By Cami Sauder
Panama City Beach, Florida, is a great beach destination that is easy to reach from many US cities with tons of family activities, AND it won’t break the bank. We’ve compiled our favorite 10 things to do in Panama City Beach (otherwise known as “PCB”), as well as the area’s best restaurants and accommodations to reap you plenty of recreation, refreshment and rest
Let’s start with recreation and all the great things to do in Panama City Beach…
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RECREATION: 10 Fantastic Things to Do in Panama City Beach
1. Stop by the Visitor’s Center
When planning your trip, head first to www.visitpanamacitybeach.com, sign up to receive their visitor’s guide and do lots of reading and research (2 more R’s!) from their recommendations and then make yourself some reservations (and finally 2 more!). Whew!
Once you get into town, stop by the PCB Official Visitor Information Center, and they’ll be glad to help you with brochures, event calendars and more.
You may even get a free goody or two in your bag if you tell them it’s your first trip!
2. Enjoy the Landscape
Next, there’s the ever-changing landscape outside between the beach, the ocean and the sky!
It amazed me how even the beach landscape changed almost daily while we were there.
If the wind was blowing, it was completely smooth.
If the sea was raging, there would be new hills of sand that weren’t there before or a huge tide pool would emerge.
3. Play at the Beach
Spend the day at Panama City Beach in lots of different ways…
- Playing in the water (watch for the colored warning flags)
- Fishing from shore
- Catching up on reading
- Taking photos
- Walking on the beach
- Searching for seashells
- Or even having a sandcastle competition like we did!
What’s your favorite beach activity?
4. Explore Florida State Parks
Parking is absolutely free, unlike some beach towns, so you’ll be able to visit all 27 miles of beachfront!
While out and about, explore 1 of 2 in-town state parks.
Known by Dr. Beach as the home of the “Best Beach in America,” St. Andrews State Park is at the far east end of PCB.
There, you can:
- Fish from the pier, jetty or Gulf
- See wildlife
- Snorkel or
- Scuba dive
5. See a Dune Lake
Camp Helen State Park will let you get your first glimpse at a dune lake.
What’s a dune lake?
This rare phenomenon occurs when a sand dune that lies between a lake and ocean erodes, thus allowing the two bodies of water to collide.
There are only a few of these in the world, and 15 of them are located near PCB.
6. Get Out on the Water
If you’d like to actually get out on the water, you can:
- Look for dolphins
- Scuba dive
- Jet Ski
- Go to Shell Island
- Set sail on a pirate cruise
One of Panama City Beach’s 7 marinas will have just the excursion for you.
7. Catch a Fish!
My husband was thrilled to book a half-day deep sea fishing trip with friends, and our dinner of snapper later that week was amazing!
How about over the water?
PCB has two identical piers that stretch 1,500 feet into the Gulf where you can fish.
Pay your fee and spend an afternoon watching the waves, the surfers or try your hand at fishing, no separate license required.
8. Visit Pier Park
When you’re ready to venture away from the water, why not head to Pier Park to shop (they have 124 stores), play mini golf or visit Dave and Buster’s arcade?
At www.visitpanamacitybeach, you can search for additional amusements on site like go-karts, the Gran Maze, zip lines and Shipwreck Island Waterpark.
9. Ride the SkyWheel
For a bird’s eye view of the beauty of Panama City Beach, catch a ride on the SkyWheel.
The SkyWheel cars are climate-controlled, meaning they’re a great option ANY time of year.
We also recommend riding both during the day AND at night for different experiences.
10. Enjoy Rainy Day Fun
If the weather decides not to cooperate, Panama City Beach has you covered. You can…
- Catch a sea lion show or swim with dolphins at Gulf World
- Be amazed at Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium
- Try your hand at axe throwing
- Test your brain at Escape the Room
- Outrun your friends at Laser Tag
- Take in a show at the Grand IMAX 16 theaters
- Get caught in a tornado, lie on a bed of nails, make giant bubbles, take the astronaut training challenge if you dare (I did not!) or test your ability on the glow-in-the-dark ropes course at WonderWorks
REFRESHMENT: Best Panama City Beach Restaurants
When your stomach starts to rumble, the choices of Panama City Beach restaurants are extensive.
Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you’re sure to find a morsel or two that will hit the spot from among its more than 180 restaurants.
Here are 4 of our picks for the best Panama City Beach restaurants…
1. Andy’s Flour Power
Open for breakfast, brunch or lunch, my first recommendation would be Andy’s Flour Power.
Oh my deliciousness!
You can choose to grab-and-go here by picking up something from their bakery or sit down and share a couple of plates.
After our bakery plate “appetizer,” we tried biscuits and gravy, French toast (which takes three days to make!), Crawfish Julie and topped it all off with a breakfast margarita.
Absolutely no reason to eat until after 6 p.m. or later that day (or the next!) :).
If you time it just right, you might be in for an extra treat when they have live musicians on their in-restaurant performance stage.
2. Finn’s Island Style Grub
Finn’s Island Style Grub “keeps it small, fresh and simple,” serving breakfast and lunch from their stationary food truck with outdoor picnic seating.
If you’re not in the mood for food, try Finn’s Barista Bar right next door.
3. Runaway Island
Want to catch a glimpse of the ocean or the sunset while eating?
Head to Runaway Island for tons of seating options and enough nachos to share with the whole table before indulging in some yummy fish tacos.
The sunset bell will ring in case you get sidetracked while there.
4. The Grand Marlin
For a more upscale dinner, make a reservation and drive over to the marina to have a meal at The Grand Marlin.
The thought of their Ahi Poke appetizer and Grouper Piccata topped with crispy capers (their most requested dish) still makes my mouth water!
5. The Yard
For a sweet treat, why not try one of The Yard Milkshake Bar’s specialty milkshakes in a keepsake mason jar? If you can’t choose from over 20+ flavors, they’ll let you create your own.
You can do what we did and fully enjoy it by counting it as lunch! 🙂
If you choose to cook your own food, there are a number of seafood markets around town with freshly caught fish, shrimp and oysters, as well as homemade Key Lime pie.
Grab a container of smoked tuna dip while there. You can thank me later!
You will DEFINITELY not leave PCB hungry. In fact, more walks on the beach might be in order!
REST: The Best Panama City Beach Hotels and Accommodations
You’ll find close to 500 possibilities in Panama City Beach accommodations to rest your weary body after all those activities and food.
This wide range of choices includes campgrounds, hotels, motels, condos, resorts and beach houses; one is sure to be the perfect fit for your travel group!
Springhill Suites Panama City Beach Beachfront
I can suggest from first-hand experience the almost-new Springhill Suites PCB Beachfront.
With clean, modern furnishings, their extra large all-suite rooms sport a sofa, coffee maker, mini fridge and microwave as well as a balcony.
I could never get enough of the view right outside!
You’ll find a variety of options at their free hot breakfast buffet as well as be able to enjoy:
- Lobby AND poolside bars
- Ice cream shop
- Pool with lazy river
- Loungers with umbrellas
- Hot tub
- Cabanas for rent
- Cozy poolside fire pit area
Enjoy all this while overlooking their gorgeous beachfront location.
It’s also located next door to the M.B. Miller pier.
Emerald Beach Resort
For part of our trip, we rented a condo through Vrbo at Emerald Beach Resort, which was wonderful for the five weeks my husband was working remotely.
Within our 900 square feet on the 21st floor, we had enough sleeping areas for 5 other people to join us plus a kitchen, washer/dryer and balcony overlooking the Gulf.
At Emerald Beach Resort, you get access to:
- 2 heated pools
- Kiddie pool
- 2 hot tubs
- Workout room
- Corn hole
- Ping pong
- Game room
- Beach store
- Ice cream shop
- Sky Bar with live music, spanning the walkway between the complex and the parking garage
We’re already signed up to go back next year for 2 months!
The best part is that 1 month in the winter is the same price as 1 week the rest of the year!
I’ll take temps in the 50s and 60s any day over an Indiana winter ;-). BRRRR…
Whichever recreation, refreshment or place you choose to rest, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Will visiting Panama City Beach be on your upcoming travel list?