Flora-Bama Beach Bar – Bulls on the Beach Rodeo
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Flora-Bama Beach Bar 17401 Perdido Key Dr. Pensacola, FL 32507
Year Opened: 2013
Bulls on the Beach
A Rodeo at the World's Most Famous Beachside Honky Tonk
Kenny Chesney once wrote "Sitting here at the Flora-Bama, 'bout to open a big old can of good times and unwind". You can't find more fitting lyrics – just ask anyone who's ever visited the place. The place goes by many nicknames, such as "The World's Most Famous Beach Bar" and "America's Last Roadhouse" just to name a few.
It is a place where you will find millionaires and famous athletes having a cold one with the everyday joe; it is a place where time is almost forgotten, where you can forget about your worries while sipping on a bushwhacker and looking out over into the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There is a reason why everyone from the Mannings, Toby Keith, Jimmy Buffett, and even “The Pirate” himself, the late Mike Leach, have made the venture to the hidden beach bar on a secluded beach paradise that straddles the Florida-Alabama line.
Flora-Bama originally opened in 1964 and is technically on an island; the lush Perdido Key. Florida occupies about 80% of the island while Alabama occupies the other 20%. When a bridge and highway opened on the island in the early 60s Flora-Bama opened as a small liquor store right on the state line, but on the Florida side as the Alabama county was dry at the time.
Due to development on Perdido Key and in neighboring Orange Beach/Gulf Shores, however, the small store grew into what it is today. After over 50 years and being destroyed by countless hurricanes, Flora-Bama has evolved into two stories with five stages for live music, four main bars, and three restaurants, with a personality that remains unmatched by any other watering hole in the world.
In addition to the live music to be found 7 nights a week, Flora-Bama is also known for its wide and eccentric events; you name it, Flora-Bama has hosted it – everything from the Polar Bear Dip on New Year's Day to the Interstate Mullet Toss, where thousands of people have a competition to see who can throw a dead fish the furthest over the state line.
Then in 2013, Flora-Bama began hosting its newest annual event, the Bulls on the Beach Rodeo. Partnering with 3R Rodeo Company, every September they construct a temporary rodeo arena right on the sand just steps from the ocean. Some of the best cowboys in the southeast come to the beach and saddle up for the Bulls on the Beach Rodeo.
Food & Beverage 4
There are no concessions around the temporary rodeo arena – you are given a wristband and are then free to come and go inside the bar and rodeo arena. There are three full-service restaurants inside Flora-Bama, with plenty of food options for you to choose from. The Oyster Bar is the closest to the rodeo arena and features picnic tables and big-screen TVs, all with a delicious menu of burgers, wraps, fried shrimp, and a beachfront oyster bar.
The famous 15-foot-high Flora-Bama rocking chair is in the Oyster Bar area and makes for a great photo op. Also, make sure you grab a famous bushwhacker while you’re here; the Bushwhacker is an island drink, and Flora-Bama is known for making some of the best bushwhackers in the world. In addition, if you aren't able to get a ticket to the rodeo they live stream it on a big screen TV from the Oyster Bar.
Flora-Bama’s property also extends across the street to the bayside and features two full-service restaurants over there as well – Yacht Club and Ole River Grill are on the north side of the property. The Ole River Grill is a sit-down style restaurant overlooking the Old River with a beautiful waterfront view, open-air deck, and fantastic seafood, burgers, and po-boys; the grill has something for everyone, while Flora-Bama Yacht Club is another restaurant located overlooking the Old River.
You can come to the Yacht Club by boat as there is a place to dock boats, and there is also one of those floating boat bars you can take out to the many sandbars located on the river. There are also four bars on Flora-Bama’s property, so no matter what you like to drink you should be able to find it inside. My suggestion if you eat across the street at Ole River Grill or Yacht Club would be to visit before the rodeo starts, as it can be a pain walking across the street each time. Then if you must eat you can walk back and forth between the Oyster Bar and the rodeo arena.
The Bulls on the Beach is truly a one-of-a-kind event. Several different rodeos in the country claim they are a rodeo on the beach, but they just take place in beach towns and are located further inland. The Bulls on the Beach at Flora-Bama is the only rodeo in the country that takes place directly smack dab in the middle of the sand, just steps from one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the country, the Gulf of Mexico – they set metal bleachers up in an oval right on the beach, with temporary stables brought in and placed in Flora-Bama’s parking lot.
Bulls on the Beach takes place over three nights and is always the second weekend in September, the first weekend of the off-season for the beach towns. The action kicks off each night at 8 p.m. beginning on Thursday; a country music act or local band usually puts on a concert before the rodeo begins each night. You'll get to see all the usual rodeo events here: bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, calf roping, bronc & team roping, and steer wrestling. They also showcase some of the local riders and junior riders who compete on the circuit. Rodeo clowns are also a constant presence interacting with the crowd, and the rodeo announcer does a great job interacting and joking with the clowns and the crowd.
As the rodeo begins the sun is usually setting for the evening and you can't beat the view; lights illuminated around the temporary rodeo arena reflect off the water, as you see and feel the waves creeping onto shore as nightfall begins. In the distance, you'll see hundreds of lights of the high-rise condos as far as the eye can see, and in the background, you'll hear live music overlapping from the live bands or singer who occupies one of the many bars inside Flora-Bama at any given time. The rodeo action lasts about two hours, and you are free to come and go as you please – I saw people going back and forth between the rodeo arena to visit the bars and/or the beach.
This area of the Gulf Coast is a prime vacation destination for millions of people every year. Three coastal beach towns make up this area of the Coast: Perdido (FL), Orange Beach, and Gulf Shores. Flora-Bama is located on Perdido Key, which is the less developed of the three communities; miles of unprotected beach and wilderness make up about 70% of the island, while the other 30% is taken up by condos, each with their private beaches and amenities.
Other than the live entertainment that takes place nightly at Flora-Bama, people love vacationing in Perdido due to its peace and tranquility, as the beaches aren't as crowded and loud as the neighboring beach towns. For things to do on this stretch of the island there are a few seafood restaurants located here – the Cobalt is located nearby and remains a popular but expensive place to get some of the best seafood in Alabama.
Several other places are nearby as well, such as the more casual Crab Trap located about half a mile away, which has a cool little outdoor seating area right on the beach. The Jellyfish remains another popular spot, as well as Lillian's Pizza offering the best pan pizzas in the area.
There are also hundreds more restaurants located over the bridge headed west into Alabama (Gulf Shores and Orange Beach); there are too many to name, but the great thing about this area is you will not find any chain restaurants, just many local, mostly family-owned spots. You will find everything here from hole-in-the-wall seafood joints to five-star restaurants.
Perdido is also a nature lover's destination – in the seclusion of the island you’ll find two State Parks, two championship golf courses, and a 7-mile undeveloped public beach. Perdido Key took a direct hit from Hurricane Sally in September 2020, so a lot of stuff is just being re-opened after three-plus years of closure. Big Lagoon State Park on the north side of Perdido is a perfect spot for camping or biking the many paved and off-road trails through the Florida marshland. You can even kayak in the Grande Lagoon, one of the only places in this area of Florida known to have manatees. If you're at Big Lagoon, make sure you climb the four-story observation tower for a view overlooking miles.
In addition, Perdido Key State Park just re-opened, and features a public beach area with a visitor's center. Gulf State Park sits just over the bridge into Alabama and features over 30 miles of backwoods trails, with seven trails each through a different ecosystem and habitat of the Gulf Coast.
Johnson Beach also makes for a great getaway if you want a beach to yourself for the day – 7 miles of undeveloped beachfront land await you on Johnson Beach. An abandoned Civil War fort called Fort McKree also sits at the far east tip of the island and makes for a great place to explore if you have a boat or kayak to get out there. You can rent boats, kayaks, or jet skis at Flora-Bama and go anywhere you want on the water. The two golf courses are some of the best around; Lost Key Golf Club is located on Perdido Key and was designed by Arnold Palmer. Lost Key features 18 holes around gorgeous dunes and the tall pines of the Island, while Perdido Bay Golf Club is located just over the bridge from Perdido, and was the former site of the PGA's Pensacola Open from 1978-1987.
The temporary rodeo arena holds about 3,000 people and they sell out all three nights of the rodeo. Everyone from families and tourists to hardcore rodeo fans come out to Flora-Bama for Bulls on the Beach. What makes this rodeo stand out is that it is taking place on the beach, so, you'll encounter the regular rodeo crowd as well as people who just stumble upon Flora-Bama driving down the beach, and wonder what is going on. Flora-Bama also attracts a wide range of customers on a nightly basis, everyone from college kids to the older locals who've been coming here for years.
A great place to watch the rodeo action is on the second-floor balcony that overlooks the rodeo arena. I saw a bunch of people up there watching the rodeo; on this balcony, you can get spectacular views of the rodeo arena, the beach, and the sunset. The event organizers also do a great job at making Bulls on the Beach a family-friendly event, although the inside of Flora-Bama can get a little too rowdy for some.
Each of the bars has its particular theme, and on a Friday or Saturday you can see and hear some behavior that might be considered inappropriate from some of the people attending and the musicians playing – as long as you know that going in you should be all right; there is a reason Flora-Bama is 21 and over after 7 pm every night! But if you stick just to the rodeo, you shouldn't see any of the debauchery that goes on inside Flora-Bama.
There is no easy way to get to Flora-Bama; the bar is located at the extreme southern edge of Alabama and the far western point of Florida, and the coastal beach towns are not easy to get to either, as the closest interstate is I-10 about an hour away. If coming from Mobile take I-10 east for about 20 miles until you get to the Baldwin Beach Expressway at Exit 49 – you'll know you've reached the expressway when you see the giant Buc-ees, which makes for a great stop before you embark on the rural 30-mile road to the beach. Once on Highway 182, the main road that runs east and west along the beach, take it east over another bridge and you will see Flora-Bama on the right.
Parking is across the street, and I recommend getting here early as the parking lot fills up quickly, and it can be almost impossible to find a spot after 5 p.m. The local condos will also tow your car if you park in their lots. There is also no public transportation in this area, so your only option is driving, though Uber or Lyft may be your best option for getting here. There are two separate entrances, one to the bar and one to the rodeo, and both of them back up the closer it gets to the dark. Get your rodeo seats early too, as they are all first come, first serve.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for Bulls on the Beach are $30 for general admission for each night's event, and you are free to sit anywhere in the grandstand. Tickets go on sale every year around July 4th and sell out rather quickly, so make sure you get your tickets early.
I considered this a great event to attend just for its setting alone – nowhere else in the country will you experience a rodeo set-up like this on the beach, so you are coming to a one-of-a-kind event. You also just so happen to be at the world's most famous beach bar, and just being able to walk back and forth makes it well worth the return on investment.
Bulls on the Beach is partnered with 3R Rodeo, one of the largest professional rodeo circuits in the southeast. 3R Rodeo is an affiliate of the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA), which is the second largest rodeo organization in the world; 3R is a feeder system for cowboys to move up to compete in IPRA. Also, a portion of the proceeds goes to St. Jude's Hospital each year.
Even if you are not a big drinker, just do a walkthrough of Flora-Bama at some point while you’re here. The complex is huge and just looking at all the memorabilia on the walls, and the different musical acts, make it an interesting place, and you are bound to find something to pique your interest.
As mentioned earlier Flora-Bama is home to a different event with something going on every night of the week – from bikini contests to fishing rodeos to golf tournaments and triathlons, Flora-Bama hosts it all. There's even stuff for all ages, such as the giant beach easter hunt egg hunt or the annual Santa Dip, where Santa Sky dives into Flora-Bama and takes a dip in the ocean. Kids come from all over to sit on Santa's lap from the comfort of his beach chair, and Flora-Bama even hosts a Sunday morning church service from under a tent on the beach.
If you like the environment of Bulls on the Beach, then another event you must attend at Flora-Bama is the annual Interstate Mullet Toss. Held for three days every April, what started as just a reason to party has become one of the biggest beach parties anywhere, as over 30,000 attendees watch and/or participate in the throwing of a dead mullet across the state line to see who can throw it the farthest.
We're referring to the fish, but you’ll find many people rocking the business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back hairstyle at the Mullet Toss. Hotel rooms are booked months in advance for this event, and for $20 anybody can participate and throw a fish. Awards and prizes are given as well, but mostly it's just an excuse for 30,000 people to have a beach party.