Panama City Beach claims that it’s home to the world’s most beautiful beaches, and, with 27 miles of white sandy shores, they’ve got plenty to back that up. This waterfront vacation destination in Northwest Florida has sand, sun, and surf aplenty, plus a small-town feel. It certainly seems that all of the 13,000 or so locals all know one another, but it won’t take visitors long to feel right at home themselves.
Once famous as a Spring Break hangout for college students, Panama City Beach now attracts families every March, thanks in part to a 2015 ordinance that prohibits drinking during that month. It’s also fun for the 50+ crowd as well as multigenerational groups. Here are seven reasons why.
1. You Can Go To The Prom
Panama City Beach is a hugely popular destination with winter residents, otherwise known as snowbirds. Every year, a long list of events is planned to celebrate these part-time residents, including Winter Residents Appreciation Day (featuring a lot of free coffee and donuts compliments of local businesses) and golf challenges.
But the most fun of all is the Winter Resident Senior Prom. Taking place every year in mid-February, the Senior Prom is a lively night of drinking, dancing, music, and revelry, complete with the crowning of a prom king and queen.
2. The Festivals Never Stop
When you’re home to the perfect weather, there’s no such thing as a festival “season,” and Panama City Beach proves that by offering a long list of events and festivities all year long. Here are some especially fun ones to look out for.
Seabreeze Jazz Festival
Gulf Coast Jam
One of the biggest annual music festivals in the area, this September event is a three-day celebration of country music. Up to 15,000 fans show up to take part.
This three-day event features live music, classic German beer hall flavors, and fun competitions like tug of war during the first week in October.
Pier To Pier Paddleboard Classic
If your interests in early October are less about beer and more about showing no fear, this 10-mile paddleboard race is just the thing to test your athletic abilities. Participants enjoy poolside movie nights, group dinners, and special events for the littles, with the proceeds going toward several charitable causes.
Beach Home For The Holidays
A cheery mix of beach house life and holiday fun, this annual set of festivities at the end of November includes the lighting of the Christmas tree, Santa’s Village, live music concerts, and more.
3. It’s A Photographer’s Dream
To say that Panama City Beach is pretty is a huge understatement. This is a gorgeous destination famous for beautiful sunsets, pristine beaches, and swaying palms. But for amateur photographers looking to hone their skills, Panama City Beach has a great selection of potential subjects perfect for practice, including the following.
Nostalgia And Color
Panama City Beach Pier Park is popular with families and features a Ferris wheel, ice cream parlor, arcade games, and more.
Sports And Motion
Panama City Beach boasts several golf courses and Kartona The Electric Speedway (an indoor go-kart facility). The area also hosts an annual Ironman (November), motorcycle rally (late October), and marathon (December).
4. There’s A Hip Coffee Scene
While tiki bar cocktails keep Panama City Beach hopping at night, it’s arguably coffee that’s the locals’ beverage of choice. Panama City Beach might just have the best coffee scene in all of Florida, and these are just some of the shops that are taking brewing to the next level.
Wild Root Coffee & Apothecary
This funky coffee bar located in nearby Lynn Haven sources their beans from Amavida, a local coffee roaster that focuses on sourcing fair-pay beans. Wild Root also uses local honey, Vermont maple syrup, and unexpected ingredients like cardamom in their lattes.
FINNS Barista Bar
FINNS makes their cashew milk and organic syrups in house, but it’s their cold brew coffee that’s the most popular thing on the menu. If you feel like branching out, order the mocha topped with black salt.
Deja Brew Coffee Shop
For coffee fans who like black coffee and nothing but black coffee, Deja Brew Coffee Shop has 14-plus beans to choose from.
Another coffee shop that uses local roaster Amavida, The Pour is known for its amazing latte art, charitable efforts, and unusual flavor options like lavender.
5. There Are Plenty Of Water Adventure Options
If you want to do nothing but relax, lounge, and swim, one of the best beach options around is Saint Andrews State Park. The park has a modest parking fee of $8, but that price is steep enough that many sun-seekers go elsewhere. Alas, it’s their loss. Saint Andrews is huge. You can choose from one beach lining the Gulf or another by the protected lagoon, which is a gentle spot for kayaking.
However, if you are looking for a bit more action, you can branch out from the beaches and look into these companies.
Adventures At Sea
Adventures at Sea offers the largest selection of pontoon boats and WaveRunners in the area, which you can rent for as little as 1 hour.
Paradise Adventures Catamaran
Paradise Adventures Catamaran provides daily sunset sails, snorkeling trips, and dolphin-spotting tours.
Island Time Sailing
Island Time Sailing offers snorkeling excursions and 2-hour sunset cruises designed to spot dolphins.
6. There Are Seafood Restaurants For Every Foodie
Given its position right on the Gulf of Mexico, you’d expect Panama City Beach to serve up some terrific seafood, and the town’s restaurants do not disappoint. These are some popular seafood restaurants to consider.
Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant
This lively beachfront restaurant has great views and an extensive seafood menu that includes raw oysters.
At Firefly, one of the most beautiful restaurants in town, you can enjoy steak, seafood, or sushi in a romantic, upscale setting with great cocktails.
The Grand Marlin
At The Grand Marlin, another popular option on the water, the steaks, seafood, island-themed cocktails, and desserts are all hits. There’s also a raw oyster bar.
Runaway Island has great dishes for sharing, like crab legs and fish tacos, plus a happy hour that’s rather extensive -- it runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.!
Pro Tip: Note that if you’re a true seafood fan, you’ll want to attend the Lobster Festival and Tournament at Schooners in October. It features live music, a sand-sculpting contest, and incredible eats.
7. The Shopping Is Fantastic
Panama City Beach is such a well-known shopping area that it boasts a Coastal Decor Emporium Trail. Keep an eye out for signs promoting “Decor by the Shore,” which refers to properties specializing in Northwest Florida style and design.
Panama City Beach’s shops offer plenty of beachy designs, but seaside themes and shabby chic accents aren’t the only things you’ll find as you explore and shop. Here are some delightful stops to check out.
13 Hub Lane
Modern pieces and metallic accents keep things at this home decor and accessories shop from getting too cutesy.
The Salt Shed & Company
This store is a gardener’s dream, with gorgeous plants, pots, and gift items.
Mr. Surfs Surf Shop
Mr. Surfs is the place to go to rent kayaks and paddleboards, but they also showcase the work of local artists, including people who work in paints, ceramics, and mixed media. FINNS Barista Bar is next door.
Pieces On The Beach
If it’s beach decor you crave, this shop does it best, and it’s full of shells, driftwood, and much more. There’s also an on-site studio that offers lessons in painting and furniture restoration.
A Local Travel Tip
Shell Island, a 700-acre island less than 30 minutes away from Panama City Beach, is easily accessible via the Shell Island Shuttle (with departures every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). You could also charter a boat for a half day from an outfitter like Lagoon Pontoons. No matter how you get there, you’ll want to pack a picnic and a cooler full of drinks like the locals do and enjoy a gorgeous afternoon on the soft, pearly white sand beaches.