Panama City Beach is a popular spring break and summer vacation destination in the Northwest Florida sector known more commonly as the panhandle. This beach community juxtaposing the Gulf of Mexico is famous for wild college spring-breakers, but families find it a great beach retreat at other times of the year.
With warm temperatures much of the year and sugar-white sands all the time, there are many things to do in Panama City Beach – water recreation and outdoor fun, along with other attractions, activities and amenities.
Ready to learn more about this popular Florida vacation destination? Here are the very best things to do in Panama City Beach on your next visit!
Snorkel Shell Island via the Footloose Catamaran
For those who want to get up close and personal with the incredible marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, the Panama City Beach Snorkel Trip aboard The Footloose Catamaran is going to be for you. This 3-hour guided cruise is family friendly, You will get to snorkel on uninhabited Shell Island, and soak up the sun on sea and on land. Look for daily departures throughout the spring and summer.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN PANAMA CITY BEACH
- Best Condos On The Beach. Aqua Resort is a 22-story luxury resort located right on the beach. You'll love the awesome amenities and amazing views here. Units are spacious, giving families room to spread out and eat in, while located within walking distance of Pier Park.
- Best for Families. Located on the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, the Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach features an outdoor pool, children's pool with water playground, hot tub, and poolside bar. Guests can unwind at the Gulf-front spa or enjoy the live entertainment offered daily. You'll love the onsite restaurants here too.
- Best near Pier Park. Featuring free bikes, restaurants and views of their fun pool, Embassy Suites By Hilton Panama City Beach Resort is located near the popular Pier Park district. The hotel is located directly across the road from Panama City Public Beach Access Point 54.
Beachfront Adventures is a family fun adventure park that has everything you need to have a good time. Here you'll find everything you can imagine -- from off-road buggies and zip lines to ropes courses, go karts, mini golf courses, an aqua maze and more!
Purchase tickets or an all-day arm band (the best deal). Opened seasonally.
GULF WORLD MARINE PARK
Gulf World Marine Park is an attraction that my family has enjoyed for years! They have interactive programs, daily shows (dolphins, sea lions, birds, etc.) and swim with the dolphin adventures!
This is also the best place to see sea turtles. Yes, loggerhead sea turtles do nest on PCB, but you do not want to disturb them. The nesting season officially runs from May 1 through October 31, so check with Gulf World about certified turtle outings.
Gulf World Marine Park also offers animal encounters, so you can get up close and personal with your favorite marine life. Enjoy encounters with dolphins, sea lions, penguins, seals, or stingrays. You can swim with dolphins, too!
Pier Park is the premier lifestyle center of the Panama City Beach area. A mecca of sorts, the 900,000+ square foot property features a well-thought-out mix of restaurants, stores, entertainment and attractions.
A great idea for sunny weather, you can duck in and out of unique specialty shops and boutiques, but it is also a nice rainy day place to take in lunch and a movie.
There are kiddie rides, an IMAX theater and lots of fun ideas around every corner. You could literally spend all day at Pier Park.
PIRATE'S ISLAND ADVENTURE GOLF
Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf takes mini golf to the next level with themed adventures and beautiful landscapes (and waterfalls and bridges too)!
Kids old and young alike will enjoy this experience AND there are coupons on the web site.
SEA DRAGON PIRATE CRUISE
A trip on the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise makes for a fun, family outing anytime. Join Capt. “Fearless” Phil and embark on a two-hour cruise filled with wildlife sightings, as well as dolphins, birds and fish!
Kiddos will especially enjoy sword-fighting, searching for treasure and firing the cannon. Have a dance party and get your face painted…or better yet, how about a tattoo?
SHIPWRECK ISLAND WATERPARK
Shipwreck Island Waterpark has entertained locals and vacationers for more than 30 years with tons of water, slides, a lazy river and fun food. There are shallow pool areas for the smaller ones and for the slightly older there are fabulous things like the tipping bucket, more thrill-like slides and so forth.
If you are more of an adventurer, take on the challenging slides like The Pirate’s Plunge Racing Slide. Also, spend some time in the wavepool for more a splashing adventure! We always enjoy their food, too – pizza and funnel cakes – yum! (NOTE: They also have mini golf and a big snack bar.)
Have you ever wondered how exciting it would be to have an up close and personal look at exotic animals? Panama City Beach’s Zoo World offers just that! Pet a sloth, hold an alligator or meet a giraffe!
At Zoo World, you can sign up for one of their animal experiences. Their Australian Experience lets you hold a kangaroo and feed baby bearded dragons. You can hold a lemur, or feed alligators too! There are plenty of great adventures to choose from.
COCONUT CREEK FAMILY FUN PARK
If you want to experience some good ol' family fun, head out to the Coconut Creek Family Fun Park. Here you'll find two different 18-hole mini golf courses along with the giant Gran Maze.
Kids will love the tropical-themed mini golf courses that feature cascading waterfalls and plenty of animal sculptures along the way. The Gran Maze is massive -- about the size of a football field -- and will test you and your group's navigational skills.
This is a great way to spend a few hours with the fam!
COBRA ADVENTURE PARK
Cobra Adventure Park is a small beachside amusement park featuring rides, an arcade, go-karts, a mini golf course, and more.
Try out the Max Flight Simulator, or take a ride on the Dragon Wagon. Race go-karts on four levels, or try out The Wild Thing and The Vertical Accelerator. You'll love the new 18-hole pirate-themed mini golf course here too!
Panama City Beach has several championship golf courses set among some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. We love Legacy Golf Club and Signal Hill Golf Course.
Want to explore more of Panama City Beach? Try one of these can't-miss tours!
- Take an Adventure Tour With Inflatable Waterpark Aboard The Privateer Catamaran. Sail to the world famous Shell Island and play on the inflatable water slide, jump on the water trampoline, or try your hand at kayaking and paddleboarding. Guests can also swim, snorkel, and take in all of the amazing surroundings.
- Enjoy a PCB E-Bike Tour with a Guide. See the sights and travel across the city in style on an e-bike. Let your experienced guide take you around to see the sights, colorful murals, historic spots in Panama City, and create an adventure to remember.
- Fly high on a Panama City Beach Helicopter Tour. View the majestic Panama City Beach coastline from above on a thrilling helicopter tour. This activity is great for a first date or a fun family outing. There are 6 exciting tours to choose from so you can customize your trip!
SWIM WITH DOLPHINS
There are lots of great tours and adventures in PCB, and one of the best is a Shell Island Dolphin Swim Experience.
Spend the morning or afternoon with a professional team of instructors who will educate you on the proper way to interact with dolphins. Finish off the tour with a dip in the emerald waters of Shell Island for potential dolphin encounters.
Both morning and afternoon trips are available.
Book It: Shell Island Dolphin Swim Experience
PARASAILING & RENTALS
If you're looking for an adventure on the water in Panama City, Adventures at Sea has you covered. Adventures at Sea caters to the water enthusiast offering jet skis, parasailing, kite boarding, paddle boarding and more, with pontoon and sail boat rentals as well!
Adventures at Sea has over 25 years of experience and 60+ locations in the Panama City Beach area.
Want to see PCB from above? Consider a parasailing trip with Paradise Watersports. This company provides parasailing adventures, in addition to banana boat rentals and dolphin tours!
Capt. Anderson’s Marina is the place to head if you are looking to go deep sea fishing, charter a boat or visit Shell Island. They can handle all of those needs, plus they can clean and pack your catch or you can buy fresh seafood from them.
Visit the gift shop and dine with them!
Book It: Sunset Dolphin Encounter Aboard Captain Anderson III
Whether you're a novice or an experienced angler, you’ll enjoy your fishing trip aboard The Captain Anderson IV, a North Star Deep-Sea Fishing boat. This 90′ aluminum hull boat has 75 marked fishing spots around the perimeter of the rail; with 5 of those spots located on the “bow pulpit” that hangs out over the water. She has a spacious upper sun deck with benches and can hold an additional 75 riders.
Fishing price includes bait, rod, reel, state sales tax, and fishing license. Rider Price includes license and tax; Riders can "share" the pole with an angler but need to buy a fishing ticket in order to keep their own fish.
Book It: 5 Hour Deep Sea Fishing Charter
Ready to see what's swimming beneath the Gulf waters?
Diver’s Den offers daily dive charters with room for up to 18 divers. The boat captain is US Coast Guard Certified and is a PADI Dive Instructor.
They also offer snorkeling, diving and certification.
Before your day on the water, you’ll likely need to visit an area outfitter and Sunjammers Watersports is perfect!
Coolers, rods and reels, sailing gear, paddle accessories, apparel and the like – get it all in one place with a visit to Sunjammers.
Looking to see dolphins? One of these Panama City Beach dolphin tours make it a near-guarantee!
- Dolphin Tour on Waverunners. Join FUNPCB and zoom around on a speedy jet ski to play and swim with bottlenose dolphins! A family-friendly adventure to explore the beaches and waters of St. Andrews Bay, this dolphin tour brings you face-to-face with these incredibly intelligent and social species.
- Speedboat Ride and Dolphin Watching Tour. Calling all thrill-seekers for this St. Andrews Bay Thrill Ride. Step on this powerful speedboat and get ready for a wet and wild ride as you skip across the waves at top speed. You'll even have a chance to see dolphins in their natural habitat!
- Daytime Dolphin Catamaran Sail. Embark on a blissful Daytime Dolphin Catamaran Sail aboard the "Footloose" from Paradise Adventures. Complete with its own minibar and live music on deck, this cruise delivers luxury on multiple levels. Enjoy tropical tunes as you sip a complimentary wine, Sangria, or cold beer and keep an eye out for dancing dolphins among the waves!
BACK TO NATURE
There are 27 miles of beaches in Panama City Beach all worthy of being walked on, sun-bathed on and seashell-searched on. Don’t forget to save some time for long walks that lead to sunset encounters and after dark safaris with kids in search of hermit crabs and shells. PS. Fido is welcome to select beaches; see here.
CAMP HELEN STATE PARK
Camp Helen State Park is bordered on three sides by water and is the largest of the unique coastal dune lakes in Florida. Guests can swim, enjoy the beach, bird watch, hike/bike on trails or fish in the 183-acre park open for day use only. History tours are available the first Saturday of every month at 10 a.m. and are FREE with paid park admission.
Fishing is a popular pastime no matter if you’re a serious angler, have a passion for deep sea fishing or you’re totally happy casting a line on a pier. All three options are available in Panama City Beach. Choose from freshwater or saltwater, land or sea, novice or expert…there’s a place for you!
If you charter a boat for an expedition, you’ll likely not need a fishing license. If you are looking to go for the pier, check out Russell-Fields Pier where you can pay $7 for a daily fishing license ($4 spectator pass), M.B. Miller County Pier (same fees as Russell-Fields and both are on the Gulf of Mexico) or check out fishing at St. Andrews State Park on one their two piers.
Shell Island is actually a peninsula rather than an island, but nonetheless a lovely gem. About seven miles of undeveloped barrier-type land running east to west, Shell Island rests between the St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Chock full of nature, it’s the perfect habitat for deer, many nesting birds and several endangered species. Enjoy a true back-to-nature experience among the unspoiled sand dunes and seashells are a plenty.
Take a picnic, but also take your trash (home with you that is) as there are no garbage cans. It is REAL nature folks, so don’t look for restrooms, picnic or concession areas.
Shell Island Shuttle is a good resource in getting you there. Bring something to put your shells in and a trash bag for your trash.
ST. ANDREWS STATE PARK
St. Andrews State Park is one of Florida’s most-visited state parks. It can be found on the eastern side of Panama City Beach with the Gulf of Mexico just to the south, St. Andrews Pass to the east, and Grand Lagoon to the north.
Hike the popular trails, fish, bike (rentals are available at the St. Andrews State Park General Store), or get on the water via kayak or canoe! If you are more adventurous, snorkeling and scuba diving may be your cup of tea.
Families with little ones will appreciate the kiddie pool area. Be careful and always be cautious as there are no lifeguards present.
Have your own boat? This is the place for you with a public access boat ramp (you may use for a nominal fee). The park closes at sunset each day unless you are camping.
Conservation Park includes 2900 acres of protected shoreline and wetlands. The park features a boardwalk and 24 miles of unpaved trails for hiking or biking...each at varying lengths. Fido is welcome, on a leash.
It's a little more tame than a day on the roller coaster at Race City...perfect for nature-lovers.
RAINY DAY THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY BEACH
DAVE & BUSTER'S
Dave & Buster’s at Pier Park is an indoor facility with arcades, sports television, games and more!
Located next to Pier Park Amusements, Dave & Buster’s is a fantastic plan B for days when the weather is not up to par or the family has had too much sun!
THE ATTIC ESCAPE ROOM AT ESCAPE MANOR
The Attic Escape Room at Escape Manor is a timed escape room challenge with a great storyline.
Journey into the mystery of a forlorn bride and her disappearing groom, as you attempt to piece together clues. Put your sleuthing skills to the test on an adrenaline-surging race against the clock. Break free before it's too late!
Book It: The Attic Escape Room at Escape Manor
THE GRAND IMAX PIER PARK 16
The Grand Theatre IMAX Pier Park 16 is the place to plan for on a rainy day with wall-to-wall screens, stadium seating, premium IMAX quality, a game room and a specialty café.
Located across from Dave & Buster’s, the theater is easily accessible.
RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium provides a unique look at “odd” things. What might you see? Shrunken heads, a sculpture of Thor made of scrap car parts, a vampire killing kit, lots of interactives and a floating car…just to name a few.
Ripley's Marvelous Mirror Maze is another must-visit! You'll be surrounded by LED lights and reflections, while trying to find your way out of this labyrinth of mirrors.
PCB is also home to the Ripley's 7D Moving Theater, which brings video games to the next level.
Rock’it Lanes ballistic bowling is definitely something to keep in mind for rainy days!
More than a bowling alley, kids (and adults) can roller skate, visit the arcade and play pool.
WonderWorks, an indoor amusement park, has over 35,000 square feet of entertainment and educational-minded, hands-on exhibits. Kids can explore everything from natural disasters to outer space and lots of stuff in between. Laser tag is available, as is a ropes course.
WonderWorks Panama City Beach has also opened a new attraction called Playbox. The family game recently opened and has been a big hit with guests of all ages. Playbox invites players to put their hand-eye coordination to the test, challenging them to battle zombies, score goals, beat classic carnival games and more.
This exhibit comes on the heels of the new Grave Digger virtual reality ride that opened in the summer of 2022. The Grave Digger attraction gives riders a chance to feel what it’s like to get behind the wheel of the famous Monster Truck, feeling wind effects, vibrations, movements, and more. Both exhibits add to the list of over 100 fun and interactive activities inside the facility.
PANAMA CITY BEACH WINERY
Head to the Panama City Beach Winery on a rainy day and enjoy a free wine tasting -- no reservations required.
At this winery, you'll find real fruit wines without added sugars or flavorings. This is the perfect place to stock up on all your wine needs for your beach vacation. Consider the popular Hurricane Class 5 Sangria, the Key Lime, or the Mamma Guava wines. They also have wine slushie options.
The Panama City Beach Winery is open Monday thru Saturday from 10:00 am - 5pm for wine tasting and shopping. The last wine tasting is at 4:30 pm.
TODD HERENDEEN THEATRE
Enjoy dinner and a musical show by Todd Herendeen at the Todd Herendeen Theatre in PCB.
Herendeen's Tribute to the Legends of Rock & Country is a popular musical show that can't be missed. Enjoy dinner at 6 before the show starts at 7pm. You'll hear songs by Cash, Orbison, Holly, The King and more!
DINING IN PANAMA CITY BEACH
When in Rome...right? Time to get some seafood while visiting the beach, and we recommend one of the succulent seafood markets.
Try Buddy's Seafood Market, where steamed shrimp are the way to go 7 days a week. Local Steamer Seafood Market offers online ordering. The Family Platter is amazing.
BEST DINING WITH A VIEW
CAPTAIN ANDERSON'S RESTAURANT & WATERFRONT MARKET
Captain Anderson’s Restaurant & Waterfront Market is a local favorite in Panama City Beach so you know it’s good! View the menu right online, order to go or enjoy dinner with a view!
Kids are welcome in this family-friendly restaurant and they will quickly find something to their liking with choices such as chicken fingers, grilled cheese, mac ‘n cheese, cheeseburgers and popcorn shrimp!
Adults enjoy starting off with the Grilled Bay Shrimp appetizer and a fabulous entrée like the Stuffed Flounder or a surf and turf combo paired with a nice wine from their extensive wine list. The evening shouldn’t be over without a gorgeous sunset and an amazing dessert - my favorites are the Strawberry Cheesecake and the Crème Brulee.
An ambiance only outdone by terrific food is the setting at Saltwater Grill, where fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and choice cuts of meat grace your plate. I love their crab cakes and the Maine Lobster is also pretty spectacular, but seriously, you cannot make a bad choice.
And, although their food is exquisite, the panoramic view of the 25,000-gallon tropical saltwater aquarium is over-the-top! You’re gazing at exotic sea creatures and tropical reef which are absolutely breathtaking.
Stay after dinner and have a drink in Panama City Beach’s only piano bar at Saltwater Grill. (Daily early bird specials run from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and happy hour is 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
THE SHRIMP BOAT RESTAURANT
The Shrimp Boat Restaurant sports an historic St. Andrews address and is worth the extra 10 minute drive. You'll find waterfront dining at its best -- Smith’s Dock grants the most amazing views of boats quietly gliding in.
Enjoy a peaceful sunset on the expansive outdoor deck with your favorite beverage.
Dinner is a delight with char roasted oysters to get you started and a mouthwatering entrée such as Shrimp & Grits or New York Strip Steak. Don’t fill up before you’ve tasted a dessert: White Chocolate Crème Brulee, New York Cheesecake with Seasonal Berries, Homemade Rich Carrot Cake or Homemade Red Velvet Cake.
BEST FAMILY-FRIENDLY DINING
Hammerhead Fred’s is a family favorite serving local seafood (the Shrimp Dinner is very good) and lovely steaks. Eat inside or outside, there are usually games on the televisions and sometimes live music, but always a selection of craft beers.
Casual and laid back, you’ll enjoy relaxing with the kids at Hammerhead Fred’s.
Families love dining by the water and Panama City Beach’s Pineapple Willy’s fits the bill with a casual atmosphere, frozen drinks and a great kids menu.
Hearty comforting meals to choose from make decisions difficult when it’s your turn to order. I stick with the Grilled Mahi-Mahi or the Grilled Grouper, but the meat-eating men in my family swear by the Prime Rib, Pulled Pork and BBQ Ribs!
SHARKY'S BEACHFRONT RESTAURANT
Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant is right on the beach and just plain fun. Serving lunch, dinner and specialty drinks, the whole family will enjoy this dining experience.
Watch the sun set, listen to live music and take in the fresh catch of the day, but not before your appetizer – Caribbean nachos are so good! For lunch their Grouper Sandwich is tasty and for dinner…well that’s a little harder, but the redfish or the ribeye are certainly at the top of the list. Save room for the brownie delight!
BEST BREAKFAST OR BRUNCH
ANDY'S FLOUR POWER
Andy’s Flour Power has long since been my favorite brunch in Panama City Beach and one of my overall favorites as well! With fresh ingredients and awards to back them up, fresh twists on old favorites will delight your palate.
The daily special is usually what I get – and it’s typically something unique and tasty! Did I mention how affordable this place is?
SPECIAL OCCASION DINING
Award-winning Firefly is a memorable dining experience in a Mediterranean Bistro atmosphere with twinkling lights amidst a grand old oak tree.
Have drinks in the library and feast on entrees from sushi to exotic fish. Your night will be even better if you call ahead for a reservation…just in case.
If you are in town for a special occasion, this is the place to dine. The most interesting thing about Firefly is that they have a 4 oz. filet mignon on the kid’s menu.
FESTIVALS WORTH THE DRIVE
- The New Year’s Eve Beach Ball Drop is one the most fun ways to celebrate NYE with the entire family! With live music and an exciting countdown, Panama City Beach’s Pier Park is the scene of this family-friendly event.
- In the fall, the Gulf Coast Jam a/k/a Country on the Coast, has become a staple in Panama City Beach for three-days over Labor Day weekend. Held at Frank Brown Park, the event has brought in headliners like Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Big & Rich, Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry. Tickets and travel packages are available on the web site.
- The Seabreeze Jazz Festival is an April event showcasing the top acts in smooth jazz spread over five days. The festival includes fun offerings such as a Jazz dinner and lunch cruises, and All-Star After Party Jam Shows each evening. The festival has had sensational headliners like Kenny G. and Brian Culbertson.
- UNwineD is a popular two-day Southern garden party that begins with the Southern Living Kickoff Party on Friday night. This party is where guests mix and mingle with chefs, mixologists and tastemakers – the South’s finest. Held each spring in March, UNwineD is located in Aaron Bessant Park (adjacent to Pier Park). Saturday winds up the festivities with a Grand Afternoon Tasting and Cocktail Competition along with live entertainment.
Read More: 53 BEST FESTIVALS IN FLORIDA FOR YEAR-ROUND FUN
WHERE TO STAY IN PANAMA CITY BEACH
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