Maybe you didn’t come to the beach to spend your time inside a boring museum. We get it.
But if you can make an exception for a museum that’s far from boring, the National Naval Aviation Museum makes its home right here in Pensacola, Florida.
Housing more than 150 aircraft representing Navy, Marine and Coast Guard aviation in 350,000 square feet of exhibit space and 37 acres of outdoor grounds, the museum is only a short drive from beautiful Pensacola Beach, and it’s well worth the trip.
“We are the largest naval aviation museum in the world, and one of the most visited museums in Florida right here in Pensacola,” says Malerie Shelton, director of marketing for the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. “We’re one of the few museums where you’re not behind some roped off area looking from a distance. We allow you to touch, look at and climb in many of the displays.”
You’ll discover something new every time you visit. (Just ask my four-year-old, who calls it the ‘Naviation Museum’.)
If you only have a few hours to spend, Shelton names her top ‘can’t miss’ attractions:
- On the new Blue Angels 4D Experience inside Hangar Bay One, enjoy exciting, action-packed aerial maneuvers that will make you feel like you’re flying with the Blues.
- Back in the main museum, catch a film on the Giant Screen Theater.
- Upstairs, don’t miss the MaxFlight 360-Degree 3D flight simulators and the Motion-Based Simulator.
- While you’re up there, check out the Virtual Flight Deck exhibit to experience the sights, sounds and sensations of standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier – complete with wind blowing across the flight deck, the smell of jet fumes and the rumble of an F/A-18.
- On your way out, visit the Flight Deck Gift Store to bring home the spirit of aviation.
Insider tip: there are approximately 50 aircraft displayed on the flight line behind the museum’s restoration hangar. Pick up your Flight Line Trolley Tour tickets from the information desk for a free, 20-minute tour.
“Regardless of age, you’ll get one of the best history lessons from our tour guides,” Shelton shares. “Chances are, they probably flew one of the aircraft.”
A visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum is both educational and exciting. Before your trip, check out the Foundation website using the free Wi-Fi or 24-hour business center at the Holiday Inn Resort. Online, the museum provides several resources for visitors, including scavenger hunts, lesson plans and self-guided tours.
The museum is fun for all ages, but especially inspiring for little ones.
“Most days, you’ll see children climbing into aircraft pretending to be pilots,” Shelton says. “Kids seem very enthusiastic entering the museum, as they see the actual size of airplanes and how naval aviation has traveled through time.”
What’s even more exhilarating? Plan your vacation during the months of March through December, and your visit may coincide with the Blue Angels practice schedule.
The National Naval Aviation Museum is located onboard Naval Air Station Pensacola at 1750 Radford Boulevard. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the museum is open to the public, and admission is free.
– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels