waterparkWhen I go to the south, I have this deep-seated, possibly irrational, fear that someone is going to slip me some pork. Biscuits and gravy or city chicken don’t sound like they have pork (and I wouldn’t eat the chicken, anyway) but they both have pig.

And yes, bacon seems to come with just about every breakfast in Panama City Beach, Florida. But though this beach town on the Gulf Coast is deep south, you can find sushi at the new outdoor mall and a vegetarian section at a local sandwich shop. In short, vegetarian families can co-exist happily with the meat-eating majority, all seeking the same sugar white sand and clean water.

A year after the BP oil spill, the beaches are pristine – in fact, they were hardly affected at all by the disaster, except from a public relations standpoint. Since Panama City Beach (PCB) is on the gulf, many tourists thought the water here was fouled. But it is pristine. And though PCB does have a big spring break crowd, most of the year, it is family central,

Beyond the Beach

And PCB has many other attractions. One is Pier Park, with both department stores and local boutiques, restaurants, a movie theater and amusement park rides. You can bungee jump, ride the Ferris Wheel, eat dinner and wander over to the adjacent park, which hosts a yearly jazz festival and free summer concert series.
If you’ve been to Orlando, you might have visited WonderWorks, the upside down fun house filled with interactive exhibits for all ages. There is another one in PCB, where you can play virtual air hockey, test your arm speed by throwing a baseball, or lie down on a bed of nails. There are also quizzes about the solar system or  TV theme songs.

Wear closed toe shoes if you want to take a spin on the 360 Bike (you also might want to skip breakfast if you plan to ride). WonderWorks also has a ropes course 25 feet up in the air, but no using the excuse that you are wearing sandals – you can borrow a pair of Crocs for this challenge. Kids as small as 3 1/2 feet can try the ropes course with a parent; everyone is harnessed in, and there is an escape route if you chicken out.

We stayed at Splash Resort, right on the beach and with a water playground, a lazy river, pool and hot tub. One bedroom condos have bunk beds for kids in an alcove, full kitchens and two full bathrooms, but no daily maid service. If you don’t mind taking your own bags to your room and making your bed (ok, ignoring the unmade bed) this is the perfect family friendly place.

Note: this trip was sponsored by the PCB CVB.