There is so much discussion about digital detox, social media diets and where to go to unplug; the funny part is that with the hectic programming my brain has been trained to over the years I find myself trying to hurry up and relax. Going on a vacation turns into a bit of a hassle trying to decide whether to choose somewhere extremely remote or somewhere more urban. Finding the right balance of a place that is accessible for many moods but also cost effective is difficult. I was born in Pensacola but as a true Navy brat moved around my entire life, always looking for the next adventure. However, recently I have been coming to Pensacola with an entirely different motive... to take a pause.
Taking a pause is not really like a vacation because there is no agenda other than slowing down and enjoying life. You can still be social, plugged in and available but maybe you change gears and remember what you value in life. Nature, food, art, family, a sunset... whatever it is that makes you slow down and be present without stress.
Pensacola has some of the best beaches in the USA and much has been said about the "Emerald Coast" or "Redneck Riviera" or "Sugar Sands" but there is more to it than that. It is a blessing that there are not many direct flights from the metropolis; this fact has kept Pensacola as a destination and not the overrun beaches to the east. The main island beach is sandwiched between the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which if you venture to the point, give you eroding forts with squeaky clean sands and to the other direction protected beaches where you can feel lost in time.
Sunburned and tired of the beach? There is an area northeast of Pensacola that is visually stunning and low key. Red clay roads lead you on a winding journey through the Spanish moss draped twisted oaks, passing pecan orchards filled with cattle to the Black River. It is a step back in time to the raw beauty of the south...don't be alarmed that everyone carries a concealed weapon or that deadly snakes fall out of the trees into your canoe. If you are respectful in this environment than it will respect you. You feel as if you are Lewis and Clarke exploring America for the first time however you can be back to the commercial world in 30 minutes.
The Navy is the dominating influence in Pensacola. There is a constant hum of flight trainings or if you are lucky, Blue Angel's practice. Resting on the beach in Ft Picken's National Park while watching the take offs and landings across the bay is like bird watching only more stealth. I hate crowds so avoid the air shows and public gatherings but when you are there observing the dress rehearsals for what will become the defenders of our country or acrobats in the air then a fascination with a movie star or fashion designer seems trivial; the latter are geeks.
If your pause has gotten you itching to experience something social then head downtown. You can grab a baseball game on the water or an art walk in the downtown streets. Maybe music is your thing and you have heard a little too much Taylor Swift on the local radio; catch a show at Vinyl Music Hall or head out to the beach for some reggae cover bands. It's easy to have a night out but without the headache and hassle of dealing with large crowds. Sometimes you might just want to catch up on offerings at the movies, Gulf Breeze Cinema plays some of the latest indie flicks and recently didn't shy away from showing The Interview.
The fresh seafood is available daily straight from the docks of Joe Patti's. For the foodies who want the experience of water to the table; Pensacola is your place. Daily hauls of shrimp and amberjack are available at a fraction of the price you pay in a ritzy, city restaurant with a lasting experience. You don't know how to cook your catch? Ask at the counter and several staff members plus other customers will chime in...you might even get an invite to a bbq. The people here are friendly and pride themselves on their favorite sauces and preparations. Don't want to use the kitchen on your pause? Grab a glass of wine at the Wine Bar on Palafox and wander the historic streets down to the Fish House, preferably at sunset.
The saying "Work Hard, Play Hard" is out of date and kind of ridiculous. What happens when you soften up and start enjoying being relaxed; which does not have to mean inactive. Walking along nature trails that lead from oyster shell paved parking lots to quiet bay waters instead of hiking are an option. Kayaking on a lazy bayou or shallow bay can keep you fit without the pressure of surviving on a rushing river... although a quick study of natural inhabitants is recommended to keep the blood pressure down. Snakes, gators, sharks and rays are only scary if you do not know what you are dealing and I've seen them all but only in a National Geographic sense.
I wanted to include a gallery of photos of the beaches, the Navy base, the historic downtown, the slow moving bayou but then I thought about what I was saying and decided to pause. So enjoy the watercolor above by Mark Chamberlain and plan your next pause.