Looking for a warm weather beach destination in Florida? Panama City Beach leaps to the forefront of the list with tons of activities and fabulous food finds. Find out what the big draws are to this Florida panhandle favorite destination as TravelingMom with Teens squeezed in all the activities and definitely all the food on a three day weekend.
Panama City Beach: Things to Do and Eat
Do you hear that? The Florida panhandle is calling. Springing back from Hurricane Michael, Panama City Beach is rebounding and ready for action. Having experienced this beach town playground in October, I must say how impressed I am with the variety of outdoor and indoor offerings and the wide array of food options. With only 3 days to play with my teenage son in tow, we set out to take on the fun, soak up the sun, and dive into a ton (of dishes) during our PCB adventure.
First and foremost, Panama City Beach and Panama City are two totally distinct cities. Think of them as fraternal twins who keep getting confused and yet look so different. So that’s why I will always be mentioning the full name or even throwing in its shorter moniker PCB. Hey, I need to get that for my name, it would make me sound like a celebrity!
The P in Panama City Beach might as well stand for a plethora of activities; the C for cooking that exceeds all expectations, and of course, the B would be for the beach. Let’s unpack all the fun and food to be had in Panama City Beach. (Hey, even if Panama City is your destination, come on over to PCB.)
Things to Do in Panama City Beach
The word “plethora” comes to mind for Panama City Beach activities. I’ve always liked that word ever since 7th grade English class with Mrs. Withers. (That is totally a separate story as she was one of the oldest teachers I’ve ever had and I’m convinced she fell asleep one day while standing up.) I do owe Mrs. Withers a debt of gratitude for expanding my vocabulary, and “plethora” meaning an abundance or large amount falls into that category. Let me tell you, there are a plethora of activities in Panama City Beach.
From the creeks where alligators roam free to the highest heights of the sky in a Sky Wheel, we covered some territory in our mere 3 days.
Jet Skiing with Adventures at Sea
“One if by land, two if by sea.” Yep, my son and I were the two onboard our jet ski adventure with Adventures at Sea. What a perfect activity for thrillseekers, water lovers, and those who adore the great outdoors. And especially for teens because they definitely feel the need for speed!
Two things were confirmed on our jet ski excursion: 1) it is one of the most exhilarating activities a person can do on the water, and 2) I suck at jetskiing! Yes, my streak of being jetskiing challenges continues as my son had to ride with the guide. My problem: I would overcorrect the steering in trying to get the jet ski leveled out. In my defense, they say that it’s harder to steer a jet ski with the weight of two people on it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
We rode the jet skis over to Shell Island and got to take a dip in those green waters that would make even Elphaba from the musical Wicked jealous! By the end of our two-hour adventure, I had gotten the knack for controlling my jet ski, so I was happy. Meanwhile, my teen was far more impressed with the tricks and spins he experienced with our guide. So all in all, I’d call that a win-win!
Gator Watching with Wild Thang Airboat Tours
Between getting to hold a gator and ride in an airboat, I feel like I’ve checked two items off a bucket list. (Now that means I never have to touch a gator again.) For our one hour afternoon tour, we set out in our airboat with ear protection in hand-thank goodness because the airboat generates a ton of sound. My teen’s favorite moment? The 180-degree spin out move!
Possible wildlife sightings may include dolphins, alligators, sharks, manatees, snakes, stingrays, crabs, jellyfish, turtles, catfish, bass, alligators, deer, wild hogs, bears, bald eagles, osprey, herons, and egrets. The problem with nature is, it doesn’t always cooperate. We didn’t see any alligators, but we learned about the ecosphere.
This experience is best suited if looking for something that’s a bit unexpected or never done before or if several days are part of the itinerary.
Explore and Shop at Pier Park
Pier Park is an outdoor complex boasting 124 stores and is an entertainment hub and spot for year-round festivals like the ever-popular Pirates of the High Seas Fest in October. Featuring live music, pirate parades, pirate costumes, an 8,000 beach ball drop from the sky, and fireworks, this FREE event over Columbus Day weekend draws locals and visitors alike. With attractions like the Sky Wheel (which reminds me of a Journey song), The Grand IMAX Theater, XD Dark Ride 7D Experience, and the Emerald Coast Mirror Maze and Laser Tag, there was more to keep us busy than we had time for.
Beach Time Exploring St. Andrews State Park
A huge component of a trip to Panama City Beach would be the BEACH itself. Specifically, we set a course for Shell Island and St. Andrews State Park. I’d have to say the outdoors time and splashing around in the waves on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island had to be the teens’ favorite activity. Who can blame them? With white sands and balmy temperatures even in September, it was a pure perfection kind of day. What I wasn’t expecting was the emerald green hue of the ocean here. And I do mean a gorgeous shade of green!
Getting there was also a mini adventure in itself as we set sail from our home base, the Sheraton Bay Point Resort (more on that later).
Finding bliss is easy on the beach in Panama City. What made the day awesome? A shady spot under the umbrella watching five teenagers who just met become fast friends; talking with fellow moms and bloggers as we had a beach picnic; and beachcombing for shells.
Where to Eat in Panama City Beach
Eating is an activity unto itself, especially while traveling! And the C in Panama City Beach should stand for exceptional cooking! Goodness gracious, were there outstanding restaurants! I’m talking about breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here are some suggestions on where to eat and specifically what dishes to try:
Where to Eat BREAKFAST/BRUNCH:
With a laid-back atmosphere and delicious breakfast dishes, Liza’s Kitchen offers gourmet brunch and lunch. The claim to fame is making everything from scratch, including Focaccia bread, soups, and salad dressings. Even the mayonnaise is homemade! Recommendations from the brunch menu: choose either the breakfast burrito or the BLEAT (BLT with avocado).
Andy’s Flour Power
Nothing like brunch to get the day started, especially when it involves a jazz duo! When I saw live music, I knew this place had to be stellar. Boy, did it deliver! Hitting all the right notes in the music and in the kitchen, Andy’s Flour Power wowed us with a diverse menu featuring Eggs Benedict, french toast, omelets, and biscuits and gravy. Their motto is, “We don’t do fancy. We do fresh, and you can’t fake fresh!”
The Italian Wedding cake was what we Southerners call, “Slap your mama good.” No, we don’t want to do harm to our mamas, but it means it is next level delicious. Also can’t miss plates are the Surf and Turf Omelet with bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms, smoked gouda cheese, topped with lobster bisque and the Flour Power French Toast.
Where to Eat LUNCH:
Finns Island Style Grub
Fresh seafood and a fun, eclectic atmosphere make Finns a top spot for lunch noshing. Makes sense that their motto is “Keepin’ It Fresh” because everything we had was spectacular, including the seafood ceviche, guacamole, and the ahi tuna tacos. Don’t make me pick just one because they were all fabulously fresh. This is the kind of local spot I would frequent every week if I lived nearby.
Where to Eat DINNER:
The Grand Marlin
This was my favorite dinner location with outstanding seafood and really topnotch service. With sunsets overlooking Grand Lagoon, The Grand Marlin specializes in seafood and has an impressive menu that may make selecting an entree very difficult. That said, I’d have to recommend the Key Lime Grilled Lobster Tail, the Pan Seared Red Snapper, or some of the locally sourced Apalachicola and East Bay oysters from their rocking raw bar.
We dined on the second floor adjacent to the North Drop Bar, and the views of the St. Andrews Bay and open air created a chill, relaxed setting. One great thing about dining in a large group of 12: getting to try everything! As a total aside, I’m certain that watching 5 bloggers take Instagram-worthy photos of their food made for some dining entertainment for the guests around us.
Tips on Where to Stay in Panama City Beach
Since I’m all about sharing, if a waterside resort with countless amenities and part of a national chain sounds appealing, then I would have to highly recommend the Sheraton Bay Point Resort. This bayfront, AAA Four Diamond-rated hotel has two heated pools, 36 holes of golf, and a full-service Serenity Spa.
Highlights for us included a private Bay Beach, shuttle service to and from beautiful Shell Island, and water sports rentals, including kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and jet skis.
I was most impressed with the scale of the resort and its diverse amenities. Situated on a wildlife preserve overlooking St. Andrews Bay, the Sheraton Bay Point evoked memories of a Lowcountry oasis with the marsh and yet it’s right in the thick of things in PCB.
Favorite Experiences at the Sheraton Bay Point Resort
My favorite experience was walking the boardwalk to the private Bay Beach area, followed closely by the sunset while sipping a beverage and enjoying shared appetizers at Pelican’s Bar and Grill–a little slice of heaven! (While I was less than impressed with some of the other food offerings at the resort, we didn’t come to Panama City Beach to eat at the hotel!)
I’d say the teens’ favorite moments were splashing around in the pools and the beach bonfire where they make nighttime s’mores.
Don’t just rely on my account. For the most updated information on Panama City Beach, I’d suggest checking out the Visit Panama City Beach website. Also explore what other TravelingMoms have learned in Free in Panama City Beach and Rainy Day activities in Panama City Beach.