Whether it’s gliding the streets by Segway exploring the storied history, enjoying a tasty handcrafted cappuccino from a local coffee shop or delving into the burgeoning arts and culture scene, downtown Pensacola events offer it all. As our white sand beaches naturally get all the hype, don’t ignore the events held year-round downtown Pensacola that are stories unto themselves.
We’ve gathered the top 10 events in downtown Pensacola so you can plan your beach getaway accordingly.
1) Gallery Night
Don’t miss out when Palafox Street in downtown Pensacola becomes alive with local art, vendors, booths, and live music. Galleries and stores stay open late to showcase original works by local artists and offer free drinks and entertainment. As the night progresses, the masses swarm downtown and transform the street into a vibrant block party. Think small-scale Bourbon Street – minus the trash, profanity and unpleasant smells. It’s one of the few nights you can freely frolic the streets with an open container.
2) Pensacola Mardi Gras
Many may not be aware but dating back to 1874, Pensacola is home to one of the country’s original Carnival celebration sites – and we don’t mess around during this season. You’ll love experiencing the largest, family-friendly side of Mardi Gras when Palafox Street becomes manifested with three extravagant parades, including more than 200 floats and 100 active krewes. Thousands of partygoers line the streets anticipating beads, stuffed animals, moon pies and other popular Mardi Gras favors.
3) McGuire’s 5k Run
Promising tons of fun is the traditional McGuire’s 5k Run held every spring in Pensacola the week before St. Patrick’s Day. As the largest 5k prediction run in the nation – with more than 50,000 participants – it draws in some of the best and weirdest partakers. We are never surprised to see adults dressed as Storm Troopers or grown men in tutus. After the race, a huge Irish celebration takes place offering an obnoxious amount of free beer, Irish Wakes, and bean soup—calling for an unapologetic display of drinking and debauchery.
4) Smokin’ in the Square
Experience the perfect combination of food, fun and southern hospitality at this smokin’ event held annually in March. Professional barbecue teams from around the country and local barbecue connoisseurs, gather in Seville Square to prepare finger-licking BBQ dishes and compete in taste-offs for a panel of distinct judges. Come for barbecue and drinks, stay for the music and fun.
5) Pensacola Seafood Festival
In late September, downtown Pensacola transforms into a seafood lovers dream. During this three-day extravaganza, festival goers can be delighted with seafood dishes such as seafood gumbo, oyster croquettes, shrimp Creole and more. Fried, grilled, baked, blackened or however you prefer—it’s all here to savor. Along with delicious food, there are more than 150 arts and craft vendors, live music, and fun activities for children of all ages to enjoy.
6) Barktober Fest
This unique event is worth giving up a beach day for, as it has become an endearing tradition in the Pensacola community. Every October, the Pensacola Humane Society organizes Barktober Fest, their largest one-day fundraising event. Unlike any other event in the area, dogs are encouraged to dress up, eat and play in historic Seville Square. Bring your children and favorite four-legged friends to watch pets duke it out in competitions like the best trick, best costume, best dog/owner look-alike and more.
7) Greek Festival
Greek heritage unfolds with authentic dishes, live bouzouki music, and traditional Greek dancing. Over 30,000 people from all over the Gulf Coast attend this three-day festival in October to soak in the Greek heritage and culture, and to feast on delicious treats like roasted lamb, spanikopita and dolmathes along with dozens of other savory dishes and desserts. It’s all about the food, music and dancing that will make you scream ‘Opa!’ during this weekend of family fun.
8) The Great Gulfcoast Art Festival
If you’re in Pensacola during late October, the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is the place to be. More than 200 artists from across the nation make their way to the Gulf Coast each year to showcase their dazzling array of talent – everything from paintings and sculptors to jewelry and craftsmen is found at this event. In addition to art, there’s live music on three stages, a variety of local food vendors and a Children’s Arts Festival that offers hands-on activities for kids including face painting, sand art, sidewalk art and more.
This month-long celebration never ceases to offer a sleigh-full of activities for the whole family. Starting after Thanksgiving, downtown Pensacola transforms into a magical wonderland filled with lights, sounds and sights that make up Winterfest from the Historic Seville to the Palafox Business District. Families can have fun with all the holiday characters at events including the Santa’s Express Tour, Santa Trolly Tours, Elf parades and more.
10) Pensacola Pelican Drop
Some cities drop a ball at midnight. Some cities drop a beach ball. But Pensacola drops a 14-foot pelican to the cheers of over 50,000 revelers who cluster together on Palafox Street in tradition to welcome in the new year. There’s no doubt that Pensacola can host one memorable party. The night bursts with hours of fun as it’s filled with live music, art, food, and fireworks – the perfect recipe for a good time with the whole family.