I lived there for a couple of years when I went to school at UWF, although that was back in the early 90s so my info isn’t exactly up-to-date.
My overall assessment of Pensacola: it’s not too bad. It is very close to the beach, as you remember, and there are some pretty areas around town–especially some parts of downtown and along Scenic Highway, which overlooks Pensacola Bay.
P’cola has some pockets of college culture, centered around the University of West Florida (to the north side of town) and Pensacola Junior College (right in the middle). But Pensacola is more of a military base kind of town, home to a huge navy base. The Blue Angels are considered royalty here.
Evangelical churches also have a strong, strong presence in P’cola. They, along with the military atmosphere, make Pensacola a very conservative place, politically speaking. Personally, I found that aspect of the city a bit stifling.
The city is basically divided along two major North/South corridors: 9th Avenue and Davis Highway, which are connected by a number of East/West roads (the most important including Cervantes towards the south, Brent Lane–which changes names every few blocks–and Airport Blvd in the middle, and Creighton Road to the north). Roughly speaking, the areas to the east of 9th avenue range from generally pretty nice to ritzy; the area west of 9th and east of Davis (i.e., most of the area that is spanned by the I-110 spur), not so nice.
The areas outside of the city center are generally OK, although a bit rural. The area that seems to be growing the most (since I lived there) is along Nine Mile Road. It seems to be a decent and very affordable area to live in, though a bit removed from the city center.
Most of the action seems to take place downtown and out on the beach. I’m not sure if any of the places I used to hang out are still there–I remember I used to go to a downtown bar called Sluggo’s that usually featured live bands (usually of the alt/college rock genre–not sure if it’s still alive or not!). I know that McGuire’s is still there–one of the most touristy bars in town, a pseudo-Irish pub, most remarkable for the dollar bills that customers sign and staple to the ceiling, and which completely cover most interior surfaces.
Pensacola and the beach feature many decent seafood restaurants, ranging from the expensive (Skopelos) to the rustic (Oyster Barn on Bayou Texar) to the pseudo-rustic (Flounders).
Pensacola’s not terribly exciting, but as a place to live, it could be a lot worse. So make of that what you will.