14 Coolest Things to Do in Panama City Beach, FL

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 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 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). 

PCB

PCB

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.

2. Look round 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.

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

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 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

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.

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.

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5 great restaurants in Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is well known as the ‘Seafood Capital of the South’.

My favourite. 

Logo for VickyFlipFlop

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.

Drinking at Firefly Restaurant

– 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!

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. 

Different.

This was definitely a more chilled place to eat in Panama City Beach, especially compared to Firefly. 

3. 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?

It was Panama City Beach hipster central.

4. Be healthy at Zen Garden

Panama City Beach Food

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

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 

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.

Airport North West Beaches

What can you do at Panama City Beach?

Ok, last attempt to open your mind to the wonders of Panama City Beach. 

PCB is part of Florida’s stunning Emerald Coast. 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.


panama city beach pinterest

what to do panama city beach


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. 


More on the Emerald Coast in Florida

12 Reasons to Visit the Emerald Coast

7 Best Seafood Restaurants on the Emerald Coast

How to Plan an Emerald Coast Road Trip

My Stay at The Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana
Best Route for Your Road Trip to Coachella
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2 Comments

  1. by Alastair Roy on May 5, 2017  12:05 pm Reply

    Panama City in Florida is a great place for families if you are looking for straight beach fun and those crystal clear waters and white sand is so welcoming, how could you pass it up! I was just in Florida with my own family and had a great time going from beach to beach and trying all the different sea food!

    • by Vicky on May 6, 2017  10:18 pm Reply

      Yeah I'd definitely say it was well geared up for families. There's so much cool stuff to do there and with a car it's so easy to get around. Really enjoyed driving there. Glad you and your family had fun! :)

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