Beyond Destin: National Naval Aviation Museum
Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured on Wednesdays, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Vasquez, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
There is still a slight chill in the air here in Northwest Florida, but on these cooler days there are still plenty of great indoor activities for weekend explorations. One such location is the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. The museum boasts 350,000 square-feet of exhibits including 150 restored aircrafts spanning from the birth of aviation to today.
Housed on Pensacola Naval Air Station alongside an active flight-line, the aviation museum offers a one-of-a-kind experience to visitors with the chance to observe the iconic Blue Angels practice maneuvers on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March to November. The most exciting perk to this museum and air show is it is entirely free.
Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to meander the enormous museum as two stories and an extra hanger’s worth of artifacts and interactive exhibits will take at least 2 hours to fully appreciate. Bring the whole family as the museum features an indoor playground as well as several different airplane cockpits to climb into and explore.
On the weekend we went, my husband Cristian and I roamed around the museum in awe, overwhelmed by the number of life-sized aircraft the museum held. We began our tour with the giant NC-4 flying boat aircraft that made the first flight across the Atlantic in 1919. The shear size of the aircraft at 68-feet in length, 24-feet in height and 126-feet in wingspan took me by surprise for such an early aircraft.
Another of my favorite exhibits was the Apollo space exploration exhibit that featured a replica of the Lunar Module that American astronauts used in their moon landing in 1972. Beside the replica a video played President John F. Kennedy’s speech challenging the nation in space exploration 10 years before the eventual landing.
The museum also features period dioramas of life on a jungle base during the Vietnam War and life during the 1940’s on the Pensacola home front. During our museum tour a volunteer gave first-hand antidotes into life on the home front as her husband had been stationed in Pearl Harbor in the early ‘40s before moving to Pensacola.
A museum tour would not be complete without a view of Pensacola’s very own Blue Angels. For those visiting on non-practice days or during the months of December to February, the four retired blue angel airplanes can be seen in the seven-story glass atrium at the museum.
For those more adventure-hungry, the museum offers several flight simulation rides, and 3D and 4D attractions for a small fee. Also available for purchase is the IMAX theater experience showing films on a screen 10-times the size of a traditional cinema screen.
After a day at of exploring aviation, grab a bite to eat at the Cubi Bar Café located on the museum’s main exhibit floor. The café is it’s own sort of exhibit featuring memorabilia from the original NAS Cubi Point Officers’ Club that once resided in the Philippines. Finally before you leave, don’t forget to pick up a souvenir from the gift shop of the world’s largest Naval Aviation Museum.
The National Naval Aviation Museum is located on the active Navy Air Station Pensacola at 1750 Radford Blvd. Entry to the base requires a government ID card for all adult passengers. Backpacks and large bags are prohibited in the museum facility. Admission is free and the museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.