Sitting in a prime location on Florida’s Panhandle, Panama City Beach has long been lauded as a raucous spring break spot—but with 27 miles of unspoiled waterfront, family-friendly attractions, tons of outdoor recreation, and a diverse dining scene, this destination appeals to couples and families all year long. Parts of the region are still recovering after Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage in the fall of 2018, but many businesses have reopened and stand ready and waiting to welcome guests back with open arms.
Here are 10 things you’ll want to put on your Panama City Beach itinerary:
Hit the Beach
What’s a beach vacation without a fabulous beach? Panama City Beach’s gorgeous jade-green waters and sugary white sand are the major lure, whether you want to kick back under an umbrella or enjoy some active water recreation. Parasailing, jet-skiing, fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, sailing, scuba diving, bodyboarding, and kayaking are all on the menu. There’s plenty of space, so bring a frisbee to toss around, rally up a beach volleyball game, or stake out a spot to test your sandcastle-building skills.
Shell and Snorkel
The Panama City marina is the launch site for many fishing excursions and boat tours that shuttle guests across the Grand Lagoon and St. Andrew Bay to Shell Island—ideal territory for a leisurely day on and in the water. The undeveloped seven-mile barrier island provides a rustic habitat for all sorts of native living creatures, both on land and in the gulf. Comb the shoreline for shells to take home as souvenirs, or don a snorkel mask to observe the friendly fish that hang out near the jetty.
If the forecast calls for rain, WonderWorks is a great indoor option for a morning or afternoon of fun exploration. The facility’s startling upside-down façade is a real eye-catcher, setting the tone for five floors of unexpected edu-tainment inside. The selection of more than 100 hands-on exhibits includes hurricane and roller coaster simulators, a bed of nails, a giant piano, and a space discovery zone. A ropes course and a laser tag arena give kids even more opportunity to burn off any lingering pent-up energy.
Observe Local Wildlife
Schools of playful dolphins are plentiful in the Panama City Beach waters, and you can easily spot them jumping and frolicking from the gulf-facing balconies of local hotels and condos. For a closer look, book a reservation on a dolphin cruise excursion (half-day, full-day, and sunset options are available). For those who feel more comfortable keeping their feet on dry land, St. Andrews State Park is an idyllic place to spot birds, deer, alligators, and other four-legged residents.
Anchoring the north end of the buzzy Pier Park, SkyWheel Panama City Beach chauffeurs passengers 200 feet into the air in fully enclosed, climate-controlled gondola cars for a stunning 360-degree view of the land and gulf below. Check it out at night when the whole structure lights up with a showy, shifting neon display.
Back on terra firma, browse more than 120 stores and shops—or refuel at one of the many local and franchise eateries—at the Pier Park shopping, dining, and entertainment development.
Panama City Beach maintains a string of whimsically-themed miniature golf courses along the beachfront. A longtime local favorite, Goofy Golf showcases a Sphinx, a Buddha, and a volcano; Hidden Lagoon Super Golf and Racetrack ups the ante with go-karts; and Pirates Island Adventure Golf makes the most of PCB’s swashbuckling history and heritage. Serious duffers can take their pick of full-service courses dotted throughout the area, including the only Jack Nicklaus-designed course in northwest Florida: Bay Point Golf Club.
Feast on Great Fish
Seafood doesn't get much fresher than in this coastal locale, and there are lots of great restaurants where you can order a platter. The "last local beach club,” Schooners on the eastern end of PCB serves up crab claws, shrimp, and grouper sandwiches with live music and beach views (tip: try to arrive by sunset to catch the traditional nightly cannon firing). With dollar bills hanging from every surface, Dusty’s is the place to go for oysters. For lunch, zip into Finn’s Island Style Grub for fab fish tacos and ceviche. Whatever you order, a beachy frozen piña colada or rum runner is the perfect adult beverage to wash it all down.
Don Your Party Attire
Panama City Beach’s social calendar stays booked pretty much year-round with concerts, annual parties, and other fun shindigs. Some of the bigger events worth marking on your calendar include the Pirates of the High Seas Fest; the city's New Year’s Eve celebration (complete with a beach ball drop); an all-you-can-eat Oyster Bash; the Seabreeze Jazz Festival; and the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, featuring major national headliners like Tim Graw, Kid Rock, and Jason Aldean.
Bottlenose dolphins, colorful tropical birds, African penguins, and sea lions all call Gulf World Marine Park home. See them up close in a variety of fascinating indoor and outdoor exhibits. Keep an eye on the clock so you don’t miss live daily animal show and educational chats with the staff. Brave guests can even feed stingrays by hand! Best of all, the facility supports the sea turtle and marine mammal rehab and rescue efforts of the non-profit Gulf World Marine Institute.
You won’t know whether or not to believe your own eyes at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Panama City Beach museum. Settled within a tilting exterior façade built to resemble the Titanic, the galleries hold quirky, intriguing, and downright weird displays of oddities, curiosities, art, and interactive fun. While you’re there, take the laser race challenge, test your escape skills in the infinity mirror maze, and catch a movie in the 7D moving theater.