Visiting the Florida Panhandle? There are some amazing things to do in Pensacola and the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
- 1 Visiting the Florida Panhandle? There are some amazing things to do in Pensacola and the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
- 2 Fun Things to Do in Pensacola & Gulf Islands National Seashore
- 3 Mike and Jennifer’s Official Summer T-Shirts for you to explore
- 4 Campgrounds and RV Parks in Pensacola and the Gulf Islands National Seashore
- 5 Mike and Jennifer’s Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
FAQ’s about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
- 6.1 What is the weather like along Florida’s Gulf Coast?
- 6.2 Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
- 6.3 Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
- 6.4 Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
- 6.5 But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sometimes, the most amazing museums and attractions are in places you’d never expect.
Like the Florida Panhandle.
This was true for us when we first went to Pensacola, Florida, and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Now, it’s one of our favorite stops along our recommended 7 Day Adventure of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Fun Things to Do in Pensacola & Gulf Islands National Seashore
Whether you’re the museum type, adrenaline junkie, or relax-on-the-beach type, there’s something for everyone in Pensacola and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Let’s look at our favorite experiences:
The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola is ranked one of the top 25 museums in the world and in the top 12 in the U.S.
More than 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aviation are on display. The museum has nearly 350,000 square feet of exhibit space and outside on its 27-acre grounds.
Exhibits even include fighter World War II airplanes from Japan and the very first jet fighter ever flown – an amazing machine built by the Nazis and captured by the U.S. so as to be reverse-engineered.
The National Naval Aviation Museum’s exhibits provide a close-up look at the people and events that shaped our history. You can peruse displays from vintage uniforms and historical documents displayed in brilliant mahogany display cases to dioramas that transport visitors to the World War I Western Front. The exhibits seek to capture the human element of the enduring history of Naval air power.
BUT PLEASE NOTE – this is currently the situation there for visits from the Public:
- The National Naval Aviation Museum is open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. to current Department of Defense (DoD) ID cardholders. Access to NAS Pensacola is limited to Department of Defense (DoD) ID card holders (active duty service members, retirees, and their families). For Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC) holders please visit cnrse.cnic.navy.mil/Installations/NAS-Pensacola/ for base access information. DoD ID card holders can escort guests, but must remain with them at all times.
- We have established a special visitor information line at 850-452-8450 for answers to your questions about visiting the museum. Plan your visit today!
Mike and Jennifer’s Official Summer T-Shirts for you to explore
The museum is on two levels. A separate building called Hangar Bay One has more displays.
The main museum has flight simulators, an interactive display that puts you on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck. It also has a huge IMAX movie theater.
The museum is located on the sprawling grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola. It serves as the launching point for the flight training of every Naval Aviator, Naval Flight Officer (NFO), and enlisted aircrewman. In addition, approximately 23,000 aviation personnel in aeronautical technical phases of naval operations are trained here.
See the Blue Angels!
If you go, try and arrange your visit on a Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s because the world-famous Blue Angels are based at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Blue Angels are the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, with aviators from the Navy and Marines.
You can see the Blue Angels practicing over the museum most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from June to November. AGAIN NOTE this is currently only open to current Department of Defense (DoD) ID cardholders (see note above).
Practices typically begin at 11:30 am (Central Time) and last about 55 minutes.
We loved our experience watching the blue Angels, which you can see here:
Like what you see in these videos? We’d appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!
Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
Located almost directly across the road from the National Naval Aviation Museum is the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum.
There are several exhibits inside, but the best thing to do is climb the 177 steps to the top of the lighthouse. You get to enjoy the scenic views from 130 feet above the ground!
You can also reserve a spot to watch the Blue Angels practice from the top of the lighthouse! Admission is $7 for adults.
NOTE: Since the lighthouse and museum are on Naval Air Station Pensacola, they are currently open only to current DOD ID Cardholders and certain Veterans Health Identification Card holders. Civilians will not be able to access the Lighthouse on their own. For civilians seeking access, please see our special tour options here.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
After exploring the museums for a few hours, it’s time to take a break and head for the beach.
Going directly south from Pensacola, you can reach one of our favorite tracts of National Park Service property. It is a 160-mile stretch of gorgeous, secluded beaches, undisturbed by development and characterized by sparkling blue-green water called the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
There are plenty of relaxing and interesting things to do at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, too!
Location and Pricing
This property is so big that it lies in two states, Florida and Alabama. And, it’s divided into 12 district areas. The protected regions include mainland areas and parts of seven islands.
The price to enter Gulf Islands National Seashore is $25 for 7 days (separate from camping reservations). There is a toll of $1 to get across the bridge from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze.
Things To Do at Gulf Islands National Seashore
If you’re interested in a little history or staying at the Fort Pickens Campground, head over to Fort Pickens. It is located west of Pensacola Beach and features historic fortifications from the early 1800s through the mid-1900s. It also has miles of beaches.
There’s a lot of hubbub in the areas around Pensacola Beach, but we like to head east in the direction of Santa Rosa Island.
This stretch of the National Seashore is about seven miles long. There is almost no development until you get to the pier at Navarre Beach and the high rise waterfront condos nearby.
The Gulf and the Sound border the two-lane road (which is perfect for cyclists). So, you have water off both sides. There are beautiful white sand dunes as well.
There are numerous pull-offs and plenty of parking. Plus, a large picnic area. Often when we are there, we’re the only people on the beach.
We drive our rig out early, set up shop for a few hours, and day camp until sundown. You can swim, bike, snorkel, fish, and comb the beach for seashells.
We haul our beach chairs to the water and use the RV for picnic preps. And, of course, our own private restrooms. It’s a gorgeous beach and has a solitude that always keeps drawing us back.
As you head east, you’ll hit the Navarre Beach Marine Park. It’s an innovative little park that focuses on a few facets of marine life.
The Navarre Beach Marine Park houses:
- Navarre Beach Marine Science Station
- Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center
- Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary and Artificial Reefs
It’s a nice little stop to learn about sea turtle conservation and go snorkeling in the artificially created reefs near the shore.
Campgrounds and RV Parks in Pensacola and the Gulf Islands National Seashore
There are a number of campgrounds in the greater Pensacola area. Many of them are private and can get quite expensive, especially as you get closer to the Gulf.
In our 7 Day Adventure Guide of the Gulf Coast, you can find a complete breakdown of different campgrounds and RV resorts in the area. The info includes:
- Open seasons
- Booking link
- GPS coordinates
- Phone number
- Helpful info
Plus, Pensacola and the Gulf Islands National Seashore is just 1 day of our 7-day adventure plan!
Mike and Jennifer’s Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite “Go-To” places – places that draw us back again and again.
Florida is one of those places for us. And we know it is for many RVers looking to get away and explore during the winter.
That’s why we’ve created three guides, covering Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Keys.
Each of these guides is a seven-day guided exploration of one of the coasts. And each stop is a curated view of the best things that we’ve enjoyed on this trip and want you to experience.
Altogether these guides are over 300 pages of content!
FAQ’s about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
What is the weather like along Florida’s Gulf Coast?
The weather along Florida’s Gulf Coast can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location. In general, the area experiences hot, humid summers and mild, pleasant winters.
The Panhandle region can be quite cool in January. It is seldom below freezing, but daytime highs are typically in the 50s. It warms up about 10 degrees each month.
You can also generally add about 10 degrees for every 150 miles you travel south down the Florida peninsula.
By the time you hit Naples, daytime highs in January are in the comfortable 70s.
Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
While it severely damaged almost two dozen RV parks and campgrounds, about 8-10 campgrounds in the Naples-Ft. Myers area were completely destroyed. Most of the damaged campgrounds have been repaired and reopened.
Check with the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds if you have questions or concerns.
Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
One of the best resources we can recommend is called Campnab. This service monitors parks for cancelations and sends you an alert when an opening matches your criteria. That said, it isn’t magic. The app doesn’t create availabilities.
The service works – but it is not free.
Campnab offers two ways to use the service. The first is individual pay-per-use scans. These watch for vacancies at a specific park for a specific date. These work well if you know exactly when and where you intend to camp. Pay-per-use scans cost $10 – $20, depending on how frequently you want them to check availability.
The second way to use the service is through a membership. These typically run monthly and are tailored to those who camp more frequently or are looking to maximize their chance of finding a site. Membership allows you to scan multiple parks and/or dates simultaneously. With memberships, you pay a monthly recurring fee ($10, $20, $30, or $50), depending on your needs.
Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
Not many. And they are very pricey. If you want to sleep directly on the sand in an RV, you’ll have to stay at a developed commercial campground like Camp Gulf on the Emerald Coast or an RV resort like Big Pine Key Resort in the keys. Some state parks like the Gamble Rogers State Memorial Recreation Area in the Atlantic Coast or Bahia Honda State Park in the keys or Fort Desto State Park near St. Petersburg have beachside sites, too.
But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sorry, none that I know of that would work for RVs.
There is unrestricted camping on wild beaches on a couple of islands, but you need a boat to get there, and it is for tent camping only. If you want to sleep directly on the sand, there is Anclote Key offshore Tarpon Springs, and Shell Key in Pinellas County. Another favorite is Keewaydin Island between Naples and Marco Island but that area remains pretty devasted from Hurricane Ian.
January 10, 2021at12:37 pm, Bryant said:
We visited the National Naval Aviation Museum 4 years ago. I highly recommend having lunch at the Cubi Bar Cafe during a visit. The food is good and reasonably priced, but one will spend most of their time looking at all the memorabilia that decorates the place, especially if you are a service member that ever set foot in the NAS Cubi Point Officers Club in the Philippines.
January 10, 2021at10:45 am, Joe Phaneuf said:
Our number one stop whenever we visit the Pensacola area is the Naval Air Museum. I might be a little biased since I flew a few of the restored birds on display during my 27 year career. Great article, Mike. Thanks for including it in your Panhandle travels.
January 10, 2021at9:34 am, Danny said:
A few years ago we went to Fort Pickens and almost as soon as we got our of the car, the Blue Angels flew over. We spent the next 50 minutes in the parking lot watching them practice. I got some nice pictures of them with above the fort. It was a happy accident as we didn’t even know they practiced that day. The museum is also very nice.
Also, if you like aviation museums check out the national museum of the air force in Dayton, OH… Wow!
January 10, 2021at8:42 am, Darlene said:
Hi! Just wanted to let you know that Florida and Alabama are the two states that incorporate Gulf Shores, not Mississippi, so that people aren’t confused. Mississippi does have wonderful beaches, over 25 miles long from Biloxi through Gulfport and Long Beach.where people can enjoy the white sand.
January 10, 2021at7:48 am, Sheilah Viscito said:
Hi Mike and Jennifer:
There are also free concerts on Pensacola Beach every Tuesday evening from, I think, April through October. People bring their chairs, food and drinks and enjoy the concerts, get up and dance . It’s a great time!