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By John Barrett

Pensacola Beach is located in Florida's northwest panhandle, 180 miles west of Tallahassee. It is situated on the western tip of the world's second-longest barrier island. Santa Rosa Island is a 40-mile long ribbon of sugar-white sand beaches, towering dunes, and vast fields of pampas grass, sea oats, twisted juniper and isolated glens of live oak trees. The Pensacola area is served by three airports, Interstate 10, two lesser national highways, and the deep water ports of Pensacola and Mobile. Once you arrive, the prettiest drive is along State Road 399 through the Gulf Island Seashore Park from Pensacola Beach to Navarre Beach.

Air transport directly to Pensacola is available on Delta or American. Substantial savings often are possible with competing airlines that fly into nearby Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. or Mobile, Ala. Each is an hour away from Pensacola Beach so you'll need to rent a car.

Many travelers will arrive on I-10, the interstate highway that runs east-and-west across the panhandle. As you near Pensacola, take Exit 4 and follow signs reading "To The Beaches."

The island is six miles due south of the mainland. To reach it, cross two bridges. The first spans Pensacola Bay from the mainland to the peninsula community of Gulf Breeze, a bit more than just a quiet seaside town. After a short drive through the commercial, turn in front of the neon cartoon Sailfish sign. A second bridge then takes you over the Intercoastal Waterway, known locally as Santa Rosa Sound, and deposits you on the beach. A modest one dollar toll is charged to enter the island.

Once on the island transportation is a breeze. Most places you'll want to visit are within easy walking distance. For the summer months and on weekends free trolleys (actually, city buses dressed in drag) circulate from one end of the village to the other. Bicycles can be rented at Island Style in the central core. Hotels will be happy to have a rental car delivered or you can make your own arrangements in the Delchamp's Shopping Center in Gulf Breeze.