The city of Panama City Beach in Florida advertises itself under the motto “Where Fun meets Sun“, making it the perfect destination for beach lovers and adventure seekers. In addition to miles of white sandy beaches, emerald green water, unspoiled nature and first-class restaurants, there are countless attractions and leisure activities for young and old. We like to show you our top activities and excursions in Panama City Beach.
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Things to know about Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is a city in the north of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. The town on the beautiful Emerald Coast has around 18,000 inhabitants and is located 5 kilometers west of Panama City and 160 kilometers west of Florida’s capital Tallahassee. Even if the town appears relatively small at first glance, it has a huge tourist infrastructure and therefore stands out somewhat from the rest of the Panhandle. There are more than 20,000 hotels, motels and condominiums as well as campsites and RV parks – something for every taste and budget.
Panama City Beach promotes itself with the slogan“Where Fun meets Sun” and more than 320 days of sunshine a year. The city is best known for its 43-kilometer-long white sandy beach, which is one of the most beautiful in the USA and has already won several awards. The city also has a lot to offer in terms of cuisine, and it is not for nothing that it is also known as the“Seafood Capital of the South“. We tried our way through numerous restaurants and have written a separate food guide for Panama City Beach.
The best excursions & activities
The beaches of the Emerald Coast
Panama City Beach is best known for its 43 kilometers of white sandy beach, which is one of the most beautiful in the USA and has already won several awards! The beach is part of Florida’s Emerald Coast and includes the beaches and coastal towns from Pensacola to Port St. Joe. The name of this stretch of coast has existed since 1983 and was chosen because of the emerald green water that meets the snow-white, fine sandy beaches here.
“Where fun meets sun”
Panama City Beach promotes itself with the slogan“Where Fun meets Sun” and more than 320 days of sunshine a year. Sun, beach & sea – the ideal conditions for water sports activities such as surfing, snorkeling and diving, parasailing and jet skiing. There are countless attractions for the whole family here.
A day trip to Shell Island
High on our to-do list for Panama City Beach was a visit to Shell Island, an approximately 11-kilometer-long, undeveloped patch of land that runs from east to west between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay. The name is somewhat misleading, as Shell Island is not actually an island at all, but is connected to the mainland as a 700-hectare peninsula.
There are various ways to get to Shell Island Beach and they all have one thing in common: it’s only possible by water.
(1) Taking the Shell Island Shuttle is the safest, quickest and easiest way to reach Shell Island. Boat tickets for a return trip cost USD 25 for adults and USD 18 for children aged 2 and over (plus tax). We opted for this shuttle and can highly recommend it. The boat departs from the pier next to the Grand Lagoon Bridge; plenty of free parking is available. The great thing is that you can stay on Shell Island as long as you like or until the last boat leaves. In summer, the boats run every 30 minutes from the mainland to the island and back, and every hour in the off-season.
(2) The Shell Island Ferry departs from St. Andrews State Park and also reaches Shell Island in just a few minutes. Please note that you still have to pay an entrance fee for the state park. Boat tickets (from EUR 26 per person) can be easily booked in advance, e.g. via GetYourGuide, or purchased on site.
(3) You can also combine a visit to Shell Island with a full-day boat trip to see even more of the area. GetYourGuide has a range of offers, from catamaran trips to dolphin watching tours and sunset sailing trips.
We took the Shell Island Shuttle and arrived on the western side of the island after a 15-minute boat ride. We then walked another 10 minutes from the boat landing stage to the southern beach on the Gulf coast, as this is ideal for swimming, snorkeling and collecting shells. You should listen carefully as you walk through the fine sand – because the sand does indeed make loud squeaking noises underfoot. This is due to the high quartz content of the sand, which consists of 99 percent pure quartz crystals on this part of Florida’s Gulf Coast. We had the same phenomenon at the famous Whitehaven Beach in Australia, for example.
After we had set up our pop-up beach shell (available on Amazon.de), we first let our drone fly to see what the beach and the (semi-)island looked like from above. And what are we to say? Simply beautiful! Emerald green water meets soft, powdery white sand. You can definitely spend a few hours here ❤
It is important to know that there are no garbage cans, no toilets and no food or drink stalls on Shell Island. That means you have to bring everything yourself: Cool boxes, chairs, parasols etc. – Everything is allowed.
We spent about two hours relaxing on the beach and then took the boat back ashore for lunch. We can definitely recommend a trip to Shell Island – even if the beaches in Panama City Beach are just as beautiful.
St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park is a 4.9 km² Florida State Park located on a peninsula on the far eastern edge of Panama City Beach. It borders the Gulf of Mexico to the south, St. Andrews Pass to the east and the Great Lagoon to the north. The park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset – 365 days a year. The entrance fee for a one-day stay is 8 USD per car. Camping is also possible.
The four-kilometer-long beach at St. Andrews was named the best beach in America in 1995. It is known for its sugar-white sand and crystal-clear, emerald-green water.
“Winners of the Best American Beach Award, 1995”
The leisure activities on offer in the park seem almost limitless. The nature reserve’s paths are great for hiking or cycling, observing animals and exploring the picnic areas. You can also hire kayaks, canoes or boats and there are fishing piers for fishing. Another popular activity is snorkeling and diving along the jetties, as many colourful fish can be seen just below the surface.
We made a short stop at Gator Lake in our car, but unfortunately we couldn’t see any alligators here. A small path leads along the lake, the so-called “Gator Lake Trail”. It is one of two nature trails in St. Andrews State Park.
Pier Park & SkyWheel
Just a few minutes’ walk from our accommodation, Pier Park is located directly on Front Beach Road in the heart of Panama City Beach. Pier Park is a huge open-air shopping center with shopping facilities (more than 100 stores), tourist attractions (Ferris wheel, mini golf, cinema, children’s train, etc.) and restaurants. We took a leisurely stroll along South Pier Park Drive one afternoon and popped into a few stores. The stores along the street form a beautiful colorful backdrop of houses – we really liked that.
At the end of South Pier Park Drive is the SkyWheel – a 57-meter-high Ferris wheel that opened in 2018. Of course, we also went for a ride and enjoyed the beautiful panorama and the all-round view of the coast, the sea and the city. A ride costs 19 USD for adults and 15 USD for children (4 to 11 years). It was really great that there were never any strangers riding together in a gondola, you were always alone in a gondola with your group. The ride took about 10 to 15 minutes and involved 4 revolutions. A great experience!
Our tip: if you can’t reach Pier Park on foot from your accommodation: You can park your car for free on the grounds of Pier Park. There are plenty of parking spaces available.
Russell-Fields City Pier
Directly opposite Pier Park on Panama City Beach is probably the city’s most famous attraction: the Russell-Fields City Pier. The pier is open all year round and stretches 457 meters into the Gulf of Mexico. This makes it one of the longest piers on the Gulf Coast. Visitors can enter the pier for a daily fee of 4 USD. Daily fishing licenses can be purchased for 7 USD. The pier is perfect for watching the sunset, taking a relaxing stroll and spotting dolphins, turtles and rays. There are several benches along the pier that invite you to linger.
We took some nice pictures of the pier from above with our drone and were even able to spot a few dolphins in the photos. A bird’s eye view like this is simply breathtaking every time.
Mini golf at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park
Panama City Beach has an incredible number of attractions geared towards children and families. On a sunny morning, we visited the Coconut Creek Family Fun Park, which is about a 10-minute drive from our accommodation. There are two 18-hole mini-golf courses and a huge maze. We’ve never been mini golfing with our older daughter before, so we really wanted to try it out. And it was a real hit, because she had so much fun and really wanted to play another round of mini golf at the end.
The mini golf course consists of two different courses, both of which are beautifully laid out with lawns, palm trees, waterfalls and animal figures. A round of mini golf costs USD 14.50 (plus tax) for adults. Children under the age of 5 play for free.
Other activities in Panama City Beach
Of course, there are many other activities in Panama City Beach, such as the Shipwreck Island Waterpark, the upside-down WonderWorks amusement complex, the zoo or the small Man in the Sea Museum, with exhibits and documents on the history of diving.
All in all, we spent five wonderful, jam-packed days in Panama City Beach and can absolutely recommend the destination for families. In the end, we would have liked to have had two or three more days to go to the beach again and try out one or two attractions.
All travel reports from Florida (2023)Sun, beach, palm trees, sightseeing, beautiful hotels, pools and the world of Sea World, Walt Disney & Co... We were really looking forward to this vacation in Florida. We put together a wonderful itinerary for our almost 4-week trip through the Sunshine State, with places that we were largely unfamiliar with. In the following travel reports we tell you about our experiences in Indian Shores, Clearwater Beach, Wakulla Springs, Panama City Beach, Orlando, Winter Haven and Treasure Island.
Our travel reports
➥ (1) Indian Shores Beach > Relaxing on Florida's Gulf Coast
➥ (1) Clearwater Beach > Clearwater Marine Aquarium & Pier 60
➥ (2) Wakulla Springs > Alligators, manatees & a boat trip through the marshlands
➥ (3) Panama City Beach > Beach, activities & food
➥ (3) Panama City Beach > Shell Island & St. Andrews State Park
➥ (4) Orlando > A full day at Discovery Cove
➥ (4) Orlando > SeaWorld Thme Park
➥ (4) Orlando > The Magic Kingdom Theme Park (Disney)
➥ (5) Winter Haven > Legoland Florida - A world of colorful bricks
➥ (5) Winter Haven > A day at the Peppa Pig Theme Park
➥ (6) Treasure Island > Relaxing under the Florida sun