Face it, most of us don’t like the notion of getting old. We fight it with faithful trips to the gym, early morning boot camps, careful note of calories consumed, plastic surgery, and all the other modern contrivances to stave off the inevitable. That’s not the case in Pensacola Florida which embraces its longevity, noisily laying claim to its title as America’s oldest city.
Spanish settlers first arrived on the city’s sandy shores in 1559 but following a devastating hurricane -some things never change- the city was abandoned not to be resettled until the late 1600’s when it served as Florida’s first capital city.
Modern day Pensacola (P’cola to the natives) has come a long ways from those early settlement days. Now home to 50,000 city residents, with 350,000 in the metro area, the city is the hub of Northwest Florida. Military funding, both active and retired personnel is a major revenue source closely followed by tourism, medical and professional services.
The city of Pensacola has a large historical area, almost 1 square mile of intact Victorian style rowhouses, interspersed with new construction designed to look old. There are several lushly landscaped squares, similar to Savannah, leading to historic churches and government buildings. The nearby area also offers numerous golf courses, nature walks, and, of course restaurants. During a quick weekend jaunt we enjoyed dinner at newly opened Five Sisters, a back to basics southern soul food spot with live music, on the city’s near northside and Grand Marlin-Pensacola Beach’s restaurant of the moment. Part of a planned marina and private yacht club, the Grand Marlin is presided over by former Atlantans (and Ray’s on the River veterans) Bryan Housey and Chef Greg McCarthy. Another hot spot drawing a lot of attention is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Hotel with its beachside bar.
Surrounded by water, with several large areas of protected state and national seashore land, Pensacola remains a tourist mecca. The pristine beaches and shimmering aqua blue water attracting beach- bound tourists from through the region. That said, there’s no denying the impact of the recent oil spill in the Gulf. According to tourism officials, overall business in the region is down 30-40% from that of a year ago. Dozens and dozens of workers, clad in orange booties and bright yellow vests are still combing the beaches for remnants of tar balls. Official vehicles, marked with disaster recovery stickers can be found up and down the beach. Warning signs and billboards provide phone numbers to report oiled wildlife and hints on removing any oil that may get on you. While the oil flow seems to be under control what’s undertermined, according to many experts is the damage being done below the surface and the long term impact.