On the central northern Gulf Coast between Pensacola and Tallahassee, Panama City, Florida, sits along the scenic shores of St. Andrews Bay. It is a historic waterfront destination marked by communities that have preserved the character of their past while welcoming a variety of new activities and attractions. The combination, along with the close proximity of the downtown Panama City and Historic St. Andrews neighborhoods, makes this a fun destination for a three-day getaway.

Day 1 – Discover the History and Culture

Upon arriving in Panama City, visitors discover there are two distinct districts to explore, each with a rich history that has become the foundation for much of the character found throughout its streets and neighborhoods. A great way to find out more is to take to the streets on the historic walking tours. Self-guided tours of downtown Panama City and of St. Andrews make it easy to learn about each area, enjoy the walkable communities and see the sites. Along the way, be sure to mark off your sightings of the creative visuals along the Mural Trail throughout this vibrant destination.

Those who prefer a free, guided walking tour can visit the Panama City Publishing Company Museum (1134 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-872-7208) on Wednesdays and Fridays at 1 p.m. If the full walking tour is not for you, the museum is a treasure trove of information and exhibits about local history and culture as well as vintage printing craft. After a visit there, cross the street for a stroll along St. Andrews Marina on the Bayview Avenue Boardwalk or enjoy the open green space and waterfront view of Oaks by the Bay Park (Beck Avenue and West 10th Street). The centerpiece is a Sentry Oak, nearly 300 years old, along with beautiful chainsaw tree carvings, a Civil War era Salt Pot and a boardwalk leading to St. Andrews Bay.

When it is time for that mid-day meal, the quaint Alice’s on Bayview (1000 Bayview Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-640-4516) is a local favorite, known for seafood and also as a favorite brunch spot. Its outdoor deck conjures the atmosphere of a secret garden.

Next, take in the Bay County Historical Museum (133 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-818-0964). The museum is dedicated to providing public access to and enjoyment of its collections, which have been curated to nurture an appreciation of the rich history of Bay County.

In keeping with the historic theme, and as a fun way to satisfy your thirst, a visit to History Class Brewing Company (6 East 4th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-801-2337) is the perfect way to wind down. Along with their own local brews this place offers a window into Panama City’s history, through its nostalgic décor. If you want to add enjoying craft beer to your daily itinerary, you will enjoy sipping your way through the Panama City Ale Trail.

For dinner, a perennial favorite for seafood, Captain’s Table Fish House Restaurant (1110 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-919-9933) is an iconic local eatery. It has been family-owned and -operated in St. Andrews since 1967. The menu features seafood and more seafood and all the favorite Southern preparations.

Day 2 – Salty Starts & Downtown Doings

Start the day in historic St. Andrews, the neighborhood that prides itself in staying salty. Its funky shops and waterfront views combine to fulfill that promise. Begin with breakfast at Luna Muna Cafébar (1127 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-303-3405) for a fresh plate made from locally sourced producers and a carefully crafted coffee or tea. This is the perfect laid-back spot to plan the day.

A walk along Beck Avenue reveals several shops specializing in local art. Gypsybeach Treasured Kreations (1107 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 904-451-3071) showcases more than 30 local artists and vintage curators and Floriopolis (1131 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-249-9295) is a gallery, market and studio space filled with art and crafts. Just around the corner, Little Village (2808 West 12th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-215-9273) is a retail space where “feel good shopping” means supporting fair trade companies that have a positive impact. This is also home to Finns Island Style Grub, a favorite locals lunch spot on the water. Here, tacos, quesadillas and island-style specialties are most popular.

In the afternoon, you can exchange salty for contemporary cool with time along the streets of downtown Panama City. Art lovers must begin at the Panama City Center for the Arts (19E 4th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-640-3670), with its permanent collection, changing exhibit galleries and gift shop filled with local art. Or if fun and games is more your style, the Portal Downtown (328 Luverne Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-391-8710) promotes screen-free time for table games and memorable moments. There are nearly 300 games available along with custom sodas and snacks.

A visit to El Weirdo Taco Pub (24 West Oak Avenue, Panama City, Florida; 850-842-7685), a self-proclaimed “weird spot,” offers a unique opportunity to take in local art while enjoying craft brews. The taqueria serves its own craft beers amid the bright and imaginative creations of local artists. This is also an excellent place to begin a “sip and stroll” throughout downtown’s designated Social District, where participating restaurants and bars distribute specially marked cups for strolling and other businesses welcome those enjoying a beverage to bring it in.

From the inspirational gifts at Little Mustard Seed (437 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-818-0691) to the mystical crystals at Baywitch (424 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401) to the classic finds at Main Street Antiques (535 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-640-3390), there are a variety of retail shops to explore.

If you’d like to engage your inner artist, book a DIY workshop at Board & Brush Creative Studio (452 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-633-3877) or Panama City Hot Glass (1331 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-866-9328).

Dinner on the water is the perfect way to end the day and you’ll find some of the best views at Harrison’s Kitchen & Bar (5 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-979-5550), located at Panama City Marina. It has upscale coastal flair and serves a variety of seafood and Southern dishes.

Day 3 – Enjoy the Waters

A day on water, of course, should begin with breakfast on the water. Bayou Joe’s Marina & Grill (112 East 3rd Court, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-763-6442) has 180-degree waterfront views and a rustic atmosphere. Serving Southern favorites and seafood specialties, this casual dockside favorite is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There are several ways to get out and enjoy the water here, from Gulf of Mexico excursions to St. Andrews Bay adventures. Whether you prefer a boat ride with an experienced captain, an active paddling experience or something in between, there are plenty of options for a fun-filled morning. 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. For 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.

Any day on the water gets even better with a visit to Papa Joe’s Bayside (4601 West US-98, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-604-4923). This is a waterfront gathering place on St. Andrews Bay featuring water access, food trucks – from morning coffee to tasty dinners options – full bar, pontoon boat rentals and live music.

Come sunset, a glow-in-the-dark nighttime kayak adventure with a company like Glow Float (At Bayside Rentals PC, 111 West Beach Drive, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-851-6447) is a must. The kayaks are clear and fitted with LED lights, illuminating the water and bringing the bay to life.

For a casual end to the day, a visit to Mosey’s (425 Grace Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-215-4802) is in order. Pizza is the mainstay here, but there is more on the menu and Mosey’s is known as a favorite local music venue. For a more upscale meal, St. Andrews Bodega (1109 Beck Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850- 215-0366) is a hot spot for both brunch and dinner. The creative, ever-changing menu includes seafood and house-cut steaks in a café setting.

Where to stay

There are lodging choices to meet every desire for comfort and fun, from a full line of national brand hotels to a number of Airbnb rentals. The newest property in town is the Hotel Indigo, Panama City Marina (7 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32401; 850-402-5100), a boutique waterfront hotel which opened downtown last year. Overlooking St. Andrew Bay, its guest rooms have luxury appointments and sunset views. Amenities include a restaurant, rooftop bar and a bayfront pool and promenade.

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