Panama City Beach Florida is a popular destination all year long. I was invited to experience the area a couple of years ago and put together this guide to help you plan your next getaway to one of my favorite beach towns.
Though there are miles of white sand beaches, there are so many other popular things to do, too. You'll find plenty of activities for the whole family on the Emerald Coast.
Here you'll find great things to do and a few of the best places to eat, including some Instagrammable spots!
PCB is a great place to see a Florida sunset, offering some of the most breathtaking sunsets you’ve ever seen.
You'll also find extraordinary foodie experiences, and enough activities to keep you busy the entire time. Rather bask in the sun at the beach or the pool? Panama City Beach has all that, too.
This guide will show you my personal favorite things to do in Panama City Beach, Florida. Be sure to check out the best Panama City Beach restaurants, too!
Where is Panama City Beach?
One of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Panama City Beach is located along Florida’s northwestern coastline. Known as PCB to the locals, it's 98 miles southwest of Tallahassee and bordered by two state parks, Camp Helen and St. Andrews.
This is a stunning place to spend time in the sunshine state. Panama City Beach weather is perfect almost every day of the year!
The airport for Panama City Beach is Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, just 5 miles from PCB.
Things to Do
There are so many fun and exciting things to do in Panama City Beach, but I also found activities that were relaxing. Whatever your vacation goals, browse this list and begin planning your itinerary.
See Dolphins on a Sunset Cruise
The first thing you have to do when you are in Panama City Beach is to see the dolphins at sunset. It’s just breathtaking!
As in any beach town, there are numerous dolphin tours. I personally have to recommend the Island Time Sailboat Dolphin Sunset Cruise. Being out on the open water is fun for the whole family!
You’ll be right on the sailboat with the best seats to watch the dolphins splash and play in the turquoise water of the Gulf of Mexico. Our tour guide made sure we didn't miss anything!
As the sun lights the sky in wild shades of pink and orange, you’ll see the dolphins dance through the water. I managed to get a head-shot!
And a tail shot!
Take my advice and bring a decent camera. You won’t see colors like this sunset anywhere else.
Take A Boat Ride to Shell Island
Next, book a boat ride to Shell Island with Lagoon Pontoons. When you rent a trip on a pontoon boat from them, they take care of everything.
For a quick trip, you can also book Shell Island Shuttle.
Visiting Shell Island is a great way to get away from it all. It’s seven miles of undeveloped raw beauty connecting the Gulf of Mexico to St. Andrews Bay.
If you want to see stunning sand dunes and marine life and tropical birds in their natural habitat, this is the place to spend some time. We even saw a starfish!
You may see deer, nesting shorebirds - and even Loggerhead sea turtles and green turtles.
For a really crazy time on the water for kids, check out the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise.
Hike in Camp Helen State Park
The next thing you need to put on your list if you like spending time in nature is to visit Camp Helen State Park. Bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell, Camp Helen State Park offers one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida.
With 180 acres, there is a lot to explore in this nature park. Spend the day swimming, beachcombing, studying nature, hiking, or even fishing. This is one of my top recommendations of things to do in Panama City Beach with kids.
If you love history, you’ll need to see the prehistoric sites here, too. There are middens and mounts that indicate humans inhabited this area more than 4,000 years ago.
You can also see the restored buildings that were used as a company resort for employees of an Alabama textile mill from 1945 to 1987.
Camp Helen's historic district includes the water tower, lodge, rainbow cottages, duplexes, and a recreation hall, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Camp Helen State Park is located at 23937 Panama City Beach Parkway.
With the entrance fee of $4 cash per car, I think we can add this to the list of free things to do in Panama City Beach!
You'll see a box to the left when you drive in. Take out an envelope and place the cash in it, removing the window hanger. Place the envelope with cash in the box. This park is for day use only.
Camp Helen State Park also has special events like Movies, Food & Fun on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. during the summer. Take a look at their Facebook page for updated information.
For another wonderful park to visit, St. Andrews State Park, located between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, is just 3 miles east of Panama City Beach Florida.
Relax on Carillon Beach
The next thing you have to put on your list is spending time relaxing on Carillon Beach. This is an absolutely stunning beach with public access. You will have to ask for a pass at the gate to enter.
Once you're inside, it's worth the time to take a look around the community. There are eight Dune Walkovers that are just spectacular, each designed by the town architect Lloyd Vogt.
This beach has an intriguing history, too. There are so many stories of sailing ships that wrecked off this very coast in the 1800s.
You'll see a lodge built in the early 1900s - and it's still standing today. Carillon Beach is surrounded by Florida forests, wetlands, sand dunes, pristine lakes, and natural hammocks of native oak trees.
You'll see parking for beach access. Note, it is a long walk to the beach, so if the beach is your goal, there are closer access points in other areas of Panama City Beach. It's a lovely walk if you have the time!
Carillon Beach is located at 23011 Front Beach Road. Request a Pass from the Community of Carillon Beach for access.
Explore the SkyWheel and Shops of Pier Park
Put some fun into your itinerary! Spend some time at the SkyWheel and shops of Pier Park and the City Pier.
The views from the Skywheel are spectacular! It's a family-friendly attraction everyone will love, and one of the most popular Panama City Beach attractions.
There are about 124 shops here - so you might want to split this up into a few days. You might want to spend part of the day on the beach and then head to one of the many spots to eat. Or, spend the day exploring and then grab your beach chairs for the sunset. Either way, Pier Park is a lot of fun.
Sometimes this area can be busy, but there is plenty of parking. We found the best place to park is to the left of Pier Park, right behind Margaritaville. You’ll be close to places to eat and the City Pier! Pier Park is located at 600 Pier Park Drive.
Indulge in Wine Tasting at Panama City Beach Winery
Another thing you have to experience is the wine tasting at Panama City Beach Winery. There are complimentary wine tastings every day and no reservation is required. Panama City Beach Winery uses 100% real fruit in their wines without additional sugar or added flavors.
We tried three reds and three whites and agreed our favorite was the Key Lime. If you like Margaritas, you'll enjoy this wine, too. It's not as sweet as I expected and is perfect for a warm day.
If you like sweeter wines, you'll have a lot to choose from as the majority of these wines are on the sweeter side. Ask to try the dryer wines if that's your preference.
Panama City Beach Winery hours are normally Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, they are open from noon until 5 p.m. The store has a lot of cute gift items.
Shop on the Decor by the Shore Shopping Trail
The Decor by the Shore Shopping Trail is a fun way to find unique beach-themed decor and earn a free souvenir at the end. To earn your free souvenir, you will first need a passport. This is a way for each shop to mark that you stopped in.
Take your stamped-up passport to the Panama City Beach Visitor’s Information Center to collect your prize. You can get a passport at any of the participating stores and at the Visitor Center.
Play Mini Golf at Pirate’s Island
If you have kids with you or are just a kid at heart, Pirate’s Island Golf is a ton of fun. The pirate theme is really well-done here. Plus, it’s just fun to brag that you golfed at the same place Sasha Obama sunk a hole in one.
Spend Hours at WonderWorks Panama City Beach
Another fun place to spend some time indoors is WonderWorks. This attraction combines education with fun featuring more than 100 hands-on science exhibits. You can even play some laser tag and do the ropes course.
WonderWorks even has a 6D Motion ride which is a completely immersive experience. Not only is it a 3D movie, but your chairs will move, you’ll feel the wind on your face, and the sounds will feel like they are all around you.
This is a wonderful place to go if you have kids with you, especially on one of those days where it rains for a couple of hours. WonderWorks is located at 9910 Front Beach Road.
While you're there, check out Ripley's Believe it or Not right next door.
Check out some Live Music
Whether you're into big concerts with world-famous bands or a local spot with a one-man show, there's a lot of live music in Panama City Beach.
Have a Bonfire on the Beach
A bonfire on the beach is the perfect way to end the day, but it is a lot of work! Leave the details to Endless Rentals PCB, and they will have your party waiting for you when you arrive.
This is such a fun activity for a family reunion, team building during a conference, or even for a wedding party or rehearsal dinner. Endless Rentals will set up the bonfire and deliver tents, chairs, coolers, and even hammocks.
We had a basket of s'mores ingredients and a cooler with drinks while we hung out and watched one of those spectacular Panama City Beach sunsets. Another big plus? We left the clean-up to Endless Rentals, too.
Eat the Local Food
There is so much good food in Panama City Beach! As I always want you to experience the local food, you've got to check out the best Panama City Beach restaurants.
Where to Stay in Panama City Beach, Florida
Now that you know what to do and where to eat, let’s look at where to stay. Panama City Beach is set up with travelers in mind.
I stayed at Seychelles Beach Resort, part of Wyndham Vacation Rentals. With 22 stories, the views are pretty amazing. This is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
We always like having room to spread out, and I had a one bedroom condo with stunning ocean views.
I had a full kitchen with everything I needed. I could have saved money and cooked in my condo, but I love experiencing local food, and there is so much great food in Panama City Beach!
The bedroom had a queen bed, an armoire with a TV, and a nice big closet.
Out in the hall were bunk beds, and I had two full bathrooms and a pull-out sleeper sofa. This condo could easily sleep a family of five or six, with two people in the bedroom, one or two in the living room on the sleeper, and 2 more in the bunk beds.
If you need more room they also offer two and three-bedroom condos. The living room was comfortable with a lot of seating. There was also a dining table and a breakfast bar.
The pool is beautiful and right on the beach. There's a nice gym next to the parking garage.
They even have free DVDs in the office if you want to cuddle up and watch something at night. I know when my kids were little they were exhausted after a day playing on the beach. This is the perfect time for parents to enjoy a glass of wine and a movie.
The Most Instagrammable Spots in Panama City Beach, Florida
The last part of my guide will share the spots you have to visit to grab some stunning Instagram pictures in Panama City Beach.
Thomas’ Donuts and Snack Shop
If you feature foodie content on your Instagram, then this donut shop is a MUST! Their foods are scrumptious.
Not only is the food amazing, but it’s right on the beach. So you can take pics of your donuts with the ocean as the background.
Dolphin Sunset Cruise
Taking photos of dolphins at sunset is the most majestic and envy-inducing thing. Don't forget your camera. You don’t want to miss the moment the dolphins surprise you! Tag me at @kastilwell if you post one!
Finn’s Island Style Grub or Barista Bar
Your friends will be so jealous when they see the pics from Finn's! Tag Finn’s on Instagram too!
The Yard Milkshake Bar
They do crazy milkshakes at the Yard Milkshake Bar. Snap a foodie pic of your favorite milkshake!
The pint version is huge, but you can even order a quart milkshake! That's insane! They were SO good, it was hard to stop!
One of the most Instagrammed places at Panama City Beach is the SkyWheel. You can grab some stunning shots for Instagram while you are on the top. Or take some pictures of it lit up at night.
Camp Helen State Park
Nature lovers, you can grab some breathtaking shots of the birds and wildlife here. There is always something captivating around you. The blinding white sands, the beautiful birds, and the rich forests all beg to be photographed and shared.
The Beach at Shell Island
Since Shell Island is physically removed from roads and buildings, you’ll find some exquisite places to Instagram. It's really one of the most beautiful beaches I've seen.
Share some pictures of the sand dollars you find, or the waves lapping on the shore. We actually found a starfish!
Visit Panama City Beach Florida
You can easily spend an entire week at Panama City Beach and still feel like you didn’t see and do it all. This is a wonderful place for families, romantic trips, or girl’s getaways.
Take some of my tips or create your own. It’s a perfect place for a beach adventure and like no other place on earth! For more great ideas, check out the Visit Panama City Beach website.
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Also check out the Disney VIP Tour while you're there! It's one of the best things to do at Disney!
This post was first seen on Food, Fun & Faraway Places on December 3, 2019, and was updated with additional information on June 22, 2021.