Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum: Eye-catching Landmark & Amazing History
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The 1859-built Pensacola Light is a fantastic landmark worth visiting for its history and views alone, but throw in the exhibits at the associated museum and you’ve really got a topnotch family-friendly destination. Learn about this long-serving beacon’s heritage—including its involvement in the Civil War—and nab some lighthouse selfies on the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola.

- The FloridaPanhandle.com Local Expert Team

The mouth of Pensacola Bay—the deepest on the Gulf Coast, and therefore a coveted harbor—has been marked and guarded by multiple nations. Pensacola’s the “City of Five Flags,” after all, with Spanish, French, British, Confederate, and U.S. phases of control over the past few centuries. The Pensacola Light is a long-standing landmark that represents some of that fascinating history—and still does its important work as a reliable beacon.

Situated on the Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Pensacola Light is not only an active lighthouse but a major visitor attraction. You can enter the tower and learn more about its backstory and much else in the Richard C. Callaway Museum, situated in the adjoining 1869-built keeper’s quarters.

The Pensacola Light is the second lighthouse to stand here. The first was lit in 1824, with the lightship Aurora Borealis providing temporary illumination during the tower’s construction. The current, roughly 160-foot Pensacola Light was built as a taller replacement for the original in 1858 and had its lamps first lit on New Year’s Day, 1859. 

Among the museum exhibits is information on the Pensacola Light’s Civil War chapter. The tower was only a few years old when, in 1861, the Union abandoned Fort Barrancas overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay to fortify nearby Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island on the heels of Florida seceding. Fort Barrancas, as well as the Pensacola Light, then fell under Confederate control. The area saw quite a few skirmishes between the opposing forces, including a two-day artillery battle in November of that year in which the tower suffered some damage.

On May 9, 1862, the Confederates yielded the area to the Union, and late the following December the Pensacola Light was re-lit.

Other exhibits at the lighthouse museum focus on topics such as the underappreciated story of female lightkeepers, the relationship between the U.S. Coast Guard and lighthouses in the country, and the growth of Pensacola, including the importance of the lumbering, shipbuilding, and fishing industries to the settlement.

You’ll also learn about the day-to-day life of the Pensacola Lightkeepers, who lived in the quarters now housing the museum from 1869 until 1965. 

Another highlight is the display on different technologies used in lighthouse illumination, which includes replicas of multiple historic lenses.

Then there’s going up the stairs of the lighthouse tower itself: a peak Pensacola experience. (Kids must be at least 44 inches tall or seven years old to enter, by the way.)

All in all, it’s pretty neat stuff likely to appeal to young and old alike. You’ll also find a gift shop on site for stocking up on souvenirs.

Remember that the lighthouse and the museum are situated on an active military base. You’ll need to show your driver’s license, passport, or other valid ID at the security checkpoint at the Public Gate. No backpacks, purses, or other bags are allowed inside the museum or the tower, so leave them at home or in your car.

The lighthouse and museum are open each day from 9 AM to 5 PM, but keep in mind that the Public Gate closes at 4 PM, so you’ll need to be on the base by then.

Tap into some Pensacola Bay history and climb up one of America’s great historic lighthouses at the Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum! 

Insider Tips:
– The catwalk of the Pensacola Light offers one of the best views around of the famous Blue Angels practice flights. You’ll need advance reservations to take in this super-cool spectacle, and you’ll receive a full refund if, as may happen, the Blue Angels schedule changes last-minute.