Whether you are headed out for spring break or you are traveling with the family for some much needed rest and recreation, there is no shortage of things to do in Panama City Beach. Revered for its beaches – considered by some to be the world’s most beautiful – Panama City Beach is also a destination spot for nightlife, shopping fun, and delicious restaurants. Located on the Gulf coast of the Florida panhandle, Panama City Beach stays warm for much of the year, making late spring a phenomenal economic choice. But no matter when you visit, this beach town can guarantee some unforgettable experiences.
10. St. Andrews State Park
Boasting over 1000 acres of land, St. Andrews State Park can be a welcome reprieve from the bustle of downtown. If you are looking for white, sandy beaches and crystal clear water without having to fight against crowds, take the short, five-mile drive east and experience the natural beauty of St Andrews. Surrounded by the gulf to the south and the Lagoon to the North, St. Andrews is a small peninsula offering plentiful hiking trails and campsites. The wildlife is plentiful, making this destination a must-visit for nature lovers. You can easily rent bicycles to explore the trails or scuba gear to explore the waters, or simply just relax for free under the sun. There is a small entry fee for each vehicle (under $10).
9. Lobster Fest
One week each fall, Panama City Beach celebrates one of the ocean’s most delightful treats: the lobster. Featuring lobster specials prepared in every way imaginable, the festival hosted by Schooners Restaurant also includes live music, enormous and impressive professional sand sculptures, diver competitions, and large raffle prizes. The festival lasts for an entire week, but it is the weekend that draw the biggest crowds from across the southeast – both those looking for a great party and food tourists anticipating some of the largest and freshest lobster in the area.
8. Man in the Sea Museum
This attraction makes for a fascinating way to spend a rainy day during your vacation. Located in central Panama City Beach, this museum was established in 1982 to help educate the public on man’s unwavering desire to explore the world under the sea. The museum has an impressive array of artifacts, ranging from the most unsophisticated diving equipment to a full-size submarine that visitors are encouraged to explore. Additionally, there are plenty of objects that have been recovered from sunken shipwrecks! The Man in the Sea Museum will deepen visitor’s appreciation for sea exploration, while highlighting the scientific challenges we have overcome, and a few that face us currently. Admission is five dollars, and free for kids under seven.
7. Gulf World Marine Park
This wildlife park allows visitors to get up close and personal with a variety of sea creatures and exotic birds, while providing entertaining and action-packed programming. Perhaps the most exciting experience at the park is the opportunity to swim and interact with a dolphin, which can be purchased separately from general admission – and reservations are required. There are plenty of other events and performances, including dolphin and sea lion shows, stingray feedings, scuba demonstrations, and much more. The park is a perfect activity for young children and their parents. General admission varies with the season, but is generally around $30 for adults and $20 for children.
6. Shipwreck Island Water Park
One of the more popular tourist attractions in Panama City Beach, Shipwreck Island Water Park has over three-million gallons of water in circulation. Open from April weekends through the first week of September, Shipwreck Island is a great way to cool off without getting sand everywhere. Including a wave pool, tubing on both a lazy river and raging rapids, hundreds of feet of water slides, and a kiddie zone for the kids, Shipwreck Island is full of enough rides for the whole family to enjoy! Admission is based on height and is between $30 and $35 per person.
5. Charter and Pier Fishing
As you will learn from snorkeling, the Gulf of Mexico is populated with a variety of fish both beautiful and delectable. Russell-Fields Pier, slightly west of downtown, provides ample fishing opportunities right off of the pier for very cheap –fishing equipment rentals also include a fishing license. If you’re looking to snag bigger game, there are several companies that offer deep-sea fishing excursions for you and your friends. Although the available fish will vary with the season, when fishing the reef you can expect to catch various snappers, grouper, and many more.
4. Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
A must-visit for lovers of strange facts and even stranger people, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has one of its infamous collections of crazy, hard-to-believe artifacts in the heart of Panama Beach City. The building alone is worth at least checking out – modeled like a mid-century ocean liner that has run ashore, this museum is home to a moving 4D movie theatre, a mirror maze, several floors of interactive exhibits, and hundreds of oddities including shrunken heads, optical illusions, and weird history from around the globe. Tickets are $18 for adults, $13 for children, not including 4D movie tickets.
While the sport of paddleboarding –standing on a thick surfboard and paddling with a long oar across the water – has 18th century origins, it wasn’t until the last two decades that it gained any serious notoriety in the United States. Today, the sport is very easy to learn, but even though it can be tranquil and relaxing on the Gulf’s beautiful water, paddleboarding can give your core a bit of a workout as you try to maintain your balance for an extended period of time. The best part is that rentals are abundant and cheap. The best advice for a novice paddleboarder? Don’t forget the sunscreen, as there is no shade on the open sea!
2. Panama City Beach Winery
This winery might come as a bit of a surprise, but when it comes to things to do in Panama Beach City, you would be amiss to pass this up. Whether you pick up a bottle for a romantic dinner or attend one of the winery’s extensive wine tasting and pairings, it is worth checking out. Located in an unassuming strip mall, this family-run business has been a staple for fruit, berry, and citrus wines in the south-eastern United States for years. Using 100% Florida produce, they have crafted award-winning fruit wines.
1. Shell Island
Shell Island, while not technically an island, is across the bay from St. Andrew’s National Park and, as its name suggests, is an excellent place to find intact seashells and sand dollars that would typically be extraordinarily rare finds on a well-traveled beach. The really great specimens might require a little snorkeling, so bringing gear is recommended, but not necessary. In addition to the abundance of great souvenirs, it is not uncommon to spot dolphins swimming and playing right off the coast! Several companies offer affordable shuttle services to and from Shell Island; be sure to bring snacks and water!
Even if you don’t hit all of these top places to visit in Panama Beach City, you will surely still enjoy its beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, and pay cheaper hotel rates, it is best to visit between Spring Break and the beginning of summer, mostly in the months of April and May. But a visit any time to this exquisite costal town will be filled with warm swims, remarkable sunsets, and friendly locals.