Skip to content

The Top Things To Do in Panama City Beach

by S. Lynne on February 14th, 2016
Aerial view of Shell Island in Panama City Beach

Shell Island is a popular day trip for visitors to Panama City Beach, FL

With 27 miles of white-sand beaches bordering the Gulf of Mexico, it’s no wonder that Panama City Beach, Florida, is a favorite destination for vacationers. It also offers plenty of options for visitors not content to lie around and laze in the sun. Following are our suggestions for the top things to do in Panama City Beach.

Guests who take an active approach to the great outdoors will appreciate the facilities at nearby St. Andrews State Park  and Camp Helen State Park. Both offer pristine beaches, hiking and nature trails, fishing, boating, and other recreational activities. About an hour’s drive from Panama City, Florida Caverns State Park is well worth a day trip. It boasts one of the few dry caves in the state, complete with stalactites, stalagmites, and other interesting rock formations. It also has trails for hiking and horseback riding, picnic areas, a nine-hole golf course, and a gift shop.

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

Fireworks light up the night over Pier Park.

Uninhabited, undeveloped, and accessible only by water, Shell Island is another perfect spot for a day’s outing. Approximately seven miles long, the barrier island runs east to west between the Gulf and St. Andrews Bay. With its 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. Snorkeling, shell collecting, and nature walks are all popular pastimes for Shell Island visitors. The western part of Shell Island is part of St. Andrews State Park. Tour boats and shuttles take guests to and from the island year-round.

Visitors of all ages will find plenty of ways to enjoy nature at Gulf World Marine Park. Here, indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase alligators, sharks, sea turtles, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, and other aquatic life. The park also offers daily shows starring many of its fishy inhabitants. Its interactive programs include swimming with dolphins and working alongside the facility’s animal trainers.

  Not surprisingly, Panama City Beach offers plenty of fishing charter services for visitors who want to try their luck at deep-sea fishing. For anglers who prefer to do their fishing from something that doesn’t rock, the area boasts four fishing piers – three on the Gulf and one on Grand Lagoon. Recently constructed and identical to each other are the Russell-Fields (City) Pier and the M. B. Miller (County) Pier. Both stretch some 1,500 feet into the Gulf and are as popular with spectators as they are with anglers. The cost to fish from either pier is $6. Two additional fishing piers can be found at St. Andrews State Park, one on the Gulf and the other on Grand Lagoon. There is a small admission charge for the park but no charge to fish from or stroll along either pier. Typical Panama City Beach catches include cobia, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, redfish, pompano, flounder, and bluefish.

The Sea Dragon pirate ship under way in the waters around Panama City Beach

The Sea Dragon pirate ship sails most days from March through October.

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 unusual museum also boasts a large collection of rare underwater equipment, including some uncomfortable-looking 19th- and early-20th-century diving suits and helmets.

With its mix of science and fun, WonderWorks offers unforgettable experiences for the whole family. This interactive museum features more than 100 exhibits housed in a four-story building that appears on the outside to be upside-down. 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 – and more than a few adults – will want to explore the strange and wonderful world of Robert Ripley at 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.

There are plenty of spots to shop and eat at Pier Park. The property also features an IMAX theater with stadium seating, digital sound, and wall-to-wall screens. And Pier Park is the 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

Another family-pleasing option for Panama City visitors from March through October is the Sea Dragon pirate cruise. Kids will love the sword fights, cannon firings, treasure hunting, and face painting offered by the fun-loving, costumed crew. And everyone will enjoy sightseeing and watching for dolphins and other wildlife along the shoreline of St. Andrews Bay.

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”!

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.

Comments are closed.