For just a moment, close your eyes and imagine the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Northwestern Florida, Panama City Beach is a hotspot for travelers and it is easy to see why! It is a hot spot for vacationers. With its cute little cottages, painted in pastel colors along the long stretch of sugar-white sand beaches, you can see it is thriving with beach families frolicking in the sun. Then I spy young couples who have come here for honeymoons and beach bums who can’t stay away from the shining sun. And me, who came here to find the hottest and fun attractions and best things to do in Panama City Beach, which I now call “PCB”.
✦ Panama City Beach (PCB) Bucket List ✦
20 Things To Do in Florida’s Waterfront Town
In fact, Panama City Beach is a charming beach town. It is a resort city that is nicknamed for having “The Word’s Most Beautiful Beaches”. You don’t just have to take my word for it, but concurring with Southern Living Magazine, two Florida beach towns ranked among the very best beach towns in the South in 2020. And, of course, Panama City Beach is one of them!
According to Southern Living Magazine readers, the towns listed below are “The South’s Best Beach Towns of 2020”.
Here are a few that topped the list: 10 beach towns in the South that made the list:
Orange Beach, Alabama
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Tybee Island, Georgia
Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beach (PCB) Bucket List:
20 Things To Do in Florida’s Waterfront Town
So let’s explore the sparkling crystal white beaches that give Panama City Beach, Florida, its touch of simplicity and character that allows it to make such a prestigious list. Many vacationers come here because of the ease of Panama City Beach’s amazing location in the middle of the Florida Panhandle. Plus, Panama City Beach has plenty of activities for vacationers, beach bums, and locals to enjoy. You might be unsure of what to do when you visit, but keep reading, and you’ll be ready to pack your bags. With so many things to do, you won’t know where to begin.
✦ Take a Sip at the fun Yard Milkshake Bar
The Yard is the ultimate place to find the perfect milkshake! And I don’t just mean any “run of the mill” milkshake, as these shakes are special! How would you like a milkshake with a whole doughnut on top? They have it all here and more! At The Yard Milkshake Bar, you will be dazzled at some of the craziest milkshakes you have ever seen! I couldn’t believe my eyes! And yes, they were truly delicious!
You can choose a Girl Boss – that was my choice, it is a salty caramel truffle and cookie butter ice cream in a chocolate iced jar rolled in dark chocolate shavings! And I dare you to eat the whole thing! They also had things like Gluten-free “Monkey Meets the Moose” which is made from sugar-free Moose tracks ice cream in a peanut butter dipped jar. Topped with melted peanut butter, crushed peanuts, and a banana! Absolutely delicious!
✦ Visit Shell Island via a Pontoon Boat Ride! (My Favorite things to do in PCB!)
Shell Island is a seven-mile island on the Florida Emerald Coast with picturesque white-sandy beaches. You can take a pontoon (boat) ride out to Shell Island from Panama City Florida for land exploration and a snorkeling experience. This is an all-afternoon event, as once you get there, you will never want to leave.
Shell Island is an uninhabited island, so it is the perfect day to hire Lagoon Pontoon. You can go aboard their double-decker pontoon boat with a slide. They park the pontoon beachside and let you enjoy the day on the island. You never have to worry about anything, as they will have everything you need: towels, chairs, food, drinks, etc. We hired a captain to make our day carefree and enjoy the fun in the sun! Or, if you want to go slightly faster, take a look at Wild Thang Airboat Tours. They are located right on the water and have their own covered dock.
Shell island is a beautiful barrier island punctuated with magnificent sand dunes and coastal sage scrub. While there, I found lots of shells, plenty of secluded spots to relax, and even a starfish — the perfect way to spend a lazy day.
✦ Flippers Cruises
A small offshoot of Lagoon Pontoons is Flippers Cruises, where only 6 people maximum can choose your adventure. Commenter Laura’s family did a 3-hour cruise with their captain. They went to Shell Island, snorkeling, and the best part was getting to jump into the water and ‘swim’ with the dolphins!!
For Florida beachgoers, the call of Panama City Beach doesn’t stop at the pillowy white sand or the sparkling aqua-blue waves. PCB lures you more with its local seafood dives (try Dee’s Hang-Out or Dusty’s Oyster Bar), or how about the Pier Park shops, wild state parks, and even the nostalgic putt-putt golf courses.
✦ Let’s Eat in Panama City
Andy’s Flour Power
As your mornings become a routine of long walks down sugary white sandy beaches, swimming, and sunbathing, try to add variety to your day by enjoying different breakfast restaurants. You can try Andy’s Flour Power in Panama City Florida. This awesome breakfast and lunch place created some of the best French toast I think I have ever eaten. And their frittata with veggies (it even had asparagus on it) was fantastic! With a live band playing in the morning, you can’t beat it!
What I have been hearing lately is that since 1984, William Buskell, (aka Pineapple Willy) has remained true to his mission of great food, great cocktails, and lots of fun! Pineapple Willy’s serves the best ribs on the beach. (This is what my readers are telling me, so you know I can’t wait to go check them out!) They say the staff is as friendly as ever, and the music and drinks at Willy’s Live just get better every year! Pineapple Willy’s, I will be there soon!
Thomas Donut & Snack Shop
You can also try out Thomas Donut & Snack Shop if you are wanting some sweets. But be sure and get there early, as the line begins to grow on the weekend by 10 a.m., and it can get quite long! These fried donuts are freshly made, many with unique flavors, and will make your taste buds melt. After your stomach has had its fill, then it is off to visit the town of Panama City Beach to find some enjoyable things to do in the sun!
Eat a fish taco at Finn’s Grub, home of Finn’s original fish tacos. This food-truck-style eatery is simply the best with the ahi taco and signature fish tacos! While you’re waiting for your order, pop into their barista bar next door and order a Black Salt Mocha. You are going to love this Mexican food grub in Panama City Florida.
Angelos Steak Pitt
Ok, reader Reggie reminded me that I left off Angelos Steak Pitt, an infamous steak Pitt for every carnivore/PCB vacationer! With every item cooked over an open hickory pit, how could you go wrong with a filet mignon or a new york strip? They even say they are not responsible for steak cooked well done! LOL! I should know, since I am from Texas, that Florida has some great grazing cows! Located on Front Beach Road, please don’t miss Angelos Steak Pitt! Plus, I love their motto “If you don’t eat at Angelo’s Steak Pit, nobody will ever believe you vacationed on Panama City Beach.”
✦ Take a Dolphin Sunset Cruise
You can spend time aboard Island Time’s sailboat and take one of their dolphin sunset cruises. Dolphins and sunsets through the Grand Lagoon, it doesn’t get much better than that! Enjoy two hours of relaxing and cruising through the calm waters of the Grand Lagoon. You go past the marinas, a state park, and the beautiful seaside homes, then off into the Gulf of Mexico on a leisurely sunset sail! We were lucky, the weather was perfect and we saw lots of dolphins! Grab a cocktail, then end the evening with a beautiful sunset on the emerald waters.
You could also take a sunset walk along the Russell Fields City Pier, as it is also a leisure activity to do in the evening after dinner in the area.
✦ Visit ZooWorld Zoological & Botanical Conservatory
Looking for more fun things to do in PCB? Why not go for a private animal encounter at the Zoo World Zoological Conservatory? You can also get an up-close view of tigers, lions, alligators, and other animals at this Panama City Beach zoo. It is a great place to take a break from the beach after you have been there for too many days. And while there, you can pet a sloth, snuggle a lemur, or even hold an alligator! They have plenty of things for you to do! Plus, two new animals are coming soon!
✦ Have a Bonfire on the Beach! (My other absolute favorite thing to do in PCB!)
Hire Endless RentalsPCB to set up a bonfire on the beach for you and all of your friends! This makes it so simple to have a family gathering or friends get together. They provide the fire pit, the chairs, the hammocks, the playlist, and of course, s’ mores and a cooler filled with adult beverages… all along the Panama City Beach oceanfront! I absolutely loved it, and it is a great way to relax. When you are done, just call them up, and they come and take the whole setup down for you! PERFECTION! No-fuss. Your only job is to show up and have fun!
✦ Shop at Pier Park
There is usually at least one rainy or slow day during everyone’s vacation. So why not make the most of a rainy day in Panama City Beach and go shopping? Shopping is a favorite pastime of women (and men) at the Shops of Pier Park. It is a great place to shop at your favorite storefront and beach boutique stores. Pier Park also has a wonderful theatre that shows the latest movies and has an IMAX screen. If you have clear skies, then head on over to the SkyWheel and you can get a whole new perspective of Florida’s Panama City Beach that soars 200 feet above Pier Park.
Maybe instead, you want to search out a few coastal décor designs, well you can do just that at Decor by the Shore. It will help you bring back treasures with that irresistible beach vibe! Grab your passport at the tourist office, and set out for a unique shopping adventure on the Décor By The Shore Shopping Trail.
If you want to know more about what Pier Park has to offer, check out the Panama City Beach (PCB) visitor’s website. Plus, Margaritaville is kinda fun too!
✦ Try Out Stand up Paddleboarding
I did this before when I was in Mexico and also in Belize, but the beaches at Panama City Beach are pretty perfect for a beginner. While I was in Panama City Beach this time, my friends and I rented a stand-up paddleboard from a company that also offers yoga lessons! (not for the faint of heart!) We started on the rented standup paddleboards, but by the end when we saw so many nice waves, we decided to ride the waves with our giant paddleboard instead! It was a lot of fun, and I would definitely do it again.
✦ Visit Beaches and Parks in Panama City
Another thing that comes to mind in this resort city is a visit to the beach. Rick Seltzer Beach is a stunning beach with blue-green water and a simple boardwalk. The simplicity of this beach makes it perfect for a trip away from your hectic life. Also, an early morning walk through St. Andrews State Park will brighten up your day. There is also Carillon Beach on Front Beach Road. This beautiful beach has public access for all to come and enjoy.
There is also Camp Helen State Park along the Panama City Beach Parkway. It is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. And visit Russell Fields Pier (the city pier) as well as M.B. Miller Pier (the country pier) both sitting out 1,500 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. They were both built within about a year from each other o resist hurricane damage. Everyone loves to fish off these piers!
✦ Take a Helicopter Ride
After seeing photos of Panama City Beach from an aerial shot video, I was super surprised by how gorgeous the beach and coastline were. I would really like to fly high above the beach. You can view the majestic Panama City Beach coastline from above on a thrilling helicopter tour. It seems to me this would be a fun family outing. Tripshock has Panama City Beach helicopter tours for as low as $35! You can’t beat that! They also offer 6 exciting tours to choose from so you can customize your trip! So plan a day you won’t soon forget!
✦ Visit Shipwreck Island Waterpark
A trip to the Shipwreck Island Waterpark will bring the kid out in you. Plunging water slides, zip-lining, and swimming are the perfect activities to engage in on a warm sunny day. They have waterslides, wave pools, and lazy rivers, this tropical water park is one of the most fun attractions in Panama City Beach.
They even have a 500,000-gallon Ocean Motion Wave pool! It creates three-foot waves and I couldn’t believe it! Plus if you just want to lounge around the lazy river, you can do that too! But don’t forget the Tree Top Drop waterslides (now that was scary!) or the Pirate’s Plunge!
✦ Watch the Dolphin Show
Watching a dolphin show is a fun thing to do while at the Gulf World Marine Park. Snorkeling, diving, and dolphin encounters can happen on a private boat trip, as well.
✦ Plus another fun Park
A few fun activities with the kiddos might include Coconut Creek Family Fun Park. But it is not just for families to enjoy. Everyone can partake in a game of mini-golf. A tricky maze is great fun for visitors to this park.
✦ Ride Go Carts at Race City
If you are into go-kart racing then you will surely want to take a spin around the track in Panama City Beach Race City. It is the fastest, tallest, and steepest go-kart racing around! They even have the Golden Gate track that is a 40-foot replica of the Golden Gate Bridge! Just one more amusement park for your vacation pleasure!
Tip: Be sure to read my article on:
✦ Visit The Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise
With children in tow, be sure and take a trip on the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise. It is a great way to keep the kiddos entertained and occupied for hours. You can cruise away into the fantasy world of friendly swashbucklers and one-eyed pirates aboard their real 85-foot pirate ship. They cruise the waters to within cannon shot range of the shores of Shell Island.
✦ Do a Double-Take of the Upside Down Building & Ripley’s
It is called Wonderworks and yes, it really is an upside-down building! Actually, it is an amusement park that provides entertainment and education all in one! The outside of the building is definitely worth a drive-by as it is quite amazing in its own right. But once inside, you can experience the power of a 70 miles per hour hurricane or even make life-sized bubbles!
Plus, right across the street is a GIANT Ripley’s Believe It or Not! across the street from the upside-down house. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a treat for both kids and adults, and it offers a 7D movie theater and a mirror maze. It’s crazy!
✦ Go to Panama City Beach Winery
If you can’t beat them, join them over at Panama City Beach Winery. Where they make wine with delicious Florida fruit. There are no additional preservatives, so you know you are getting the best of Florida from these grapes! Every day, they run a wine tasting — so I recommend you to try the wine slush, which is perfect for an afternoon cocktail. And do not miss trying the Key Lime wine.
This is one of the most popular attractions in Panama City Beach, Florida, so be sure and stop by. Plus, it is the only registered citrus winery in the United States.
✦ Walk on the Russell-Fields City Pier
The Russell-Fields City Pier is right at the end of Pier Park and is 1,500 feet out into the Gulf of Mexico. Pay a small fee of three dollars and you can stroll all the way out to the end if you want!
More Panama City Attractions:
✦ Play Putt-Putt Golf at Coconut Creek
Panama City Florida is more than pristine white sugary beaches! There are fun attractions for family members of every age and who among us doesn’t love a game of putt-putt golf? At Coconut Creek Family Fun Park you will get into their adventure African safari vibe with the two 18-hole putt-putt courses. In fact, the pristine beaches, fun attractions, tasty restaurants, and fun vibe of Panama City Beach will lure you in for more than a week!
✦ There is also plenty of Nightlife in Panama City Beach:
For a tropical night under the stars, head to the Tiki Bar at the Sandpiper Beacon. You can enjoy live shows and plenty of entertainment while sipping on cocktail drinks. Bikers are sure to enjoy nighttime fun at the Wicked Wheel Bar & Grill. The unique décor is unlike anything you have seen before, as motorcycles take the place of barstools! Dancing the night away at Tootsie’s at Pier Park is also an awesome way to spend your evening.
✦ Todd Herendeen’s Theater
I have heard from several people that the Todd Herendeen’s Theater is a great show, full of great food and great entertainment. His tribute to the “Legends of Rock and Country Show” with the music of Orbison, Cash, Diamond, and Elvis makes for great entertainment. Todd Herendeen is bringing a Branson-style of entertainment to Panama City Beach! His talent for changing his voice to “sound like” music legends is award-winning and second to none! Plus it is family-friendly.
✦ Take a Day Trip out to Mexico Beach
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite beaches in the Panhandle of Florida: Mexico Beach. In fact, Mexico Beach has maintained its small-town charm that was established many decades ago. They have basically stopped all commercial development and kept it contained so that more people can enjoy the beach.
Mexico Beach currently has more than a mile of beachfront property that is there for you to enjoy! It offers the most gorgeous views of the beautiful white-sand beaches and emerald Gulf waters in this area. So come for a day trip, shop at the “mom” and “pop” shops, enjoy an ice cream, and go shopping in the late afternoon. Plus, only 12o0 people live here, so you can guarantee the beach won’t be crowded!
✦ Wheel Chair Accessible Destinations:
Panama City Beach has quite a few wheelchair-accessible places. One of the most popular beaches is near the Russell-Fields Pier. Otherwise known as the Panama City Beach City Pier is wheelchair accessible. They have a sloped concrete entrance with a smooth surface. The Panama City Beach itself has been made completely wheelchair accessible due to a partnership with Beach Powered Mobility. This company rents beach-powered wheelchairs that are motorized and they can ride over the sand because of the large wheels.
✦ Sisters of the Sea Dive Bar
Every little girl dreams about this, meet real live mermaids! Well, maybe not real, but really fun! And in warmer months you can even swim with them in the pool that is located in the back! Here is the schedule in case you are interested in going:
Dining Room: Friday & Saturday 4 pm – 7 pm, Sunday 12pm – 3 pm
Pool: Saturday & Sunday 4 pm – 7 pm
Dining Room: Friday & Saturday 4 pm – 7 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 3 pm
Pool: Friday, Saturday & Sunday 4 pm – 7 pm
JUNE & JULY:
Dining Room: Friday & Saturday 4 pm – 7 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 3 pm
Pool: every day 4 pm – 7 pm
* times are approximate, schedule subject to change
* Please be realistic & respectful of our complimentary entertainment
✦ Goofy Golf
Two 18 hole golf courses with lots of moving parts.
✦ Panama City Beach Dining:
If you think that dining outdoors is an unpleasant experience in Panama City Beach, then you would be dead wrong. Restaurants such as Liza’s Kitchen, Finns Island Style Grub, Eat My Pasty have great outdoor seating. Or enjoy Schooner’s, known as the last local beach club! They had awesome live music the night I visited! So much so that I felt like I was singing along to every tune! It is a fun place to have seafood and a cocktail. You can also have happy hour and heavy hors d’oeuvres at the Grand Marlin.
You should not leave Panama City Beach though before eating at the Firefly. The crab soup and filet mignon are delicious picks from the menu! Also, on my last night in town, we tried Saltwater Grill on Hutchinson Boulevard. The waiter was spot on, never missed a beat for our table of 12, was friendly, and did an amazing job! The restaurant has a massive aquarium fish tank inside that wraps around the bar. They also had live music that was excellent the night we went. It was a bit loud and dark, but that was the atmosphere.
And don’t forget about…Nick’s Slice of Brooklyn — The most AMAZING New York-style pizza ever!!!
✦ Panama City Beach: Where to Stay?
Depending on your budget, there are many places to stay at Panama City Beach. You can choose a luxurious oceanfront room on Airbnb, which comes in many price ranges.
I stayed at Seychelles Beach Resort by Wyndham Vacation Rentals. It was the perfect spot for easy access to Schooners and has direct access to the beach. I stayed in a one-bedroom apartment with two baths, a mini-kitchen, a living area, and two built-in twin beds for kiddos if needed. I had one amazing view from my room! Of course, Wi-Fi is free, as well as they had two pools and a lounge chair and umbrella set up daily on the beach.
You can check into Aqua Gulf Resort if you’re looking for more of a romantic getaway.
Or a stay at Splash Resort by Sterling Resorts is awesome if you have kids and they are ready to get into the pool!
The Waterfront Villa Private Room exceeds guests’ expectations with a delicious breakfast, stunning views, and an amazing garden.
A room at the Marriott’s Legends Edge at Bay Point will leave you in awe. They have panoramic views, mini kitchens, a swimming pool, and plenty of free parking if you drove your car or are coming from the airport.
But just in case you have a big family or want a place all to yourself, I can recommend the best family-friendly Airbnb Vacation Rentals in Panama City, Florida.
Is Panama City Beach Open?
According to Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Sheldon, he said: “as of now, the Panama City Beach will remain open.” Thank goodness!
Panama City Beach is a safe and affordable place to go on vacation. Whether you choose to go alone, with friends or your sweetheart, you will never be bored unless you want to be. The blue-green ocean water and sugar sandy beaches are peaceful and quiet. It is a true blend of Mother Nature’s beauty, exotic animals, and stunning man-made structures that make this resort city stand out from the rest. There are so many things to do in Panama City Florida that your vacation will fly by in a snap. So make the most of your vacation and experience everything this resort city has to offer.
HAVE YOU VISITED PCB?
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE Panama City Beach STOPS?
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What else would you add to this beachy bucket list of mine?
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, I was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purposes of review by Visit Panama City Beach and Travel Mindset. While it has not influenced my review, PointsandTravel.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All Photos were taken by the author/or were given permission from the photographer. Affiliate links may be located in this article.
About Dr. Cacinda Maloney
A value-luxury adventure traveler at heart, Dr. Cacinda Maloney shares her experiences as someone who has traveled every six weeks of her life for the last 20 plus years. Being a travel writer, blogger and social media influencer, she now travels more than that! She is Phoenix, Arizona based, but maintains an apartment in Santiago, Chile. She is a member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA), Media Kitty and the International Food, Wine and Travelers Association (IFWTWA). Read more...