Step onto Pensacola Beach’s sugary white sand this weekend and you are guaranteed to see a colorful formation of flags flying high, flying proud. For many, Memorial Day weekend is one massive ongoing, uninhibited party. And one that kicks off well before the weekend officially begins. But more than that, and for the majority of individuals, the celebration is a time of community and togetherness.
Throughout the weekend, some flock toward the party circuits, complete with sweat drenched, dance hungry bodies packed tightly together leaving barely enough room to breathe, yet still enough space to dance. Others prefer a more low-key experience, camped out at the beach, floating in the emerald waters by day with a drink (or two, or three) in hand, and hopping along to beach bars after the sun sets.
The weekend means something slightly different to everyone who partakes, which is the freedom, and the beauty in it. Still, many have their favorite go-to activities. And since we just had to know what these activities are, we asked a few locals to sound off and give us an insider’s look, to help us determine who does Memorial Day Weekend best—the ladies, or the gentlemen. Let’s start with the gentlemen.
“The beach is a major attraction for Memorial Day weekend,” said bartender Chris Peterson. “There is nothing like friendly attitudes and a diverse crowd that takes full advantage of our beaches. Gay or straight—you will not have a bad time.”
As a bartender at both Emerald City and Portofino Island Resort, Peterson finds himself right in the middle of the weekend’s action.
“You can’t miss the ‘Wave’ party located at Park East on the beach Saturday night,” he said. “Dancing under the stars with an amazing light show and entertainment? Count me in.”
The celebration doesn’t stop when you leave the beach. Downtown Pensacola’s high energy dance bar Emerald City serves as a primary hub for the weekend. And for those looking to avoid the party circuit and associated cover charges, surrounding locales offer plenty of alternatives.
“I think of Memorial Day Weekend as sort of a homecoming for friends, so we tend to go where the locals go,” said Joshua Jones. “The Round Up and The Cabaret are our usual go-to hot spots for the weekend.”
Jones considers himself a veteran, having been a Memorial Day weekend participant for just shy of a decade. For Jones, the weekend can be best described as, “Reuniting, sunshine and memories.”
Ask any weekend veteran what the key is to having a successful experience and they will tell you that first comes hydration, followed immediately by sunscreen.
“Hydrate—it’s a marathon, not a race,” said Justin McCoy. “Also, lather up with at least SPF 30 sunscreen and reapply because ain’t nobody got time for sun poisoning and premature aging.”
While those may be keys to success and necessities to avoid suffering, McCoy explains that flexibility is also a must have.
“I like to be flexible,” said Justin McCoy. “On the holiday weekend, I make an effort to be a social butterfly that easily flits from an intimate dinner to a packed dance floor.”
Like many others, McCoy plans on starting his weekend downtown, before making his way out to the beach.
“I will start off the weekend with my booty-shaking friends at the Big Freedia concert at Vinyl Music Hall on Friday night,” said McCoy. “Then I expect to spend most of my time at the beach, where I’ll celebrate pride by enjoying some sunshine, crystal-clear water, drinks, and good company.”
The gentlemen won’t be the only ones shaking it this weekend. There will be no shortage of ladies trying to keep up with Big Freedia’s vivacious bounce moves at Vinyl Friday night—and yes, I am counting myself in this list. But overall, the ladies are opting for a more relaxed weekend, spending time with old friends, while making new ones.
Unleashed Music Festival at Flounders Chowder House on Pensacola Beach notoriously draws in a crowd, and this year’s lineup is an especially hot topic of conversation.
“Two words: Brandi Carlile! Wait! Two more words: Indigo Girls!” exclaimed Sarah Everhart. “Flounders is where it’s at this year.”
Everhart prefers a mix of weekend activities, with some down time in between.
“I enjoy partying with new and old friends but I personally know only a few people that can seriously stand to have a five-day nonstop bender,” said
Everhart. “I’ve got to have some down time for sure. I don’t think I’m the only one. Am I?”
She’s not. Jenny Diamond agrees and also suggests that a giant flotation device is the way to go to relax and beat the heat during the day. And by giant flotation device, she means eight-person inner tube with seats, drink holders and even a sand anchor.
“Friends and strangers will swim up, jump on, and hang out for a bit. It’s a fun way to meet people,” she said.
Diamond affirms the weekend to not only be about the party atmosphere, but about friendship and above all, community.
“Despite the vast array of fun shenanigans to attend, watch, or participate in, I prefer a more relaxed time with friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends,” said Diamond. “Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it is about partying, but in my experience, the weekend is mainly about celebrating community in the most open, unapologetic way possible.”
Although still a newcomer to the weekend, Kimberly Hammoc shares the same collective enthusiasm.
“It is the one time of year I don’t feel like a minority,” said Hammoc. “It is refreshing to see people being open and happy being themselves in such a large crowd.”
Ultimately, when asked how to best sum up the weekend in three words, it all came back to the idea of “something for everyone.”
And so the winner is? That remains up for discussion, and left for you to decide. Regardless of gender, orientation, experience level, or anything else under the sun, there seems to me to exist an all-around tie, which is also the freedom and the beauty in it. All things are created equal after all.