Visitors come to Panama City Beach for many reasons, but mostly for the attractions, seaside accommodations and fun water sports. I got stuck on a live oak tree.
I was exploring St. Andrews State Park, a 1,200-acre peninsular park three miles east of Panama City Beach that contains pristine white beaches with emerald-colored water on two sides. There’s hiking trails through palmetto and live oak forests, wildlife sightings that include gators and deer (thankfully not together) and a boat excursion to the isolated Shell Island.
But, there was this tree. Located along the Gator Lake Path, this oak offered adequate space for a person to rest inside its branches, kick up their heels and enjoy nature at its finest. I watched great blue herons and egrets building nests, spotted a few colorful migratory birds and savored the sea breeze blowing in from the Gulf only a few hundred yards away.
I did do the requisite beach activities, but I came back the next day to my tree for a second dose of nature exploration. And that’s Panama City Beach in a nutshell — plenty of fun attractions to keep vacationers busy, coupled with Florida’s natural side.
Dress casual for lunch or beach cocktails at Schooners, a local favorite positioned right on the beach. Or visit around dusk to enjoy the ceremonial cannon fire at sunset. If you’d rather wear closed-toed shoes to dinner, the elegant Firefly offers award-winning seafood dishes and steaks, perfect for a romantic night out. Check out their signature grouper dish, which they’ve served to presidents and U.S. Olympians at the London Games.
Two fun places not to be missed include The Pour Coffee & Community, a delightful coffee shop serving hand-crafted javas while also assisting communities worldwide through their ministry, and the Yard Milkshake Bar, a gourmet shake shop where 28 base flavors can be combined into massive dream shakes.
SpringHill Suites Panama City Beach Beachfront by Marriott opened in 2019, offering gorgeous Gulf views from guest room balconies, a fabulous outdoor pool and an expansive lobby where visitors can enjoy meals and cocktails looking out of a wall of windows facing the Gulf. The hotel’s centrally located in the heart of Panama City Beach, easy to pop over to attractions, dining and, of course, that fabulous St. Andrews State Park.
There’s more than enough activities to fill a week in Panama City Beach, from parasailing with Adventures at Sea to the Max Flight Simulator at Cobra Adventure Park. Families can spend a day at Shipwreck Island Water Park with its 500,000-gallon wave pool, lazy river, tube ride and the exciting river runs or WonderWorks amusement park that offers unique hands-on exhibits.
This year marks the return of UNwineD, a two-day culinary festival featuring craft beer, wine and spirits from around the world coupled with food dishes area chefs. The festival June 4-5 will be held in Aaron Bessant Park and includes a Friday garden party with “Top Chef” winner Kelsey Barnard Clark and a Grand Afternoon Tasting on Saturday. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Visitpanamacitybeach.com/unwined.
Jump aboard a variety of boat options with Lagoon Pontoon and watch bottle-nose dolphins in the Bay or Gulf and dig and snorkel for unique shells on Shell Island which is only accessible by boat. Their boat tours focus on small groups, offering more intimate ways to view sea life and explain the unique eco-information of the region. Visitors can also take a boat to Shell Island via St. Andrews State Park.