As well as visiting the stunning white sand beaches, there are plenty of other fun things to do in Panama City Beach Florida, from dolphin watching to riding the famous SkyWheel and feasting on pistachio muffins. So here is the ultimate PCB bucket list, that will ensure you make the most of your 2023 trip to Panama City Beach FL.
Disclaimer: My trip was sponsored by Visit Florida and Visit Panama City Beach. As always, all words and opinions are my own. This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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How To Get To Panama City Beach FL
Located along the Florida Panhandle, Panama City Beach (also known as PCB) is one of Northwest Floridas best beach destinations.
The easiest ways to reach PCB are by car or plane.
From the North
Highway 79 is the most direct route, but Highways 231, 331 and 77 all connect to Highway 98, which is known as the Panama City Beach Parkway as it crosses though our area.
Each of the north/south highways easily access Interstate 10.
From the West
Highway 98 (Panama City Beach Parkway) goes directly into Panama City Beach.
If you’re travelling on Interstate 10, take Highway 331 South to Highway 20 East, then turn south on Highway 79 until you get to the beach.
From Highway 20, it’s 15 miles south to get to Panama City Beach.
From the East
Highway 98 will bring you directly to Panama City Beach, or take either Interstate 10 or Highway 20 westbound to Highways 79, 77 or 231.
Located only 12.4 miles (15 minute drive) from the beach.
You can catch a direct flight to ECP on one of these four airlines: Delta, American, Southwest and United Airlines, from the following US airports:
- Atlanta GA
- Dallas TX
- Houston TX
- Nashville TN
- St Louis MO
- Washington DC
Other nearby airports are Destin (DSI) (42.6 miles), Valparaiso Destin-Ft Walton Beach (VPS) (49 miles), Dothan Airport (DHN) (82 miles) or Pensacola (PNS) (85 miles).
From abroad, the easiest route is to fly to Atlanta (ATL) and then fly 1 hour directly to ECP.
Where To Stay in Panama City Beach
If you want a central location then Calypso Resort & Towers is a great choice.
There are three towers made up of luxury condos, with sea views and access to plenty of amenities.
The towers are located right next to Pier Park (the best place for shopping and entertainment in PCB), and are opposite the beach, making them perfect for families, couples or friends who want a location that is within walking distance to the main attractions.
The condos sleep up to 11 guests, and amenities include a private stretch of beach, a gym, outdoor swimming pool, and sun loungers.
I stayed in a beautiful nautical themed one bedroom condo in Tower 3.
There were two bathrooms, a balcony, an open plan kitchen and a living room with a clever built in area for a set of bunk beds, making it a versatile space for solo travellers, couples, and families with 2 children.
How to Get Around Panama City Beach
If you stay at Calypso Resort & Towers you can walk to the beach, Pier Park and several of the coastal restaurants but to visit more of Panama City Beach you will need a car.
If you don’t have your own then make sure you book a car rental well in advance for the best prices.
How Long Should You Stay in Panama City Beach
I spent three nights in PCB Florida, and thought it was a great amount of time to see the best things the destination has to offer.
However, the area is known for being laidback so you could easily spend a week soaking up the rays, feasting on seafood and having a relaxing beach break without getting bored.
Just remember, how many days you spend in Panama City Beach may depend on the rest of your vacation.
If you plan to road trip across the Florida Panhandle like I did and see a few coastal destinations such as the hidden gem of South Walton (30A) or the foodie paradise of Pensacola or the beach hotspot of Fort Walton Beach, then 2-3 nights in each destination is perfect, as the driving distances are minimal.
Unique Things To Do Panama City Beach FL
There is plenty to keep you busy in Panama City Beach, but here are a selection of my favourite things to do.
Visit Shell Island
Located just off the Emerald Coast and part of St. Andrews State Park, this 7-mile long barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico is a must see in PCB.
Shell Island is a haven for wildlife and marine animals, so the entire area is undeveloped and preserved.
This is one of the best places to experience what they call “The Real Florida”.
Don’t expect restaurants, restrooms or even any shade, but instead explore miles of pristine nature, that you won’t experience in other places like Orlando and Miami.
The unspoilt white-sand beaches are perfect for swimming, snorkeling and spotting the many colourful fish, dolphins and sea turtles that frequent the area.
In fact the waters around Panama City Beach are home to one of the highest populations of bottle-nosed dolphins in North America.
Shell Island can only be reached by boat. There are several cruises that will take you there but if you want to avoid the crowds and have a private experience I highly recommend renting a beautiful sail boat and making a day of it like we did.
TOP TIP: Remember sunscreen and a hat, and if you can, try to visit during the week so you’re more likely to have the whole of Shell Island to yourself like we did!
As this spot is very popular with locals on the weekends.
Explore St Andrews State Park
Shell Island is just one section of St Andrews State Park, there are also 1.5 miles of white sand beaches on the mainland, a “kiddie pool” lagoon and the aptly named Gator Lake.
The beaches here, and along the rest of the Florida Panhandle are home to some of the softest sand I’ve ever come across.
Made from quartz crystal from the Appalachian Mountains, the sand is a stark white colour that beautifully complements the emerald green waters of this coastline.
If you want to try something different, St Andrews State Park is a great place to dive.
Discover Camp Helen State Park
One of Florida’s most unique state parks is Camp Helen.
It is bordered on one side by the Gulf of Mexico and on two other sides by Lake Powell, the largest coastal dune lake in Florida.
This ecological gem is often overlooked by visitors but it offers pristine beaches, sand dunes and winding hiking trails that allow you to explore the area.
At Camp Helen you can kayak, paddle board, fish, or swim, so it’s easy to spend a half or full day here.
Shop and Play at Pier Park
Address: 600 Pier Park Dr, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
Price: Free entry
Pier Park is Panama City Beach’s premier shopping and entertainment destination.
It serves both PCB and 30A, and contains 124 stores from well known names to unique boutiques.
Pier Park is also one of the best indoor places to visit in Panama City (especially on one of the rare rainy days) as it has plenty of dining options, a Grand IMAX movie theater, laser tag, an arcade, mirror maze and an escape room!
Ride the SkyWheel
Address: 15700 LC Hilton Jr. Drive, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
Price: $16.99 plus tax, children 4 and under go free
Located in Pier Park, the SkyWheel, is a 53-meter observation wheel with 30 fully enclosed gondolas.
Each gondola holds up to 6 people, and it is always a private experience for your group (you don’t have to share with strangers).
The wheel rotates 3 or 4 times so you get several chances to experience a panoramic view of Panama City Beach and the ocean.
Visit Dog Beach
Address: 33753-000-000, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
Dog Beach is the perfect dedicated place to take your pup to the beach in Panama City Beach.
It is located on the west side of the Russell-Fields City Pier and is directly in front of Pier Park.
Even if you don’t have a dog its a great place to watch them frolic in the sea (that’s what I did!).
TOP TIP: There are over 100 beach access points in PCB, but only 56, 57, and 58, are dog friendly.
Experience a Beach Bonfire
All along the Florida Panhandle you can find companies who set up incredible beach experiences that really take your holiday to the next level.
In Panama City Beach, Endless Beach Rentals are the guys to go to.
I experienced a beach bonfire from sunset onwards with a hammock, deck chairs, tiki lights, a fire pit, and even all the ingredients to make s’mores!
It was a great way to relax, and I can see why it’s so popular for birthdays and other occasions.
Just remember to bring something warm for those cooler evenings.
Enjoy the Live Music at Tootsies Orchid Lounge
Address: 700 Pier Park Dr, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
Located in Pier Park, just a few minutes walk from Calypso Resort & Towers, Tootsies Orchid Lounge in Panama City Beach is the sister club of the Nashville country music institution and world-famous honky-tonk.
If you want live music (all the way from Nashville TN), this is the place to spend your evenings listening to everything from new country to old rock-n-roll.
Best Places to Eat in Panama City Beach
The dining in PCB is an experience of its own, here are 7 restaurants that will give you a taste of the Northwest Florida Coast.
Andy’s Flour Power
Address: 2629 Thomas Dr, Panama City, FL 32408
This was my favourite dining experience of the entire week in Northwest Florida. Everything I ate made me smile.
The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, but the menu is full of simple food with a twist, elevated by fresh ingredients.
From flaky pastries to unique flavoured muffins (you have to try their famous pistachio muffins) and quite possibly the best omelette I’ve ever had.
Other popular dishes I tried include the breakfast potatoes, the french toast baguettes and the breakfast martinis.
Yes, this is the kind of place where you drink with breakfast (felt like London) so make sure you have nothing strenuous planned for the rest of the day.
The owner (Andy is not his real), makes the experience that much more special.
He’s so passionate about his menu, and will happily regale the story and inspiration behind each dish.
If you see him wandering around, do yourself a favour and have a chat with him, it will make your day.
Thomas Donut & Snack Shop
Address: 19208 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
This family owned donut shop is located right on the beachfront and has been in business since 1971.
Frequented by both locals and tourists, this snack shop is famous for its donuts, muffins and breakfast biscuits, that taste as good as they look!
They also sell sandwiches and hot dogs at lunch, so this is a great place to pop by if you are enjoying a day at the beach.
The Pour Coffee & Community
Address: 12902 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, FL 32407
The Pour is a non-profit coffee house. Serving hand crafted drinks, and delicious breakfast items, this coffee shop is run with the community in mind.
I’m not a coffee drinker but I can highly recommend the frozen white chocolate and the almond butter and banana toast with honey and chia seeds.
Diego’s Burrito Factory & Margarita Bar
Address: 6209 Sunset Dr, Panama City Beach, FL 32408 and 15514 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
This laidback and affordable Mexican restaurant is everything I miss about the US when I’m at home in London.
We just don’t have anything comparable. But that means whenever I’m in the States, I make sure I take advantage of it!
Diego’s is a great place to grab a quick burrito, quesadilla, or a street taco alongside a yummy Margarita (I recommend the Pineapple one).
The portions are hearty but that didn’t stop me from finishing a burrito bigger than my face!
They have two locations in Panama City Beach, and one is just a 7 minute walk from Calypso Resort & Towers, so this was the perfect meal after a 15 hour journey from the UK.
Nothing beats jet lag like a whole lot of comfort food!
Address: 14521 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, FL 32413
Probably one of the best places for sunset in Panama City Beach, is just a few blocks away from Calypso Resort & Towers and the best view is from Runaway Island restaurant.
Spread over two levels, the outdoor deck is where you need to make sure you get a reservation for!
I enjoyed plenty of starters, seafood and frozen drinks under the glow of sunset, and it was the perfect way to end my trip to PCB.
The Grand Marlin
Address: 5323 N Lagoon Dr, Panama City Beach, FL 32408
This has to be one of the best seafood and oyster bars in Panama City Beach.
Sadly I didn’t get to visit this time round but a few days later I did have dinner at their original location in Pensacola (around 85 miles up the coast).
The food was so incredible that I would actually recommend visiting both if you can!
I’ve written all about the best restaurants in Pensacola, but here are some photos to tempt you.
Address: Shoppes at Edgewater, 535 N Richard Jackson Blvd, Panama City Beach, FL 32407
This unique restaurant in Panama City Beach, Florida is one of the most romantic places to eat.
Its tagline is “casual fine dining” yet the restaurant has won multiple awards and has even served meals to the Obama family, and the U.S. team at the London Olympic Games.
They have an excellent selection of seafood, steaks, and sushi, and the menu is ever-evolving, so you can have a different experience each time!
I didn’t get to visit this time round but have heard great things so it’s on the list for my next visit to Panama City Beach!
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