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Hello from Panama City Beach, Florida – 27 miles of pristine, white-sand beaches and turquoise water with two state parks and miles of on-and off-road bike trails in protected conservation areas. Everything from dolphin encounters to sunset kayaking or a hike through a cypress swamp, Panama City has been named one of “the world’s most beautiful beaches!”
SEE ALSO: 17 Best Things To Do In Miami
This sunny beach town in the Florida Panhandle gets 320 days of Florida sunshine each year so it’s a popular spot year round. Here’s my travel guide to the top things to do and restaurants in Panama City, Florida.
Table of Contents
1. Private dolphin sightseeing sailboat
This was one of our favorite activities in Panama City – the private dolphin sightseeing sail on the Ohana sailboat by Paradise Adventures. We toured along the coast and got to see St Andrews State Park and Shell Island while watching dolphins swim. This 4-hour private sailboat experience also included snorkeling (equipment provided), drinks and snacks. It was a beautiful day out on the water and a relaxing way to see Panama City Beach!
4114 Jan Cooley Dr, Panama City Beach, paradiseadventurespcb.com/ohana/
2. Camp Helen State Park
The main can get quite busy during the summer so if you’re looking for a quieter area, go to Camp Helen State Park. 185-aces of ecological wonder that is bordered on three sides by water, the Gulf to the south and Lake Powell to the north and east. It’s 0.7 mile walk round trip from the parking lot to the beach. The park is home to five distinct natural communities – mesic flatwood, scrub oak, basin swamp, depression march and marine unconsolidated substrate.
- Canoeing and kayaking
- Hiking and nature trail
Fee: $4 per vehicle, $2 pedestrians and bicyclists
23937 Panama City Beach Parkway
3. Take a picture on front of the Rainbow Houses
It’s hard not to miss these famous “rainbow buildings” with bright facades painted in a kaleidoscopic parade of colors on Front Beach Road.
Pier Park along Front Beach Road
4. Beach front meal at Schooner’s
Schooner’s is opening their beach patio with twinkling lights soon and I want to come back! We loved the fried snapper basket, peel and eat shrimp, and mango daiquiris here. Schooner’s is known for the live music, oceanfront view, and fresh seafood.
5121 Gulf Drive, Panama City Beach, FL,
5. Ride the SkyWheel
Towering nearly 200 feet, SkyWheel has a 360-degree panoramic breathtaking view of the surrounding beaches and the city – all from a glass-enclosed gondola. Each gondola seats up to six people and is climate controlled.
Tip: Ride around 6:45pm to see the sunset over Panama City
Cost: $16.99 per person
600 Pier Park Drive, skywheelpcb.com
6. Donuts at Thomas Donut & Snack Shop
Opened as a snack shop in 1971, Thomas Donut & Snack Shop is the popular local donut shop with bagel sandwiches, Texas style kolaches, and chili cheese dogs. They added on an ice cream shop in 2015 with 36 rotating ice cream flavors, sundaes, and sherbets. You can even get ice cream between a fresh donut!
7. Take a sunset photo
Florida has beautiful sunsets and you have to document your vacation!
8. Breakfast at Finn’s Barista Bar & Snack Shack
If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast spot, go to Finn’s Barista Bar & Snack Shack – everything happens to be vegan. Wide selection of toasts and acai bowls in this trendy coffee shop.
7220 Thomas Drive, Panama City Beach, FL, finnsgrub.com
9. Visit Shell Island
Shell Island is a 7-mile barrier island and pristine peninsula just off the coast of St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach with crystal clear waters and sugar white sand. You might spot dolphins and sea turtle on the way!
Ways to get there:
The Shell Island Shuttle – every half hour from 10am to 4pm, you’ll be dropped off near the rocky jetties, a premier snorkeling spot with marine life. The shuttle is open all week and departs from Adventures of Sea with no reservations necessary. You can also pack a picnic!
Pontoon rental – there are dozens of pontoon rental vendors stationed along the beach like Shell Island Boat Rentals & Tours that’s located at Treasure Island Marina that’s a 10-minute cruise to Shell Island.
Jet ski – select from two-day, half-day or full-day rentals at Lagoon Pontoons and climb aboard a VX110 Yamaha WaveRunner and zip over to Shell Island.
Private charter – if you want the privacy of your own boat, Blue Dolphin Tours will do a private charter.
10. Russell-Fields Pier
We took this photo below the Russell-Fields Pier during sunset after a rain storm and the colors were stunning. You can also walk on Russell-Fields Pier for $3 per person.
16201 Front Beach Rd
11. Shopping at Pier Park
Located across the street from the pier, Pier Park has over 120 shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and dessert shops. A few of our favorites:
- The Yard – crazy over-the-top milkshakes
- Kilwins – ice cream and fudge
- I LOVE SUGAR – candy shop
600 Pier Park Drive, visitpanamacitybeach.com/pier-park/
12. Dine in front of an aquarium at Saltwater Grill
You’ll feel under the sea when enjoying fresh seafood with a view of the 7-foot high, 25,000 gallon tropical saltwater aquarium at Saltwater Grill. We loved the firecracker shrimp, peppered ahi tuna, and snapper pontchartrain with blackened red snapper, fried soft-shelled crab, creamy corn orzo, cherry tomatoes and Creole remoulade.
11040 Hutchison Blvd, saltwatergrillpcb.com
13. St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park is one of the most popular and most visited state parks in Florida. It’s situated on a peninsula at the far eastern edge of Panama City Beach between St. Andrews Bay and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Enjoy this 1.5 miles of beaches that rests on the Gulf and Grand Lagoon. It’s is a popular option for those that want to cast a line and catch some fish, take a dive and scuba along the jetties or simply enjoy what has been named the Best Beach In America. All for less than $10 per vehicle
- Boat ramp
- Canoeing and kayaking
- Hiking and nature trail
- Scuba diving
- Shower station
Fee: $8 per multi-occupant vehicle, $4 single occupant vehicle, $2 pedestrians and bicyclists
4607 State Park Lane
14. Happy hour at Grand Marlin of Panama City Beach
Located next to the marina, The Grand Marlin of Panama City Beach is a popular spot to enjoy the sunset with a view of Grand Lagoon. Fresh seafood with daily specials from award-winning Chef Gregg McCarthy, The Grand Marlin is one of the nicer restaurants in town.
We loved the fried lobster fingers, freshly shucked gulf oysters, and the locally caught snapper with fried caper butter.
5323 North Lagoon Drive, thegrandmarlin.com/pcb/
15. Rent scoot coupes
Who needs a car when you can zip around Panama City in a hot pink scoot coupe?! We wish we would have rented this for the day because it was so much fun.
Cost: $35 a hour at Outlaw Rentals
16. Dinner at Hunt & Gather Raw Bar & Pub
Don’t be fooled by the strip mall location of this restaurant – because we were. Hunt & Gather Raw Bar & Pub specializes in local and regional oysters and wild game inspired meals. We had the foie gras (generous serving), scallops, and wild boar bolognese (this was SO good).
7942 Front Beach Rd, huntandgatherrawbarandpub.com
Other things to do in Panama City Florida
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! – selection of oddities, optical illusions, and one-of-a-kind interactive exhibits
- Race City Amusement Park
- ZooWorld Zoological and Botanical Conservatory – feed alligators, pet sloths, giraffes and more
- PCB Conservation Park – 3,000-acre park features 12 different trails of varying difficultly and eight boardwalks
- golf courses
- Shipwreck Island Waterpark
- Catamaran tours
- Gulf World Marine Park
- Panama City Beach Winery
- Coconut Creek Family Fun Park
- Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise
- Helicopter tours
- Gator Country Alligator Park
- Airboat ride