There are so many wonderful things to do in Panama City Beach, FL. Let me take you though my amazing few days there, to help you plan your trip.
I arrived in Panama City Beach for 2 days. I was still on the Emerald Coast, just a little further east. Panama City, Florida, is known for being a beautiful beach, with plenty of Panama City Beach shopping, and restaurants and bars to keep you as busy as you want to be.
After an incredible few days in Destin and Okaloosa Island in Florida, I took a road trip to Panama City Beach and 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.
Here’s a run down on what you can see on a road trip from Destin to here, and a look see into some of the great things to do on Panama City Beach too.
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.
There’s a cool festival along the route every summer called Digital Graffiti. 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.
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 – to take a look.
The beaches of 30A flowed into Panama City Beach with blue skies the whole way.
Where is Panama City Beach?
PCB is on the south coast of the USA, in Florida. It’s well known for being one of the sunniest parts of the USA and the tourist board congratulates themselves for having ‘the world’s most beautiful beaches’ (their slogan).
Panama City Beach has, on average, 320 days of sunshine per year.
7 things to do at Panama City Beach
1. Go on a PCB 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.
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2. Look round St Andrews State Park
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.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY
Please check if you need as ESTA under the USA visa waiver programme. And, if you do, apply in plenty of time.
You will need to be approved for entry into the USA before you fly to Florida, which will involve filling in the information on the form. I’d recommend applying for your visa as soon as you’ve booked your flights.
3. Go to Panama City Beach Winery
Panama City Beach Winery makes wine with 100% Florida fruit. There’s no additional preservatives or flavours and so you know if you enjoy some wine here, it’s 100% local.
They run complimentary wine tastings every day, with the confidence you’ll like it so much you’ll buy some to take home, of course. Try the wine slush – perfect for the beach!
4. Go shopping at Pier Park
Pier Park has so many cool shops. I was determined not to buy anything when I went to go for a looksee but of course, a jumper from American Apparel later and another $40 out the bank account.
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. Thanks to this mall, Panama City Beach shopping has plenty of choice.
5. Relax at Carrillon Beach Resort Inn
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.
There’s a cute little downtown area at Carillon, 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.
6. Go out to Shell Island
It’s a short boat ride away but Shell Island at Panama City Beach is one of the most popular things to do there. Shell Island is about 7 miles long and is an absolute favourite for visitors and locals thanks to its natural state.
The barrier island runs from east to west, between the Gulf of Mexico and St Andrew Bay.
Check out this video of Shell Island on Panama City Beach
At Shell Island you’ll find sand dunes, an inland lake, ghost crabs and many endangered species including Choctawhatchee Beach Mice, piping plovers, snowy plovers, and loggerhead and green sea turtles.
You can get there easily using the Shell Island Shuttle from St Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach.
7. Panama City Beach Conservation Park
One of the most popular Panama City Beach activities to enjoy is the Panama City Beach Conservation Park. Here you can walk, cycle and run and enjoy the outdoorsy life surrounded by wildlife and birds. It’s the perfect spot to pick up a picnic and enjoy right here, in amongst our beautiful, natural world.
Condos at Panama City Beach
Stay at Majestic Beach Resort by the Resort Collection
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.
The views of Panama City Beach from my balcony were great, I was near all the shops and restaurants of PCB, and I had a wonderful place to retreat back to after a tough day sightseeing. If you’ve got the money, I can definitely recommend.
More accommodation at Panama City Beach
Airbnb has some unique condos, houses and rooms to rent along Panama City Beach, meaning you can try something different to suit your budget. Take a look at all the properties available below…
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5 great restaurants in Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is well known as the ‘Seafood Capital of the South’.
1. 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.
– Those Martinis – pheweee, strong!
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!
PANAMA CITY BEACH RESTAURANTS READER TIP
Reader Scott Deal says…
“Firefly was a great choice but when you finished there you could have walked right next door to Dee’s Hangout or Dee’s Hideaway. The absolute best Cajun food and homestyle eating on the Gulf Coast. Large orders at a good price of fresh Gulf seafood. Don’t take my word just ask “Siri”. World renowned Smoked Tuna dip!”
2. 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.
This was definitely a more chilled place to eat in Panama City Beach, especially compared to Firefly.
3. Amazing breakfast at Liza’s
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?
It was Panama City Beach hipster central.
4. Be healthy at Zen Garden
My first stop was the Lotus Café at Zen Garden.
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 crab cake salad, I was whisked off to Panhandle Helicopters, for a proper look round Panama City, from the sky.
5. Donuts at Thomas Donut and Snack Shop
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
Renting a car in Panama City Beach
And on I drove to North Florida Beaches Airport 20 minutes away to drop the car off at Hertz and leave Panama City Beach. I’d never actually dropped a hire car off by myself before and didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
Turns out you just hand the keys over, sign the papers, and as long as you haven’t done anything to the car – that’s about it.
Thankfully the staff were lovely and wished me ‘Happy Holiday!’ as I headed home for Christmas.
What can you do at Panama City Beach?
Ok, last attempt to open your mind to the wonders of the unique things to do on Panama City Beach.
The area boasts one of the highest concentrations of wild bottle-nose dolphins in the world, which I saw from the sky on the helicopter.
Scuba diving is really popular here, thanks to the amazing marine life, but also the many, many shipwrecks in this part of Florida. I didn’t get to go, with only having two days, but it’ll definitely top my list of things to do in Panama City Beach next time.
I had a brilliant time on this trip – a few friends have done the same trip since and also really enjoyed it. Panama City Beach is a great place to visit if you want the excitement of water based fun and sports, within a decent range of each other.
You really don’t have to travel far to have fun when you’re in PCB!
*I was in Florida as a guest of Visit Panama City Beach with car hire provided by Hertz.co.uk.
How to Book Panama City Beach
The Best Booking Resources
These are my favourite companies to use when I travel anywhere, including travel to Panama City Beach. They always give the best deals, the strongest customer service and after 8 years of travel as my job, they’re the ones I’ve found to be the absolute market leaders. These are the companies I turn to when I want to book my travel.
– Skyscanner – I always use Skyscanner. They’re my favourites thanks to the interface and wealth of results. Not all airlines are on there, so sometimes I just use them as a starting point. But it’s extremely rare that I’d ever book a flight without consulting Skyscanner first.
– Netflights – After Skyscanner I go and check Netflights to see what they come up with. They’re another comparison engine, and they promise the best deals. You can also book cheap holidays and your car hire with them too.
– Airbnb – Airbnb is great for groups looking for accommodation together, or for solo travellers just looking for a room. There are always plenty of options to get excited about on Airbnb. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get £25 off your first stay!)
– Hostelworld – I used to work for HostelBookers so it feels weird to recommend HostelWorld, but since they bought HB out, I feel it’s ok. They’re the best hostel booking site on the internet with the largest inventory and best search interface.
– Booking.com – I love Booking.com. Is it weird to love a hotel booking website? Yep. Well, the way they display their property pics and info just makes the decisions easy to come to. You can easily look for parking options, internet, reviews, location – and I love that most of the properties can be cancelled with no charge. Absolutely, definitely my favourite hotel booking site.
– Viator – if you want to book your activities and adventures before to travel to Panama City Beach then I’d recommend Viator. They have all the main things to do in Vietnam listed, and you can compare and contrast tours, activities and adventures.
– Post Office Travel Money – the Post Office is the best stop for your travel money. They have over 70 currencies and you can get free delivery to your home, or to collect in over 11,500 branches with 0% commission.
– World Nomads – Get your travel insurance from World Nomads. They’re well known in the industry for their customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage. Never, ever travel without travel insurance – it’s absolutely not worth it.
PIN THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY BEACH, FL, FOR LATER