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Pensacola for the Holidays: Perdido and Old Rivers



The holidays is a great time to river roam in areas furthest from home. For December of 2023, we did just that and headed as far northwest as Florida would allow to Pensacola. Towing a pontoon boat in heavy holiday traffic meant our 7.5 hour projected trip took nearly 11 hours by the time we arrived to our air bnb in the “blues district” of downtown Pensacola. The weather was chillier than the Treasure Coast and the new time zone gained us an extra hour. Luckily, we arrived before the sun went down entirely and we were able to park the boat on one side of the front yard and our truck beside it, both were taller than the house itself. Once off loaded, the layout of the house with its enclosed backyard was perfect for our family of three with dog, Seger; each having a bathroom and bedroom with queen sized bed. There were a few restaurants just a block or two away offering up southern fare, though we all had a hankering for Mexican food and wanted to view Pensacola’s Christmas lights that have been said to mirror that of St. Augustine.


Here to report, our nations’ first city, Pensacola did have nice lights in the squares of their downtown surrounded by high rises and nice green spaces; however, St. Augustine’s lights are far more elaborate and garner more participation from its shop owners and restaurateurs.

Regardless of the lights, our dinner at the Cactus Cantina hit the spot with hot chips and good salsa as well as queso. With our bellies full, we walked to our parked truck which cost $12 to use the parking lot and encountered some colorful characters sitting on the corners, in the doorways, and propped up against the walls. Given the cold conditions and overall draw a downtown brings to the homeless population, it was clear this area had their fair share. Still, there was an overall feeling of merriment as we passed by storefronts and other passer byers. Back at the house, we settled into our beds with plans of an early morning to make it to the Perdido River and back before the forecasted afternoon rains.


The Galvez Landing Boat ramp was a 20-minute drive from our first Airbnb of the trip. We took the backroads and was even able to spot a good location for firewood to visit on our way back. The morning air was cold, and we were all in layers with pants, long sleeves, thick socks, and beanies for our heads as well as thick blankets to wrap ourselves in. Once in the water, there was a slight mist that added to the winter river roamin’ experience. As we continued west, it was fun to see the dividing lines of Florida and Alabama around Perdido Key; as we veered slightly left, we were in Alabama and as we steered right, we were back in Florida. Beyond the bay, the Perdido River served as the separator of the two states as well as our 83rd river.


Heading back east, we visited the Old River for #84, which this trip planning mom had not known we would encounter, it was a delightful bonus. We continued east past the boat ramp we used to explore a bit more; each of us too cold to try and fish though our poles were upright and ready for use. After going under a large bridge, a Florida Fish & Wildlife officer paid us a visit to see what we had caught. After viewing our cooler, he was kind enough to let us continue our journey and appreciated our family’s mission of roaming on each Florida river, with a quick confirmation of our safety items we headed back to the boat ramp. A local fisherman was there gaining a loyal fan base from the dozens of seagulls waiting for his scraps as he filleted away. In route back, we stopped off for the firewood and built a cozy fire in our portable firepit while sipping on afternoon cocktails once back at the rental. We even caught the entirety of a beautiful sunset; it was a good day.


That night, we went back downtown for dinner and found a cool food truck attached to a bar that was named and served, The Perfect Burger. Charlie and dad played some cornhole and we enjoyed a quick easy meal under pink neon lights for our final night in this part of Pensacola. Next day, we were up early having to check out by 10am. Sadly, we noticed our fishing poles had been stolen from off our boat. We chalked it up to a sacrifice to the river roaming powers at large and loaded for a thirty-minute drive our next rental to drop off our suitcases prior to an afternoon of exploration.

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