Panama City, Florida, on the central Gulf Coast, is the largest city between Pensacola, less than three hours to the west and Tallahassee, two hours east. It’s a destination with a small-town atmosphere and funky coastal vibe. There is a long list of things to do in Panama City, and the variety, from watersports to food trails to art encounters, makes this a destination many choose to explore over and over again.
Here are 10 top reasons to visit.
#10. Enjoy The Downtown Vibe
At the heart of this destination are the waterfront historic districts of Panama City and St. Andrews, with their small-town atmosphere that combines coastal culture and funky fun. “Old Florida” is still very much a part of the culture and is the foundation for this eclectic setting with a bit of a salty side. From Panama City Center for the Arts (19E 4th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-640-3670), with its galleries and gift shop filled with local art to the herbs, jewelry and crystals of Baywitch (424 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401), to top notch fishing gear at C & G Sporting Goods (137 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-769-2317), the variety is amazing.
#9. Join a Biker Gang
Join Your Biker Gang (4601 W US-98, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-359-2724) for an epic guided e-bike tour of Historic St. Andrews. On this family-friendly adventure, visitors hit the road with a Road Captain and enjoy a custom tour from the locals. Those who want to explore on their own can rent an oversized YOLO bike from Bayside Rentals (111 W Beach Drive, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-215-2220) in Historic Downtown.
#8. Explore Natural Places
Access points to beaches and waters are abundant and spending a day on the water is a trip highlight for many. One spot that is a favorite has both bay and gulf access. St. Andrews State Park (4607 State Park Lane, Panama City Florida 32408; 850-708-6100) is surrounded by Gulf of Mexico waters on one side and St. Andrews Bay on the other. Swimming and snorkeling are great here. Taking the shuttle to Shell Island is another popular excursion. This uninhabited barrier island is thought by many to have the best shelling and snorkeling in the area and wildlife sightings are all part of the fun.
#7. Get Adventurous on the Water
Go on a glow-in-the-dark nighttime kayak adventure with All Inclusive Adventures (850-708-5969). The kayaks are clear and fitted with LED lights, illuminating the water and bringing the bay to life. Other trip options include a kayak tour of the more than 10 natural springs along the Econfina Creek or a paddle board adventure. For even more SUP fun, Katie’s Paddle Boarding Adventures (7229 Diane Lane, Panama City, Florida 32404; 850-276-2365) is a mobile paddle boarding service that brings the boards to you and offers lessons and eco tours. For those looking to add a little balance to their adventure, floating yoga sessions are also an option.
#6. Sip Your Way Through the Panama City Ale Trail
This tasty trail includes more than a dozen suggested spots, including local craft breweries and pubs that specialize in a variety of local and regional brews. Along the way, patrons get immersed in the Panama City culture. History Class Brewing Company (6 East 4th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-801-2337) is a brew pub with their own fresh beers flowing from the taps and local history oozing from the décor. 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.
#5. Search for the Best Qysters in Town
This Gulf Coast delicacy is a favorite on local menus and finding the best is a culinary challenge many visitors happily take on. The highlights of the Oyster Trail, of course, are the super star shellfish. The classic preparation, ice cold on the half shell, is the favorite at two iconic spots, 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). There are baked, grilled and fried options at the variety of restaurants on the trail. Diners will also discover champion shuckers, historic houses turned oyster bars and unmatched bayside views.
#4. Charter a Boat
Whether you want to be at the helm or leave the navigation to someone else, there is a boat rental option here. Sailors will love Reef Runner Sailing (3151 West 10th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-774-6070), which offers sailing classes, charter cruises and bare boat rentals. Panama City Beach Dolphin Tours & More (1213 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-571-5455) have dolphin watch tours as well as fishing and spearfishing charters. Many choose to take to the water on their own with a pontoon or fishing boat rental from Scotty Boat Rentals (5611 US Highway 98, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-872-1714).
#3. Dine on the Water
You don’t have to arrive by water, but that’s a plus! Everyone enjoys the waterfront views offered by many of the area’s favorite dining spots. 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. Harrison’s Kitchen & Bar (5 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-979-5550) is the newest addition to Panama City’s downtown, serving coastal and Southern dishes with beautiful views of the Panama City Marina and St. Andrews Bay. At Bayou Joe’s Marina & Grill (112 East 3rd Court, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-763-6442), the over-the-water seating provides a unique, 180-degree waterfront view. The menu of classics and specialties is served in a rustic setting.
#2. Create Your Own Art
For an immersive Panama City experience, what could be better than creating your own artist treasure? Take a workshop at the Panama City Hot Glass Studio (1331 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-866-9328) and make your own glass keepsake. LH Bead Gallery (550 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-257-5800) is a full-service bead store with one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry. Owner and artist Lisa Hanna not only makes her own lampwork beads but also offers jewelry-making classes.
#1 Go Fishing
Of course, fishing is a favorite activity here. Panama City is known as one of Northwest Florida’s best fishing spots and is home to a fleet of excellent captains and guides for both seasoned anglers and novices. Family Tradition Boat Charters (3151 West 10th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-819-4610) has many options including joining a muti-passenger trip aboard a 65-foot party boat, one of the most economical choices for a fishing excursion. Seminole Wind (1104 Bayview Avenue, Panama City, Florida 3240; 850-234-6740) specializes in private, customized Gulf charters and Back Bay Adventures (5505 Sun Harbor Road, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-819-5829) offers light tackle and fly fishing on the bay and inshore.
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