It's not uncommon for visitors to the Gulf Coast to want to incorporate some education into their trips. The perfect way to do just that is with a visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum, which offers a look into the fascinating history of flight in the U.S.
About the museum
The National Naval Aviation Museum is located in Pensacola, Fla., right near the state's border with Alabama. It's very close to Perdido Key beach houses, and just a bit farther from vacation rentals in destinations like Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, making it an easy trip to make with the whole family.
Opening in 1963, the National Naval Aviation Museum began as a way to honor the tremendous efforts of the U.S. Navy. It started as the brainchild of Magruder H. Tuttle, a Navy captain and a worker at the Naval Air Basic Training Command, who discussed the fact that flight students had little exposure to the history of naval aviation. After years of intense efforts, an 8,500-square-foot museum opened, featuring eight aircraft that had to be rotated in displays to fit in the space. Throughout the years, fundraising efforts and expansions have helped to grow the museum, allowing it to become the state-of-the-art space it is today.
Exhibits to look for
With more than 350,000 square feet of space, the museum is packed with excellent collections of naval aircrafts and educational displays. There are several permanent and temporary exhibits that call the National Naval Aviation Museum home. Each one has been designed to show visitors the stories behind the success of the U.S. Navy, which is done by highlighting the people, events and technologies that played a role in its history.
Some of the exhibits filling the museum include Naval Aviation in World War I, World War II Aircraft Carrier, Voyage to the Stars: Naval Aviation in Space, The Story of the USS Enterprise and a look at Sunken Treasures. More collections bring visitors closer to the experience of naval fighters during wartime, with exhibits that focus on The POW Experience in Vietnam and the evolution of the life raft.
Many of the exhibits feature battle-tested machines. There are dozens of aircraft on display, ranging from record-setting speedsters to durable models that withstood rounds of gunfire during wars. Whether you're an expert in the field of aviation or can't tell the difference between two models, you are sure to find some aircraft examples that pique your interest.
Something for the whole family
One of the best parts of the National Naval Aviation Museum is the diversity of its exhibits. There is truly something for everyone on the site, whether they are interested in the intricacies of aircraft or just want to see some of the most historic models that have been used throughout U.S. history.
Visitors of all ages can reap the benefits of the museum's special relationship with the Blue Angels. Not only does the National Naval Aviation Museum have several older Blue Angels on display, but it is also located near the practice space used by the squadron. Occasionally, the crew will hold practices and performances that fly over the museum, allowing travelers to get a look at the famous team. Families can even participate in meet and greets with the Blue Angels, which take place every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
Know before you go
Travelers will be pleased to note that the National Naval Aviation Museum offers free admission to the public, although donations are accepted and appreciated. It also has free parking and free guided tours available for guests. Those daily tours are led by retired military volunteers and are conducted throughout the day. For those visitors who would rather move at their own pace, there is information available for a self guided tour.
Information can be downloaded right to a visitor's smartphone with the touch of a button thanks to the museums' mobile app. This program has an interactive map and plenty of facts and figures about the displays, allowing visitors to create their own tours without missing a beat. You can even quickly find information about guest speakers and special events happening at the museum, enabling you to plan the perfect trip in just a few minutes.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The only exceptions are Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day, when it is closed to the public.