Best spring break value travel destinations: Pensacola

Panama City and Daytona are so yesterday. The hot new destination in Florida is Pensacola, offering a little something for everybody:  With 52 miles of pristine white beaches just off the Gulf of Mexico, family-friendly activities, a rich military heritage, and raucous nightlife are making this a growing and affordable hotspot.

Named to the 2013 Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice Beaches Awards, Pensacola’s gorgeous beaches are nowhere near as crowded as other Florida locations, and although it’s an increasingly popular city for spring breakers, it’s surprisingly inexpensive.

Endless activities beyond just the beach means you won’t be lacking for experiences: as the home base of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron’s Blue Angels, “the Blues” practice their air show twice a week, and admission to both the practices and the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum and IMAX theater (one of the world’s largest air and space museums) is free.

Meanwhile, nearby Fort Pickens State Park has a rich history (it was one of only four Southern forts during the Civil War not occupied by Confederate forces) and is a must-visit for military buffs.

Families can take the kids to nearby Sam’s Fun City and Surf City, or go canoeing, tubing, kayaking and camping through Adventures Unlimited. And every Tuesday night, Bands on the Beach features free outdoor evening concerns at Gulfside Pavillion.

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Hot days mean thirsty bodies, and Pensacola is in no shortage of watering holes, including Bamboo Willie’s Beachside Bar and cavernous Seville Quarter—which is actually 8 differently themed bars in one. Or, check out Flora-Bama in Perdido Key: the the Florida/Alabama state line runs through the middle of the bar.

The Margaritaville Beach Hotel (yes, owned by Jimmy Buffet) offers beachfront rooms—and all the relaxed “it’s 5’o-clock somewhere” vibe you’d want—from $149/night. Or try the Days Inn Pensacola Beachfront, which has free breakfast and a beach-front pool, for $135/night.

Pensacola International Airport offers non-stop flights from cities including Chicago, D.C., Houston and Miami.