With postcard-perfect views of glistening stretches of white sands against the backdrop of brilliant blue skies and turquoise water, it’s no wonder that Panama City Beach, Florida’s slogan is, “The world’s most beautiful beaches.” This delightful beach-lovers’ dreamy destination on the Gulf of Mexico, this resort town offers all the trappings of an idyllic vacation. With nearly 30 miles of pristine, soft sand, this area provides a relaxing escape for lazing away on the breezy shore and taking a dip in the gentle waves.
A major, busy port city in Northwestern Florida, Panama City Beach is situated in the area often referred to as the Florida “Panhandle,” along the legendary Route 98, one of the most iconic highways in America. The coastal portion of the road begins at the Florida panhandle and passes through many beach towns along the way - as it continues west and through the state.
Above: Panama City Beach FL
...it’s no wonder that Panama City Beach, Florida’s slogan is, “The world’s most beautiful beaches.”
Panama City Beach Places to Stay
This town is all about the exceptionally stunning snow-white beaches and welcomes visitors to experience the jaw-dropping views along the coastline. First and foremost, the sugary soft beaches are divine and easy to reach. With over 100 public access points from the streets, visitors almost always experience the utmost in tranquility when stepping onto the sand. In addition to being free, the beaches each have a distinctive feel, as some are tranquil and almost empty, while others are more popular and offer activities like volleyball.
Families with children have their own special favorites areas, while others have a “see and be seen” vibe, and are considered a hot hangout with teens, twenty-somethings and hipsters. But one thing’s for sure: All beach-goers can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, boogie-boarding, picnicking and even trying to spot dolphins jumping near the shore. After all, a day at the beach is better than just about anything!
Families love to play together in Panama City Beach, as this area is also home to many cool kids’ attractions. One of the area’s more popular kid-focused spots is Coconut Creek, a family fun park where kids under six years old are admitted free. It’s an exciting place to spend an afternoon or evening, playing a round of miniature golf or getting lost in their massive “Gran Maze,” which is approximately the size of a football field and provides hours of family fun.
Another nearby destination that captures the spirit of Panama City Beach is Pier Park, a favorite among locals and considered one of the best outdoor places to visit in the area. It’s completely free to wander along the scenic coast among the shops, restaurants and variety of entertainment. Attracting over 1 million visitors a year, Pier Park has become a hot spot, and visitors flock to its Miracle Strip Amusement Park, a 50-year-old area landmark that was closed for years but recently re-opened.
Today, this retro amusement park is fun for all ages because it features vintage rides — from the 1950’s and ‘60’s — with some from the original park such as boats, carousels, a Tilt o’Whirl and a classic Ferris wheel, providing stunning views from above.
Have you ever wished to be alone on a topical island? A visit to Shell Island is a fantasy come true for those who want to experience the ultimate relaxing destination. This kid-friendly natural preserve is a barrier island stretching seven miles between St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Named after the beautiful shells that were found on the shore here, this island offers a idyllic beach day for those who enjoy splashing in waves, beachcombing, bird watching and hiking (or strolling) along the shore and island as well, as the island’s lake is also a popular destination for day trippers.
Travelers, be aware. This island features nature at its best: There are no restrooms, trashcans or food concessions here…so it’s essential to take out what your bring in.
Almost Free — Nearby State Parks
In addition, Panama City Beach Florida is home to two popular state parks: St. Andrews State Park and Camp Helen State Park. Although they are not completely “free,” they are certainly easy on the wallet, as they require a very affordable entrance fee (under $10 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians).
Nature lovers can spend hours (or even days) exploring these parks or relaxing on the beaches. St. Andrews is a former military reservation and encompasses nearly two miles of beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon. In addition to swimming, visitors will find great fishing; snorkeling and scuba diving available, while those who prefer to stay on top of the water will have a blast floating above the waves while kayaking and canoeing.
Although you can choose to hang out on the beach all day, the park’s nature trails offer excellent wildlife spotting and bird watching — an ideal place for families to get one with nature. The park also has a snack bar and other amenities, too.
Meanwhile, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on three sides, Camp Helen State Park is close to Lake Powell, one of the state’s biggest coastal dune lakes. The 180-acre park is open daily, and is also famous for hiking, biking, fishing and swimming. In addition, nearby is Apalachicola National Forest, Florida’s largest, which encompasses nearly 600,000 acres.
With a number of waterways winding through this coastal forest, this picturesque park is an ideal place to paddle around on kayaks and canoes, enjoying the green lush foliage as well as tropical plant and sea life. Visitors love to mountain bike and ride horses, too. And since the area is a big fishing spot, even beginners can get the chance to reel in some big (and tasty) local fish here, too.