Best Things To Do in Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach's sugar white sand is what primarily attracts families, couples and spring breakers year after year. But this vacation haven isn't just for beach bums. Outdoor adventurers will have plenty of land to explore at Conservation Park and the undeveloped Shell Island, while animal lovers can hop aboard dolphin sightseeing cruises or learn more about the area's various sea creatures at the Gulf World Marine Park. Those traveling with kids in tow will have plenty to do, too. When little ones aren't busy building sandcastles on the beach, they can marvel at the oddities at Ripley's Believe It or Not! or swoosh down water slides at Shipwreck Island Waterpark.
Updated July 29, 2016
- #1View all Photos#1 in Panama City BeachBeaches, Hiking, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Hiking, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
St. Andrews State Park has enough attractions and activities to keep every member of your family happy. Along with a nearly 2-mile-long white sand beach, the park also boasts paved bike trails, marked hiking trails, water sports equipment rentals (including canoes, kayaks and snorkeling gear) and shuttle boat tours to Shell Island, a 7-mile long undeveloped barrier island. Additionally, the park provides a concession stand with snacks, souvenirs and fishing supplies.
Recent visitors described the park as beautiful and praised the clean beach and facilities. Reviewers said the park can get quite crowded on the weekends and advised visiting during the week if your itinerary allows. And keep your eyes peeled for plenty of wildlife: travelers said there was a lot of activity in and out of the water from local animals like alligators, heron, ibis and white tail deer.
- #2View all PhotosfreeBeaches#2 in Panama City BeachBeaches, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
With 27 miles of beaches and nearly 100 access points, PCB is a beach bum's paradise. You won't have a difficult time finding a stretch of sand to park your towel; in fact, you may have a harder time deciding on what shoreline to relax.
If you want to stay close to the downtown area, head to Front Beach Road. From here, you'll find a bevy of convenient Panama City Beach access points and street parking. To experience Florida's coastal beauty at its most natural, hop a shuttle boat to Shell Island. This barrier island off of St. Andrews State Park is undeveloped with few crowds and a peaceful atmosphere, according to recent visitors. Plus, it's a haven for dolphins. For even more undeveloped land, head to Camp Helen State Park, which sits on the far western border of Panama City Beach. Along with a quiet beach, it's also home to trails that snake through dunes and scrub oak forests, not to mention a rare dune lake.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Panama City BeachSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Though you can see and interact with dolphins at the Gulf World Marine Park, locals and visitors will tell you: there's nothing like observing them in the wild. Dolphin tours are a popular to-do in Panama City Beach, and often described by travelers as their favorite experience in PCB.
Similar to the area's fishing charters, there are a variety of dolphin tours to choose from. If you want a more intimate wildlife-viewing experience, consider Dolphin and Snorkel Tours, which limits the number of guests on its boats to six people. The company also guarantees dolphin sightings because of its location at the Bay Point Marina (the closest marina to Shell Island, which is where dolphins are usually spotted). These tours, which typically last three hours, also include snorkel gear in case you'd like to get in the water to explore more.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Panama City BeachBeaches, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you need a break from the crowds in Panama City Beach, consider making the short trip to Shell Island. This 7-mile-long barrier island runs east to west between the Gulf of Mexico and the St. Andrew Bay. Because it's undeveloped, you'll find plenty of coastal creatures and untouched vegetation, plus miles of pearly white sand to sink your toes into. While recent visitors said the natural setting was a relaxing reprieve from the busy, commercialized feel of the mainland, it isn't without a few drawbacks. Shell Island has no restrooms, concession stands, trash receptacles, picnic tables or shade pavilions, meaning you'll need to come with everything you need (and take it back with you when you head back across the bay).
To get around the fact that the island hosts no facilities, many travelers choose to hop on a charter to the island. This option offers the best of both worlds: You'll have access to food, drinks and a restroom on the boat, and still be able to play in the island's shallow waters.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Panama City BeachHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
When you're ready to explore more of PCB's nature, head to Conservation Park. As a safeguard for wetlands, wildlife and pine forest, the park is a natural filter, balancing treated water before it travels to the St. Andrews Bay. This nearly 3,000-acre park features 12 different trails of varying difficultly and eight boardwalks totaling more than a mile in length. Bring binoculars – you'll likely spot plenty of birds and wildlife in the wetlands area.
According to recent visitors, the park's well-maintained, flat trails are perfect for hiking or biking. One word of caution from reviewers: Bring plenty of sunscreen and water. Though some said the park was a bit out of the way compared to other top attractions (it's about 10 miles west of downtown Panama City Beach and best reached by car), travelers also enjoyed that its location away from the beach crowds made it incredibly peaceful.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Panama City BeachAmusement Parks, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDAmusement Parks, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Consistently described by visitors as a great place for families, Shipwreck Island Waterpark is a 20-acre facility that features a wave pool, a lazy river, several water slides and flumes, and two shallow pools perfect for novice swimmers. True to its name, it's also home to a replica of a 17th-century sailing ship that allows swimmers to zip line off the ship before dropping into a large lagoon pool. Along with the rides, the park also boasts concessions (though reviewers were not as impressed with the food as they were the attractions).
Recent travelers said the park was a great place to spend a day with the kids and said it never felt too crowded. Visitors particularly praised the facilities available for little swimmers and said a day here is worth the ticket price.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Panama City BeachRecreation, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
As with other coastal Florida cities, Panama City Beach is a prime spot for both avid and novice anglers to cast a line. Though you can fish from the piers along the beach and at St. Andrew Bay or directly from the shore (with the proper fishing license), there are also several charter companies that can transport you out into the Gulf of Mexico (perfect for if you want to try your hand at deep-sea fishing).
Along with their fishing skills and knowledge of the area, most charter captains or operators will provide all fishing equipment (including bait and tackle) and the licenses you need to fish in area waters. Choose your charter company based on how serious you are about fishing. For instance, some companies like The Reel Contender Fishing Charters allow just five anglers on board with trips lasting between five and 10 hours. In contrast, companies like Jubilee Deep Sea Fishing, which describes itself as a "party fishing boat," may be better suited for more casual anglers. Capt. Anderson's Marina is another company favored by recent travelers.
- #8View all PhotosfreePier Park#8 in Panama City BeachAmusement Parks, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDAmusement Parks, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
PCB is first and foremost a beach destination. But when you need a break from the sun and surf (or if some clouds thwart your plans), the area has a bevy of attractions to keep you entertained away from the shoreline. Case in point: Pier Park. An outdoor retail, dining and entertainment hub, Pier Park is home to familiar chain restaurants like Olive Garden, Subway and Five Guys, along with popular stores like Charming Charlie, Dillard's and Old Navy, among others. When you need a reprieve from shopping, head to Pier Park Amusements, the on-site theme park (a hit with recent visitors). It features a giant slide, a small roller coaster and a free-fall ride, along with more gentle attractions for young children
Along with the variety of stores and activities, visitors particularly liked how clean and safe the area is.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Panama City BeachZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you love dolphins, you'll want to schedule a stop at Gulf World Marine Park. Though the park houses several other species, including sea turtles, stingrays, sharks and sea lions, dolphins are the main attraction here, and one of the major reasons visitors recommend spending a few hours at the park. Similar to SeaWorld, the Gulf World Marine Park hosts animal shows (dolphins and sea lions are the only animals that perform), feeding demonstrations and opportunities to swim with the dolphins and interact with the park's other residents, including a variety of birds and reptiles.
Aside from the animals, recent visitors were also impressed with the knowledgeable trainers and said this attraction was a hit with the kids. If you need a rainy day activity, reviewers said this would be a solid choice. And if you're willing to splurge, travelers said swimming with the dolphins was an unforgettable experience.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Panama City BeachMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Though Ripley's isn't unique to Panama City Beach, it is a favorite rainy day activity among families with young kids. Inside, you'll find oddities like shrunken heads, one-of-a-kind artwork and other interesting artifacts synonymous with the Ripley name. Along with the hands-on displays, this outpost is also home to a 7-D moving theater, the LaserRace Challenge and a mirror maze, if you're willing to pay extra.
Reviews were a bit mixed on this PCB location. Some said it was a fun way to spend an hour or two if you need a break from the beach, while others said the museum had a tired feel and was expensive compared to the area's other attractions. If you're not traveling with kids, this may not be worth your time and money, according to recent travelers.
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