21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay

From Baywatch to Baywitch, the spellbinding charm of Panama City will lure you to the Old Florida coast quicker than a siren can snag a sailor. Speaking of lures, the fishing is great here too. The sugary white sand beaches of St. Andrews State Park and Shell Island, a pristine barrier island, are surrounded by the crystal clear waters of St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Get ready to set sail, follow funky trails and live to tell tall tales. Panama City’s cool vibe attracts art lovers and aquatic adventurers to one of Northwest Florida’s hippest and historic waterfront destinations. Situated in the geographic center of Northwest Florida, Panama City is the largest city between Pensacola and Tallahassee and the seat of Bay County. Originally founded as a fishing village in 1827, Panama City has a strong maritime history of fishing, shipbuilding and salt mining.

Stay by the bay. Walk from a waterfront hotel or artsy Airbnb to oyster bars, seafood restaurants, bougie bistros and eclectic cafes that serve up local amberjack, grouper and shrimp. Get your license to chill with a frozen boat drink to toast a spectacular sunset. The only things you won’t miss are the over-crowded beaches and over-priced accommodations on the other side of the big bay bridge.

Ready to learn more? Here are 21+ things to do in Panama City that you won’t want to miss!

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Michael Booini via Destination Panama City

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Oyster Bars & Fresh Seafood

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Shelbie Scippio

Bayou Joe’s Marina & Grill has 180-degree waterfront views and a rustic, Old Florida vibe. Serving Southern favorites and seafood specialties, this casual dockside favorite is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s time for some trash talking and ordering. You have to try the trash burger. Don’t ask. Just order. 

The iconic Hunt’s Oyster Bar is known for its fresh local seafood, including ice cold raw oysters, shucked behind the bar. A four-time oyster shucking world champ got started here.

Finns Island Style Grub is a favorite locals spot on the water. Here, tacos, quesadillas and island-style specialties are most popular. Finns is located in Little Village, a live entertainment and retail space where “feel good shopping” means supporting fair trade companies that have a positive impact. Stick around for the music!

Harrison’s Kitchen & Bar is the newest addition to Panama City’s downtown, serving coastal and Southern dishes with beautiful views of the Panama City Marina and St. Andrews Bay. Swanky and casually chic with views for days and nights! 

The quaint Alice’s on Bayview is known for seafood and as a favorite brunch spot. The outdoor deck feels like a secret garden. Go ask Alice what she’s hiding.

Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill, with its extensive menu, is an incredible waterfront view with three levels of outdoor dining. Try the smoked fish dip and get there early for a spectacular sunset.

Captain’s Table Fish House Restaurant is a long-time St. Andrews staple that has come back strong after recent renovations. The extensive menu is filled with seafood selections including fresh catch and chef specials and baked oysters.

Water, Water Everywhere

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Heritage Excursions

Don’t just sit on the dock. Cast a line for the fresh local catch.  Paddle across the bay to start your day. Take a sunset stroll to soothe your soul. The salty breeze is calling your name. Book a guided fishing charter or become the captain of your own ship with a pontoon rental. 

The protected water of St. Andrews Bay, a nearby network of inland rivers, streams and bayous, and the open water of the Gulf of Mexico, combine to make this the perfect destination for water lovers. It’s also easy to get here by land. 

Ready to take part in some awesome water excursions? Try one of these!

  • Shell Island Dolphin Sea-fari Boat Tour. Journey the Historic Grand Lagoon on the unforgettable Shell Island Dolphin Sea-fari Boat Tour! Watch for a variety of aquatic wonders, sea shells, and wildlife. Explore Shell Island and swim, go shelling, picnic, or just relax and enjoy the beautiful island!
  • Private Panama City Beach Sunset Cruise. Enjoy a serene evening on the water with this Private Panama City Beach Sunset Cruise and experience the scenic views of Saint Andrews Bay, Grand Lagoon, and Shell Island. Float around and gaze at the sky as you take in the surreal beauty around you.
  • Panama City Beach Snorkel Trip Aboard The Footloose Catamaran. Cruise through the Historic Grand Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico in search of wild and beautiful bottlenose dolphins. Hit the water and snorkel, try out a stand-up paddleboard, look for some shells, or just relax and soak up the sun. This guided cruise is a fun trip for the whole family.

St. Andrews State Park

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Florida State Parks

St. Andrews State Park sits with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and St. Andrews Bay on the other. The fishing is excellent, with options of surf casting from the white-sand beaches or dropping a line from the rock jetties or the park’s fishing pier. 

Shell Island

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Shell Island Shuttle

Take the shuttle to Shell Island. The uninhabited barrier island stretches for seven miles between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. It can be accessed by shuttle or private vessel.

Once on the island, shelling, swimming, snorkeling, fishing and wildlife sightings will entertain everyone. Or, just lounge on the beach and watch waves crash on the shore. 

Book It: Private Shell Island Snorkeling Excursion

Scenic Cruises

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Michael Booini via Destination Panama City

Sunset cruises, nature tours and dolphin watch cruises are awesome. See bottlenose dolphins and watch the marine life that thrives here with Flippin’ Awesome Adventures on 2- to 4-hour customizable tours. Spend time on a relaxing boat ride, exploring the waters with scuba gear or become a volunteer marine biologist. 

Charter your own cruise. Whether you want to be at the helm or leave the navigation to someone else, there is a boat rental option here. Panama City Beach Dolphin Tours & More hosts dolphin watch tours, as well as fishing and spearfishing charters. Or, take to the water on your own with a pontoon or fishing boat rental from Scotty Boat Rentals.

Perfect Paddles

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Michael Booini via Destination Panama City

Go on a glow-in-the-dark nighttime kayak adventure with All Inclusive Adventures. The kayaks are clear and fitted with LED lights, illuminating the water and bringing the bay to life. 

Katie’s Paddle Boarding Adventures is a mobile paddle boarding service that brings the boards to you and offers lessons and eco tours. For those looking to add a little balance to their adventure, floating yoga sessions are also an option. Katie’s PBA will even deliver boards to a designated meeting spot near your vacation rental. 

Go Fish

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Wiley Fishing

The central Gulf Coast is known for its outstanding Gulf fishing, and Panama City has some of the best. Offshore sportfishing and bottom fishing, as well as near-shore trolling, give anglers lots of options from season to season. For inshore fishing, St. Andrews Bay spans thousands of acres including saltwater flats and seagrass beds. So, whether it’s a spring cobia run, an offshore trip for tuna or wahoo, or casting in the shallows for redfish and flounder, there is always a challenge for angers here. 

GOTCHA Expeditions is one of several charter services, offering a variety of trip options for fishing, as well as family fun tours. At Panama City Inshore, a host of captains are available for avid anglers looking for a specialized trip, from big game fishing to fly rod casting. To take on the challenge of kayak fishing, Sunjammers offers guided trips with experienced anglers.

Family Tradition Boat Charters has several options, including joining a multi-passenger trip aboard a 65-foot party boat, one of the most economical choices for a fishing excursion. 

Seminole Wind specializes in private, customized Gulf charters, and Back Bay Adventures offers light tackle and fly fishing on the bay and inshore.

Arts & Coastal Culture

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Burgunbarrel

Enjoy the downtown vibe. At the heart of this destination are the waterfront historic districts of Panama City and St. Andrews, with their small-town atmosphere that combines coastal culture and funky fun. “Old Florida” is still very much a part of the culture and is the foundation for this eclectic setting with a bit of a salty side.

Charming cafes and bistros host lively happy hours with culinary tastings and live music. Order a glass of wine and share a charcuterie board at Burgunbarrel and enjoy live music during the happiest of hours. 

Create an original hand-crafted glass ornament for the perfect authentic souvenir. Join an intimate workshop with a talented artisan at the Panama City Hot Glass Studio downtown on Harrison Avenue to channel your inner artist. The fascinating process engages students with custom design and glass blowing. Create a sea-colored glass collage and sip a glass of wine in the bohemian studio and lounge. 

LH Bead Gallery is a full-service bead store with one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry. Owner and artist Lisa Hanna makes her own lampwork beads and teaches jewelry-making classes. Downtown galleries and signature shops feature original works by local artisans, makers and craftsmen. 

Seven Happy Trails & A Great Loop

21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay
Courtesy of Destination Panama City

Oyster Trail

Aww shucks! Panama City has an authentic Oyster Trail with over a dozen restaurants and bars where you can order at least a dozen raw, steamed, fried, grilled, smoked or sauteed oysters. 

Visit the OG, Gene’s Oyster Bar, with its own impressive historical marker at the restaurant established in 1969. Diners will also discover champion shuckers, historic houses turned oyster bars and unmatched bayside views. 

The highlights of the Oyster Trail, of course, are the super star shellfish. Gulf Coast waters stay warm and never cool down much. Because of the warm waters, the oysters never go dormant or have to store up a glycogen food supply like oysters in northern areas. They stay mild and somewhat soft all year round.

You’ll also find champion shuckers, historic houses turned oyster bars, and the best bayside views along the Panama City Oyster Trail.  You might meet Honor Allen, a Panama City native and a four-time National Oyster Shucking Champion with his own documentary film called Honor’s Best.

Ale Trail

Sip your way through the Panama City Ale Trail. This tasty trail includes more than a 12-pack of suggested spots, including local craft breweries and pubs that specialize in a variety of local and regional brews.

History Class Brewing Company is schooling patrons in a brew pub with fresh craft brews flowing from the taps and local history oozing from the décor. At Salty Oak Brewing Company, a dozen craft beers are on tap. Live music and food trucks add to the local vibe.

Mural Trail

The Panama City Mural Trail is my kind of hiking trail. Colorful and vibrant murals brighten the streets with iconic images hand-painted by local and nationally known muralists. From large-scale installations covering the walls of local businesses to the creatively placed micro-murals that can be delightfully discovered around town, the city’s blank canvas has transformed into one-of-a-kind masterpieces.

The Panama City Mural Trail features more than 15 works of art on display throughout Panama City’s historic neighborhoods and was created with the goal of providing “Art on Every Corner.” Local and nationally known artists have added their creative vision to the destination’s downtown canvas.

Let’s get weird. Check out the cool and quirky immersive installations at El Weirdo to really experience this phenomenon. Have a margarita and a taco while you’re there. 

If these walls could talk!

Great Florida Birding Trail

Bring your binoculars. The Great Florida Birding Trail offers many opportunities to observe the area’s natural beauty.

Located in the Atlantic Flyway, spring and summer bring a multitude of migratory birds, joining the diverse native bird population here. Get your Audubon on!

Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddle Trail

For those more interested in paddling, the area’s variety of waters make it appealing all year. Kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent during the summer season at the St. Andrews State Park boat rental shack located near the boat ramp. From paddling around Grand Lagoon to crossing the boat channel to Shell Island, there is always an adventure waiting. 

Panama City is also part of the Emerald Coast Region of the Florida Paddling Trails Association. Two popular paddling spots on the trail are the nearby Econfina and Holmes Creek paddling trails. These pristine inland waterways include both calm and challenging sections, flow past crystal clear springs and old growth forest and are popular spots for a cool excursion during the summer.

Serious paddlers may want to take on a stretch of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. This 1,515-mile sea kayaking paradise trail is Florida’s longest and most ambitious, and it all begins here in Northwest Florida. 

Civil Rights Trail

The historic Bay County Courthouse is home to the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case, in which the Supreme Court upheld the U.S. Constitution’s 6th Amendment, granting criminal defendants the right to free court-appointed defense counsel. It’s also an official stop on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

During the Civil War, the St. Andrews Bay Saltworks was one of the south’s largest salt producers and two original salt kettles still stand today, marked with state historical markers.

America’s Great Loop

America’s Great Loop, a 6,000-mile-long aquatic oval made up of lakes, rivers, sounds, canals and the Gulf of Mexico, runs right through Panama City. Aspiring sailors love Reef Runner Sailing, which offers classes, charter cruises and bare boat rentals. 

The thriving historic districts, anchored by two full service public marinas, perfectly pair diverse dining establishments, eclectic shops, galleries, live music, historic walking tours, farmers markets, dolphin tours, fishing charters and sailing excursions.

The Blessing of the Fleet & Sock Burning is an annual tradition where nearly 50 boats sail by the St. Andrews Marina while the community gathers to honor those lost at sea and ask blessings for the safe travels of those who make their living on the water. Afterwards, revelers pull off their winter socks to “free their feet,” tossing them into a big tub to be burned and officially usher in flip-flop season. Don’t blow out your flip flop, burn it!

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Where To Stay In Panama City

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21+ Super Fun Things To Do In Panama City By The Bay