When most Texans think of Pensacola, Fla., they envision sugar-white sand and sunny weather—but just minutes from the beach the city’s creative community is thriving and ready to entertain visitors.

Video by Resolute Media

Under the leadership of Executive Director Sid Williams-Heath, the Pensacola Little Theater puts on performances for everyone, from Shakespearean classics to one-man avant-garde puppet shows. A native of Mississippi and former resident and transplant from New York City, Williams-Heath is also heavily involved in the Stamped Film Festival, an LGBTQIA+ film festival unique to Pensacola—one of many events to look forward to in the “Festival City of the South.”

Meanwhile, Australian, and now Ballet Pensacola Artistic Director, Darren McIntyre toured around the world and most recently performed in New York City before he decided on moving to Pensacola late last year—gladly accepting the opportunity to help build upon an already thriving ballet and performing arts scene. Like most people, international ballet dancers are drawn to Pensacola’s beautiful beaches, warm weather, and slower pace, and now the opportunity to study under the tutelage of McIntyre has created a top-class ballet team in an unlikely place.

The arts community isn’t the only place where innovation is happening. The culinary landscape is also seeing a shift to more creative restaurant and bar endeavors. Chef James Briscione, Executive Chef for Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano in Downtown Pensacola, is a prime example. Since his cooking career began in Pensacola, Briscione has worked in Birmingham, Ala. and New York City, and been named a two-time champion of Food Network’s Chopped. In 2018, he and his wife moved back to Pensacola to start Angelena’s, an Italian restaurant serving up Mediterranean-inspired handmade pasta and fresh Gulf seafood.

Another Pensacola native and owner of Old Hickory Whiskey Bar and The Kennedy Bar, Katie Garrett, is creating a cocktail scene all her own. Garrett first opened Old Hickory—named for President Andrew Jackson, who pushed the Spanish out of Pensacola—across the street from where Jackson first raised the American flag. Although Garrett is a whiskey connoisseur, she understands it might not be for everyone—which is why she later opened The Kennedy, named for President John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy offers a cocktail menu with unique concoctions of all spirits along with a vintage period theme to match the decade in which Kennedy rose to the presidency.

A few blocks north of Angelena’s and Old Hickory, in the historic Belmont-DeVilliers district (also known as “the Blocks”), lies the Kukua Institute. Here you’ll find founders Robin and Lloyd Reshard creating opportunities for Pensacola’s African American community. The Kukua Institute focuses on sharing the stories behind the African American community’s cultural contributions to the city, both old and new. From A/R videos to art galleries to building an ecosystem for startups, the Reshards are fostering growth in the historic district.

To learn more about Pensacola’s arts and culture, visit VacationArtfully.com.