Pensacola Beach is located on Santa Rosa Island, the longest barrier island in the panhandle, featuring the most beautiful soft white sandy beaches, warm emerald water, and miles of wide beachfronts and gorgeous coastline. Pensacola Beach offers a true beach lovers paradise.
One of the draws of Pensacola Beach is the diversity of activities for people of all ages and lifestyles with kid-friendly areas, active party spots, adventure water sports, bustling beach areas, nature and bird watching, or quiet relaxing beaches. There is something for everyone to enjoy this charming small beach town.
What this Guide covers
This guide is all about the beach areas: the beaches, access points, parking, wildlife, activities, sand and water, beachfront area, shelling, and anything related to being on the beach! Everything you need to know about the beaches for vacationing, moving or buying in the area.
See our Pensacola City Guide and Pensacola Beach City Guide for more information about the town itself and to learn more about local businesses in the largest Pensacola area business directory (coming soon).
As you cross the Santa Rosa Sound on the bridge into Pensacola Beach, you are welcomed with the iconic Pensacola Beach sign and water tower that sits in the parking lot of the Casino beach.
Casino Beach is the most popular location on the island where there are activities and amenities for everyone. Contrary to the name, the beach never housed a casino. The Casino Resort is what the beach was named for and while it no longer exists, the beach name carries the history. This beach area offers outdoor concerts and activities, volleyball and other beachfront recreation, and the Pensacola Beach Pier. Parking is free in the huge parking lot that is in the middle of it all.
The 1,470 foot Pensacola Beach Pier stretches out over the beautiful emerald waters where you can enjoy the view of the emerald coastline or grab a fishing pole and enjoy a day of fishing.
Directly across the street from Casino Beach is the Portofino Boardwalk featuring shopping, dining, and the open seashell stage for concerts, street artists and day and nightlife activities. Directly behind the Seashell stage is Quietwater Beach. This is a beach that runs along the Santa Rosa Sound side of the island with much calmer waters and designated shallow swimming areas, perfect for children and families.
Fort Pickens, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore offers a quieter and historic beach escape with remnants for the fort.
At the Fort Pickens Gate Park, there is a soundside playground park offering a calm and relaxing side.
The area also includes a Gulfside access point with restrooms, pavilions, lifeguards, a gorgeous wide beachfront, good swimming, shelling, surf fishing, and a more quiet, and less crowded than Casino Beach. Free parking and lots of access points across the dunes.
Langdon Beach is one of the public beaches in the Fort Pickens area that is accessible only by hiking, biking or boating. It is an isolated area for enjoying the solitude and natural beauty of this coastline. The beach was named for Lieutenant Langdon, a commander of the fort in the 1880's during Geronimo's famous imprisonment there.
Heading west from Casino Beach towards Fort Pickens sits the 10-foot Island Cross that is a symbol of the first Christian religious service in the area. Legend has it that the cross has survived through every storm and flood that has destroyed many structures in the area and the cross still stands. This area is a nice spot to park and access the beach to enjoy a quieter beach area and beautiful sunsets.
There are several public access points all along Pensacola to the east of the Pier. The neighborhoods with beach homes and townhomes offers access to the beach every few blocks. The parking is very limited so these spots are typically used by the locals and visitors who are renting in the area.
Keep heading east and you can't miss the Portofino Resort and Spa, the last developed area before heading into the Santa Rosa Beach area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Resort is across the street from the access point which offers restrooms and plenty of free parking for enjoying this quieter part of the seashore.
Park East is the last access point before entering the Gulf Islands National Seashore. This area is more secluded and offers restrooms, picnic areas and a lifeguard station.
Opal Beach Area is a less crowded beach and natural beachfront with dunes and is part of the National Park Service and the Gulf Shores National Seashore. The beach area was named after Hurricane Opal swept across the area in 1995 and flattened the sand dunes.
Pensacola Beach is home to some really cool novelty houses that are worth going off the sand to see. Dome of a Home was built in 2002. This dome home was built in the form of a large concrete dome designed to structurally survive hurricane force winds. Some call it the Flintstone Home since it resembles the homes from the cartoon. This house sits back 1 block from the beach. Pensacola News Journal listed it as a home of the week in 2016.
Another fun novelty house is the Spaceship House. This home is a Futuro house that is shaped like a flying saucer. Both of these homes are privately owned, so please respect the privacy of the owner.
Pensacola beach has a small town charm with a historic presence that is nature focused and offers both high energy activities and relaxing quieter beach areas. The cultural feel of this charming beach town is friendly and inviting. It is a place where families come back to generation after generation to enjoy and appeals to any and all types of travelers who want to enjoy the outdoors, whether walking in the sand, bird-watching, boating, partake in recreational activities, visit natural park areas, visit historical, art and entertainment in nearby Pensacola, enjoy a local restaurant meal, shop the local shops or meet up with friends or family.
Proud of their military and historical presence
Pensacola Beach started as a military facility with Fort Pickens that notoriously held Geronimo. Today there is a huge Naval presence in nearby Pensacola with the world renowned Blue Angels who practice in the area and do occasional flybys over Pensacola Beach.
We were lucky enough to be at the beach for the final flyover of some of the jets the Navy was retiring. It was an unforgettable experience that emphasized the pride the people of Pensacola have in their Naval residents.
Birding in Pensacola Beach
If you are a bird lover, you will find lots of opportunities on Pensacola Beach to spot birds. Water and shore birds are abundant as well as native birds and seasonal northern birds making their way south frequenting the area. With so much protected land surrounding the area including Gulf Islands National Seashore which is the longest stretch of protected seashore in the country and the first stop for hundreds of migrating birds, Pensacola Beach is a haven for hundreds of species of birds.
Blue herons can be found on every beach, typically on the dunes or next to the surf fishermen. And gulls, terns, sandpipers and plovers are common.
All across the panhandle of Florida, residents love and protect the Sea Turtles! Four species of sea turtles, Loggerhead, Green Sea Turtle, Kemp’s Ridley and less commonly, the Leatherback Sea Turtle, nest on Pensacola's beaches. Sea turtles nest in Florida from May through October.
Other Marine Life
When you are swimming in the ocean off of the coast of any Florida beach, there is always a chance of dangerous wildlife in the waters. Jellyfish, sharks and stingrays are the most dangerous and though stings and bites are rare, it is good to be in the know about safety.
While staying on Pensacola beach, there were a few days that these guys were dancing in the surf. Note that there was not a purple flag, which indicates dangerous wildlife, so it is important to note that dangerous wildlife can be present on any beach at anytime.
Pure white sandy beaches line the entire coastline of Pensacola Beach. Every beach from Fort Pickens area to Santa Rosa Seashore area features the gorgeous sugar white soft sand. This sand is the outcome of finely ground quartz that was washed down from the Appalachian Mountains 25 million years ago. The quartz actually squeaks then you walk!
Dunes line the undeveloped areas lined with sea oats and are protected so please cross the dunes in the designated areas and boardwalks.
The Beachfront is super wide and flat all along the shoreline making the beach a perfect place for recreation.
The Shoreline offers soft sands and a line of shells along the waters edge making it enjoyable to walk barefoot and play in the shallow waters.
The Water is a beautiful mixture of emerald and ocean blue. Depending on the weather and roughness or calmness of the ocean, the water color will appear lighter or darker, greener or more blue or brownish. On a perfect day, the emerald color is vividly reflecting from a combination of both the pure white sand that allows the colors to better reflect the ocean water that is enriched with micro-algae that brings out the green color.
Pensacola Beach at the Casino Beach area offers just about every activity you can think of. Get out on the water with activities such as parasailing, surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, enjoy a relaxing cruise, dolphin tours, or go fishing with one of the area charters. For more about Pensacola Beach, see our Pensacola Beach City Guide.
Events and celebrations are a big part of Pensacola Beach. The most popular and well known is the Pensacola Beach Air Show with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. See more events here.
With a long shallow area off the waterline that allows you to swim out further with sandbars off the shoreline, Pensacola beaches are a favorite for swimming and water play. Always check the beach flags for warnings of rough waters, undertows, and dangerous sea life.
Pensacola Beach is not known for surfing, but you can still grab a surf board and join the few who surf the area. Most of the surfing is body surfing and riding the small waves in on a body board.
Popular among both residents and visitors to the area, you will see surf fishing along the shores of the beaches in Pensacola. Know the rules before you surf fish and if there are fishers along the shore, be sure to walk around their area. A bonus, blue herons and other shore birds love to hang out around the surf fishers.
On every beach in Florida, you will see shellers looking for that treasure from the ocean. Shelling is a favorite pastime of many beach-goers. On Pensacola beach, olives, conchs and clams are popularly found as well as sand dollars (try finding a whole one!)
With the Sun rising in the east and setting in the west and Pensacola beaches facing south, the sunrise and sunsets on Pensacola Beach are breathtaking. It's worth visiting the beach during these times to enjoy the beauty of the scenery.
See our Complete City Guide to Pensacola Beach for more information about the town.
When visiting or moving to Pensacola Beach, you will find something for every style. The beach town is a mixture of locals and tourists and it is a popular place for retirees and those relocating from northern states. You don't have to stay directly on the beach to have easy access to it. There are lots of access points with free parking all across the island.
Buying in Pensacola Beach
With the history and charm of downtown Pensacola directly across the waterway, Pensacola Beach brings in visitors and residents who work in the Pensacola area. It is also a popular location for those who are looking for their winter home or vacation rental investments.
Visiting Pensacola Beach
Pensacola Beach offers hotels, condos, town homes, and beach homes all along the stretch of commercialized beaches on the Gulf front and on the Sound side. Staying or Buying on the Beachfront Gulf side of the island is for beach lovers who love to walk, swim, play, fish, shell and enjoy the beachfront. Staying or Buying on the Sound side is for those who love boating and boating activities or just love the view of the beautiful Santa Rosa Sound. Either way, the whole island is only a couple blocks wide so the other side is easily accessible.
Vacation rentals and hotels offer everything from beach front, beach access, waterfront to bring your boat, communities with an abundance of amenities and budget friendly rentals a block or two from the beach.
Weddings in Pensacola Beach are quite common.
During our month-long stay, there were at least 5 weddings on the beach just in our part of the coastline. Renting a vacation directly on the beach for the wedding reception with a setup for the wedding directly on the beach, is the trend. And because Pensacola Beach offers a beautiful sunset, sunset weddings are popular.
Click here for our Complete Real Estate and Accommodation Guide to Pensacola Beach (coming soon)
Living for a month on Pensacola Beach, it felt like home. The people were nice and friendly, the atmosphere was welcoming, the area was inviting and there was plenty to do and see. Pensacola Beach became home and it was difficult to leave. Check out our Pensacola Home for the month. And read our personal blog about our experience here.
For Local Businesses including Food & Drinks, Services, Health & Medical, Education, Sports & Recreation, Arts & Entertainment and more, see our Pensacola Business Directory (coming soon).
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