Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends


Florida’s Panama City Beach has long been known as the U.S. destination for spring breakers. But it’s so much more than that. If you want to enjoy the area’s 27 miles of white-sand and emerald-green waters (thanks to the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay) Panama City makes an ideal “big city” base of exploration for the Florida panhandle. You’ll get your days in the sun (and sand) and have quick access to plenty of cultural attractions, great dining options and more.

RELATED: 7 amazing Florida house boats you can book now

Water fun is, of course, one of the biggest attractions here. You can kayak, paddleboard, jump on a jet ski or WaveRunner, swim, snorkel or settle in a cabana on the sand and snooze. Boating is big, too. Care for a sunset cruise, a dolphin tour, deep sea fishing? Go for it. Take an excursion to nearby Shell Island. Talk about solitude, especially if it’s off season. Whether it’s you and the kids, or you and your honey, you’ll feel like you’re all but on your own private island. Don’t forget to pack a lunch.

There are other ways to enjoy the water. Shipwreck Island Waterpark has 3 million gallons of water and many ways to have fun in it, including a 500,000-gallon wave pool. For a personal encounter with sea life, there’s Gulf World. Swim with dolphins and get up close with stingrays and sea lions. Anticipate seeing flamingos, sharks, sea turtles and other animals.

Land lovers aren’t left out. Golfing is big here, whether you like the putt-putt or the real deal. Bike and walk the many trails and parks.  For family fun try and find your way out of Gran Maze, it’s the size of a football field! Do check out the pastel-colored buildings at Pier Park. It offers stores and boutiques for when you want to get your shopping on. When you get weary, take a load off and dine at one of the many restaurants, or eateries with baked goodies, ice cream—all manner of temptation. Catch live music at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, or kick back at the Hofbrau Beer Garden. Pier Park is also the site of special events and concerts. The vibe is festive.

ALSO: Earn travel rewards while you soak up the sun—join Orbitz Rewards today!

The biggest shock in Panama City Beach just might be how good the food is in this town. Think big city taste and panache without the high prices—and very family friendly. The kids can eat more than cheeseburgers and pizzas, if you can get them to try something new.

While you have a myriad of dining options, there are a few you shouldn’t miss. One of those is relative newcomer, the Grand Marlin. The name gives you a hint that seafood is the specialty and they do it well. You can’t go wrong with the Cajun blackened fish tacos with jalapeno slaw, or the crusted grouper picatta, parmesan with whipped potatoes and sautéed spinach. Schooners, on the other hand, has been around since the ’60s. It’s on the beach, and loved as much for its music and events as its great food and drink. The sautéed and fried blue crab claws are unforgettable, as are the Bloody Marys with bacon, asparagus and shrimp—a meal in a glass. If, somehow, you’re tired of seafood, try the Cuban sandwich or jerk chicken.

For casual fine dining, Firefly is the spot. If you order only one thing, make it the she crab soup, with puff pastry and cream sherry, it goes down so smooth with a burst of flavor. Then there’s the pepper crusted stuffed filet mignon with cream cheese, feta, spinach and bacon. You’ll talk about this meal when you get back from vacation.

The brewery craze hasn’t skipped Panama City Beach. Pop into Nivol Brewery & Tap Room for a laid-back atmosphere and down the popular Scuba IPA and the Vanilla Viper Porter.

Photo courtesy of Carillon Resort Inn

You also have plenty of choices when you decide where to lay your head after each fun-filled day. Consider the Carillon Beach Resort Inn and the very family friendly Holiday Inn Resort. On the luxury side, the Sheraton Bay Point Resort is the only AAA Four Diamond Resort in town and is set on scenic St. Andrews Bay.  It’s all dolled up after a $30 million renovation. It features a private beach, golf course, marina, spa and four restaurants. Restaurant Tides not only has ocean views, but executive chef Shane Miller, known for his winning appearances on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and Guy’s Grocery Game holds nothing back with oysters with jalapeño bacon jam, shrimp corndogs, lobster bisque and an array of imaginative dishes, including Krispy Kreme bread pudding. He and restaurant manager Todd York do an awesome job of pairing foods with wine and York is creative with his “beertails,” like Pirate’s Punch consisting of Captain Morgan spiced rum, ginger beer and real passion fruit puree. After a great meal, stroll the property’s pier, it seems to extend into eternity.

Panama City Beach is within a stone’s throw of many of the Florida Panhandle’s best attractions. Here are a few of our favorites:

Destin (est. driving time: 75 mins)
Famous for its white sand beaches, family-friendly Destin in many way epitomizes the panhandle’s breezy vacation charms. Chock full of cheap and cheerful seafood restaurants and activities galore, the beach alone is why most folks make the trek.

Seaside (est. driving time: 45 mins)
An experiment in new urbanist living, this planned community of 12,000 was made famous as the location of the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show. The sidewalks are immaculately tidy and the homes a pastel-colored mishmash of different architecutural styles. You won’t want to live here, but it’s a fascinating place to visit.

Apalachicola (est. driving time: 1 hour, 45 mins)
To get away from the Panhandle’s relentless kitsch, make the drive east where rural charms abound. Teensy Apalachicola offers a tasty dose of “Old Florida” and small town charm in the form of a pleasing downtown chock full of charming storefronts and eateries. For eerie, swampy thrills, make a beeline for Tate’s Hell State Forest.

Tagged: Florida

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money,,,, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *