Plan Ahead for the Pensacola Beach Air Show
By Katie King
There’s nothing quite like experiencing the Blue Angels along Pensacola Beach. I may be a little biased, but you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier backdrop than Pensacola Beach to watch the mind-blowing aerial maneuvers the U.S. Navy flight demonstration team has perfected over the past seven decades.
Every year, tens of thousands of people migrate to Pensacola Beach to watch the spectacle of our hometown heroes perform mouth-dropping aerial stunts in their blue and gold F/A-18 jets over our sugar-white sands and emerald-green water.
In many ways, this annual beach air show has become a rite of passage for locals. So, for those who want to experience the Pensacola Beach Air Show too when it takes to the skies, here are a few insider tips to help you maximize the fun. Trust me here, you’ll thank me later.
- Want to avoid the crowds but still see the Blues perform their act from start to finish? Go on Thursday. The Blue Angels fly a full practice show over Pensacola Beach at 2 p.m. Thursday. Of course, you’ll be missing the fantastic civilian stunt planes that perform for Friday and Saturday’s show, but you won’t have to battle the massive crowds.
- CARPOOL and ARRIVE EARLY. Like really, really early. Make like you’re going sunrise fishing, early. We cannot stress this point enough. Traffic coming over the bridge can often take hours if you wait too late to leave, and the Casino Beach parking lot often is filled up by 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. So plan on packing up and heading out in the wee morning hours to avoid the traffic jam getting onto the island and find a decent parking spot.
- Do yourself a favor and get a SunPass. You can pick one up at CVS, Publix or Walgreens for about $5, and not have to worry about having the correct cash. But don’t forget to activate your SunPass online first! All four toll lanes coming onto Pensacola Beach accept the SunPass. (Warning: For those who still prefer the cash toll option, be advised that the toll booths will not be manned during very high traffic volume hours onto the beach. In order to help move the flow of traffic along the island more efficiently, all cash users will be billed via Toll-By-Plate and receive a bill in the mail at a later date, as well as a service fee.)
- If the Casino Beach parking lot is full Saturday, trolleys are in service all day to help take people to and from Casino Beach. So park and hop on a free trolley.
- The prime spot to view the show is at center point, just east of the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier at Casino Beach. Tents are allowed, but please be courteous to your new daylong neighbors.
- It’s going to be a looong day in the sun. So pack accordingly and stay hydrated! Bring the essentials – bring plenty of water, snacks, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. You’ll also want to include an umbrella, beach chairs, towels, floaties, and a cooler. But remember, glass is not allowed on the beach!
- This is not an occasion for Fido, or any other pets for that matter. Dogs are only allowed at the two designated dog beaches on either side of the island, neither of which are a great vantage point for the air show. Pets are not allowed anywhere else. And any person found leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle may face criminal charges.
- For the safety of all spectators and air show participants, the Santa Rosa Island Authority is requiring the public suspend all flights of unmanned aircraft, or drones, during the air show hours of the Pensacola Beach Air Show week.
- There are plenty of vendors on hand selling all the forgotten essentials, plus food, drinks, souvenirs, etc.
- The civilian stunt plane acts begin just before noon. Lifeguards keep all beachgoers out of the Gulf while the show is happening overhead. The civilian acts last for about an hour or so, from noon to 1 p.m.
- After the civilian acts finish, go take a dip in the Gulf! This will be your last chance to cool off before the Blues take to the sky at 2 p.m.
- Lifeguards are on hand to provide any needed first-aid help. Mist stations are set up next to the public safety building and restrooms, for anyone needing to cool off quickly.
- Once the air show ends, believe us when we say you won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Instead of folding up your chairs and packing up your tents in a mad dash to go get stuck in beach traffic, rather, sit back and enjoy the beautiful view, sharing stories about your favorite maneuvers.
- When it’s time to pack up and leave, remember: Please Leave Only Your Footprints Behind! For the safety and enjoyment of all Pensacola Beach visitors and the preservation of the island’s flora and fauna, please take all that you came with and help keep our beach pristine.
We hope these tips help you prepare for a safe, patriotic and fun-filled Red, White and Blues Week! Stay safe and enjoy the show.