March to shorePhotos Panama City Beach CVB
In Panama City Beach (PCB), it’s all about the beachfront and a “come as you are” kind of attitude (it’s famous for the 30-kilometre stretch of white quartz crystal sand). Known as a REAL. FUN. BEACH destination, PCB sports rows of waterfront restaurants, boutiques, family-friendly attractions and outfitters selling fishing excursions, windsurfing, parasailing and paddleboarding.

A classic Florida beach town that has recently gone through a positive renaissance, PCB is known as a happening kind of place: It’s popular with families year-round, snowbirds in the winter and becomes a haven for college kids at spring break.

 Helen State ParkPhotos Panama City Beach CVB

Explore The Outdoors

Panama City Beach is bookended by state parks, with lots of hiking and quiet beach opportunities. Just east of downtown, St. Andrews State Park is the perfect antidote when you need a break from the city’s bustling energy, with a campground that’s very popular with Canadians.

St. Andrews is a barrier island just a stone’s throw away from Panama City Beach’s busy restaurants and attractions, and yet an outdoorsman’s delight of diverse habitats: rolling white sand dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, grass flats and ancient forest.

The park is known for its dune ecosystem, home to the best surfing beach on the Gulf coast and a stretch of sand that’s great for watching sunsets. Sea oats and Florida rosemary anchor the fragile, shifting dunes in place. In the summer months, loggerhead sea turtles nest along the beachfront. In the winter, the ponds, trees and shrubbery are home to migratory birds. The parkland intersects with the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 3,200-kilometre, self-guided highway trail connecting 500 birding and wildlife viewing sites throughout the state.

A self-guided nature trail around Gator Lake crosses through stands of tall slash pine, sabal palm (the Florida state tree), sand live oak and sand pine. Hikers may share the pathway with great blue herons or great and snowy egrets that have an island rookery in the park.

The wind makes this Gulfside beach a favourite with windsurfers and kiteboarders. For a great afternoon, pack a picnic, a blanket and some sunscreen, find a spot on the beach and watch the colourful kites splash across the sky.

In spring and summer, shuttle boat tours go from the mainland of the park to Shell Island, a pristine barrier island where the waves, the breeze and the seagulls are the only distractions. The island is known for its sand dunes, fresh water swamp, thick woods and sugar-white sands. Pack your snorkelling gear, fishing pole, bathing suit and sunscreen.

Camp Helen State Park is bordered on three sides by the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell – one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida and a perfect location to try stand-up paddle boarding. Natural areas range from coastal dunes and salt marshes along the Gulf to freshwater wetlands and sand pine scrub along the lake.

 

Shipwreck IslandPhotos Panama City Beach CVBGet In Touch With Your Shopping Diva

Shopping is one of the top activities for visitors to Panama City Beach. And there’s shopping galore at the massive open-air Pier Park lifestyle centre, northwest Florida’s largest shopping, dining and entertainment venue. Here you’ll find a massive mix of chain stores and eclectic boutiques that have become the “new” downtown of Panama City Beach. Anything with a beach theme, they’ve got in spades. Novelty shops, chic clothing, pottery, beachwear….

Many of the shops are locally owned and operated, with an eclectic mix of craft and artisan shops as well as many of the traditional name brand stores.

Pier Park has become the entertainment and shopping hub of PCB and it shows in the special events that fill the calendar. There’s a blow out celebration for Independence Day on July 4, a New Year’s Eve Beach Ball Drop and a huge Mardi Gras parade.

 Golf Tee ShotPhotos Panama City Beach CVB

Good Eats

Breakfast: Andy’s Flour Power Bakery & Café is where the locals hang. Enormous plates of Flour Power French Toast are what put Andy’s on the map – fresh-baked French bread dipped in a cinnamon and brown sugar batter, grilled until golden, then topped with toasted pecans and sliced strawberries. Order the industrial-size mugs of coffee.

Lunch: Hook’d Pier Bar & Grill is on the Gulf beside the new 460-metre long City Pier. Try the Fish Taco Plate – a soft, warm tortilla stuffed with fresh fish and topped with homemade jalapeno slaw and mango salsa.

Dinner: At the Saltwater Grill, a huge saltwater aquarium grabs your attention as soon as you walk through the front door. The restaurant is known for, well, seafood, like the Gulf-catch of red snapper, shrimp and grouper. The early dining menu (from 4 to 5:30 p.m. daily) is a great way to snag specials on prime rub, yellowfin tuna or mahi mahi.

 

10 Ways To Chill

  1. There are miles of boardwalks, walking and biking trails at the new Panama City Beach Conservation Park. The park covers an area of protected wetlands that were rehydrated and reclaimed to create an area for wildlife that can be enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts. Trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset and are dog friendly.
  2. Get out the binoculars and spend the day on the Great Florida Birding Trail at St. Andrews State Park. The park’s sawtooth palmettos, pinewoods and shrubs are a safe nesting sites for birds including blue jays, egrets, herons and pelicans.
  3. Championship fairways are open year round and Stay and Play golf packages make a golf visit to PCB a great way to spend some time. With more than 320 days of sunshine each year, the area courses are a good bet for great weather on the links. Golf Digest recognized Panama City Beach as one of America’s top three golf towns.
  4. Many hotels, motels and rental condos offer discounted rates for extended stays of 30 days or longer.
  5. Resorts, local senior centres or community groups offer customized programs for seniors, including golf outings, swimming clubs for exercise, shopping excursions, wine and food events, card parties and day trips.
  6. Visit the tasting room at the Panama City Beach Winery, a tropical winery where they specialize in citrus, berry and fruit wines.
  7. Rent a bike and hop onto the Gulf front pathways. A delivery service can bring the bikes right to your hotel or condo.
  8. Spend an evening at the races at the Ebro Greyhound Park. Friday and Saturday nights the park serves up an all-you-can-eat prime rub buffet.
  9. Natural and undeveloped Shell Island offers excellent snorkelling and secluded beaches. Access is by boat only. It’s a great spot for shelling and for watching the pods of bottlenose dolphins (PCB has one of the world’s highest concentrations of the playful creatures). There are no facilities on the island, so pack water and a snack.
  10. Music concerts are a great way to spend a PCB weekend. There’s live music at the new Fishale Taphouse & Grill, where they have more than 60 craft beers on tap.

 Ripley's Believe it or NotPhotos Panama City Beach CVB

10 Things For Families

  1. The odd and the one-of-a-kind fill Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, one of the Panhandle’s most popular indoor attractions.
  2. Kids of all ages love mini-golf, which makes it the perfect way for families to spend time together. The Coconut Creek Family Fun Park has two 18-hole mini-golf courses – and tots five and under play free.
  3. Spend a beach day at St. Andrews State Park, named by Travel Magazine, Southern Living and Trip Advisor as one of the nation’s top beaches. If you are doing the outdoorsy thing, St. Andrews has two campground loops with 176 sites, many on the Grand Lagoon.
  4. The Gran Maze at Coconut Creek is a football field-size human labyrinth where the goal is to find four checkpoints. Families can work together as a team to solve the maze puzzle in record time.  
  5. Get cool at the new four-metre tall, Coke bottle-shaped water mister at the Pier Park lifestyle centre.
  6. Spend loose change feeding the rides at the Miracle Strip at Pier Park amusement park.
  7. Kids who love animals will love ZooWorld, home to more than 260 exotic animals, including alligators, grey wolves, parrots and a new pair of red kangaroo joeys.
  8. All kids love playing in the water and they’ll go nuts over Shipwreck Island Waterpark. A great way for kids to challenge adults is on the new Pirate’s Plunge Racing Slide – duelling slides side by side that drop from an 18-metre tall tower. The tropical themed waterpark includes curving flumes, rapid river rides, a wave pool and a lazy river.
  9. Tour the PCB coastline on board Shark Bite Tours’ amphibian boats. These unusual vehicles have stationary tires and can drive from land directly into the water. The one-hour narrated tour floats and drives past sugary white beaches, uninhabited Shell Island at St. Andrews State Park and local historic points of interest.
  10. Try stand-up paddleboarding with a rental from Mr. Surfs Surf Shop. Kids get the hang of things quickly with the oversized boards on calm waters.

 

Pets Welcome

  • Doggie Beach, a 150-metre stretch of sugary white sand alongside City Pier, allows on-leash dogs to frolic in the waves with their owners.
  • PCB has several off-leash parks (alas, no swimming) including Frank Brown Park and 4.8 hectares at Zollie Young Dog Park (just off US 231).
  • The city’s new Doggie Dining Law allows restaurants with outdoor seating to welcome well-behaved dogs in those areas.
  • When strolling and shopping through Pier Park, keep an eye open for the centre’s two outdoor doggie water fountains. It’s important to keep “man’s best friend” hydrated!
  • In the “dog days of summer” the outdoor amphitheatre across the street from Pier Park hosts a “Summer Concert Series” on Thursday nights during the summer. Well behaved, on-leash pets are welcome.
  • Explore beautiful Shell Island by taking the pet-friendly St. Andrew Bay Ferry or rent a boat from pet-friendly Adventures at Sea or Scotty Boat Rentals.
  • Visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com/do/for-dog-lovers for a listing of pet friendly lodging and dining or www.bayfwd.org for more local information.  

 

Locals Say

  • Best place to watch the sunset is aboard a two-hour catamaran cruise, like Island Time Sailing, where you’ll be joined by Atlantic bottlenose dolphins jumping and splashing around the boat.
  • Foodies can sign up for cooking lessons at the popular local restaurant, Liza’s Kitchen. Relax, watch and learn while the chef whips up a four-course, gourmet feast including wines perfectly paired to each course.
  • Panama City Beach is known for its twin long piers – which the locals will tell you are some of the best fishing spots in the area. In addition to casting from the pier, the larger area is known for sport fishing, back bay fishing and fly fishing. As well, Panama City Beach is home to one of the country’s largest sport fishing fleets.

 

Mark Your Calendar

• Columbus Day weekend (October 4 to 7) brings a wave of fun-filled adventures to Panama City Beach with the Pirates of the High Seas Fest, a weekend of parades and sword-swinging showdowns, culminating with a duelling fireworks display re-enacting the Battle of the Seven Seas.

• The five-day Seafood and Music Festival celebrates seafood, fishing, culinary arts, music, entertainment, arts and culture in Panama City Beach. October 24-28, 2012.

• Mardi Gras Festivals fill three weekends in Panama City Beach. Block parties, live music, arts and crafts and bead throwing 2013 Mardi Gras parades can be found around town on January 25-26, February 1-2 and February 8-9.

•The annual Seabreeze Jazz Festival draws music lovers near and far for the sounds of contemporary jazz. More than 20,000 fans come for the award-winning festival (named “Top 10 Jazz Festival in the USA” by JAZZIZ Magazine). April 17-21, 2013.

 

Ask The Experts

www.visitpanamacitybeach.com

www.pcbgolftravel.com

www.visitflorida.com

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