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Pensacola, Florida: a Surprising LGBTQ Friendly Destination on the Gulf Coast

Pensacola, Florida: a Surprising LGBTQ Friendly Destination on the Gulf Coast

When I was first asked to visit Pensacola, Florida I didn’t know what to expect. Being very close to the FL/AL border and very near some towns that aren’t known for being very welcoming/inclusive to LGBTQ people, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out that Pensacola is a surprisingly welcoming, open and supportive city, and that’s what we’re talking about in this episode. There are tons of things to do in Pensacola, but for now, let’s dig into why it’s such an inclusive destination when it comes to the LGBTQ community.

As a destination Pensacola, Florida is one of the few cities in the South that intentionally makes space for diversity and inclusion, both in terms of community support and tourism. Talking with our guest, Sid Williams-Heath, representing the Pensacola Little Theater and the STAMPED LGBTQ Film Festival (president), he shares insights into what the city and private citizens of Pensacola have done to turn their town into a place where everyone can feel welcome, to live or vacation.

Beyond this, there is much more about Pensacola and exploring western Florida here on the blog. Check out Fun Pensacola Things to Do, Penasacola Beach Vacation Ideas, and Perdido Key and West Pensacola.

Below you’ll find links to our show notes, options for downloading podcast episodes from your favorite hub, and even information for being a part of the 2TravelDads podcast.

If you’d like to visit our podcast host page, feel free! There are lots of options to subscribe to the 2TravelDads Podcast.





What Makes Pensacola an LGBTQ Inclusive Destination

While a lot of people don’t necessarily have to think about whether they’ll be welcome when they arrive in a new city, that’s not the case for everyone. LGBTQ people and People of Color do have many places where they think twice before getting out of the car. For us, we’re always just a bit wary, even close to home here in Florida, just because we have experience with harassment and threatened violence in the past. Because of this, we approach our travels with thoughtfulness and care, so finding a destination like Pensacola that actively works to be inclusive is fantastic.

Before I get too much into it, because there are always the people who don’t read everything, I will say that just like any city, progressive or not, Pensacola isn’t perfect, but they are leaps and bounds ahead of other Southern cities. I can confidently say that I felt safe and welcome everywhere I went in Pensacola, from downtown late at night to remote beach areas. True, I’m a guy and a solid one at that, but even still, I get a vibe when a place doesn’t feel quite right. I love that I didn’t experience that here.

With that, beyond feeling safe, which is very important, Pensacola is a very fun and artsy place. The LGBTQ community tends to congregate where the arts flourish, and we’re often very much a part of that scene. For sure this is the case in Pensacola. Add to that welcoming window stickers in many businesses, a few gay bars and great food, and you’ve got the makings of a destination that’s inclusive on the surface.

Below the surface, that’s where the real drive for inclusivity happens. Pensacola puts its money where its mouth is with supporting diversity and inclusion. From funding diversity programs to having LGBTQ board members, there are steps being taken in the background to create a welcoming city. On my end as a writer and “influencer” whenever a destination is willing to invest funds in my work, that shows that they see value in an LGBTQ voice and readership. The decision to bring me to the city to share my own impressions and experience is a statement about Pensacola.

Exterior of Vintage Theater Rex in Historic Downtown Pensacola Florida 1

What Happens When a City Strives for and Supports Diversity

I’m not a social scientist or city planner, but I know what happens when a city or destination supports diversity. Actively funding community projects and events that showcase the many types of people and walks of life in a city attracts people of varying backgrounds. You end up with a diverse work force, diverse residents, diverse visitors. You foster a place where the arts thrive, as being what the norm would consider “diverse” leads to all sorts of creative ventures. And that’s what’s happened in Pensacola in recent years.

Through both government and private sector programs, Pensacola has been able to support and celebrate the diversity of the city, including the LGBTQ community. Organizations like Sunday’s Child provide funding to groups who are visibly and actively working to encourage diversity. Festivals and events highlight the wide mix of people and passions, and this just strengthens the communities of Pensacola. I love it.

Saturday Market at Promenade on Palafox Street Historic Downtown Pensacola Florida 1


Started in 2012, Pensacola’s Stamped Film Festival has been an ongoing celebration of the the LGBTQ community in the city and beyond. Over several days, films of every sort of shown in the festival telling so many important LGBTQ stories. From short films, both comedic and dramatic, to longer documentary films, they’re all a part of Stamped. I loved seeing animated films from LGBTQ creators, and student films followed by discussion and open forums to talk about the issues and the creative process.

Stamped Film Festival is a fantastic way for LGBTQ families to also come together as a community with family-centric programming. I was privileged to get to participate in a panel all about building a family as gay dads, which was really special to get to share. The diversity of participation, films, and attendees was really inspiring, and you could tell in talking to everyone how proud they were to be able to participate in such a supportive, inclusive event in Pensacola.

Film Lineup at Stamped Film Festival Pensacola Little Theater Florida 1

Highlights for visiting Pensacola

By now you know how I feel about Pensacola and its welcoming nature. I really enjoyed my time there and no longer will just drive by when we’re on a road trip, but actually will happily set aside time to enjoy the city. Speaking of which, here’s our quick guide for planning a visit to Pensacola. We have much more in depth features too, but for now roll with these picks and you’ll have a great visit.

Tip: Pensacola has a good sized airport, PNS, and you can flight direct from plenty of cities. Fly into PNS to start a Florida Gulf Coast road trip all the way to the Everglades or Florida Keys!

Direct flights into Pensacola include daily service from Charlotte NC, Washington DC, Dallas TX, Miami FL, Boston MA, New York City (LGA), Chicago IL, Philadelphia PA, Atlanta GA, Denver CO, Orlando FL, Tampa FL, Nashville TN, Houston TX, Kansas City MO, St Louis MO, and Fort Lauderdale FL. Wow! I wish JAX was on that list…

Beach Vacation Ideas

Pensacola actually has three different beach destinations connected to it. You can’t visit without making it to the beach for at least one day. It’s so easy to plan, and you can incorporate beach time any time of day if you’re visiting for work, so don’t tell yourself you can’t!

The most common area to visit for the sugar white sand of the Gulf of Mexico is Pensacola Beach. Here you’ll find lots of restaurants, hotels, a huge pier to walk out on, and plenty of sand stretching as far as you can see. My favorite part of Pensacola Beach is actually the Fort Pickens area of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Remote, beautiful, pristine white sand beaches make this the most picturesque beach spot in Pensacola.

The next most popular beach area is to the west on Perdido Key. This island is where Florida meets Alabama. There are more beach sections that are a part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, and then there are TONS of public beach access points with parking and picnic areas. There’s also Perdido Key State Park as you approach the Florida/Alabama border. So many options here!

Lastly, there’s another part of the Pensacola area that has beaches, but they’re on the bay instead of the gulf side. In Gulf Breeze you’ll find several beach parks and yet ANOTHER unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Clearly Pensacola wants everyone to have a beach day, so any of these areas are fairly easy to park at and enjoy.

Rob Taylor at Fort Pickens Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida 2

Festivals in Pensacola

With such a diverse population, there are lots of festivals in Pensacola year round. Yes, being an LGBTQ inclusive destination there is a Pride Festival, don’t worry. The city starts the year with Mardi Gras celebrations in February (it’s very close to Mobile, Alabama which I love for Mardi Gras everything), and the there’s the Crawfish Festival in April. Memorial Day Weekend is when PRIDE hits and it’s a non-stop celebration in town and on Pensacola Beach.

September has the Pensacola Seafood Festival, which is more than seafood. I’ve been to Pensacola during the Seafood Fest and it’s busy! Downtown and the waterfront come alive and there are food and arts stalls as far as you can see. The end of September / beginning of October is when Stamped LGBTQ Film Festival happens, which I love. And then the biggest festival of the year is in November: Foo Foo Festival. The Foo Foo Festival is music, arts, food, and everything else you can imagine for two weeks straight. Also, as you may have heard in the podcast episode, this is when Pensacola has its best weather.

Art Booths at Seafood Festival Pensacola Florida 1

Pensacola for the Blue Angels

It’s no secret that I personally don’t like the Blue Angels for many reasons, but lots of people do like them and enjoy the spectacle of their shows. If you’re not familiar, the Blue Angels are a group of US Navy fighter jets that do stunts and tricks in air shows… cuz that’s a good use of tax dollars. They are based at the Naval Air Station in West Pensacola, so when they’re practicing or when they return home from touring the country, you can see the Blue Angels in the sky over the city and beach.

Also, on base (yes, civilians can go on base) you’ll find the Pensacola Lighthouse and the Naval Air Museum, both of which are pretty cool. The lighthouse is the 5th tallest in Florida, but has the widest visible beam due to being on a slight hill. The air museum is near the lighthouse and will take about two hours to visit.

Rob Taylor at the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse on Naval Air Station Pensacola Florida 1

Historic Downtown Pensacola

Downtown Pensacola is fun. It’s kind of a mix of Savannah, Georgia and Mobile, Alabama… with a feeling of the cool part of Tacoma, Washington. There aren’t any skyscrapers and the whole of the historic district is very walkable. Palofox Street is the main avenue in town, and much of it actually has a promenade park going down the center. The Saturday Market is really fun to check out and, again, has lots of food.

There are lots of museums and galleries in the southern part of the historic downtown area. I really enjoyed the Pensacola Museum of History across from the Little Theater. The city likes to claim being older than my hometown of St Augustine because the Spanish landed here first… but they abandoned the settlement, and so St Augustine wins for being the oldest city in the USA. Either way, it’s fun to walk around downtown and eat/drink as you explore.

Wrought Iron Balconies in Historic District Pensacola Florida 2

Beyond this, there is much more about Pensacola and exploring western Florida here on the blog. Check out Fun Pensacola Things to Do, Penasacola Beach Vacation Ideas, and Perdido Key and West Pensacola.

Stay tuned, as even more helpful Florida LGBTQ and family travel info and more comes to the blog! We’ve got Miami, Tampa and more soon, so you know there’s going to be a lot to share. If you have any questions or would like to share your own tips about international family travel, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to answer more questions and include helpful information from other traveling families.

If you’d like to visit our podcast host page, feel free! There are lots of options to subscribe to the 2TravelDads Podcast.





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Friday 19th of January 2024

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