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Why Go to Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is the quintessential Florida getaway. Pearly white beaches? Check. Subtropical climate? Check. Bottlenose dolphins playing in the surf? Check. Situated in northwest Florida, about 47 miles east of Destin and around 100 miles southwest of Tallahassee, Panama City Beach is perhaps best known as a college spring break destination. But after new laws were introduced banning alcohol on the beach during the month of March, the city quickly saw a decrease in the bacchanalia – great news for families and couples in search of an affordable, warm-weather escape.

Though the alabaster beaches (all 27 miles of them) are what initially draw many to this vacation haven, that's not all Panama City Beach has going for it. Bordered on either side by two state parks (St. Andrews and Camp Helen) and home to one of the largest sport fishing fleets in the world, not to mention one of the world's highest concentration of bottlenose dolphins, PCB is a nature and wildlife lover's paradise. 

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The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Panama City Beach is ranked as:

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Panama City Beach Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Panama City Beach is from May through October. Though the area boasts an average of 320 days of sunshine per year, late spring, summer and early fall offer some of the warmest air and water temperatures. Plus, by avoiding a visit in March or April, you'll dodge the deluge of college students who descend on the area's ivory sands every year for spring break. You'll save on lodging prices during the area's low season (November to February), but it'll likely be too chilly to enjoy the ocean.

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What You Need to Know

  • Alcohol is allowed at the beach As long as it's not in a glass container and it's not March. Alcohol is not permitted at the beach during the month of March.
  • You'll need a fishing license Unless you're fishing from a licensed pier or a charter boat operated by a licensed captain, you must have this documentation. You can purchase out-of-state licenses at any local Wal-Mart.
  • Heed the double red flag This beach signal means the water is dangerous and closed to the public. If you ignore the warning, you could be arrested.

How to Save Money in Panama City Beach

  • Avoid spring break College crowds descend on the area's white sand beaches every March. If you still want to plan a spring trip, dodge the rowdy coeds and spiked hotel rates by visiting in late March or early April.
  • Cut coupons The Panama City Beach visitors bureau offers deals on its website. Check to see if any apply to your itinerary.
  • Consider a vacation rental If you're traveling with a big group, renting a house or apartment could be less expensive than booking several hotel rooms. Plus, many are located right on the beach.

What to Eat

It should come as no surprise that seafood is the main ingredient many PCB menus are built around. Whether it's chargrilled grouper, Apalachicola oysters or Gulf shrimp stuffed with blue crab, you'll have your pick of delicious sea creatures to choose from. And you don't even have to go to a restaurant to enjoy the city's bounty: some of the best eateries are actually seafood markets that steam and season their freshest catches right in front of you. Anderson Seafood Market and Buddy's Seafood Market both come recommended by recent visitors.

If you're looking for a more formal environment, Saltwater Grill (which boasts a 25,000-gallon tropical saltwater aquarium inside the restaurant) and Capt. Anderson's Restaurant & Waterfront Market both received high marks from recent diners. Firefly is another local and traveler favorite thanks to its unique setting: the restaurant is arranged around a giant lit-up oak tree.

You'll also find plenty of casual beachfront eateries (try Schnoors or Sharky's). Though they cater mainly to tourists, it's hard to deny their prime locations, especially if you want to catch a classic Panama City Beach sunset. 

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