After an incredible few days in Destin and Okaloosa Island in Florida, I went on a road trip along Front Beach Road to Panama City Beach for 2 days. I was still on the Emerald Coast, just a little further east.

The drive was stunning.

You can drive the whole route in just and hour and a half but, as you should do on all good road trips, I stopped along the way to explore.

Road trip Panama City Beach

Road trip from Destin to Panama City Beach

I followed the beach to my right with the sun beating down, and my ‘Spanish Fiesta’ Spotify playlist blaring, cruising along in the Nissan Accent I’d hired from Hertz. When you drive from Destin to Panama City Beach you drive along 30A – one of the coolest stretches of road in the US. And most Brits, including me pre-December 2016, have never even heard of it.

Travelling Panama City Beach

There’s a cool festival along the route every summer called Digital Grafitti. They use the best in digital art to project stories and images onto the white buildings, making entire towns into canvases for the most modern of all the arts.

Anyway, it wasn’t on when I was there in December, but the little beach communities of 30A are cool enough without the festival running. I stopped off in Alyss Beach for a little look round. It was a quiet place, with a few knick after a quick look around I carried on, all the way to Panama City Beach.

If you have more time I’d recommend stopping off at them all – Rosemary Beach, Watercolour, Seaside, and more – for a quick look round.

2 days in Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach Food

The beaches of 30A flowed into Panama City Beach with blue skies the whole way. My first stop was the Lotus Café at Zen Garden to meet David from Visit Panama City Beach to learn more about how to make the most of my 2 days in Panama City Beach.

Zen Garden is a cool multi-faceted space, currently home to a café, a coffee shop, a gift shop and a group of people playing Christmas songs on various instruments. Not busking – just chilling. A normal occurrence here.

After a delicious artisan coffee and a sweet potato wrap (David’s crab cake above), I was whisked off to Panhandle Helicopters, for a proper look round the Beach.

EXCITED!

What to do in Panama City Beach

Helicopter ride

The views from the helicopter above Panama City Beach are incredible. I’ll let the photos do the explaining – although what you can’t see from them are the dolphins jumping and playing below us.

Rides with Panhandle Helicopters start from just $40 – absolutely necessary to get the lay of the land, especially if you only have 2 days in Panama City Beach to see as much as possible.

St Andrews State Park

Panama City Beach

There’s a huge State Park in Panama City Beach, perfect for relaxing ‘at one’ with the surrounding nature. St Andrews State Park is 1200 acres – loads of wide open space for fishing, cycling, walking, hiking and areas and picnic benches to bring your BBQ or picnic and just eat among the pine forests, white beaches, wetlands,

Pier Park Shopping outlet

Pier Park has so many cool shops. I was determined not to buy anything when I went to go for a looksy but of course, a jumper from American Apparel later and another $40 out the bank account.

I love the way Americans do their outdoor shopping malls. I felt like I was in a film set – especially with all the Christmas decorations that were hanging.

Carrillon

Panama City Beach

This is a cool place to stay if there are a few of your coming to Panama City Beach. You can rent these cool houses for a few days / weeks / months (oo get you) and then you have a home right by the beach.

Some of the houses – the more expensive ones on the beach – have their own balconies and you can watch incredible sunsets like these. If they’re not quite in your budget, or you’re staying somewhere else, there are public spaces with tables and chairs where you can set yourself up to watch it go down without the cost.

Panama City Beach

There’s a cute little downtown area here, although I went after hours so didn’t get to peek in the shops. I went to a yoga class at Yoga Elements, which was billed as restorative yoga. It restored me so well I pretty much went to sleep right there and then.

Where to stay at Panama City Beach

Stay at Majestic Beach Resort by the Resort Collection

Panama City Beach

I stayed in a HUGE apartment at the Majestic Beach Resort. It had three rooms, each with a bathroom, a huge lounge and kitchen and a cool balcony looking out over the sea. Condos are a big thing here and Americans will use them for summer and then rent them out the rest of the time – just like AirBnB but through an agent there.

Panama City Beach food and drink

Get fancy at Firefly Restaurant

Ooo Firefly was fancy – all fairy lights, Sunday Best and dramatically table clothed tables. It’s since been named as one of the ‘most romantic restaurants’ by Open Table.

Drinking at Firefly Restaurant

– Those Martinis – pheweee, strong!

Anyway I enjoyed the red snapper fish, as recommended by the head chef who came out to see what we were having. What a guy. I was about to order sushi but he told me this was the best dish in the house.

He was disgusted when I ordered sorbet for dessert though, telling me the chocolate torte was much better, but I was stuffed.

Those portions were huge!

Sushi at Oishi

If you go to Panama City Beach for 2 days, make sure to check Oishis out. Huge portions of sushi, reasonably priced, all served with cute little umbrellas stuck in them. Different.

Amazing breakfast at Liza’s

Panama City Beach

Ok, this was my favourite food of the 2 days in Panama City Beach. You just can’t beat brunch can you? Especially when you find a local little place like Liza’s Kitchen. This beast was stuffed full of avocado, bacon, cheese and tomato. So many of the good things in life in one sandwich – yum.

Just a minute walk away, just behind Liza’s, was a cool coffee shop. Definitely check that place out too. Maybe go for a juice at Liza’s and then your coffee there?

Twas Panama City Beach hipster central.

Donuts at Thomas Donut and Snack Shop

Panama City Beach

I was instructed not to leave Panama City Beach without trying Thomas Donut and Snack Shop – billed as America’s only beachfront donut shop. I got up 30 minutes earlier just to give it the respect it apparently deserved. However, I don’t really understand the obsession with donuts. Where’s the meat?

Instead, I went for a bacon and egg bagel with a bit of hot sauce. Oh yes. Freshly made, served hot and ruddy dee-licious.

– View from the lift in my hotel 

And on I drove to North Florida Beaches Airport 20 minutes away to drop the car off at Hertz and leave. I’d never actually dropped a hire car off by myself before and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Thankfully the staff were lovely and wished me ‘Happy Holiday!’ as I headed home for Christmas.

Airport North West Beaches

*I was in Florida as a guest of Visit Panama City Beach with car hire provided by Hertz.co.uk.

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