Panama City Celebrates Sidewalk Artists, Film Nerds and Beer Lovers

Eclectic slate of events adds fun to every season on Florida’s central Gulf Coast

Photo credit: Destination Panama City
The St. Andrews Mardi Gras parade and festival is the largest and most popular Mardi Gras celebration in Bay County. Photo credit: Destination Panama City

Occupying a prime spot on the central Gulf Coast, Panama City, Florida, has become a go-to destination for those looking for some downtown fun paired with a coastal vibe. While it is the largest city between Pensacola, less than three hours to the west and Tallahassee, two hours east, Panama City has a small-town atmosphere that encourages equal parts waterfront relaxation and main street motion.

Throughout the year, its slate of annual events reflects the destination’s unique coastal character. There are celebrations of cherished traditions and coastal culture alongside festivals featuring on-the-spot creativity and the works of new artists. Combine this array of special events with the year-round attraction of Panama City’s wealth of on-the-water activities and downtown dining and shopping, and visitors have reasons to come back again and again.

Pamama City Celebrates the Arts

Florida Luxe Arts Festival (FLLUXE) in March is called a celebration of the arts and it brings the streets to life with chalk installations and more. The festival includes renowned national street painters as well as local artists. The magic unfolds on Friday as artists begin creating their visions. That’s when a walk through the downtown streets becomes an unforgettable, immersive experience. From simple beauty to explosions of color and 3-D illusion to glow-in-the-dark scenes, the results are amazing. A variety of musical performances add yet another element to enjoy, as do the treats of local vendors offering a variety of food and artistic creations. Checking out the current exhibition and permanent collection at the Panama City Center for the Arts (19E 4th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-640-3670) is also a must-do during the festival.

Redfish Film Fest hits the screen–and the streets–in April. This documentary film festival features 75 entries and is vying to become the premier event of its kind in the Southeast. And you don’t have to be a film nerd to enjoy it! Documentaries from a talented collection of film makers fill the lineup and explore a variety of topics, from oysters to asteroids and coal mining to sports. In addition, there are keynote addresses, panels and group discussions and the festival includes some outstanding celebrations, too. Block parties, cocktail parties, meet-the-artists gatherings and a red-carpet gala are all a part of experience. Walking among the venues, and from the beautiful new Hotel Indigo Panama City Marina (7 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-402-5100), is a breeze in downtown Panama City.

Blessing of the Fleet

May brings a traditional coastal Blessing of the Fleet event but here, they add some Panama City fun. Here it’s known as the Blessing of the Fleet, Fish Fry & Burning of the Socks and it’s held at the St. Andrews Marina in historic St. Andrews. The fish fry starts in the morning with the vessel procession at mid-day. The blessing is followed by a sock burning, where participants are encouraged to “free your feet” for the upcoming summer season. There are vendor displays onsite, too, and proceeds from the event benefit a local non-profit.

For more than three decades Oktoberfest has been celebrated in downtown Panama City on Harrison Avenue. The festival is family friendly and filled with variety, from traditional German goodness to local food vendor fare. Live music, traditional costumes and a stein-hoisting contest are all part of this annual Oktoberfest celebration. 

Music Takes Center Stage

Panama City Songwriters Festival brings music to center stage each November. Local, regional, national and even international songwriters participate, with performances at a variety of venues throughout the walkable downtown streets of Panama City. Audiences have an amazing opportunity to not only hear songs performed as they were written by the artist, but also to hear the stories behind the songs’ meaning and inspiration. Enjoying the food, drinks and atmosphere of the eclectic mix of downtown venues is an added bonus.

With a new year comes new ways to have fun. The good times roll each year at the Krewe of St. Andrews Mardi Gras Festival which has been bringing three days of parades, food, music and more to downtown for nearly three decades. It’s a family friendly celebration that’s free and has something for everyone. There are parades for the youngsters and the furry friends, as well as the main parade which brings colorful floats and festive music through the streets. A craft beer festival and VIP viewing experiences are also available for those looking for additional festival fun.

Where to Eat

Before and after the festival are great times to take advantage of the variety of excellent local eateries in Panama City. Many options include outdoor seating and live music, adding atmosphere to their outstanding menus.

Harrison’s Kitchen & Bar (5 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-979-5550) with its coastal flair and beautiful waterfront views, serves seafood and Southern dishes, overlooking Panama City Marina and St. Andrews Bay.

Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill (1151 Bayview Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-763-8427) has an extensive menu and three levels of outdoor dining overlooking the bay. 

Finns Island Style Grub (2808 West 12th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-215-9273) is a favorite locals spot on the water serving tacos, quesadillas and island-style specialties. It is located in Little Village, a live entertainment and a “feel good shopping” retail venue. Another casual on-the-water favorite is Bayou Joe’s Marina & Grill (112 East 3rd Court, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-763-6442), with its menu of delicious classics and specialties. 

Thistle & Thorn (304 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401) offers creative cocktails and food in a retro art-deco lounge atmosphere. The changing menu includes brunch items, salads, charcuterie and more. It is adjoined by The Prominent Goat, a speakeasy tattoo parlor, located in the rear of the restaurant.

Hunt’s Oyster Bar (1150 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-763-9645) and Gene’s Oyster Bar (302 Sherman Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-785-1232) are both well-known spots for oysters, any way you like them. Whether baked, grilled or fried or ice cold on the half shell, this salty delicacy never disappoints. 

Beer Lovers Unite!

Beer lovers will also want to visit these two local favorites. History Class Brewing Company (6 East 4th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-801-2337) offers fresh-from the tap brews with a history lesson on the side. Local décor tells stories of downtown days gone by. At Salty Oak Brewing Company (2337 St. Andrew’s Boulevard, Suite C, Panama City, Florida 32405; 850-276-0706), more than a dozen craft beers are on tap and live music and food trucks add to the local vibe.

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