Things to do in Panama City Beach Florida
By Helen Wright
Florida is full of surprises and Panama City Beach is definitely up there as one of those fantastic Florida hidden gems (for us Brits anyway!). This fun, lively-yet-relaxed beach destination has an enviable spot in the Florida Panhandle, with stunning views over the Gulf of Mexico, 22-miles of white sandy beach, a ton of excellent restaurants and a sunny weather almost year-round. There are so many things to do in Panama City Beach Florida, you’ll want to book your next trip as soon as you get back – which is exactly what we did!
Like almost all of Florida, kids will love this fun spot, so if you’re looking for things to do in Panama Beach for families, this list will keep you more than busy. However, the first time I visited, I went on a gal trip (mate-cation?) with my friend and we managed to tick off everything on this list, PLUS a bit of the infamous Panama City Beach nightlife, so I have added a few of my favourite bars at the end. There is no doubt this place is a real, fun beach (the city’s tagline!). Whatever your itinerary for Panama City Florida, you’re going to love it.
Cover image: Helen Wright. This page contains affiliate links
Where to stay in Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach Florida is statistically one of the sunniest places in the USA (320 days of sun a year, to be exact-ish). This unpretentious Florida beach destination has it all: some of the most beautiful beaches in North America, an omnipresent low-level party vibe and less crowded beauty spots that will blow you away. Most of the action takes place along Beach Front Road, a single lane highway that runs adjacent to the sea. There are lots of oceanfront hotels and apartments, as well as rental houses around the city, meaning a wide choice for places to stay in Panama City Beach to suit your group and budget.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place, Panama City Beach, which is in the Laguna Beach area. This is the best and most central place to stay in Panama City Beach for first timers and us beach-loving Brits. Just a short walk from Pier Park (the area’s main shopping and entertainment hub) this new hotel only opened in 2022 and has huge rooms, many with balconies and an incredible sea view. The Hyatt is on the beach and is walking distance to many attractions and restaurants, but there is also a parking lot adjacent to the hotel that is free for guests.
One of the best things about Panama City Beach Florida is that prices to the destination drop dramatically in August, creating the perfect Florida beach destination in the UK school holidays. This includes reduced nightly rates on accommodation AND excellent deals on flights to Panama City Beach Florida from England and Scotland. We flew Virgin Atlantic from London to Panama City Beach with a short stop in Atlanta for £549 per person in Economy.
The best things to do in Panama City Beach Florida
There really are so many things to do in Panama Beach Florida, you are spoilt for choice. In many ways, it’s the ultimate holiday destination. Whether you are here to play, party or plonk down on the beach, here are 18 of my favourite things to do in Panama City Beach Florida:
1. Breakfast at Andy’s Flour Power
This one is a must-do stop on your Panama City Beach itinerary. A local favourite, Andy’s Flour Power serves the best breakfast in Panama City Florida AND has breakfast martinis to go with it (yes, alcoholic ones). This was the first taste of Panama City Beach we had and it was the perfect introduction to this friendly and fun Florida destination. The food is truly exceptional with huge, fluffy omelettes being the star dish, topped with feta and drizzled in a sauce created by the owner’s grandmother ($12). The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch and they do not take reservations. However, there is a small bar and you can enjoy your breakfast martini (made with fresh Florida oranges, of course), $10, while you wait. andysflourpower.com
TOP TIP: Even if you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, swing by and pick up one of the famous pistachio muffins. They are sublime.
2. Take in the Panama City Beach life
Nothing will entice you more to visit Panama City Beach than 22 miles of white sandy shoreline. I was gobsmacked at how beautiful this beach is – easily comparable to the celebrated beaches of Hawaii, Australia and Thailand. The thick sand is white as you can imagine with a glorious view over the gulf. The crystal-clear water, warm as a bath, is turquoise blue and irresistible. Staying at the Hyatt Place, we had access to sun loungers and parasols (on a first-come-first-served basis), but you can pretty much set up anywhere along the beach. BYO umbrella, towels and cooler box and you’ve got a winning formula.
Many of the beaches in Panama City Beach Florida are lifeguard protected and water safety is indicated by colour-coded beach flags. visitpanamacitybeach.com The water, even in the main tourist areas of Panama City Beach is unreal. I was genuinely stunned at how idyllic it was. During our visit, we spotted dolphins, manatee and sea turtles swimming in the waters just off-shore – it was truly magical!
Along the beach there are hotels, beach bars, restaurants and live music to keep you entertained. If you are looking for things to do in Panama Beach with families, I loved that the grown-ups can sit and have a drink or listen to some live music while the kids played on the sand in front. Check out Hook’d pier bar, which is beside the Russell-Fields City Pier. For what seemed like a run-of-the-mill quick-service bar at first, the food here was genuinely fantastic. They also serve cocktails (and non-alcoholic beverages) in pineapples so holiday mode is fully activated.
3. Fly high with a helicopter ride along the coastline
One way to really see what Panama City Beach is made of, is to take a helicopter ride along the stunning coastline. We booked a tour with Panhandle Helicopter and it was incredible. There are different tour options, ranging from a 5-minute taster flight, to a 25-min, 35-mile flight that covers every beauty spot in the area. We opted for the Gulf Lagoon tour ($120 per person) which flies along the whole beach, looping back over the emerald water. We absolutely loved this trip and it remains one of my favourite things to do in Panama City Beach. From the sky, we saw dolphin swimming, manatee, a sea turtle and a shark! (Don’t worry, the shark was only small and swimming in the deep water).
One thing that made the trip extra exciting was that our helicopter didn’t have doors! I have never been on an open-air flight before and it was exhilarating. As well as adrenalin-inducing breeze, it meant we go unobscured, striking views of the beach and the gulf and it was sensational. For any nervous flyers, the team put us completely at ease and there were children waiting for flights when we landed back at base. There is no age minimum, but children age 2+ need to have their own booked seat. panhandlehelicopter.com
4. Explore Shell Island at Panama City Beach
Shell Island is an absolute must on the list of things to do in Panama City Beach. I was stunned by this incredible, unspoilt white, sand beach, which is on a small barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay in Panama City. Shell Island is accessible only by water and there is nothing on the island except unspoilt natural beauty and nature. You can get to the island in different ways, kayaking from St Andrews State Park, a group boat trip or by Jet Ski – which is what we did. We took a Waverunner Tour with Adventures at Sea ($99pp) and it was so much fun. It took a while to get used to the jet ski at first but once we got the hang of it, we were off with the wind in our hair, speeding across the bay alongside a pod of dolphins swimming ahead of us. It was breathtaking. We and even passed a small ‘shipwreck’ (which was a recebtly sunken pontoon boat), which was fun. After a 30-min spin in the bay with a qualified guide, we docked up at a small inlet and were free to explore Shell Island while our guide stayed with the jet skis. It was gorgeous.
TOP TIP: We didn’t realise that we could bring items with us to the island and I regretted not bringing a towel, drinks (especially a bottle of water), sun cream, a hat and a sarong or dress to go over my swimwear. It was hot and there is no shade on the island. There is a small compartment on the jet ski, but the guide didn’t give us any advice on what to bring or make us aware that we could take anything. I recommend packing a dry bag like this as it’s helpful for going kayacking and other water activities too, plus handy on the beach.If not, a carrier bag with your things in should easily fit in the compartment, which is about the size of a supermarket shopping basket. There are no bins or any facilities on the island so take everything with you when you leave.
There isn’t much to do on Shell Island Panama City, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s unspoilt and uncrowded. We just relaxed on the sand, went for a wander along the beach and, of course, dived in to the beautiful water for a swim. Look out for the resident sea turtles and friendly neighbourhood dolphins.
5. St. Andrews State Park at Panama City Beach
Another beautiful spot is at St Andrews State Park, which is the furthest point on land before you need to hit the water to reach Shell Island. Beaches here are just as beautiful, but usually more crowded, especially at weekends. However, there is plenty of room to find a spot as well as beach facilities like toilets, a café, watersports and boat rentals and a spectacular pier stretching out into the Gulf. You can also take a small ferry to Shell Island from here ($28 adult fare) aor rent a Pontoon Boat and take on the trip yourself (prices vary).
On dry land, you can also follow a nature trail, rent bikes, go horse riding and rent bike to tour the park. Take a look at floridastateparks.org to see what’s on and plan your day. There is an $8 fee per vehicle to enter the park and this is valid from sunrise to sunset. We rented bikes from the Camp Shop (first-come-first-served) for $15 per adult bike for 2hrs, or $35 for the whole day.
6. Camp Helen State Park
Another can’t miss stunning beauty spot to add to your list of things to do in Panama City Beach is Camp Helen State Park. The gorgeous recreation area is a 15 drive from the tourist area of Panama City Beach but it’s worth the trip. Camp Helen is one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. A dune lake is where a lake (in this case Lake Powell) joins with the ocean and the result here is spectacular. Rent a kayak or paddleboard directly from the national park (paddle season is usually April-November). floridastateparks.org for $20 per hour or $60 for a half day.
The water was calm during our visit and it was easy to paddle out to the gulf. This activity is also super safe for kids because the water is shallow (my three-year-old would have been able to wade through the water). Life jackets are provided with the board and kayak rental.
Nothing prepares you for when you turn the corner and you are greeted by the wide blue ocean. It’s incredible! Take a small picnic and drinks (plus sun cream!) on your board or kayak, as you’ll want to spend time on the sand when you get out there. There are lots of shallow pools to play in, again, so perfect for kids. Those who want to swim can venture out into the sea. It’s the most gorgeous day out – you will love it!
7. Doughnuts at Thomas Donut Shop
On the road from Panama City Beach to Camp Helen, you will pass the famous Thomas’ Donut Shop. Most people add this to their list of things to do in Panama City Beach because it’s a local institution. There is always a line but it moves pretty fast and the donuts are excellent. Pair the classic raspberry with a coffee and you’ve got the breakfast of dreams – with a sea view. It’s the best seat in town.
8. Pier Park at Panama City Beach
There are lots of places to go shopping in Panama City Beach Florida, but the main area to flex your credit card is Pier Park. This is almost 900,000 square feet of stores, restaurants and entertainment spaces, plus a park and a playground. Shops at Pier Park include famous brands like Pandora, Old Navy and Forever 21 and supermarkets like Target and Walmart, as well as independent, local stores too. There are lots of places to get ice cream, American candy and you can even go Axe Throwing!
Pier Park is walking distance from the Hyatt Place and other major hotels along the beachfront and you can easily spend the afternoon, browsing, hanging out or simply enjoying the air con! Ph, and there is a Margaritaville on the corner to refresh with a tequila-based beverage, if you choose.
9. Fun things to do in Panama City Beach Florida: The Pier Park SkyWheel
There is no question that Panama City Florida has an incredible shoreline, but from the sky you can really see how spectacular it is. If you don’t go for the more extravagant helicopter flight, the SkyWheel is a pretty great alternative. The whole family can hop into the cool capsules and go for a ride and take in the fab views of Panama City and the Gulf. $18.99 (adult), $14.99 (child). skywheelpcb.com
10. Go for coffee and a chat at The Pour
This non-profit community project serves fantastic coffee and homemade bakery items and sandwiches and featured on Yelp’s ‘Top 100 Florida Restaurants’ in 2023. Find them on Beach Front Road, on route to many of the great things to do in Panama City Beach featured on our list. They have a great Instagram, so check out their delights and their ethos. thepourpcb.com
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11. Lunch at a beachfront restaurant
The beach is the best bit about Panama City so where better to sit and enjoy lunch than practically on the sand, with a shady spot and sea views? Two of my favourite places to eat in Panama City Beach Florida are Runaway Island and Schooners. Both of these flip flop-friendly restaurants have a buzzing atmosphere and great food. If you time it right, they often have live music too!
Go for fresh, Florida fish and a cup of the fruit punch at Runaway Island. At Schooners, the lobster flatbread is tasty and can be easily shared. No matter what you order, everything tastes better with a seaview – especially when the local pod of dolphins are plating in the distance.
12. Take a sunset sailing trip
This place is at its most beautiful when explored on the water and one of our favourite things to do in Panama City Beach Florida is go on a sunset cruise in St Andrew’s Bay. We booked this Footloose Catamaran Trip with Paradise Adventures and it was gorgeous. Setting off from the dock at the Bluegreen’s Resort & Spa, we say dolphins happily playing in the waves, the shadows of manatee below and, of course, a glowing sunset. Our tickets included a welcome cocktail, but drinks can be purchased on board. With the music playing and the evening breeze, it was a perfect way to end our week in Panama City Beach.
The cruise takes you out to Shell Island where we were surprised to spot deer who live on the island just roaming on the beach, grateful for the sun down. The Footloose Catamaran isn’t a huge boat but there are seats for everyone, or you can stand on the bow and admire the view. The trip lasts 1.5hr and is priced at $45 (adult) £35 (child 2+). paradiseadventurespcb.com
13. Go dolphin-spotting
We spotted so many dolphins from our sunset cruise as well as seeing them from the sky on our helicopter trip, from our jet ski adventure and from our beachside lunch spots. Florida is awesome for dolphin-spotting! However, if you want to get up close to Florida’s playful dolphin pods, you can take a boat trip dedicated to seeing these adorable mammals in the wild. This two-hour trip is one of the most popular things to do in Panama City Beach Florida and is operated by Paradise Adventures, the same company as our sunset tour.
14. Make time for dinner at Saltwater Grill
Dinner here was without doubt the best meal we had during our week in Florida. The restaurant is large, with a huge aquarium in the centre and live entertainment almost every night. The food, though, was the main event and everything we ordered from the Crab Claws to the Key Lime Pie was flawless. Pair that with a fanastic singer and excellent, friendly service and you have yourself the best place to eat in Panama City Beach Florida. DM me if you go and loved it as much as we did. saltwatergrillpcb.com
15. Book a table at the secret magical restaurant
Another Panama City Beach restaurant that had excellent food was Firefly. But, this is not somewhere you would just wander into off the street. This elegant restaurant is hidden inside a basic shopping mall between a shoe shop and a takeaway pizza place and you’ll never believe what it looks like inside… (find a sneak peek on my Instagram reels). This is romance personified and an excellent place to dine in Panama City Beach for a special occasion. fireflypcb.com
16. Attend one of Panama City Beach’s epic festivals
This destination is not labelled ‘Real, Fun, Beach’ for nothing and you’ll find a year-round calendar of unique and lively festivals. From concerts including the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam (a country musical festival), a summer concert series and the Jeep Beach Jam, to pirate parades, the food truck craft and beer fest and much, much more – you are never short of things to do in Panama City Beach Florida or a jolly atmosphere. See visitpanamacitybeach.com/events for what’s on during your visit.
17. See a gig at Tootsies Orchid Lounge
Did you know, the famous Nashville country venue has a sister bar in Panama City and it’s fun! There is live music every day from 11am and you can dance the night away country-style with a lively crowd and a few whiskey shooters. They even do an oyster happy hour 4pm- 7pm! tootsies.net/panama-city-beach
18. Shipwreck Island Waterpark
One of the most fun things to do in Panama City Beach for families is the huge Shipwreck Waterpark. The spash-tastic park is just a few streets from the beach, but has slides, lazy rivers and a huge pool as well as a paddle zone for little ones. There are places to grab food inside, so you can stay all day. (Adults and children over 50 inches, $50 per day, children 35-50 inches $40, children under 35inches FREE). shipwreckisland.com
19. Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise
Another brilliant boat trip to do in Panama City Beach for families is the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise. This fun cruise lets adults take in the sunset and resident dolphins, while kids are entertained with a cast of pirate actors, some fun songs and even canon shooting into the lagoon. Everyone has the protect the pirate treasure. We loved it, it was so much fun! (Adult $35, Children $25) piratecruise.net
Thank you to Visit Panama City Beach who organised some of our activities. Visit
visitpanamacitybeach.com to find out about local events, new restaurants and attractions and to see the range of accommodation in Panama City Beach Florida to plan your trip.
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