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Top Things To Do in Panama City Beach

by Lisa Milberger Moore on August 29th, 2023
Beautiful soft white sand beach and clear turqoise water at Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beaches are famous for soft-white sand and beautiful turquoise water from the Gulf of Mexico.

Pull out your swimsuit and practice your pirate talk! It’s time to start planning your next big adventure in Panama City Beach, Florida. Nestled along 27 pristine miles of white-sand beaches, Panama City Beach is a favorite go-to for vacationers who want to have it all. Soak up the sun, soar over the ocean, search for hidden treasure, and so much more with a boat load of ways to make it happen. Get the most out of your beach getaway by following our tips below for the top things to do in Panama City Beach.

Go for the Great Outdoors

Shell Island in Panama City Beach, Florida
Nature lovers enjoy the pristine beaches at Shell Island.

You love the beach, but you want even more! Activity-loving guests excel in the great outdoors at nearby St. Andrews State Park  and Camp Helen State Park. Both have pristine beaches, hiking and nature trails, fishing, boating, and other activities that keep you movin’. About an hour’s drive from Panama City Beach, Florida Caverns State Park is also well worth a day trip, highlighting one of the few dry caves in the state, complete with stalactites, stalagmites, and other jaw-dropping rock formations. It also has trails for hiking and horseback riding, picnic areas, a nine-hole golf course, and a gift shop.

How ‘bout playing all day on an island during your visit? Shell Island answers that need. Measuring in at about seven miles long, the barrier island runs east to west between the Gulf and St. Andrews Bay. With its natural sand dunes, pine and coastal scrub forests, and inland lake, it offers a little piece of wild Florida close to the city. It’s also home to deer, shorebirds, turtles, and other coastal wildlife, including the endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse.

Shell Island tour boats and shuttles take guests to and from the island year-round – an adventure on its own! Island goers spend the day snorkeling, shell collecting, and taking nature walks to view all that nature has to offer. You can even hop over to St. Andrews State Park, located on the western part of the island.

After a day of mingling with nature, head out to one of Panama City’s best restaurants to cap off the night. With so many good choices, you’ll be glad you did!

Explore Sea Life

Swim with dolphins and watch gators in action at Gulf World Marine Park. Indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase alligators, sharks, sea turtles, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, and other amazing aquatic life. The park also presents daily shows starring many of its ocean friends. You can even work alongside animal trainers for a fully immersive sea life experience. Don’t forget your camera to catch the memories in the making.

Next on the list – learn the history of diving, explore a real submarine, and see SEALAB 1, the world’s first underwater living facility, at the Man in the Sea Museum. Owned by the nonprofit Institute of Diving, this one-of-a-kind museum features a large collection of rare underwater equipment, including diving suits and helmets from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bring in the Biggest Catch

Sunrise on St. Andrews State Park's fishing pier.
Sunrise on St. Andrews State Park’s wooden fishing pier.

It’s no surprise Panama City Beach offers fantastic fishing charter services for visitors trying their luck at deep-sea fishing. For anglers preferring the landlubber life, the area has four fishing piers – three on the Gulf and one on Grand Lagoon. Identical to each other are the city’s Russell-Fields Pier and the county’s M. B. Miller Pier. Both stretch some 1,500 feet into the Gulf.

The cost to fish from the city pier is $7, with the county pier reeling in at $6. You’ll also find two fishing piers at St. Andrews State Park – one on the Gulf and the other on Grand Lagoon. There’s a small admission fee for the park but no charge to fish or stroll along either pier. Typical Panama City Beach catches include cobia, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, redfish, pompano, flounder, and bluefish.

Entertain Your Brain

Science is all about fun at WonderWorks. This interactive museum for the whole family features more than 100 exhibits housed in a four-story building that appears to be built upside-down at first glance. Attractions include a glow-in-the-dark indoor ropes course, laser tag, and six Wonder Zones that explore the principles of light and sound, outer space, natural disasters, and more.

Kids of all ages explore the strange and wonderful world of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. This one-of-a-kind museum features hands-on exhibits, unusual art and artifacts, a 7D moving theater, a mirror maze, a laser race, and more. Exhibits in its Odditorium include genuine shrunken heads and an eight-foot-tall Captain America sculpture made of scrap car parts.

Shop and Sail

Fireworks light up the night over Pier Park in Panama City Beach.
Fireworks light up the night over Pier Park in Panama City Beach.

Looking for a new swimsuit, surfboard, or boutique-inspired outfit? You’ll find all the hot shopping spots in Panama City Beach including those at Pier Park – great restaurants too! The property also features an IMAX theater with stadium seating, digital sound, and wall-to-wall screens. Pier Park is the all-in-one venue for concerts, parades, fireworks, and other special celebrations throughout the year.

The "upside-down exterior of WonderWorks museum in Panama City Beach, FL
The “upside-down” exterior of WonderWorks.

After shopping, the kids will love you when you take an ocean adventure aboard the Sea Dragon pirate cruise. Setting sail March through October from Panama City Beach, pirates engage kids with playful sword fights, cannon firings, treasure hunting, and face painting offered by the fun-loving, costumed crew. Everyone enjoys sightseeing and dolphin watching from the deck as the ship peacefully cruises along the shoreline of St. Andrews Bay.

Get a Bird’s-Eye View

For a bird’s-eye view of the sugar-white beaches, and an unforgettable vacation experience for all ages, sign up for a ride at Panhandle Helicopter. Big enough to accommodate a family of four, the helicopters not only offer panoramic views but also opportunities to spot sharks and dolphins. The kids will love wearing their own headsets and helping the pilot “fly” the aircraft, too!

With so many entertainment options, plus its miles of beautiful beaches, one phrase you won’t be hearing when you vacation in Panama City is “I don’t have anything to do”! And since Panama City Beach weather is subtropical you can plan on enjoying these activities year-round.

Vacation Planning Starts with Us

When you get ready to plan your trip, a great place to start is at our Panama City Beach Vacation Rentals listings. We offer links to a wide selection of rentals ranging from resorts and hotels to condos and houses, conveniently located at – or offering easy access to – the beach. Most of our beach vacation rental properties can be booked online on BeachGuide with no added fees. Our vacation planners are available by phone at 888-404-2602 to answer questions and assist with reservations.

Note: This article was originally written in 2016 and was updated in 2023 by BeachGuide staff.

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