Don’t let the name fool you – Panama City Beach, FL is not the same tired, teenage beach bum hangout that it may have once been. Today it is a place where new luxury condominiums meet with world class museums and of course, Pier Park, their modern yet beach themed outdoor shopping center. Wade through emerald green water or build a sandcastle anywhere along 27 miles of the white sandy shore. It is a 5 hour drive outside of Atlanta (290 miles), about 3 hours outside of Montgomery, AL (188 miles) and a 2 hour drive from Tallahassee, FL (120 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. A Day At The Beech – Whether you prefer the comfort of your hotel pool, floating through the ocean, walking through the sand and finding beautiful shells, people watching, getting in on a game of tennis, or simply catching up on some sun, Panama City Beach has it all.
We got to witness this incredible wedding on the beach.
2. Pier Park – Located right across from an extremely long pier, this shopping and dining destination is a huge hit. Still fairly new, The Miracle Strip at Pier Park features a few amusement park rides, including its very own carousel, Tilt- a -Whirl, Scrambler, Carrousel, Red Barron, and Butterfly Sanctuary. It is a revival of the old Miracle Mile strip that closed in 2004. But now many of the original rides have been restored and moved to Pier Park so a whole new generation can enjoy them. They feature 124 stores in a colorful exterior. All stores open up to the outside but it is done in a beautiful way that looks better than most malls, in our opinion at least. Stores include: Target, Forever 21, Dillards, JCPenneys and Marshalls. Catch a movie at the Grand IMAX Theater or dine at a variety of places including Jimmy Buffet’s legendary Margaritaville.
3. Shipwreck Island Water Park – With faster paced thrill rides like the ‘Tree Top Drop’, and ‘Pirates plunge’ for the teenagers, there’s also tamer family rides including a lazy river, a wave pool, and the ‘Zoom Flume’ for everyone in your party. You should consider buying your tickets online ahead of time through their website, so you’re not waiting in lines when you get there. Admission is $33 for adults and $28 for children.
4. Gulf World Marine Park – This miniature version of SeaWorld has everything from shark feedings, alligator exhibit, stingray petting pool, handling boa constrictors, and evening magic shows (on select nights). Your ticket is good for the whole day, so you can come and go as you wish. They even allow you to swim with dolphins. General admission is $28 for adults and $18 for children.
5. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! – In competition with Wonder Works, this place ets your kids embrace their weirder sides here at Ripley’s. A place full of bizarre exhibits and “oddities” that you would only expect to see in a museum of the unusual and macabre. And you’ll probably even learn something new, adding in a fun yet educational experience. You can even see how you measure up to the world’s tallest man! Laser Race and 4D Theater are designed to really capture the kids’ imaginations. It’s even housed in what appears to be a sinking ship, so it is pretty hard to miss. Admission is $15.99 for adults and $10.99 for children.
6. Wonder Works – Visit Panama City’s only upside down house! There’s over 100 interactive, hands-on exhibits, experiments, and rides to keep the kids (and you!) entertained the entire time. There’s PLENTY to do for younger kids, teenagers, adults, and everyone in-between – including a vertical G-Force Ride, bed of nails, swim with virtual sharks, stand in a hurricane wind tunnel, play Lazer Tag, and 3 story ropes course! General admission is $22.99 for adults and $18.99 for children.
7. Camp Helen & St. Andrews State Park – These beautiful state parks have something for everyone. Camp Helen admission is $4 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians/bicyclists. St. Andrews is $8 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians/bicyclists.
8. Go Parasailing – While the activity has been around for the last few decades, it’s still one of the most exciting things to do. Fly over the Panama City Beach skyline to heights exceeding 800ft. Get a birds eye view of the beech. Adventures at Sea does parasailing for $59 – $79 per person. It costs $19 to observe.
9. Sea Dragon Pirate Cruises – Those with kids and those who are kids at heart will enjoy this authentic pirate cruise. Captain Fearless Phil and his crew of sea dogs are waiting to take you out on their beloved vessel, The Sea Dragon. This pirate ship is a replica of a genuine cargo ship from the 1700′s and it runs daily dolphin cruises (lasting around 2 hours). They have kid-friendly treasure hunts, firing canons, and the occasional swashbuckling sword-fight and tons more. They even have cocktails and ice cold beer to keep the parents from starving. Your kids will love this! Admission is $24 for adults and $18 for children. They have a $2 off coupon on their website.
10. Race City – Dubbed as ‘Panama City Beach’s Largest Fun Center & Arcade‘, this place features tons of different Go Kart tracks for your kids to race around, indoor black light mini golf, bumper boats with squirt guns mounted, bumper cars, a really big indoor arcade and the only Haunted House in Panama City Beach! They even have the Skycoaster ride, which they claim feels like a “thrilling combination of a bungee jumping and skydiving.“ An unlimited armband is $36.62 per person, while individual ride tickets range from $3.29 – $25.
Build a sandcastle, lounge by the sea, or collect seashells at one of America’s favorite beaches.
Margaritaville – Named after Jimmy Buffet’s hit 1977 song, this restaurant is one of the best in town – and as you may have guessed, it is always super crowded so call ahead! Located within Pier Park.
Dick’s Last Resort – I know, I know… but don’t let the names scare you off! Dick’s even has an “I Love Dick’s” bumper sticker on their website.. so yeah, these places aren’t really meant for kids! These classic eateries are notorious for their extremely rude service. This is the place where customers get to talk back and cuss up a storm at their arrogant waiter.
Another Broken Egg – This place has always been one of our favorites and the continue to add more locations across the US. We liked it so much that we actually considered starting a franchise of this restaurant – that’s how good it truly is. Best breakfast joint in all of Panama.
Captain Anderson’s Restaurant – A classic since 1964, Capt. Anderson’s has become a true landmark seafood destination. Named among America’s Top 50 restaurants, recipient of the “Best Seafood Restaurant” award from Southern Living and Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence,” Capt. Anderson’s won Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Award for 15 years before being inducted into the Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2005 (the highest honor Florida Trend can bestow upon a Florida restaurant).
Pineapple Willy’s – Since opening in the early ’30’s this place has been a huge hit. It is situated on a boardwalk that offers panoramic views of the ocean. This place was once home to amusement park rides that helped bring Panama City to the place it is today. Be sure to try their melt-in-your-mouth ribs and signature rum drink, the Pineapple Willy.
*As a tribute for those who remember, Panama City was once home to the Treasure Ship Restaurant, one of the only pirate themed restaurants in the country. It was a huge 3-story pirate ship with a restaurant situated inside and out and it caught fire back in 2010 and unfortunately they decided not to rebuild it. It is such a shame though. This place was such an inspiration – tweet me if anyone else remembers eating here! Luckily they do, however, still have the incredible Sea Dragon Pirate Cruises, as mentioned above.
Sunset Inn (Rooms start at $45 and can go up to $175, depending on the season) – The perfect stop for any frugal traveler, the Sunset Inn is well-maintained and offers a sense of serenity that other parts of the beach tend to be lacking. It is right on the Gulf, but it is a little further down from all the crowds and rowdy spring breakers! It received an average of 4 star reviews (despite probably being a 2 star hotel) and also received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor, where rave reviews are consistent as travelers love not having additional charges, great full-kitchens and large rooms.
2.5 Star- Beachcomber by the Sea (Rooms range from $69 to $189) – Dive into their heated gulf-front pool or take the short walk to nearby Pier Park (the areas premier shopping destination). Enjoy free continental breakfast at this 8-story, 96-unit hotel.
2.5 Star- Edgewater Beach Resort (Condos start at $93 in the off-season, while they can go up to $595 in the summer) – This 110-acre resort features 11 tennis courts, 11 outdoor pools, 4 jacuzzis and a 9-hole executive golf course. Guests also get privileges at the 18-hole Hombre Golf Club, a quarter-mile north. Enjoy live entertainment daily from 11am to 4pm.
3.5 Star- With countless condo developments surrounding the beach, you’ve got a wide variety of places to choose from. Our favorite is the 23-story Shores of Panama, which is home to the best hotel pool in town (as pictured below). Is there bad weather out? Not to worry, because they also have a smaller indoor pool as well. The pool deck also features live entertainment – in fact, when we were there, they had a Karaoke event going on and one of the kids actually sung the explicit version of Cee Lo Green’s popular “Forget You” song!
Every room has a fabulous view here at the Shores of Panama.