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Posts Tagged ‘Pensacola’

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Now that you’ve seen everything in and around Pensacola, or at least as much as you could see depending on your timetable, it’s time to start your journey east. Go south on US 98 and cross the Gulf Breeze Parkway until you get into Gulf Breeze itself.

But before you get too far, there’s a historic marker at the intersection of US 98 and Fairpoint Drive. It marks a point along the first federal highway in Florida. It was built as a military road back in the 1820s. I don’t think any of it survives today, but you can look for it in the Naval Oaks part of the Gulf Island National Seashore. It’d be in the part north of US 98.

First, though, Fort Pickens. Hang a right at the aptly named Fort Pickens Road and head west. You’ll get to an admission station, where you’ll have to pay 8 dollars to go further. On the plus side, it allows you access for a week, so if you’re staying in Pensacola for a few days, it’s an even better deal. Fort Pulaski up near Savannah has a similar policy. There’s probably more lake that in the National Parks system.

Check ahead before you go, though. Really bad weather can wash the road out. If that’s the case, you’ll have to walk or bike the rest of the way. It’s several miles, so best to know before you go.

As you’ll see, the road is like 6 inches above sea level, and cuts through the beach. There are starkly white sands to either side of you. I wonder if they’ve considered building low walls to protect the road? Or maybe an elevated road. Even one 3 or 4 feet tall would alleviate the closures.

There’s some mini-sidetrips along the way, but eventually you’ll get to the fort itself. Pretty impressive, I have to say. Amble around and climb up to the higher level to get some great views. If you look to the west, you’ll see the east end of Perdido Key, where lie the remains of Fort McRee in the Perdido Key Historic District (Fort McRee). And if you turn your gaze about 45 degrees to the southwest, you’ll be looking in the direction of the remains of the USS Massachusetts. It was sunk off the coast some years back. It’s one of the Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves, and divable, when conditions are favorable.

When you’re through with Fort Pickens, head back to the Naval Oaks area. There’s a visitor center just south of US 98, with displays about the history of the region. You can go to the north part, too. Both have picnic areas and beaches that go on and on. If you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll get there at low tide and you can walk on sandbars that stretch away from the shore. You’ll get some amazing views of the curving coast when you look back. (see Google map)

If you want to check out another state park, go over the CR 281 Bridge to Yellow River Marsh. I’ve not been there, ’cause I couldn’t pin down where it was on my previous trips. I know where it is now, but seeing it on Street View, I’m not that tempted to visit. It looks to be mostly for hikers. Not my scene, man.

Now you have a choice. The fast way or the slow. Fast is continuing on US 98 for the next 15 miles or so. It’s rather ordinary, just road and trees and houses and malls. Not super developed, but hardly wilderness. You can’t see that much of the water, either.

Or you can go south like you’re going back to Fort Pickens. But instead of taking a right at Fort Pickens Road, stay on Pensacola Beach Boulevard/Via Luna Drive. This will take you through Pensacola Beach. Slow going, as it’s very residential. There are some spots along the way where you can park, cross over on a boardwalk and be on the beach itself.

Eventually you’ll get past all the condos and restaurants, and be in another section of the Gulf Island National Seashore. You can see this part for free. There are a few large parking lots, where you can stop and see more beach. There’ll be sand dunes here and there too.

Eventually you’ll reach the end of the road. If you go straight, you’ll enter Navarre Beach Park. It used to be a state park, but not for long, as for various it reasons reverted to the county a few years back. Hang a left, and you’ll cross Navarre Beach Causeway and rejoin US 98. Another 12 miles, or thereabouts, and you’ll be in Fort Walton Beach.

You’ll find two NHLs here, one that’s been here for centuries, the other far more recently. You’ll encounter the recent one first, the Governor Stone. It’s an old schooner, and it’s moored in The Boat Marina. It’s been moved around a lot, from Apalachicola to near Point Washington. It wound up in Fort Walton Beach only a few years ago. Call the Marina, and they’re usually happy to show off the boat. Watch out for the wandering avians, as there are ducks and peacocks and attack geese wandering around the parking lot.

There’s a small dinosaur on a raft next to the marina, visible from US 98. Commissioned by the owner of the marina, apparently. Hey, it’s Florida, you never know what you’ll find on the side of the road.

The other NHL is Fort Walton Mound. It gave its name to an entire period of native history, the Fort Walton Culture. There’s a museum there, and some other historic stuff close by. (see Google map)

Now for detours. If you’re interested, head north on SR 85 to Niceville. You can see the Heritage Museum in Valparaiso and the Air Force Museum on Eglin Air Force Base. There are several NRHPs on the base too, but none are accessible to the public, dagnabbit. Go a little further east, and you’ll reach the Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. I’ve only been as far as the entrance, so I can’t recommend it one way or the other. This review may help, though. (see Google map)

Get back to Fort Walton Beach, cross the mouth of the Choctawhatchee Bay and you’ll be in Destin. This is where the other McGuire’s is, but I’ve not been in this one. I’m sure it’s as good as the original in Pensacola, though. My food rec here is Fisherman’s Wharf. They have an award-winning gumbo, and I can attest to its scrumptiousness. Plus they’ll actually cook fish that you bring in. So if you spend a day here fishing, you know where to bring the results.

The only site of interest to me in town is the local history museum. There’s also the Emerald Coast Wine Cellars a few miles away. The drive along this part of US 98 reminds me a lot of Miami Beach, and not in a good way. It’s way too overdeveloped for my tastes. But apparently spring breakers come here in droves, so they need to cater to where their income is coming from. Hint: Try not to visit during spring break (March-April). (see Google map)

A bit further east, though, are a cluster of state parks that are all about great beaches. They’re listed below, in the order in which you’ll encounter them. You’ll have to get off US 98 and travel down Scenic Highway 30A to see them. Also, between Grayton Beach and Deer Lake is the planned community of Seaside. It’s where they filmed The Truman Show. Since it’s new, it doesn’t really interest me. But if you want to see New Urbanism at its finest, whoomp there it is. It was also recogized by Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places.. The town as a whole, and the Seaside Interfaith Chapel, a stylized Carpenter Gothic church. (see Google map)

Back on US 98 and heading west, you’ll finally escape the sprawl of Destin and have the open road ahead of you. Keep your eyes peeled, though, since one of the prettiest parks in the state is right off here.

At CR 395, turn left. If you go right, it’s another way to get to Seaside, and you’ll go through the Point Washington State Forest. But you’re going north, so follow the signage. You should keep your maps handy, though, as it’s easy to miss the street to go down. Soon you’ll reach Eden Gardens State Park. A gorgeous old mansion, azaleas all over the place (March is a great time to visit), other plants too, places to picnic, and a spectacular view of Tucker Bayou. I was there Easter Sunday morning just after dawn, and it was like a dream. I’d love to spend a day there, or at least a leisurely afternoon. Go, see it, you won’t regret the diversion.

Next post we’ll finish our tour of US 98 in Panama City. See you on the road!

Route length: 150 miles

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OK, folks, time to continue southward to downtown Pensacola.

You’ll be heading down Palafox the rest of the way, with a few diversions. Like the jog east to get you to the former Louisville and Nashville Passenger Station. Park across the street at the convention center, if the lot’s not full. The station has been converted into the entrance to the Pensacola Grand Hotel, who keeps it in great shape. They have a series of photos down one hallway, showing the history of the area. I always like seeing old historic places being respected and maintained like this. If only more could be.

Within walking distance (relatively) is St. Michael’s Cemetery, though you could park closer. It’s huge (8 acres), dating back to the 18th century. I couldn’t get in when I was there, because they don’t open until 9 AM. I would like to stroll around sometime. Old cemeteries fascinate me. It’s like a million slices of history, all in one place.

Food recommendation. While you’re here or in Destin, visit McGuire’s Irish Pub. How can you go wrong with a place with a motto, “Feasting, Imbibery and Debauchery”? It’s on the pricey side, I’ll admit, but excellent food. And where else can you sit under a quarter of a million dollars? Next time I’m in town, though, I think I’ll try having lunch there instead of dinner.

Get back on Palafox. When you get to Garden Street, you’ll be at the start of the downtown historic district. You can park along here and walk at least some of the way south, since parking spots are a bit more available here.

There are two historic sites on the corner right off the bat. On the northwest corner is a US courthouse, built on the site of the old San Carlos Hotel, which was on the NRHP. On the southwest corner is the Blount Building. (see Google map)

There’s a touch of New Orleans in the architecture here and there. Everywhere you look, there’s something historic. Like the Plaza Ferdinand VII, the last of the NHLs in the area. It’s where Florida was officially turned over by Spain to the United States, with Andrew Jackson being our representative. He was also the first governor of the new territory. Museums galore, and you could probably spend most of the day exploring them. Whatever your fancy, you’ll probably find it here.

Another Florida’s 100 building is the Architectural Office of Quina Grundhoefer Architects. It dates back to the 1800s. It’s undergone renovations over the decades, and has held up well. The last is the T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, which used to be the city hall.(see Google map)

Head east, and you’ll reach the Historic Pensacola Village and the Seville Historic District. More museums and old buildings. There’s a visitor center in the reconstructed Tivoli High House where you can find out all you want about the area. (see Google map)

They do like their festivals in Pensacola. Many of them are in the downtown area, so if you want to see the historic stuff unobstructed, take these into account. Conversely, if you like festivals, here’s a partial list:

Next post, eastward ho! See you on the road!

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This series of posts will be about my favorite part of the state, the Panhandle. Specifically, US 98, which I consider our version of the Pacific Coast Highway. The most scenic part, I think, is from Pensacola to Panacea. It covers about 200 miles, but I’ll be breaking it up into multiple posts, since there’s so much to see. It’s also a very tasty part of the state, since you can get all sorts of wonderful seafood along the route.

I’ll be covering Pensacola to Panama City this time. We’ll start in Pensacola, the oldest city in Florida. Sort of. It was founded by the Spanish in August 1559, 7 years before St. Augustine. However, only a few weeks later, a hurricane struck the colony. Most of it was destroyed. The few survivors tried to make a go of it, but eventually abandoned it by 1561. The area was uninhabited by any Europeans for over 100 years. Which makes St. Augustine the oldest continuously-inhabited-by-Europeans city in the continental US.

There’s so much to see in and around Pensacola, I’d recommend staying there at least 4 days. Or visiting on multiple weekends. You can find all sorts of information about the history of the area at Pensapedia.

If you’re coming into the state from I-10, stop at the welcome center. You’ll be able to get all sorts of information and discounts for hotels and attractions.

The main north-south artery is US 29, which enters Escambia County (Florida) through Alabama. You’ll go through Flomaton, where I recommend you stop for gas. Prices are higher in Florida, probably due to more taxes. There was an NRHP here, an old hotel, but it’s been demolished. Still, consider driving down the street where it used to be, Palafox Street, which goes through the historic downtown area. You can also continue south on Palafox, which becomes Old Flomaton Road, then Jefferson Avenue. This will lead you right into the Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company Residential Historic District, part of Century. You can also get there by going down US 29. It’s a small historic district, very drivable. A nice spot to get out and stroll is Church Street and Jefferson Avenue.

Once you’ve had your fill, get back on US 29 and head south. It’s a long, curvy, hilly and leisurely drive the rest of the way. It’s about 30 miles before you’ll reach the outskirts of Pensacola.

Just before you get there, you can visit the Cottage Hill State Forest. Or not. I can’t find much info about it, and even Street View doesn’t show a point of access. It’s only about 30 acres, so I don’t think it’d be a great loss if you pass it by and continue to Pensacola. (see Google map)

I’ve included a couple of art galleries on the north side of town, but I’ve not been in them. I’m not much of an art/museum kind of guy. But for those who are interested in that, follow the links to get more information about hours and admission and such.

At the beginning of the route, I’ll acquaint you with the first building from Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places.. It’s a group of buildings selected by the Florida branch of the American Institute of Architects, celebrating the chapter’s 100th anniversary. A lot of them are very modern, so normally wouldn’t hold much interest for me. I thought I’d include them, though, for the wider audience.

So, the first building is the Navy Federal Credit Union. It was built in 2004. See what I mean? There’s a couple of much older buildings downtown, which I’ll go into further once we get there.

I didn’t go down it myself, but the section of US 90 along the Escambia Bay is called Scenic Highway. But it doesn’t seem like you can see the bay at all, since there are trees between it and the road most of the way. One sight I missed because I didn’t go this way was Old Chimney Park. It has the remnants of an old lumber mill, which is actually only the chimney. It’s one of the most recent additions to the NRHP, included the end of May this year. (see Google map)

Let’s consider the sights outside Pensacola proper next. First, the three state parks to the west.

First is Tarkiln Bayou. I like this one the most. It seems to be the least used, which may be part of it. There was no one else there when I visited. I recommend the main trail to the bayou. It entails tramping through some woods, then along a boardwalk to the bayou itself. Take some time to drink it all in, especially the pitcher plants. This is one of the few areas where they grow. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by pitcher plants and Venus Flytraps and sundews. Plants that eat bugs, bizarre. When you reach the platform overlooking the bayou, spend a few minutes before you return. It’s so peaceful; I could’ve stayed there for an hour or more. But places to go, things to do.

Like Perdido Key State Park. Gorgeous white sandy beaches. Even I, who am not that beachy, was wowed. It’s also close to the Alabama border, so if you want to cross over just for fun, do. You’ll see a ton of development (high-rises and such), but the park is a welcome respite from all that.

On the way back, you could continue west on Johnson Beach Road into the Gulf Island National Seashore. If you park as far east as you can, then walk east until you reach the end of the key, you’ll be near the Perdido Key Historic District. Which includes the remains of Fort McRee. This will take most of a day (it’s about 12 miles roundtrip of just walking). If you’re like me, you’ll be happy to just view it from a distance. The best spot for that is at Fort Pickens. I’ll be talking about that in the next post.

Last state park we’ll cover is Big Lagoon State Park. It’s the biggest of them all. Looks like a great place to spend a day. Beaches, picnic area, and hiking paths. Climb the four story observation tower to get a spectacular view of the area. (see Google map)

Next stop, you’ll be able to kill several birds. Since they’re all on the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Oh, if you want to call anyone, do it before going on base. You have to turn off your cell phones while you’re on the property. And you know, don’t go into any restricted areas.

First off, the Pensacola Lighthouse. It is climbable, though I haven’t done so. Maybe next time I’m there. I imagine the view is amazing.

Next is the Naval Aviation Museum. I’ve got little interest in things military, so I didn’t go in to see myself. It’s big, though, so I’m sure there’s a lot to see.

After that is Fort Barrancas. It and Fort Pickens are the two surviving fort structures in the area (Fort McRee is mostly underwater). Be sure to visit the Advanced Redoubt too, which you can walk to along a half-mile trail, or just drive if you want to save time. They’re both part of an NHL district, so don’t hurry. You’ll be happy.

A little further on is the Barrancas National Cemetery. It’s large, much bigger than the one in St. Augustine, and dates back to the Civil War.

The old part of the Naval Station is a historic district, but it’s not open to the general public. Maybe someday I can wangle my way in, since it’s one of the few land-based NRHPs I’ve not visited in the state. It’s also an NHL, which makes it even more enticing. (see Google map)

Now that we’ve covered the periphery of Pensacola, it’s time to head downtown. On the way, you can see fun sites like the Crystal Ice Company Building. It’s in a rougher part of town, so be careful. I got there early in the morning, with no one on the streets, which might be the best time to visit.

To see a more upscale area, drive around the North Hill Preservation District. It’s even got its own website, with a map of the historic district boundaries. Next time I visit, I think I’ll do a more thorough exploration.

Another standout is the old Pensacola Hospital, which has been converted into office space. It’s a huge stone building, constructed by the Catholic Church. If it’s one thing the Church knows, it’s how to build to last. (see Google map)

Next post, downtown Pensacola and such. See you on the road!

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The Saenger Theatre is in Pensacola. The city is in the Panhandle, and the furthest west city in the state. The theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An (long) aside. It was strange seeing the Saenger Theatre again. I wasn’t sure how long it had been, but after digging through some files, I found out. Sixteen years. Well, fourteen years. The first time I visited (with camera) was March of 2008, but was only there for a day and it was very overcast when I got downtown. So it wasn’t until I returned in November of 2010 that I finally got pictures of it. And this time I was driving myself.

The first time I’d been in Pensacola was Memorial Day. In 1994. Yeesh! It was when I was with the Gainesville Pride Chorus, and on the board of directors. I suppose I technically still am on the board. Weirdness. Anyway, we decided to put on a concert with The Flirtations on Memorial Day (when it turns into the “Gay Riviera“) to raise funds for the chorus going to GALA V in Tampa in 1996. The theatre had about 1800 seats at the time. About twenty to thirty thousand people were expected to be in Pensacola for the weekend. I estimated we needed only half a percent of those folks for us to have a full house. Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate (a) the people in Pensacola who were promoting the concert for us hardly did any promoting and (b) going to a classy concert was the last thing on the minds of the people in the area for the weekend. It was all lounging on the beach in the day and partying all night. I was so concerned about us salvaging as much as we could that I hardly had any fun at all. I worked the concession table and everything. The concert was great, but we only had about 200 people in the audience. Yeah, we lost our shirts, and it took a while to recoop. I did get an autographed photo from the group and a free CD, though, so I suppose it wasn’t a total loss. And we did get to GALA, which was amazingly fantastic. Live and learn.

I wanted to go inside the theatre and check it out, but it was closed at the time I was there. I wouldn’t mind going back and spending some time in Pensacola. I rather like the area. And it’s the home of Dinosaur Adventure Land, which is bizarrely trippy.

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McGuires in Pensacola

So I was watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and they were doing an “Eggstraordinary” episode. You know, food with eggs. Anyway, chef Robert Irvine’s pick was from McGuire’s! Now, TBTIEA has had Florida restaurants mentioned before, but almost all are ones in Miami. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the panhandle get a little love from them.

What is McGuires? It’s an Irish pub that’s been around for over thirty years. Their motto is “Feasting, Imbibery, and Debauchery”. How can you not love that, even if you ain’t Irish? The original is in Pensacola, and there’s another one in Destin. I’ve been to the Pensacola joint twice, and loved it both times. They have a tradition that on your first visit, you write your name on a dollar bill and it’s tacked to the ceiling. They estimate there’s around a quarter of a million up there at this point. You can get your money from the ATM outside, that’s in an English phonebooth. Not a police box, though, that would’ve been really cool. Their menu’s a bit pricey, but it’s all really good food. And they do have an 18 cent bowl of soup on the menu. No joke, a bowl of bean soup for 18 cents. Don’t believe me? Then see for yourself.

Robert’s choice was the Reuben eggrolls. That’s an eggroll with corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese filling, and a Thousand Island dipping sauce. Next time I’m there, I’ll have to give them a try. Especially since Mom loved Reuben sandwiches. She probably would have really liked the eggrolls.

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