Sitting beside the picture-perfect East Bay, Callaway is a small residential city just outside of Panama City.
With a short drive you can reach the sandy shores of Panama City Beach, or downtown Panama City, with its dining, shopping and farmers’ markets.
I adore St. Andrews Bay, renowned for its large pod of bottlenose dolphins and the flawless white sands of Shell Island.
There’s a whole galaxy of activities close by, whether you’re kayaking, going where you please on a pontoon boat, or spotting dolphins with a marine biologist.
Closer to home, there are parks on the shores of East Bay, and across the water is the Tyndall Air Force Base, which recently received a delivery of cutting-edge F-35s.
As with Callaway, the base was devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018. But I have to say, when I was in town a few years later, things seemed to be completely back to normal.
1. John B. Gore Park
This gorgeous park is situated along Callaway Bayou, and features a variety of amenities and recreation options.
There’s a historic schoolhouse building run by the local historical society, and a small museum. These were partially destroyed in Hurricane Michael in 2018, but were as good as new by the early 2020s.
When I was in town you could visit for a tour on the third Sunday of the month. Also at the John B. Gore Park is a boat ramp, dock, basketball court, playground, tennis courts, ballfields, and a soccer/football field.
For early risers, this a lovely place to be to see the sun come up over the bayou.
2. Under the Oaks Park
If I had to pick one local park to spend time at, it would surely be this bayside space at the head of Long Point.
As the name tells you, Under the Oaks Park has an idyllic stand of old live oaks. Along with the rest of the park, these were battered by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
At any rate, when I was here a few years later, the park was in great shape. There’s a beach on East Bay, and the vistas of the water are sensational in the morning.
There’s a nine-hole disc golf course, a kayak launch, a playground, pavilions, a lot of picnic tables, and a scenic walking trail.
3. Hit the Beach
The Hathaway Bridge is little more than 20 minutes from Callaway, and is the gateway to miles upon miles of stupendous beaches.
The Gulf of Mexico has warm, clear waters that are generally placid when compared to the more wave-prone Atlantic. For swimmers, sunbathers and tropical dreamers there are no better places to spend a lazy day soaking up the rays.
St. Andrews State Park has undeveloped beaches where fishing and snorkeling are popular. For those who prefer more amenities, there’s a catalog of public access points.
For one, Rick Seltzer Park includes a boardwalk, seasonal lifeguards and easy access to lots of dining and shopping options.
4. Veterans Park
On Cherry Street, this park was officially opened to the public in 1994. Naturally, Callaway has an affinity for the armed forces, especially the Air Force, and this park hosts the annual Veterans Day celebrations.
What caught my eye right away was a preserved F15 fighter jet. This machine looks like it’s going 1,000 miles an hour even though it’s sitting perfectly still. A pavilion close by is dedicated to a local man who was killed in Desert Storm.
On a long and narrow plot, the park continues for some distance to the south, with a half-mile trail passing a pond and creek that feed Callaway Bayou. Some fixtures include two observation piers, shaded picnic areas, and a playground.
5. Reel Time Fishers
One of the many advantages to being on the Gulf Coast is access to ultra-fresh seafood. There’s an excellent Southern-style market/restaurant along SR 22, ideal if you want large portions and reasonable prices in a comfortable setting.
ReelTime Fishers are known for their fried grouper, fried mullet, and low country shrimp boil. Tasty sides include hush puppies, cheese grits, and fried okra.
I treated myself to a fried seafood platter, with stuffed crabs, scallops, oysters, shrimp, and mullet, with potato salad and red beans & rice on the side.
6. St. Andrew Bay
Callaway is on an enormous estuary, spread across almost 70,000 acres. These calm waters are a wonderful haven for wildlife.
For one thing, the St. Andrew Bay has one of the resident populations of bottlenose dolphins on the planet. Manatees are sometimes sighted here in winter, while there’s excellent fishing, with large schools of mullet, redfish and speckled trout.
Ten minutes west around the bay, Panama City, is a springboard for experiences on the water. These might be fishing charters, eco-tours, jet skiing, pontoon boat rentals, or trips to Shell Island, an uninhabited piece of paradise on the east side of the inlet.
7. Panama City
Ten minutes west of Callaway there’s an historic and happening downtown area at Panama City. If you’re like me and love wandering along eclectic main streets, Harrison Ave has everything you could want.
There’s a nice blend of specialty shops, culture, and international dining. The best time to be here is on a Saturday morning when the farmers’ market is up and running at McKenzie Park.
The waterfront meanwhile is dotted with marinas, where you can embark on fishing trips, cruises and other fun on St. Andrew Bay.
You’ll find another adorable commercial district along Beck Avenue a short way west. There’s an engrossing local history museum here in a former printworks, as well as the beautiful Oaks by the Bay Park.
This space hosts the acclaimed Market at St. Andrews, also happening on Saturday mornings.
8. Earl Gilbert Park
On Long Point, this picturesque public park pokes out into East Bay. Just west of Earl Gilbert Park, the DuPont Bridge carries the US Hwy 98 into Tyndall Air Force Base.
A wonderful place to begin an adventure on East Bay, the park has a boat ramp and more than 1,000 feet of shoreline.
There’s a row of covered picnic shelters by the water, and I have fond memories of hanging out at this spot watching the sun go down.
It’s hard to imagine now, but Hurricane Michael did a real number on Earl Gilbert Park. Today there’s no sign of any damage, and you can bring kids to a small but spotless beach area.
9. The Martin Theatre
Ten minutes away in downtown Panama City, the Martin Theatre opened in 1936 as a movie house.
For the next few decades went through some hard times before finally falling into disuse and disrepair in the ‘70s.
Luckily this beautiful Art Deco venue was renovated and reopened in the 90s. Today it schedules a variety of movies and live performances, including musicals, dramatic productions, comedy and concerts.
When I put this article together, the theater was being renovated after sustain serious damage in Hurricane Michael.
10. Callaway Recreational Complex
Out in the pine woodlands on the northeastern edge of the city, this public facility feels pretty secluded. For my money, the Callaway Recreational Complex is easily the best place to go for sports amenities.
On 80 acres, the complex opened in 2000 and also encompasses the Leisure Services Department, and the Callaway Arts and Conference Center.
If you’re a local parent with active kids, the chances are you’ll spend a lot of time here. With multiple fields for soccer, softball, baseball, and football, a whole lineup of youth and adult sports leagues are based at the complex.
There’s also a mile-long fitness trail, and a kids’ fishing pond hosting an annual fishing rodeo in June.
11. Patterson Park
Easy to miss, this public park is on the Callaway Bayou, not far north of John B. Gore Park. Patterson Park is a pure passive space, with no recreation amenities.
Instead, this may be my favorite place in Callaway to take a picnic. It’s down to the sublime view on the bayou, as well as the massive live oak.
This giant dates back to the 19th century, and has long streams of Spanish moss hanging from its branches. There are concrete picnic tables at the foot of this tree, and a small space for kids to play.
12. Annual Veterans Day Parade and Celebration
Another long-running Callaway event is the annual Veterans Day parade along Cherry Street. This tradition has been observed for more than 30 years now.
Honoring the servicemen and women who have served in the five branches of the armed forces, the event is an impressive spectacle. When I was here there were more than 80 vehicles passing by, and the Grand Marshal was a Vietnam veteran.
It brings together community leaders, businesses, civic groups and schools, and is both reverent and downright fun. The event continues at Veterans Park, with live music and free food and drinks.
13. Gulf Coast Salute
Across the East Bay, Tyndall Air Force base was hit extremely hard by Hurricane Michael. Then Covid served up a double whammy.
In the past it was possible to take a public tour of this facility, but this still wasn’t possible when I wrote this list.
One community engagement that was returning was the cherished Gulf Coast Salute air show. The hiatus lasted seven years between 2017 and 2024, and the first edition after the break took place at Panama City Beach instead of on the base.
Held on the first weekend of May this event is a great way to see what the state-of-the-art new F-35s are capable of. There are also mind-blowing flight demonstrations by the likes of the Thunderbirds.
14. Annual Children’s Fishing Rodeo
Each year the Callaway Recreational Complex is the setting for a popular children’s fishing event open to kids under 16-years-old and their parents.
Going back more than two decades now, the Children’s Fishing Rodeo is usually held around Father’s Day weekend. There are FWC instructors here every year to offer tips, as well as a touch tank provided by UF, and free food and drink.
You’ve also got cast net contests, and prizes just for showing up. For instance, the year I was here the first 200 attendees got a free rod and reel.