I am the kind of person who takes the time to very thoroughly research where we are traveling to as a chunk of preparation before we leave seems to save us a lot of disappointment and helps set reasonable expectations. I had Googled something like "Uncrowded Florida Panhandle Beaches" and Pensacola Beach came up in many searches.
Soooo....imagine what we were thinking when, on a Sunday afternoon, we finally roll in from a long drive all the way from Michigan to find a huge line to take us across the bridge to our final destination. When we were finally on the island, the traffic was a little overwhelming and my husband (the driver) exclaimed in frustration, "This place is a (swear word) tourist trap!!" I felt bad because I was the one that had done the research and weakly assured him that our condo was on a much less crowded part of the beach. Although, secretly, I was wondering just what we had gotten ourselves into. Traffic, however, thinned out and with good directions, we easily found our agent, got our keys, unloaded our crap and headed for the beach.
We stayed at the Regency Towers and while not the lap of luxury, they certainly had everything we wanted but especially the part about quiet beaches. There was almost nobody there. The pool was the "crowded" area with about six people. Our first impression was that beautiful blue green water contrasted with bright white sand. In Michigan, the beaches are wonderful (ugh, don't tell anyone ;-) but the sand is more golden. And the weather was about 20 degrees cooler there when we left. And overcast. This was such a welcome change!
I'm not good about remembering what day we did what thing so I'll just do a general outline. One of the big pros of Pensacola Beach was there was almost nothing to speak of as far as chain restaurants, which is something we love about certain Caribbean islands. BUT...you can cross the bridge to Pensacola and still get a Starbucks, if that's what you are craving. It's a little like camping in your backyard. You have fun "making do" with what you have and when you need more you just walk into your house (Pensacola) and you have whatever you want!
The best day was our time at Gulf Shores National Seashore. I didn't understand the description of it when I read about it online but when we got there I had my "aha moment". Santa Rosa is a long thin island and a large portion is set aside for visitors and those who are lucky enough to be in the know can find a spot along the side of the road to park their vehicle and enjoy an even more uncrowded beach with NO condos, homes, etc. marring the view. What a treasure! Along Lake Michigan, we have giant sand dunes and houses are set so far back that you can't generally see them when walking along the shoreline. It was nice to have that similar (but still WAY different feeling) in Florida.
Okay, now about the eating portion of our vacation. YUM! First we tried Peg Leg Pete's, which appears to be an island legend. We couldn't eat outside so we settled for inside and it's such a contrast. SO dark. And call me a woose but I don't enjoy looking at taxidermy while I eat. Our meals were forgettable, as was our service. It wasn't exactly bad but it wasn't exactly good either. My husband would say it's "nothing to write home about." So there will be no letters to Mom extolling the virtues of Peg Leg Pete's that day ;-) I would give them another shot since they seem to be so popular but since we had a limited amount of time on the island we found other spots to enjoy. We really loved the fish tacos at Red Fish, Blue Fish--they had a jalapeno mango sauce that really gave them a Caribbean feel with that tiny bit of heat. The view of the sound side was wonderful. It was a perfect spot on the water spot to grab a lunch. Oooh, and a cute T-shirt too, if that's what you're looking for. Our last meal was at Hemingways. Amazing view, food that is a little on the pricey side but with surprisingly large portions. If you love a dish LOADED with seafood, order the paella. You won't be sorry.
Venturing out to Pensacola, our favorite restaurant had to be Five Sisters. We had the best soul food there! Mac and cheese, chicken and waffles. Be still, my heart (attack)!! We went there twice! Shout out to their great service, friendly atmosphere as well.
We had a great balcony at our condo overlooking the water so a trip to Publix was in line so we could load up on food to enjoy from our home base. Cheese, fruit, sausage, wine, and crackers was the perfect meal for one of our nights, overlooking an incredible view of the Gulf.
The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola was a jewel we took advantage of on a day when we had a little too much sun and needed something to keep us occupied. It's hard to imagine the scale of this place with SO many aircraft inside!
After many walks on the beach, many meals on the balcony--oooh, did I mention we would have coffee in the mornings and could see dolphins playing in the water?? Well, more like terrorizing the other fish for breakfast, but for us Michiganders, it was The Best entertainment! Well, anyway, we had to head back as all good vacations must come to an end. We love our quaint, sleepy Michigan beach side towns so it was great to be back home. Visiting this part of Florida was SO different from what we're used to--stark, more alien and almost deserty vistas. Very foreign and different from what we're used to. Just what a vacation should be! Oh, and BTW, my husband and I were talking and we realized that out of every single vacation we've ever taken, this one had The Best Weather. Not even a short, intermittent shower! Love PB and I hope we make it back some day. I highly recommend!!