Winter in the Florida Panhandle can get weird. It’s obviously not snowy and dreary, but it’s also not the normal bright and sunny Florida that we all dream of.
On a typical Florida, February day I was sick of sitting at home with my rambunctious kiddos and decided to get out and do something. The sun was shining, but it was definitely too cold for swimming or hanging out on the beach.
We decided to mark an item off of our Deployment Bucket List and spend the day looking for things to do in Pensacola. I didn’t have much money to spend, so I Googled a couple of free or cheap things to do in Pensacola and we set out on our way.
5 Free/Cheap Things to do in Pensacola
1. Pensacola Light House and Museum
Our first stop was the Pensacola Light House. The light house is located on the Naval Air Station, so I had to provide my military ID before we could access it.
However, the light house and museum is open to the public. Visitors without a military ID, must enter through the West Gate. There, you’ll stop at the Visitor’s Center, show them your ID, and get a Visitor’s Pass.
The kids were SO excited to go to the top of the light house, only to be hugely disappointed when we learned that you must be 44” or taller to go to the top. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that my 4-year-old didn’t measure up until AFTER we had already paid the entrance fees ($7.00 for adults and $4.00 for children 12 and younger). Instead we poked around the museum, took pictures, and walked down to the beach.
The lighthouse staff is very strict on this rule and children are not allowed to be carried up by an adult (even babies in carriers). You also can’t walk to the top of the light house in flip flops. Make sure you read through all of the light house rules on the website before your visit. I wish that I had.
Despite not being able to see the view from the top of the lighthouse, we had fun looking around the museum. And I even let the kids get their feet wet down at the beach as a consolation.
2. Fort Barrancas
Next, we checked out Fort Barrancas. It is a short drive from the lighthouse and also located on the Navy base.
A ranger-guided tour is offered, but we chose to just wander around on our own. Fort Barrancas would make an excellent history field trip for homeschooling families or boy/girl scout groups. I learned a lot just from reading the informational plaques and signs posted throughout the fort.
The white portion of Fort Barrancas was built by the Spanish in 1698, while the brick portion was built by Americans in 1839. In addition to the main brick fort and the white Water Battery, there is also the Advanced Redoubt north of the fort and connected by a trench line.
If you only have a limited amount of time or plan on seeing Fort Pickens on the same day (as we did), then I suggest skipping the Advanced Redoubt. As it is very similar (maybe identical) to the brick portion of Fort Barrancas.
If you want to see the whole fort or even a majority of it, then plan on doing a LOT of walking. Much of the which contains tons of stairs. Comfortable shoes are a must!
3. Fort Pickens
After stopping for a drink and a quick snack, we were on our way to Fort Pickens. This fort, while similar to Barrancas, is located on Santa Rosa Island and is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore (which stretches from Mississippi to Fort Walton Beach). There is an entry fee into the park ($20 per non-commercial vehicle). Thankfully, it didn’t cost us anything with our free annual pass for military families. Make sure you check the website to confirm what hours Fort Pickens is open.
If I only had time to see one of the forts, I would choose Fort Pickens. Simply because it is located on the beach and the drive through the National Seashore is gorgeous!
My kids were fascinated by the fact that Geronimo was once held prisoner at Fort Pickens. Most of our self-guided tour was filled with them singing “say Geronimo” (from the Sheppard song) over and over until I threatened to beat them
This fort also involves lots of walking and plenty of stairs. Touring both of these forts on the same day is sure to make your Fitbit happy!
4. Cordova Mall
Our day of looking for things to do in Pensacola was coming to an end with a beautiful sunset!
Our next stop was for burgers and Freckled Lemonades at Red Robin, then a little bit of shopping at the Cordova Mall. Obviously, this option will be as cheap or expensive as you make it. But how could I take my gang of girls to Pensacola without stopping at the mall?
5. *Bonus* Bay Bluffs Park
Disclaimer: We didn’t go to Bay Bluffs Park on the same day that we visited the light house and the forts. We went later in the spring after a doctor’s appointment.
If you’re a glutton for punishment or just feel the need to walk up and down even more stairs, head over to Bay Bluffs Park.
This park is completely free! It’s also pet-friendly and a local spot for those looking to get in their daily workout.
The kids loved running out all of their pent-up energy after sitting in waiting rooms most of the morning. And we all loved the beautiful views of the bay!
For our walk through Bay Bluffs Park, we chose to stay on the boardwalk (which is 0.8 miles long), but there are many other trails through the woods. You can also cross the railroad tracks and go over to a small beach on the bay, but be careful, the tracks are active!
There you go! 5 free or cheap things to do in Pensacola on a winter day. Of course, you could do all of these things on a summer day, but I highly recommend going during cooler weather since there is so much walking involved. Make sure to bring your camera and have fun!