Known for being one of the best places to visit in all of Florida, you may find yourself in Pensacola at some point in your life.
And while you can spend countless days exploring its many wonders and relaxing on its white sandy beaches, there are plenty of other breathtaking places to visit that are just a short day trip away.
For starters, Pensacola is unlike any other city in Florida and, while that is one of its best features, it doesn’t give you a feel for Florida as a whole.
The good news is that there are plenty of nearby cities and beach towns that can easily expose to you more of what this beautiful state has to offer.
Not to mention the fact that Pensacola’s ideal location along the northeastern edge of Florida makes it an ideal starting point for out-of-state day trips as well.
So, while you’ll want to spend your fair share of time in the charming city of Pensacola, make sure you check out this list of its thirteen best day trips when planning your visit.
Table of Contents
Destin is probably one of the most popular vacation destinations in all of Florida, and the good news is that it is just a short drive from Pensacola, so it makes for the perfect day trip.
One of the most popular things to do in Destin is visit the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park because it offers a large variety of hands-on encounters with the marine life that lives there.
People of all ages will enjoy activities like swimming with stingrays, participating in an art class with dolphins, feeding harbor seals, petting African penguins, hanging out with alligators, and so much more.
Then, head over to Henderson Beach State Park for a relaxing afternoon filled with wildlife watching, fishing opportunities, swimming adventures, and plenty of space to lay out your towel.
For something a little more exciting, spend the day at the Big Kahuna’s Water Park, where the whole family can enjoy more than two dozen water slides and kick back in a private cabana.
Go for a stroll down the Destin Harbor Boardwalk to take in the breathtaking views of the water, grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants, shop until you drop, and even participate in one of the seasonal festivals.
For something a little less touristy, check out the Village of Baytowne Wharf, where locals go to enjoy a fine variety of shops, restaurants, events, and more.
If you are hoping to spend most of your time on the water, then you definitely have to make your way over to Crab Island.
Here you will be left in awe of the crystal clear, turquoise waters while also enjoying the floating amenities like tasty restaurants and challenging obstacle courses.
There is no better way to end your day than by watching the sunset, and the Dolphin Sunset Cruise makes that experience even better by taking you out on the water to interact with a variety of wild dolphins.
2. Gulf Islands National Seashore
Known as the largest national seashore in the United States, the Gulf Islands National Seashore should be on everybody’s radar when considering day trips from Pensacola.
This picturesque seashore stretches out over one hundred fifty miles and offers endless opportunities to take in the sights, relax on the sand, spot active wildlife, and so much more.
Just keep in mind that although there are certain days of the year that allow free entry, most days will require payment of ten dollars a person upon entry.
And although you can spend the entire day exploring the dunes alone, there are plenty of other things to do here like visit the historic Fort Pickens.
Feel free to wander around the grounds of Fort Pickens at your leisure or consider taking a guided tour to learn about its rich history dating back to the days of the Civil War.
It is here that you will also find the Fort Pickens campground, which is the perfect place to rest your head if you like to wake up to the views of the ocean.
Considered to be an established Great Florida Birding Trail, you can’t go with a walk along the Naval Live Oaks trail system where you will have a chance to admire more than three hundred different species of birds.
Since the water is relatively calm around the seashore, one of the most popular activities here is getting out on the water with the fan-favorite being paddle boarding.
Feel free to bring a board of your own or rent one from any of the rental shops scattered amongst the area. Is paddleboarding not your style? Opt for a kayak instead.
If the endless list of activities feels overwhelming to you, consider exploring the national seashore with the help of a ranger by signing up for one of the guided tours.
3. Ponce de Leon Springs
If you couldn’t tell by the name, Ponce de Leon Springs is famous for its spring-fed pools, so you won’t find a better place to cool off from the intense Florida heat.
One of the beauties of this natural spring is that the water remains at a constant temperature of sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the weather and changing sun exposure.
This means that the Ponce de Leon Springs can be enjoyed all year round – and the constantly filled parking lot is proof of that.
It makes sense that the springs are such a popular spot considering its picturesque grounds filled with walking trails and a large swimming hole for families to enjoy, so make sure you get here early in order to score a spot.
The springs are located within a state park, so you will often see park rangers walking around and offering visitors bucketloads of information about the environment they are in.
Just keep in mind that although you will often see families hanging out in the spring, there are no lifeguards on duty, so it is important to monitor small children.
Luckily, most of the spring is only three feet deep so there isn’t much to worry about, but there is a twenty-five-foot drop-off that can be distinguished by the massive cypress tree that stands guard along its edges.
You will often see people in the deeper part of the springs as well because it is a mecca for snorkeling and scuba diving, so feel free to bring your gear.
After going for a relaxing swim, take a walk on one of the scenic trails like the Sandy Creek Trail where you can take in the scenery of the lush forest and watch as fishermen spend their day catching bluegill bass.
4. Perdido Key
A thin strip of land that stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico, Perdido Key offers breathtaking views everywhere you look, and it just so happens to be a short day trip away from the lively city of Pensacola.
Perdido Key is the place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and fully immerse yourself in all of the things that make a beach vacation so relaxing.
Spend some time sunbathing at Rosamond Johnson Beach while you take in the views of the pristine sandy shore and admire frequent wildlife sightings like blue herons, bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead turtles, and so much more.
Travel back in time with a visit to Fort McRee where you can walk the grounds of a military base that has played a significant role in Florida’s history.
Hang out at the Big Lagoon, a 678-acre state park, and spend the day walking along scenic boardwalks and checking out wildlife like gray foxes and waterfowl.
The park even has a breathtaking observation deck that overlooks the iconic Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Big Lagoon itself.
Take things up a notch by booking a tour with Uninhabited Island Kayaking Adventure and paddling your way to remote islands overflowing with raw beauty and active wildlife.
Just make sure you save time for dinner because there is no better place to enjoy a fine selection of freshly caught, fried seafood than Shrimp Basket.
End your night by watching the sunset at the Wharf at Orange Beach and keep the good times rolling by playing a game of laser tag, catching a movie, channeling your inner child at the arcade, and watching some live entertainment.
Often left in the shadows of popular cities like Pensacola and Destin, Milton is the perfect place to visit if you want to enjoy some of the beauties of western Florida without all of the crowds.
For a simple day, head over to Carpenter Park where the kids can have fun at a variety of different playgrounds and adults can enjoy activities like fishing and hiking.
Grab a bite to eat at McKinley’s Sandwich Shop where the selection of sandwiches is large and the portions are even larger. Just don’t forget to grab a homemade cupcake on your way out.
Hop on your bike or go a relaxing stroll along the nine-mile stretch that makes up the Blackwater Heritage State Trail and keep your eyes out for some of its frequent wildlife sightings.
One of the most popular things to do is go paddling down Coldwater Creek because of the picturesque, remote wilderness it takes you through for nearly twenty miles.
If you don’t have a kayak of your own, consider stopping in at one of the rental shops in town to make the most of your experience in Milton.
Milton is also just a short drive away from a breathtaking portion of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, so you are never too far away from its mesmerizing sandy shores.
While in town, be sure to check out some of the local attractions like the National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, Pensacola Museum of Commerce, and many more.
A visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum will let you walk the grounds of the largest naval aviation museums in the country, and you’ll get to admire more than one hundred historic aircraft in the process.
The Pensacola Museum of Commerce is an interesting place to check out if you like to learn about odd items that have been created throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum not only teaches you the history of this 1850s structure but also gives visitors the opportunity to climb the 180 steps that lead up to the top for an amazing view.
With plenty of activities to enjoy, both inside and out, there is never a bad time to take a day trip to the lively capital city of Tallahassee.
One of the most popular things to do is visit the Tallahassee Museum where you can spend the entire day exploring a large variety of exhibits.
Aside from the many historical buildings, you can wander through, there is also a fine selection of nature trails amongst its fifty-two-acre grounds.
Since Tallahassee is the capital of Florida, it only seems appropriate that you drop by to visit the capitol building, but don’t forget to check out the Florida Historic Capitol Museum as well.
This museum gives you the opportunity to walk through the old capitol building so you can admire the historic architecture while learning about the state’s rich history.
Spend some time outdoors with a visit to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and prepare to be amazed by the untouched natural beauty of the place.
Here you will find more than two hundred fifty different types of birds as well as nearly one hundred species of amphibians and reptiles.
Not to mention the fact that this refuge is also home to more than fifty different types of mammals including the endangered West Indian manatee.
For something different, spend a few hours in the Railroad Square Art District and enjoy an afternoon stroll filled with art galleries, antique stores, trendy restaurants, cozy cafes, and so much more.
Car enthusiasts will lose their mind in the Tallahassee Automobile and Collectibles Museum as they walk amongst iconic classics like the 1911 Ford Model T Torpedo Runabout and 1966 Cherry Twister Mustang.
Another great place to enjoy some fresh air is Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park and there is plenty to do both on the water and on land.
For starters, the park stretches out over six thousand acres and offers endless recreation opportunities like hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching.
Plus, the water here is known for its pristine conditions, so it is not uncommon to see glass-bottom boats leading tours around the river.
Some other great places to check out are the Museum of Florida History, Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Knott House Museum, and Cascade Park.
7. DeFuniak Springs
Labeled as one of the best small cities to live in, DeFuniak Springs has something to offer for all kinds of travelers and is easily one of the best day trips from Pensacola.
Start your trip with a visit to the DeFuniak Springs Visitors Bureau for some insight on the area and to take up any useful resources like maps and brochures.
There are plenty of state parks to hang out in, but there is nothing quite like Lake Stanley Park thanks to its plentiful number of outdoor activities.
Spend the day here walking amongst its many trails, fishing to your heart’s content, boating out on the water, or simply enjoying a picnic with a view.
Walk through an old train depot with a visit to the Walton County Heritage Museum where you can learn about the rich history that has brought the county to where it is today.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make your way over to Rollout Sushi and Such where you will be shocked to discover that some of the best sushi resides here in the eastern part of Florida’s Panhandle.
Have a drink or two at Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery and consider signing up for a tour for a chance to walk amongst its picturesque grounds.
Is wine not your style? Opt for the Timber Creek Distillery for a fine variety of local spirits ranging from peach-infused vodka to rye whiskey.
If you happen to be visiting during the holiday season, you have to check out the Christmas Reflections festival because nothing says holiday spirit like larger-than-life Christmas decorations.
Have your pick of access points along Holmes Creek Paddling Trail to get out on your kayak or head into town to rent one from any of the local rental shops.
You’ll want to spend the entire day out on the water, so make sure to come prepared with water and consider bringing some bug spray to help combat those pesky insects.
8. New Orleans
Since Pensacola is located right along the edges of Florida’s state line, it makes for the perfect starting point for out-of-state day trips and there is no better place to explore than Louisiana’s famous city of New Orleans.
New Orleans is one of those bucket list destinations, so it would be silly not to take the three-hour drive across state borders. The only problem you may face is the urge to stay there forever.
This vibrant city isn’t listed as one of the best places to visit in the country for nothing, and one trip here will have you begging for more.
From the eccentric people to the delicious food to the lively music, the possibilities for exploration are endless and you’ll be planning your next trip back before you even leave.
The oldest, most popular neighborhood in New Orleans is easily the French Quarter and you’ll most likely spend all of your time here.
You could spend the day simply admiring the beauty of its colorful streets, but there are definitely some highlights in this area that you don’t want to miss.
For starters, one of the most popular streets in the French Quarter is Royal Street, and it’s not hard to figure out why with its endless supply of boutique shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries, and so much more.
Bourbon Street is certainly not for everyone, but if you are looking for a place to party the night away, then this is definitely where you want to be.
When it comes to food, the French Quarter district has a little bit of everything, but nothing quite compares to the mouth-watering beignets you’ll find at the famous Cafe du Monde.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dedicate some time to exploring other parts of New Orleans, like the picturesque Garden District and the lively Frenchmen Street.
All of the luxurious homes within the Garden District will leave you speechless, but nothing quite compares to some of the historic additions like Buckner Mansion and Commander’s Palace.
Not to mention the fact that Buckner Mansion was the house used in the iconic season of American Horror Story known as “Coven.”
Frenchmen Street gives you a feel for the local atmosphere with a variety of small jazz clubs boasting live performances from up-and-coming artists.
And you’ll want to end your trip with a visit to Preservation Hall where you will get to enjoy live performances from some of the best jazz artists in the area.
Just make sure you get here early because this is the most popular entertainment venue in the city and the line usually starts forming hours before showtime.
Famously known for being the location where The Truman Show was filmed, the small town of Seaside is overflowing with charm and its short distance from Pensacola makes it a necessary day trip.
One of the best things to do here is hang out on the beach and there is no better place to do it than Seagrove Beach where the picturesque water boasts a turquoise color, and the calm waves make swimming a pleasure.
As you drive through town, be sure to keep your eyes out for Seaside’s unique beach pavilions that stand tall along the shoreline and offer visitors a fun place to take some pictures.
Speaking of pavilions, the main pavilion is a hot spot for community activities, and you will often find yoga classes being held here so remember to bring your mat.
Go for a stroll or ride your bike around Grayton Beach State Park where you will be blown away by coastal forests and wild shorelines.
It is not every day that you get to see a dune lake, so make sure to save some time to visit Western Lake and consider renting a watercraft to make the most of your experience.
For something different, head to Airstream Row for lunch, but be prepared to struggle to choose what to eat once confronted with a large collection of airstream food trucks.
You’ll get to pick from a wide variety of flavors like Hawaiian barbecue, organic juices, grilled cheeses, hot dogs, shaved ice, and so much more.
If you happen to be planning your trip during November, then you have to check out the Seeing Red Wine Festival where you can feel good knowing that some of the money spent on that delicious wine you’ve been drinking goes right to local charities.
Another great event, the Seaside Farmers Market, can be enjoyed every Saturday and exposes visitors to a fine selection of local meats, cheeses, baked goods, produce, and much more.
Although the charming town of Navarre doesn’t see nearly as much foot traffic as other popular destinations in Florida, it is safe to say that it is no longer a hidden gem, and tourism is only expected to grow with each passing year.
This is why it is such a great place to visit – there is so much potential for an amazing Florida day trip without the large crowds. At least not yet.
Learn a bit about the environment and the importance of wildlife conservation while hanging out with a bunch of sea turtles at the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.
Take things even further with a visit to the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station where you can learn all about the variety of marine species that live in the area as well as the importance of reef systems.
For a more hands-on learning experience, head over to the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary where you can sign up for guided snorkeling tours to local reefs.
The main attraction in Navarre is undoubtedly Navarre Beach so feel free to spend the afternoon sunbathing on its white, sandy shore.
Although fishermen will appreciate this attraction more than anyone else, it doesn’t mean that the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier doesn’t have something to offer for everyone.
Come to watch the sunset over the water and stay awhile to admire the abundance of marine life sightings like dolphins, stingrays, and sea turtles.
You can’t go wrong with a visit to the Navarre Seafood Market especially since it is open every single day and boasts a fine selection of freshly caught seafood.
For something a bit different than the local beachfront activities, head over to Bay Haven Farms where you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon of horseback riding.
You’ll find plenty of great places to go to dinner, but nothing compares to The Slippery Mermaid Sushi Bar and their unique take on sushi classics.
After dinner, swing by the St. Michael’s Brewing Company to taste test some of the local craft beers that are brewed here while you sit back in the taproom or outside in the beer garden.
Another out-of-state day trip you don’t want to miss is a visit to Alabama’s extraordinary city of Mobile, where attractions are in abundance and views will leave you speechless.
It’s here you will find one of the Gulf Coast’s most popular attractions, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and you can spend the entire day admiring historic ships and taking in the breathtaking views of the Gulf.
Another military gem is Fort Conde, where visitors can walk a portion of the military base that once served the community throughout the early 19th century.
Nestled on the picturesque grounds of Langan Park, the Mobile Museum of Art will keep you busy for hours with more than two thousand pieces of exquisite art from all around the globe.
If you are interested in learning more about the town’s rich history, there is no better place to do it than the History Museum of Mobile, where you will find unique artifacts like Civil War cannons.
But if fresh air is what you are after, make your way over to the edge of town where you will find Bellingrath Gardens and its impressive sixteen-acre grounds.
Not to mention the fact that when you are not admiring hundreds of vibrant florae, you can be exploring the mansion which houses a fifteen-room museum.
For more education options paired with waterfront views, check out some of Mobile’s other fun attractions like the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center.
This next attraction might come as a surprise given its association with the famous city of New Orleans, but Mobile is actually home to one of the first Mardi Gras festivals in the country.
Every February, the city comes to life with colorful events like a variety of masquerade balls and the famously known tradition of Fat Tuesday.
While you are in town, you have to check out one of the seven historic districts scattered throughout the area and there are plenty of experienced tour guides willing to show you around.
The De Tonti Square is filled with historic Victorian buildings whereas the Oakley Garden District is the place to go to admire mansions and Church Street East sports a little bit of everything.
12. Panama City
Known for its breathtaking beaches, Panama City is one of the most popular coastal towns in Florida, but with the influx of tourists also comes a constantly growing selection of attractions.
Most people who visit Panama City spend most of their time at St. Andrews State Park, and who can blame them with its white sandy shore, clear turquoise waters, an abundance of wildlife, and variety of walking trails?
But since it is such a popular destination, the park can get extremely crowded on weekends, so you may want to consider laying out your towel somewhere else along the city’s twenty-seven miles of shoreline.
When you are not relaxing with your toes in the sand, the next best thing to do is explore the picturesque waters and there are plenty of ways to do it.
Sign up for a Panama City Beach Dolphin Tour to go for a scenic cruise around the coast or take the shuttle boat to Shell Island for an experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Once you arrive at Shell Island you will be rewarded with breathtaking views at every turn, and you’ll be happy to know that the seven-mile stretch of uninhabited land is free for you to explore.
But that is not to say that the island is overflowing with life and if you’re lucky, you may even get the chance to spot some of its native wildlife.
Just keep in mind that everything about this island is remote which means you won’t have access to amenities like restaurants, shops, or even bathrooms.
If you are hoping to enjoy the feeling of a remote wilderness without having to hop on a boat, then the Conservation Park is the place to go with about three thousand acres to its name.
Here you can spend the day walking amongst any of the twenty trails and boardwalks that wind through picturesque pine forests and wetlands while taking in the views of all the active wildlife.
But if you don’t want to stray too far from the beach, then you can always hang out in Pier Park which is filled with an abundance of restaurants and shops to enjoy just steps from the sandy shore.
The town of Apalachicola may be small in size, but it is overflowing with a variety of attractions on its charming streets and makes for an amazing day trip.
And don’t be fooled by its small-town vibes, Apalachicola has plenty of places to hang out and one of the very best places to unwind, with a local beer in hand, is Oyster City Brewery.
But if sitting around with a bunch of locals listening to live music and surrounded by golf carts isn’t your thing, head over to Owl Cafe for a finer dining experience.
The Apalachicola River is not known as one of Florida’s greatest paddling rivers for nothing and you can easily spend the entire day floating along its picturesque waters.
But surprisingly, most of the attractions Apalachicola has to offer can only be reached by boat so expect to spend a lot of time out on the crystal-clear water.
The Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go to enjoy a truly remote experience and when the shuttle boat drops you off, you will feel like you have stumbled upon a deserted island with nothing but native wildlife.
However, most people find themselves at St. George Island because of its touristy beach town vibe, an abundance of local shops, and picturesque beaches, unlike anything you’ve ever set your eyes on.