Panama City Beach is one of the Florida panhandle’s premier destinations; it’s especially popular with nature lovers and beachgoers looking for a slower pace than is typically found at many of the state’s Atlantic coast resort towns.
Panama City Beach had a population of just more than 12,000 residents at the time of the last census, but for much of the year, its numbers swell drastically with vacationers from all over the country.
The city’s motto is, ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches,’ and those who’ve visited usually agree that it’s an apt description.
Below are 14 things to do in and around Panama City Beach, Florida.
1. St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park rests on a narrow section of land between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay and is a favorite outdoor destination for locals and visitors alike.
The park is particularly well-known for its beaches, ocean vistas, and sea breezes. For those who need more than just sand and surf, there are a variety of multi-use nature trails that are open to hikers and bikers.
Fishing, snorkeling, and paddle-boarding are popular park activities too, and admission is less than ten bucks, making it an excellent option for value-minded travelers. There’s a perfect, secluded swimming area for little ones on the park’s lagoon-side adjacent to the jetty.
2. Rick Seltzer Beach
Located on Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach, Rick Seltzer Beach is another convenient beach destination that’s slightly closer to town than the aforementioned St. Andrews Park.
There’s ample parking nearby, and the beach is close to popular area hotels and restaurants, making it a great fit for those who want to spend as little time as possible in the car.
The beach is staffed by lifeguards during the summer season, and there’s a boardwalk just inland from the dunes that’s the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.
Amenities include vending machines, gazebos, and restrooms with outdoor showers to wash away the salt and sand.
3. Museum of Man in the Sea
Since the beginning of time, man has been interacting with the sea in one form or another.
Founded in 1976, the Museum of Man in the Sea was the brainchild of ex-Navy Seals and marine biologists, who wanted to preserve the relationship between man and the ocean.
The museum is full of fascinating exhibits, maritime equipment, and first-hand accounts of sailors, divers, and submariners from ages past, and much of what you’ll experience is interactive.
The museum is located on Panama City Beach Parkway in town, and most guests get things kicked-off with the introductory film in the on-site theater.
4. Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida
The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida is a hands-on facility that specializes in engaging and educating young minds on such things as animals, the natural world, science, technology, culture, and history.
The center features both indoor and outdoor portions, and there’s even a playground for toddlers who need to stretch their legs.
Perennial favorites are the flight simulator, pioneer village, and the snake and lizard exhibits, and parts of the center are available to rent for birthday parties and summer outings.
The center often gets crowded, especially during inclement weather, so plan accordingly if possible.
5. Shipwreck Island Waterpark
Featuring hundreds of thousands of gallons of water-centered attractions like slides, wave pools, and suspended dump buckets, Shipwreck Island Waterpark is the perfect alternative for travelers with kids looking for a change of pace from the beach.
There are sections of the park that are appropriate for most ages, and some of them are restricted, so older kids won’t spoil little kid’s fun.
The park can turn into a madhouse during peak times, so if you’d rather avoid the chaos, consider visiting during the week, or when they first open for the day.
Food and drinks are available for purchase on-site, and there are plenty of shaded places to eat and relax out of the sun.
6. Zoo World Zoological Conservatory
Many zoos take a bad-rap these days for exploiting animals for profit, but Zoo World Zoological Conservatory in Panama City Beach is different than most.
Zoo World is mostly focused on worldwide animal and habitat conservation, and though they have lots of the same animals as other zoos, previous visitors have commented that it had a different feel than traditional zoos.
From big cats, bears, and apes to snakes, lizards, and monkeys, there’s a little something for everyone. The staff host regularly scheduled events that may include feedings and opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with some cuddly animals too.
There is a gift shop and small café on-site as well.
7. Ripley’s Believe It or Not
For lovers of all things quirky, macabre, and surreal, there are few better places to visit than Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
From shrunken heads and bizarre artifacts to wax figures and optical illusions, Ripley’s is part funhouse, part shop of horrors, and part museum; it’s usually one of the things visitors remember most about their trip to Florida.
Much of what you’ll see is hands-on, and there’s also a multi-D movie theater and cool mirror maze for those who aren’t opposed to getting lost for a while.
Ripley’s is one of those rare attractions that’s adept at entertaining both kids and adults alike.
8. The Martin Theatre
Panama City’s Martin Theatre has a history stretching back to the ‘30s, but like many independent theatres, it fell victim to changing tastes, and for much of its life, was in various stages of abandonment and disrepair.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the historic theatre was reopened, and it’s once again offering performance-minded guests a variety of entertainment options, including dramatic plays, live music, retro and classic movies, and even a dinner theatre.
The theatre is conveniently located on Horizon Avenue near downtown. It still retains much of its art deco charm, but has received significant upgrades in recent years as well.
9. Shell Island
For those who like their beach destinations close to shopping outlets, coffee shops, and art galleries, Shell Island would not be a good fit.
Shell Island is a long barrier island that lies between St. Andrew Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s among the most pristine and undeveloped stretches of coastline in the area.
There aren’t even bathrooms on the island, but visitors will have miles of beach to explore, and for shell collectors, it’s a real hotspot.
Several tour options are available, and they include a shuttle to and from the mainland that runs at multiple times every day during the summer.
10. Race City
Unlike most amusement parks, Race City offers guests free admission, and they only pay for the individual rides they decide to use.
It’s a novel idea, and as its name implies, Race City is all about speed, but they’ve got a diverse array of activities like bumper cars and boats, mazes, roller coasters, and even mini-golf and an impressive Ferris wheel.
It’s a facility that caters to the whole family, so there are plenty of rides, games, and activities suitable for little ones too.
There are abundant food choices, and free parking and Wi-Fi. Most guests consider it a great bang for their hard-earned travel dollars.
11. Bayou on the Beach Café
Words and phrases like “mouth-watering, delicious, comfortable and festive” have all been used by previous guests to describe their time at Bayou on the Beach Café.
With a full menu that includes lots of seafood, they’re particularly well-known for their seared, fresh tuna sandwiches, crispy hush puppies, and tangy bloody Mary’s.
Portion sizes are larger than most guests can finish, and during tourist season as the sun’s going down, they offer live music, which adds to the already chill and trendy atmosphere.
Bayou on the Beach Café is located on Hutchison Boulevard in Panama City Beach near to the beach and other popular attractions.
12. Russell-Fields City Pier
At just over 1,500 feet long, Russell-Fields City Pier is the longest pier of its kind on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a favorite destination for walkers, anglers, and those interested in witnessing an amazing Florida sunset.
It’s common to see fish, rays, and turtles in the surf below the pier, and the fishermen often haul up exotic and colorful catches that defy description.
The pier is adjacent to City Beach, which is staffed by lifeguards from May until October. There are even beach volleyball courts which draw the young, athletic crowd on a regular basis.
Dogs are okay, but must be leashed and cleaned up after.
13. Free Concerts at Aaron Bessant Park
Aaron Bessant Park is one of Panama City Beach’s newest event destinations, and it’s most well-known for its free concert series.
The park’s grounds are comprised of nearly 70 acres and include a large amphitheater that hosts evening concerts in a wide range of music genres, from country and rock to jazz and the blues.
Concerts start in the evening when the sun has gone down, and most guests spread blankets on the ground and bring folding chairs along with coolers full of food and drinks.
The park’s wide-open spaces are great for exercising and relaxing on days when concerts aren’t scheduled, and there’s a veteran’s memorial on-site as well.
14. Conservation Park
At nearly 3,000 acres, Conservation Park is Panama City Beach’s largest, and it includes portions of pine forests and wetlands that are home to a variety of animals.
The park features a dozen trails that wind their way through varied landscapes, and there’s a mile-long boardwalk as well.
Many guests bring binoculars, and it’s common to see wildlife along the trails, especially in the low light morning and evening hours when they’re usually most active.
The park is about 10 miles west of town, but that’s part of its charm, because it tends to get less foot traffic than other closer attractions.