wiped out most of the European settlement and the Pensacola Indians eventually dispersed into other tribes, essentially becoming extinct. Fortunately, their name lives on and represents them well as one of Florida’s premier municipalities.
Pensacola’s famous National Naval Aviation Museum attracts families from all over the world who are looking for a fun adventure. But did you know that in addition to the Blue Angels' air shows, rides and IMAX Theater, the museum displays over 150 aircraft and more than 4000 aviation-related artifacts? There is a lot of fun to be had at the National Naval Aviation Museum, but there is a heck of a lot of history to be experienced as well.
The Nature Conservancy reports that The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier is a must-visit hot spot for bird watchers. Gannets, loons and migrating ducks are particularly popular with bird watchers in this area, as are the waterbirds, gulls, terns and cormorants that can be observed at the Pensacola's waterfront's habitat restoration project known as Project Greenshores. It has even been reported that at this location, over 300 birds can be seen at once!
Pensacola could have been the subject of a Neil Sedaka song, if only the name flowed off of the tongue more smoothly. Sedaka has told several sources that the hit he wrote for Tony Christie called, "Is This the Way to Amarillo?" was originally supposed to be called "Is This the Way to Pensacola?" But the singer/songwriter couldn't get the name to flow right within the melody, causing him to change it to Amarillo, referring to Amarillo, Texas. So next time you hear that song, just remember that it was visions of Pensacola, not Amarillo, that were actually dancing through Mr. Sedaka's head.
Performing arts are not limited to the New York stage. Pensacola's own Saenger Theatre has been bringing plays, ballets, symphony concerts and operas to Pensacola since 1925. But did you know that this Spanish Baroque/Rococo style theater recently received a $15 million makeover? The landmark "Grand Dame of Palafox Street" came "this close" to being demolished when it was saved by the devoted Friends of the Saenger.
Despite ardent efforts by the Pensacola Library Association in the early 1900s, Pensacola did not get its first public library until 1937. The members of the association worked diligently to secure funding for the library from notorious steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. At first, the problem was that no one could agree on the amount of money needed. But the main event that closed the book on the proposed Carnegie Library was that the people of Pensacola voted against it, due mainly to the perception that Carnegie’s money was “tainted.” Honor served them well but left them without a public library for the next 26 years.
Are you a Pensacola history pro? Explore these Tallahassee tidbits.