Lying across the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida, Panama City Beach is a hotspot for vacationers, and it’s easy to see why. The long stretch of sugar-white beaches is thriving with beach bums of all ages throughout the year. Couples come here for a sun-kissed honeymoon, families to spend quality time together and young souls to celebrate a long weekend. And then there was me. I was here to find the hottest attractions and best things to do in Panama City Beach, affectionately called PCB. It wasn’t hard to do.
1. ✦ Indulge at the The Yard Milkshake Bar
How’d you like a milkshake with a whole cupcake sticking out of the top or an entire waffle peeking out of a mound of whipped cream? At The Yard Milkshake Bar, you will not believe your eyes as you are dazzled with some of the craziest treats. They’re not just for kids! Whether you choose the Cookie Monster (that was my choice), the Cereal Killer or any of the other decadent desserts, I dare you to eat the whole thing.
Tip: We went at around 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and the line was about a half-hour long (with a 20 minute wait after ordering). But, by the time we left the place at around 2 p.m., there was no line at all.
2. ✦ Take a Boat Ride to Shell Island
Shell Island is a seven-mile island on the Florida Emerald Coast with picturesque white sand beaches. It’s fun for locals and visitors of Panama City Beach to rent a pontoon and spend the day enjoying the sand and sun. Plus, there’s a strong possibility of seeing some dolphins along the way!
It is a beautiful barrier island punctuated with magnificent sand dunes and coastal sage scrub. The beach is flourishing with creatures, including shorebirds, turtles and deer. While there, I found lots of shells (of course), plenty of secluded spots to relax and even a starfish — the perfect way to spend a lazy day.
Our transportation to the island was provided by Lagoon Pontoon. We stocked it with goodies for lunch, plenty of drinks (a cooler filled with Fresca!) and the beach essentials. They provided the coolest ride with all the safety accouterments onboard and two slides that attached to the back.
3. ✦ Get a Finn’s Original Fish Taco
It’s always taco time at Finn’s Island Style Grub, home of Finn’s original fish tacos. The ahi taco and their signature fish taco are some of the best, but there are plenty of others to choose from at this food-truck-style eatery. While you’re waiting for your order, pop into their barista bar next door and order a Black Salt Mocha. You won’t be disappointed!
4. ✦ Take a Dolphin Sunset Cruise
Dolphins and sunsets — it doesn’t get much better than that. Island Time Sailing will take you on a 2-hour cruise that swishes you through Grand Lagoon and onto the Gulf of Mexico in search for Flipper and his friends — we saw plenty dolphins on our cruise! Grab a drink and a snack, then end the evening with a beautiful sunset across the emerald waters.
5. ✦ Have a Beach Bonfire
Cornhole, s’mores and a cooler filled with adult beverages, plus a bonfire on the Panama City Beach oceanfront— that’s what you are going to get with Endless Beach Rentals. The company swoops in and sets up EVERYTHING for you (from chairs to hammocks to a stocked cooler), then they come and clean everything up. No fuss, no muss. Your only job is to show up and have fun!
6. ✦ Get Donuts at the Iconic Thomas’ Donuts & Snack Shop
Forget the breakfast omelettes and pancakes, because at the family-owned Thomas’ Donuts & Snack Shack it’s all about the fluffy dunkers. It is a haven for donut lovers! They have everything from the classic glazed to key lime filled. I can vouch for the red velvet cake. And the chocolate sprinkle. And the cinnamon twist. Don’t judge.
They also serve a handful of other breakfast items, like muffins, biscuits and breakfast sandwiches.
FYI: There is almost always a line in the morning, so get there really early or plan on waiting. We arrived at 10: a.m. on the weekend, and the queue was about 20 people deep.
7. ✧ Walk Russell-Fields City Pier
The Russell-Fields City Pier sits at the end of Pier Park and stretches 1,500 feet out into the Gulf of Mexico. You can pay a small fee ($3) to be able to take the short stroll to the end. It is worth it!
You can also get a nice view of the pier (and some great fish tacos) by sitting on the patio of Hook’d Pier Bar & Grill.
8. ✦ Do a Tasting at Panama City Beach Winery
Panama City Beach Winery specializes in fruit wines and is the only registered citrus winery in the United States. Their wines are made with 100 percent real fruit and no added sugar to the finish. Their blackberry wine literally has four pounds of blackberries in every bottle!
Stop by for a free tasting and take a bottle (or two) back to the beach with you. Don’t miss trying the Key Lime wine — it was my favorite and has won a number of awards!
9. ✦ Have Fun at Pier Park
Pier Park is the place to shop the beachy boutiques, get fruity drinks (served in a pineapple!) and indulge in beachfront restaurants. It has the whole package. There are more than 120 retail stores where you can buy clothes, shoes, accessories and even furniture. Plus, if you are a fan of Ferris wheels, you can get a whole new perspective of Florida’s Panama City Beach on the Skywheel that soars 200 feet above Pier Park. You can see for miles!
If you want to explore the Pier Park at a leisurely pace, then I suggest you go early in the morning before it gets too busy and hot.
If you’d like to know more about what Pier Park has to offer, check out the Panama City Beach (PCB) visitors website.
10. ✦ Do Brunch
Brunch is a popular thing to do almost anywhere in the States, but especially in Panama City Beach. People love some good grub before hitting the beach, and the city has plenty of options. Andy’s Flour Power has all the brunch favorites made with the freshest ingredients, but they are known for their French toast—and it’s to die for! If you are looking for a killer eggs Benedict, then head over to Liza’s Kitchen who puts it on their homemade double-proofed focaccia bread.
11. ✦ Do a Double-Take of the Upside Down Building
WonderWorks is an amusement park that combines education and entertainment. Inside you can feel the power of a 71 mph hurricane and make life-sized bubbles. But, you don’t even need to go inside to get a little taste of the fun. The exterior is built like an upside down building, and it’s worth at least a drive-by. You can kill two birds with one stone because right across the street is a ginormous ship replica that is home to Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
12. ✦ Explore the Pretty Parks
St. Andrews State Park is surrounded by water — the Gulf on one side and the bay on the other. You can either enjoy a relaxing sunbathe on the beach, explore the dunes or walk one of the two nature trails. The 180-acre Camp Helen State Park is also bordered by the gulf, in addition to Lake Powell. It is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida with plenty of activities. Have fun searching for wildlife, swimming, fishing and strolling around the refurbished textile mill buildings. If hiking is your main goal for the day, then the 24 miles of unpaved trails at Conservation Park is a must (bikers can also enjoy the 2900-acre park!).
13. ✧ Get Wet at the Shipwreck Island Waterpark
If you want a break from the beautiful beaches, awaken your inner child at the Shipwreck Island Waterpark. Boasting amazing waterslides, wave pools, and lazy rivers, the tropical water park is one of the most fun attractions in Panama City Beach. Their 500,000-gallon Ocean Motion Wave pool creates three foot waves to splash around in or you can opt to meander down the lazy river. If you are more of a thrill-seeker, don’t miss the Pirate’s Plunge and Tree Top Drop waterslides.
14. ✧ Ride Go Carts
Take a spin on the fastest, tallest and steepest go-kart track in Panama City Beach, Race City. They have tracks for every level of speedster, from a lil’ speedy to a pro. This Northern California girl is especially fond of the Golden Gate track, a 40 foot replica of the breathtaking bridge whose original is in my neck of the woods.
15. ✧ Play Putt Putt Golf at Coconut Creek
Panama City Beach Florida is more than pristine white sand beaches (though that is enough to bring you there, isn’t it?), there are fun attractions for family members of every age (not just the kids). And who doesn’t love a fierce game of putt putt golf? At Coconut Creek you will get the African safari vibe with the two 18-hole courses. But, that’s not all! You can also challenge your navigational skills with their Gran Maze, a huge human labyrinth that is the size of a football field!
The pristine beaches, fun attractions, tasty restaurants and relaxed vibe of Panama City Beach will lure you in and then make you want to stay awhile.
Essential Tips for Visiting Panama City Beach
Getting There: Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) is the closest airport and Delta, American, Southwest and United Airlines will fly into it. Then it is just about 15-20 minutes to Panama City Beach You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. For driving directions see the Panama City Beach website.
Where to Stay in Panama City Beach: Panama City Beach is a beachfront town, so it’s of course best to stay close to the beach. I stayed in a seaside condo at Seychelles Beach Resort by Wyndham Vacation Rentals and it was perfectly located, plus had its own pool and a full kitchen.
Hampton Inn & Suites Beachfront (moderate) is a great choice if you are looking for more of a hotel than condo. For something on the less expensive side, try the Carillon Beach Resort Inn (budget). Also search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in Panama City Beach is the best to really experience the island and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are a few other options. It is possible to get around by taxi, but that can get quite expensive (especially if you want to check all the things to do in Panama City Beach off this bucket list). If you have more time, another choice would be the Bay Town Trolly which runs between the beaches for $1.50 per trip (or $4.00 for a day pass).
More Information: For more information about visiting Panama City Beach and its attractions, see the visitors website
Tours: For more top tours see Viator and Tripadvisor.
This experience was courtesy of Travel Mindset and Visit Panama City Beach (website).
All opinions my own. This post may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure here.
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