Naval Aviation Museum: Pensacola
Today we’re delighted to talk about one of our family’s long-standing and favorite traditions in Pensacola! Colloquially known as the Aviation Museum, at our house even more informally called The Airplane Museum, its official title is the National Naval Aviation Museum. Due to the Naval flight school being located on Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Pensacola has been known for decades as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation”. Even if you’re not necessarily a huge fan of airplanes, the museum is packed enough with history and science alone to make it worth the visit (and c’mon, the airplanes are really cool!) Plan on spending an entire morning or afternoon visiting, even for the casual visitor. More die-hard buffs could probably spend the entire day at the museum. We’ve been visiting Pensacola’s Aviation Museum for more than 20 years, and its expansion over the years has been amazing to watch.
When you first drive up, the entrance to the National Naval Aviation Museum is graced by an F-14 Tomcat (the greatest airplane ever invented). Parking is plentiful, though if you don’t get there early you may have a bit of a walk ahead of you.
When you enter, all the adults should be prepared to show ID, and open up bags and purses for a quick inspection. The visitor’s kiosk will be immediately past the entrance on the right; it is manned with friendly and enthusiastic volunteers who are happy to answer any questions you may have! There are information and times of the free tours throughout the day. We’ve never taken one simply because we have our own in-house tour guide, but I would highly recommend it if you’d like some background information and stories on the planes.
Downstairs houses the IMAX theatre (tickets are extra), the gift shop (that’s actually worth visiting), a play area for the children (the USS Kiddie Hawk…USS Kitty Hawk, get it?? ;)), short (free) films about carrier training, a Prisoner of War display, oodles of planes, and many other things to explore. One of our favorite things to get from the gift shop when we were young was astronaut ice cream, I think mostly for the novelty.
Upstairs the Aviation Museum gives you a close-up view of the Blue Angels, a simulators to ride in (for an extra fee), cockpits of various planes to climb in, weather learning, space displays, an aircraft carrier interior replica (that my father says even captures its unique scent — not a bad one, just authentic!), and a recreation of a WWII suburban street, to name just a few things.
The museum expanded to two building in the past few years; the second building houses Coast Guard aviation, more Navy aviation and military history, a presidential helicopter, as well as more free short films about significant events.
It’s hard to fully describe just how much the museum houses in terms of memorabilia and experiences and history! It has something for everyone of every age, and you can soak in as much or as little of it as you care to at any one time. We would have to add a few dozen pictures to the post to really capture it, so can I just say that you really must go visit it??
The Cubi Bar Cafe is a piece of history itself — it’s a preservation of the Officer’s Club on the now-defunct NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines. Tradition was that every time a squadron on an aircraft carrier passed through, they commissioned a plaque with the squadron’s logo, slogan, and a list of all the officers’ names. (Our father is in there!) If I’m being honest, the food is just average, but it’s worth stopping for a snack or a drink just to enjoy the atmosphere. If the cafe isn’t full, I suggest requesting to be seated in the back of the cafe, where you can see many more of the plaques — some of them are quite entertaining to look at! We brought the gang in for a little cup of affordable $1.50 ice cream and a snack.
If you’d like some great food after your trip to the Aviation Museum, just outside of the West Gate, our favorite Greek food is literally about 2 minutes away from the entrance to the base.
Important to Know
You can find all the information you need to know here, but the important stuff is:
- You can only get on the base via the West Gate (1878 S Blue Angel Pkwy.). You will need to show ID to enter.
- Admission is free, but once again, you must show ID and open bags for a brief search to enter. Don’t worry, they keep the line moving!
- The museum is open from 9am-5pm every day.
- It it’s a sunny week day, it’s likely not to be too crowded, but if it’s a rainy day or a holiday, plan to enter the gate at 8:45 to be at the museum when the doors open to avoid crowds.
- Food may not be consumed inside the museum, but there are picnic tables outside. (But get a snack at the Cubi Cafe!)
- It is mostly very stroller-friendly, with an elevator available, and only a couple steps here and there.