While it’s known as a popular Gulf Coast destination, Panama City, Florida’s variety of waterways may surprise many. The protected water of St. Andrews Bay, a nearby network of inland rivers, streams and bayous and the open water of the Gulf of Mexico combine to make this the perfect destination for those who love to be on the water. It’s also an easy spot to get to by land. Located on the central Gulf Coast, it’s three hours east of Pensacola and two hours west Tallahassee. Once here, access points to beaches and waters are abundant.
There is an amazing variety of ways to enjoy time on the water here, any time of year. From winter sunsets and spring fishing to summer paddling adventures and fall family outings, there is always a reason to hit the water. One spot with many ways to enjoy the variety is St. Andrews State Park (4607 State Park Lane, Panama City Florida 32408; 850-708-6100). The park sits with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and St. Andrews Bay on the other. Here, visitors can enjoy swimming and snorkeling or casting a line. The fishing is excellent with options of surf casting from the white-sand beaches or dropping a line from the rock jetties or the park’s fishing pier. Exploring Shell Island is always a favorite excursion for visitors. The uninhabited barrier island stretches for seven miles between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. It can be accessed by shuttle or private vessel and once on the island, shelling, snorkeling, fishing and wildlife sightings are all part of the fun.
Sunset cruises, nature tours and dolphin watch cruises offer exciting opportunities to explore nearshore waters and get an introduction to the marine life that thrives here. Flippin’ Awesome Adventures (112 East 3rd Court, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-276-4796) offers two-, three- and four-hour customizable tours. Passengers can spend time on a relaxing boat ride, exploring the waters with scuba gear or becoming a volunteer marine biologist. With Katie’s Paddle Boarding Adventures (7229 Diane Lane, Panama City, Florida 32404; 850-276-2365), visitors can learn paddleboarding, take a guided tour or even enjoy a floating yoga class. Katie’s will even deliver boards to a designated meeting spot. Reef Runner Sailing (3151 West 10th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-774-6070) offers sailing classes, charter cruises and bare boat rentals, all based out of St. Andrews Marina.
The central Gulf Coast is known for its outstanding Gulf fishing and Panama City has some of the best. Offshore sportfishing and bottom fishing as well as near-shore trolling give anglers lots of options from season to season. For inshore fishing, St. Andrews Bay spans thousands of acres including saltwater flats and seagrass beds. So, whether it’s a spring cobia run, an offshore trip for tuna or wahoo, or casting in the shallows for redfish and flounder, there is always a challenge for angers here. GOTCHA Expeditions (1201 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401;
850-890-7746) is one of several charter services, offering a variety of trip options for fishing as well as family fun tours. At Panama City Inshore (4601 U.S. Highway 98, Panama City, Florida 32401), a host of captains are available for avid anglers looking for a specialized trip, from big game fishing to fly rod casting. To take on the challenge of kayak fishing, Sunjammers (1129 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-235-2281) offers guided trips with experienced anglers.
For those more interested in paddling, the area’s variety of waters make it appealing all year. Kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent during the summer season at the St. Andrews State Park boat rental shack located near the boat ramp. From paddling around Grand Lagoon to crossing the boat channel to Shell Island, there is always an adventure waiting. Panama City is also part of the Emerald Coast Region of the Florida Paddling Trails Association. Two popular paddling spots on the trail are the nearby Econfina and Holmes Creek paddling trails. These pristine inland waterways include both calm and challenging sections, flow past crystal clear springs and old growth forest and are popular spots for a cool excursion during the summer.
Serious paddlers may want to take on a stretch of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. This 1,515-mile sea kayaking paradise trail is Florida’s longest and most ambitious, and it all begins here in Northwest Florida.
If you go
In addition to waterways and paddling routes, there are other trails to explore here, too:
Panama City is home to several sites on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Located in the Atlantic Flyway, spring and summer bring a multitude of migratory birds, joining the diverse native bird population here.
The Panama City Mural Trail features more than 15 works of art on display throughout Panama City’s historic neighborhoods and was created with the goal of providing “Art on Every Corner.” Local and nationally known artists have added their creative vision to the destination’s downtown canvas.
The Panama City Ale Trail includes nine local craft breweries and pubs that specialize in a variety of local and regional brews. Pair that with the tasty, salty goodness to be found on the local Oyster Trail, and the true flavor of Panama City is yours to enjoy.
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