So you’re moving to Pensacola? Congratulations! You are about to be let in on the best secret the Southeast has to offer.
Pensacola may have once been a sleepy town on Florida’s panhandle, but after experiencing a downtown revival in the last 15 years, the Western Gate to the Sunshine State is your go-to location for big-city culture with that small-town hospitality.
To give you a head start on living like a local, we have put together this comprehensive guide for moving to Pensacola!
Where is Pensacola exactly?
Pensacola is your last stop before Alabama on Florida’s west coast. Pensacola’s location makes us more Southern Charm than Miami Vice, but our white sand beaches can rival those of our South Florida neighbors any day.
Not only do we have beautiful beaches on either side of our area (Perdido Key to the west and Pensacola Beach to the east), but right in the middle we have a beautiful, bayfront downtown full of history, culture, amazing eats, and cobblestone streets.
Our location also makes us a prime location for fantastic day trips and getaways. We are just a two and a half hour drive from New Orleans, making it easy to sneak away for some gumbo and good times.
Less than a two hour drive to the east, you have the beautiful 30A scenic highway, the stretch where you will find some of the most picturesque beach communities the United States has to offer like Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and Alys Beach. We also have our own airport, so if you are looking to travel a little further, that’s no problem at all. In fact, the local tourism bureau clocked the time from front desk to your departure gate, and it was just seven minutes. You certainly can’t get that type of convenience in most cities of our size!
Helpful Facts to Know When Moving to Pensacola
A Brief History
Did you know that Pensacola is actually the oldest settlement in the United States? I know what you’re thinking – “I thought St. Augustine was first?” Well, you are not wrong. While St. Augustine is North America’s oldest city, Pensacola was actually discovered about five years earlier. Unfortunately, a hurricane came along and destroyed the settlement, which kept it from officially becoming the first city. This makes for a fun rivalry with our neighbors to the south!
In its 460 years, Pensacola has flown under several flags including Spain, Britain, and France, and the influence of each nation has resulted in a very unique architectural landscape. French Creole style homes dating back to the 1800s sit on streets that still carry the name given by the British during their reign. Here in Pensacola, our multicultural history is a great source of pride and we pay homage to it in many ways, including flying the flags of those nations alongside the American flag.
Pensacola by the Numbers
When most people refer to Pensacola, they are not just talking about the area within the city limits. Generally, people are referring to the greater Pensacola area, which is the entirety of Escambia County. This includes everything from Pensacola Beach in the east to Perdido Key in the West.
From the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau Estimation:
- Escambia County has a population of more than 315,000.
- Pensacola has a population of about 52,000 residents, within its city limits.
- The median household income for the greater Pensacola area is just under $50,000.
Cost of Living
Though the average household income in Pensacola is lower than the national average, that also accounts for a cost of living lower than the national average.
Here are a few statistics from PayScale that speak to this:
- Pensacola’s housing expenses are 27% lower than the national average.
- Utilities are 11% below the national average.
- Median home prices are just over $250,000.
- Median monthly rent is just under $800.
- Healthcare costs in Pensacola are 5% lower than the national average.
- Groceries, conversely, are 5% higher than the national average.
Because Pensacola is such an affordable place to live, you really can find a situation that fits any budget. And according to local Realtor Christina Leavenworth, there are more than enough options to choose from.
“The Pensacola housing market is very hot,” said Leavenworth. “We have a constant influx of military families moving here all year long. NAS Pensacola and Navy Federal are two of the biggest employers in the region. We always have buyers looking for homes because of so many people transferring here.”
The top five employers in the greater Pensacola area (according to FloridaWest – an economic development alliance) are:
- Baptist Healthcare
- Navy Federal Credit Union
- Sacred Heart Health Systems
- Gulf Power Company
- West Florida Healthcare
Best Pensacola Neighborhoods to Move to
So, which neighborhood is right for you? Since Pensacola covers almost 900 square miles, there are a lot of neighborhoods to explore. Let’s break it down by region and call out some of the neighborhoods found in each, along with their economic anchors and landmarks.
If you want to be within walking distance of amazing restaurants, shops, arts, and culture, then downtown Pensacola is the place for you. This area has experienced quite the renaissance in the last 15 years with many new housing options filling in among historic homes. Thankfully, Pensacola is very committed to historic preservation, so every new house that has been built has had to undergo scrutiny from the Architectural Review Board, assuring that all new development blends in with our historic charm. Whether you are looking to rent an apartment, buy a home, or snag a condo overlooking beautiful Pensacola Bay, there are plenty of options to fit your budget.
If you are looking for a very tight knit neighborhood vibe that really embraces their quirkiness, East Hill is the place for you. This neighborhood has beautiful historic homes intermixed with charming new development and several parks, the most popular being Bayview Park. East Hill is also home to N.B. Cook Elementary School, which received an A rating in 2019.
If you want beautiful Victorian homes and tree-lined streets, check out North Hill. This neighborhood is very committed to their historic preservation and is only a short walk or bike ride from the downtown core.
East Pensacola Heights
Just to the west of the downtown core, you will find Belmont-Devilliers. This historically African American neighborhood was once home to a music hall that was part of the famed Chitlin Circuit, which was a collection of venues in the south where African American jazz performers like James Brown and Louis Armstrong performed. The jazzy roots of Belmont-Devilliers have been preserved to this day, and you will still find great music and delicious food there today. This neighborhood is also just a short walk away from the downtown shops and restaurants and a local grocery co-op!
The main anchor of the west side of Pensacola is Naval Airstation Pensacola, which employs more than 16,000 military personnel and more than 7,400 civilians. Here you will find Navy Point, a lovely neighborhood filled with mid century treasures and a park that runs alongside Bayou Grande. It’s the perfect place to take a jog or to launch your kayak. This is a great neighborhood for someone who wants to live close to the water without paying waterfront prices.
To the west of Navy Park is Warrington. This area is much more spread out than the other neighborhoods that are close to downtown, and wouldn’t be considered walkable. The majority of our military population lives in this area, as it is the closest neighborhood to the base. If you are looking for a great school for your young ones, Hellen Caro Elementary School has an A designation.
Brownsville is a large neighborhood on the west side of downtown Pensacola. Like Warrington, Brownsville is pretty spread out and not exactly the most walkable. This neighborhood is filled with local restaurateurs cooking up some of the best Vietnamese, Chinese, Israeli, and Mediterranean food you will find in all of Pensacola. It is also home to several Asian markets where you can pick up international goodies and locally grown produce.
If you are moving to Pensacola and looking for a suburb with great schools and the mall, midtown is an excellent option. Cordova Mall is the main shopping center in Pensacola, and it is just a few minutes away from the airport. Pensacola State College is just across the street from the mall and the many restaurants that surround it. A few minutes down the road, Pensacola Christian College is another great higher-education opportunity.
Whether you are looking for a house or apartment, there is something for all budgets and family sizes in this area. Cordova Park is a lovely neighborhood filled with young families and an excellent elementary school of the same name.
Scenic Heights has everything ranging from large homes overlooking Bayou Chico to smaller mid-century homes that are more inland.
Now we have reached the country. Pensacola is so large that you can have the white sand beaches, or beautiful farm country—truly something for everyone!
Beulah is the westernmost area of the north side and offers acres and acres of picturesque farmland. This area has experienced quite the housing boom in the last few years, since one of the top employers in the area, Navy Federal, opened a large campus in Beulah. Now there are many more neighborhoods being built and several apartment complexes, to fit whatever living arrangement you are looking for.
Moving east, we have Cantonment, which is another rural area, but with more shops and restaurants close by than Beulah. Cantonment is home to Tate High School, one of the highest rated high schools in the county.
Continuing east we come to Ferry Pass, which is home to the University of West Florida. UWF is one of the major employers in Pensacola, and their campus has grown rapidly over the last ten years. One thing to remember: if you live in the north end of Pensacola, you can expect to have a roughly 25 minute commute to downtown Pensacola.
Here in Pensacola, we are fortunate to have not one but two beautiful beaches on either side of the area. Both are equally beautiful and have attracted many snowbirds over the years, but according to realtor Christina Leavenworth, our barrier islands aren’t just for the visitors.
“We see a lot of empty nesters looking for condo life either on Pensacola Beach or Perdido Key,” said Leavenworth.
If you prefer a more secluded beach experience, you should consider Perdido Key. This area is much more rustic than Pensacola Beach, with two pristine state parks, and a section of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which also picks up again on Pensacola Beach. Life on the Key is generally a slower pace than Pensacola Beach, where you will find more shops and restaurants. However, right at the end of the key things get a little bit more exciting. Here you will find the famed Flora-Bama Beach Bar, which has served as musical inspiration for the likes of Kenny Chesney and the one and only Jimmy Buffet.
Over on Pensacola Beach, you can still live on island time, but there are more shops and restaurants for when you want to pick up the pace a little. Pensacola Beach offers everything from cute little beach houses to luxury condos with a spa onsite, and even one of the top elementary schools in the county, Pensacola Beach Elementary.
While dining opportunities on Perdido Key are much more low key, Pensacola Beach also offers a few casual fine dining experiences. That title is somewhat of a contradiction, but just think of them as being as fancy as you would want to get while still relaxing at the beach.
Things to Do in Pensacola
Whether you consider yourself outdoorsy or indoorsy, Pensacola truly offers something for everyone. Todd Thomson, the president and CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber, moved to Pensacola in 2010 and quickly found that it was anything but a sleepy old town.
“My favorite thing about living in Pensacola is that there’s always something to do,” said Thomson. “Yes, we have the world’s most beautiful beaches but we also have a vibrant downtown that hosts events and festivals all year long.”
When you are surrounded by this much natural beauty, it would be a shame to waste it! We certainly have plenty of salt water to play around in, but we also have several rivers and creeks perfect for fishing or canoeing. Get yourself a stand up paddleboard and you can conquer just about any waterway Pensacola has to offer.
Pensacola also has several bike trails, one of the local favorites being the 20 mile long trail located on UWF’s campus. Be sure to bring your binoculars because this is a great opportunity to watch for birds and even a few gators!
If you’ve always wanted to get your scuba diving certification, moving to Pensacola is just the time to do it. Pensacola is home to several artificial reefs, but the most notable just so happens to be the largest one in the world: the U.S.S. Oriskany. People who dive this sunken aircraft carrier see all matter of sea life including the ocean sunfish, which can be up to 11 feet tall and weigh more than two tons! Don’t worry – they are harmless to humans. But they are very curious creatures and often approach unsuspecting divers just to give a closer “hello.”
If your idea of getting outside is strolling through an open-air market, we’ve got you covered. Every Saturday, rain or shine, Palafox Market brings more than 200 vendors together in the heart of downtown. Here you will find fresh honey, produce, painters, woodworkers, and just about anything you could imagine. Just bring a basket and you could put a serious dent in your shopping for the week.
Enjoy Pensacola Sports
Are you a sports fan? Well, we’ve got professional baseball, college football… we’ve even got a hockey team! The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are the double-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins, and they play in a gorgeous stadium overlooking Pensacola Bay. Be sure to arrive hungry because they do much more than peanuts and cracker jacks at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
UWF sports knock it out of the park on all fronts, but I think you know how Southerners feel about football. In their second season, UWF football made it to the championship game, but left disappointed. In 2019, their fourth season, they took home the title. You don’t want to miss watching this exciting program, especially since they play at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
Believe it or not, we do have a hockey team. And a very successful one at that! Be sure to check out the Pensacola Ice Flyers once you get here.
Take in the Culture
Now for all of your indoorsy types, we have an extra special treat. Pensacola has an arts scene that will not only entertain you, but inspire you to join in the fun. Pensacola boasts what is called the “big five”—a professional theatre, professional ballet, professional opera company, professional symphony, and an accredited arts museum.
We also have the longest-running community theatre in the South, where Pensacola talent has been performing non-stop since 1936. If you feel like you’ve been bitten by the theatre bug, audition for a show at the Pensacola Little Theatre, the chorus of Pensacola Opera, or for the local improv group.
For those whose talents are displayed with a brush or pencil, we also have several local art galleries where you can present your work.
Taste the Local Cuisine
Our location gives us direct access to the freshest gulf seafood you can get, and, as you’ve probably heard, we know how to cook in the south! We have such amazing local chefs who take that gulf bounty and turn it into a masterpiece that your taste buds won’t soon forget.
I recommend starting around 4 p.m. on a Saturday at Iron Restaurant in downtown Pensacola and working your way down Palafox Street all the way to Skopelos at New World, just sampling whatever the waiter recommends at each restaurant along the way. You may be full by the time you make it to Skopelos, but you will definitely be happy! (And they have incredible desserts, so they are the perfect place to end your grub crawl.)
I can’t think of a more efficient way of finding your new favorite restaurant. Can you?
Pensacola is very fortunate to have many people who work very hard to tell our story and preserve our history. Below are just a few museums that you don’t want to miss!
- Historic Pensacola Village – This collection of smaller museums in the heart of downtown Pensacola is a beautiful walk through the history of America’s oldest settlement.
- National Naval Aviation Museum – The largest museum of its kind in the world, this is also where you can meet the Blue Angels team at their autograph signings on Wednesdays (March through November) after watching one of their twice-weekly practices!
- Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum – Located aboard NAS Pensacola, this lighthouse offers one of the most beautiful views in town. Pro tip: reserve a spot at the top during one of the Blue Angels practices. You can thank me later!
- Fort Pickens – Located on the white sands of Pensacola Beach, this US military fort was built in 1834. Fun fact: Fort Pickens once served as the prison where famed Apache Chief Geronimo was held.
Moving Tips for Pensacola Newbies
“My best advice for someone moving to Pensacola,” Leavenworth shared with us, “is to get involved! People are so nice and welcoming. There are so many things you can get involved in. Pensacola is very community-driven. The faster you get involved, the quicker you will fall in love with not only the beautiful area but the people of Pensacola.”
Christina took the words right out of my mouth. So to recycle a few words from earlier in the article… Pensacola truly does have something for everyone. When you arrive, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Southern hospitality is a real thing, and we do it real well.
Need storage for your move? Find a Life Storage in Pensacola.