It seems as though the vast majority of Florida is a tourist destination or a college town. Miami and Tampa are two of the largest cities in the country, both with large populations and tourist attractions. Orlando itself is nearly entirely a tourist destination.
When looking for places to live in Florida, the suburbs surrounding the major cities are possible. There is also Pensacola, with its southern charm as opposed to the “Miami Vice” feeling that the namesake offers. But is it a good place to live? Though Pensacola may not have the appeal and bright lights of Miami or Orlando, it does have its own positives.
Table of Contents
- Where is Pensacola, anyway?
- A History of Pensacola
- The Population
- Why Pensacola Is A Good Place To Live
- Is Pensacola a Good Place to Live?
Where is Pensacola, anyway?
You will find Pensacola at the top left of Florida’s handle. It is the last stop on Florida’s west coast before you would hit Alabama. For that reason, the atmosphere is more of southern charm than the party atmosphere that permeates everything from Panama Beach down to West Palm Beach.
Despite not being located near those major tourist destinations, Pensacola is just a few hours from popular beaches like Rosemary, Alys, and Seaside. With its own airport as well, Pensacola has all the offerings of a major city without overcrowding and tourist destinations.
A History of Pensacola
What most don’t realize is that Pensacola is actually the United States’ oldest settlement. The claims that St. Augustine is the oldest city in North America, Pensacola was discovered a few years prior to that.
The problem was that a hurricane destroyed the settlement, keeping it from being officially recognized as the oldest settlement in the United States. That creates a bit of a rivalry between the two towns tracing back hundreds of years.
What is truly interesting is that in the 460 years Pensacola has been around, it has flown under a variety of flags. Pensacola has flown under the British, French, and Spanish flag, each leaving its own distinct mark on Pensacola’s architecture.
When people refer to Pensacola, they are also referring to the greater Pensacola area, not just the city limits. That has come to include all of Escambia County. The county covers everything ranging from Pensacola Beach all the way west to Perdido Key.
The county has a total population of just over 315,000 people. Inside the city limits of Pensacola, there is a population of 52,000 residents. For the greater Pensacola area, the median household income is just a shade under the $50,000 mark, below the national average.
The relatively low median income begs the question of affordability in Pensacola. Here is how the city stacks up.
Why Pensacola Is A Good Place To Live
Cost of Living
Despite the relatively low median income, Pensacola is proving to be quite an affordable place to live. When it comes to the national average, the cost of living is substantially lower in Pensacola in several ways.
The housing expenses while living in Pensacola come in at 27% below the national average, with utilities being 11% cheaper. The median home price in Pensacola is $250,000 though monthly rent in the city comes out to about $800 on average, making it very affordable to rent.
If that weren’t enough, both healthcare costs and groceries are also lower than the national average. Both are about 5% lower, making it more affordable despite coming in under the national average for median income.
The housing market in Pensacola has grown exponentially and is quite hot at the moment. Part of the reason is that it is home to military families moving into the area. With NAS Pensacola and the Navy Federal in the region, buyers are always looking for homes in the area.
There are also a wide array of military bases located throughout the state. That has made Florida in general a great destination for military families seeking out affordable housing. Between the job opportunities and the housing market, it has become a desirable destination.
Burgeoning Job Market
Another major attractive point for Pensacola is that it has a growing job market, particularly in the healthcare region. It seems as though the industry, in general, is on the upswing and always looking for applicants.
Some of the top employers in the area include Baptist Healthcare, West Florida Healthcare, and Sacred Heart Health Systems. For those not in the healthcare industry, Navy Federal Credit Union and the Gulf Power Company are growing employment destinations as well.
The Beaches are a Major Attraction
You would be hard-pressed to find a city in Florida that didn’t benefit from close proximity to a major beach. Pensacola is no different. It is located close to a pair of beautiful beaches to both the east and west of the city.
Perdido Key provides greater privacy in addition to an overall rustic flare. Life moves at a slower overall pace where you will find a ton of shops and restaurants to peruse. Those craving the nightlife will also find the famous Flora-Bama Beach Bar. It has served as inspiration for famous musical acts like Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney.
Pensacola Beach tends to have a lot more people but also boasts quite a bit of fine dining as well. No matter what the desired pace or destinations, the beaches surrounding Pensacola make for a fine time.
One of the primary activities in Pensacola is getting outside and enjoying the scenery. Pensacola is surrounded by so much natural beauty that it is only natural to get outside. Here are rivers, creaks, and plenty of saltwater to go around, great for canoeing, swimming, fishing, and more.
Despite the beaches and the beauty of the water, there are more than a few land options, too. Bike trails cover a 20-mile stretch along the University of Western Florida’s campus. It is a great place to bird watch and even to find a gator from time to time.
Of course, the water is the main attraction. Pensacola is a premier scuba diving spot, offering scuba certification courses aplenty. It is also home to a number of artificial reefs, including one of the largest in the world in the U.S.S. Oriskany. Thousands come to see the ocean sunfish each year, friendly creatures despite being up to 11 feet tall and 2 tons in weight.
Whether you are a resident or a visitor, having access to quality shopping can really change how you see a town or city. If you like to get out into an open-air market and peruse, Pensacola is a destination for you.
The Palafox Market brings over 200 vendors into the heart of downtown to ply their wares. You can find anything you can think of from woodworkers to painters, produce to fresh honey. Grabbing a basket, enjoying the sunshine, and putting a dent in the shopping list will become a regular occurrence.
Underrated Sports Scene
Though it is quite a distance away from the major sports scenes of Tampa, Miami, and Orlando, the sports scene in Pensacola is nothing to scoff at. The aforementioned UWF has football, with the team making it to a championship game in year 2 before taking it all in year 4.
Pensacola is also the home to several major league training camps. In the late winter, you can find several Major League Baseball teams working out the kinks, scouting prospects, and getting into form over at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
Believe it or not, Pensacola is even home to ice hockey. They are home to the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League. It might not be the same as neighboring Tampa’s Lightning of the NHL, but you can experience all the fun of live ice hockey all the same.
Seafood and Southern Cuisine
Being in close proximity to beaches and southern states like Alabama and Georgia, it only makes sense that Pensacola is home to some good southern cookin’. Fresh fish comes in daily across a variety of seafood establishments, creating fresh dishes like no other.
There are several establishments more than worth checking out. Start with Iron Restaurant downtown and work down to Palafox Street to check out Skopelos at New World. Don’t get too caught up in the seafood that Pensacola has to offer as there are plenty of delicious desserts to be enjoyed, too.
With all that there is to do in Pensacola, it doesn’t end there. There is also a lot of history to be seen and there are more than a few museums to display all of that history and to tell its store.
The Historic Pensacola Village has a collection of smaller museums that walk visitors through the history of America’s oldest settlement. The National Naval Aviation Museum is especially cool for both aviation and naval history. You can even meet the famed Blue Angels team that has flown over some of the biggest events (like the Super Bowl) in history.
The Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, which is aboard the NAS Pensacola, is a beautiful experience in itself. Depending on when you visit, you can even see the aforementioned Blue Angles during one of their practices. It is an experience like no other to see them roaring overhead.
Finally, there is Fort Pickens. Not only is it located on the beautiful white sands of Pensacola Beach, but it has loads of history behind it given its construction in 1834. There is one fun fact that stands out about Fort Pickens: it is the prison that held famous Apache Chief Geronimo.
Is Pensacola a Good Place to Live?
For those who love the sunshine and a beach within driving distance, it is hard to beat what Pensacola has to offer. There are a plethora of hiking trails and so much natural beautiful scenery that simply seeing it all is a destination in and of itself.
While the median income is below the national average, so too is the cost of living. Homes are affordable, there are plenty of job opportunities, and things like utilities, healthcare, and groceries are all below the national average.
Though it is a bit of a drive to the major tourist destinations of the state, it is close to both Alabama and Georgia, allowing for easy out-of-state travel. Pensacola is proving to be a total package for both residents and visitors alike.