Founded by Union Civil War veterans in 1911, Lynn Haven is a city of almost 20,000, on the north side of Panama City.
I’m smitten with Lynn Haven’s beautiful public parks. Many of these are on the serene shores of St. Andrews Bay, with little beaches and sublime views at sunset.
As far as I’m concerned, St. Andrews Bay needs to be explored as much as possible. For one thing it’s home to a massive pod of bottlenose dolphins, thought to be one of the largest in the world. Head to Panama City for eco tours and a slew of other water sports in the bay.
Cross the Hathaway Bridge and you’ll be in Panama City Beach, with miles of otherworldly sugar-white sandy shoreline. These incredible beaches are complemented by a galaxy of family attractions, dining and shopping.
1. A.L. Kinsaul Park
If you want to see a brilliant sunset without leaving Lynn Haven, A.L. Kinsaul Park has a perfect setting.
Facing west across the large expanse of the bay, the vistas here are astonishing late in the day. Thanks to the wide open views, this is the official place to see Lynn Haven’s Fourth of July fireworks.
The waterfront is the main reason to come, but there’s an array of passive amenities, with concessions, a dog park, a memorial garden, a playground, and a splash pad. The latter was temporarily closed and awaiting maintenance on my visit.
2. Leslie Porter Wayside Park
Facing the bay near the Lynn Haven side of the Bailey Bridge there’s a small but constantly improving public park.
The waterfront views make Leslie Porter Wayside Park my favorite place in Lynn Haven to have a picnic. There’s a series of tables with shelters by the bay, and it’s not unusual to see dolphins playing in these waters.
Closer to the bridge on the west side is a small beach area, with children’s play equipment. The park is the venue for several public events, including Food Truck Fridays, and the Music by the Bay concert in late July.
3. St. Andrews State Park
This astonishing coastal park is on the tip of the barrier island, on the Panama City Beach side of the St. Andrews Inlet.
St. Andrews State Park is on 1,200 acres, with a mile and a half of flawless beaches for swimming, fishing and relaxing. The sands are sugar-white and the water has that mesmerizing shade of emerald green.
One thing I think you have to do at the park is catch the shuttle across the inlet to Shell Island. This paradisiacal environment can only be accessed by boat, and has seven miles of totally undeveloped shoreline.
The shuttle service also offers kayaks, pontoons, paddleboards, and bikes, so you can see as much of Shell Island as possible.
4. Panama City
On Lynn Haven’s south side is one of my favorite places in Florida. Many factors help make Panama City such a joy, from community events to history, vital commercial districts, and the beauty of St. Andrews Bay.
Just ten minutes away, downtown Panama City packs all of that into one place. Tracing Harrison Avenue are one-off stores, and restaurants, all leading down to the waterfront at Panama City Marina.
Go west and you’ll reach the picture-perfect St. Andrews Area. Here, Oaks by the Bay Park has a beautiful stand of mature live oaks. I’d try to be here on a Saturday morning, in time for the best farmers’ market for miles.
5. Panama City Beach Shore
Over the Hathaway Bridge, Panama City Beach has almost ten miles of sandy shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico.
By most estimations, these are some of the best beaches in Florida. All along the coast you’ll find that sugar-white sand, which hardly seems real at first glance.
Panama City Beach offers almost 100 public access points. Many of these offer public parking, while quite a few do not, so I reckon it’s worth doing some planning before heading out.
For those who’d want a lot of amenities, Rick Seltzer Park has parking, picnic areas, lifeguards on duty, and dining options along Thomas Drive.
6. Simply Seafood and Oyster Bar
Dietary preferences aside, I don’t think you can visit this part of Florida and not treat yourself to some seafood. A great starting point in Lynn Haven is Simply Seafood and Oyster Bar at 429 Ohio Ave.
Popular with both locals and tourists, the restaurant has a comfortable, family-friendly environment, ample portion sizes, and reasonable prices.
Simply Seafood’s menu features fish, shrimp, lobster, clams, and crawfish and oysters when in season. Contrasting with a typical Florida seafood joint, almost nothing on the menu is fried.
All of the seafood is either steamed or boiled, Southern style. Crawfish were out of season so I got the shrimp boil, which comes with traditional potatoes, corn, and sausage.
For kids, or those who’d rather stick to landlubber fare, the menu includes a variety of non-seafood items as well.
7. PoFolks Restaurant
This spot is part of a small chain with five locations around the Gulf Coast and Panhandle. The menu is loaded with hearty home-style classics, capturing the nostalgia of a meal at grandma’s house.
I’m talking country-fried steak, chicken dinners, beef tips, liver and onions, Angus beef strip steak, and fried green tomatoes, with hush puppies on the side.
There’s also a big choice of seafood, from whitefish to clams, crab, shrimp and bone-in catfish. Everything has a southern twang, down to the menu, written in a charming patois.
8. Kaleidoscope Theatre
Established as long ago as 1970, Lynn Haven is home to a beloved all-volunteer community theater group. Serving the Greater Panama City and Bay County area, the Kaleidoscope Theatre moved into its current 262-seat facility in 1990.
On the calendar are dramas, comedies and musicals by and for the people of Bay County. If the seats in the auditorium have a vintage feel, it’s because they come from the 1930s Ritz/Martin Theatre in downtown Panama City.
During the school summer break the Kaleidoscope Theatre also puts on a camp for children from 4th Grade up to high school seniors.
9. Nature Walk Golf Course
If you’re searching for somewhere to test your iron shots and approach play, there’s an 18-hole par 60 course in Lynn Haven. Nature Walk Golf Course is regularly touted as the best course in the St. Andrews Bay area.
The course opened in 1997, and they weren’t lying when they named it. The fairways zip through an idyllic landscape of live oaks and Florida pines. At just over 3,500 yards, it’s a course that rewards accuracy over power.
On my round there was a brand new driving range, complemented by a pitching green with a bunker, and a putting and chipping green.
10. The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida
On Airport Road in Panama City, the Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida is a hands-on museum for kids.
The cleverly designed exhibits deal with engineering, medicine, commerce, light, aviation, history, technology, and much more.
The Art Lab allows children to create their own masterpiece and put it on show, while at the Medical Arena they can roleplay as doctors, studying X-rays or performing make-believe operations.
The museum also keeps a variety of reptiles in terrariums, for close-up nature study. In addition to their permanent exhibits, the museum organizes guided activities and summer camps.
11. Sharon Sheffield Park
In Lynn Haven’s administrative center, where SR 77 intersects with 9th Street, there’s a wonderful urban park.
Sharon Sheffield Park has lush lawns, picnic tables, palms, a playground, and a pond with an adorable little footbridge.
But what appeals to me most about this spot is its events. There’s a performance stage at the south end, which serves as the anchor for gatherings all year.
There’s the Spring Concert Series (late March – mid-May), the summer farmers’ market, Trunk or Treat, and the Winter Wonderland and Christmas Tree Lighting Extravaganza.
12. Lynn Haven Bayou Park & Preserve
In the very east of the city, this public park/preserve had only been open a couple of years when I was in town.
Bayou Park & Preserve is remarkable for being the only preserve-style park located east of the Hathaway Bridge. This is a secluded natural spot, with hiking trails through pine hammocks to the bayfront.
You can launch a kayak here, and there are multiple viewpoints by the bay and bayou. For recreation, you’ve got a disc golf course, fitness trails, and one of the best playgrounds I’ve ever seen. This has a spray fountain and a net tower, and is modeled on the iconic Panama City crawfish.
13. Race City
The largest family amusement center in Panama City Beach is also an easy drive from Lynn Haven.
Race City is part amusement park, part go-kart track, and part mini-golf course. It’s another destination that occupied more time than I originally intended.
The bumper boats, Ferris wheel, log flume, and the 10,000-square-foot arcade are always big hits. There are also food kiosks onsite for when you need to refuel.
The park has free admission, and you pay by the attraction. Naturally, an unlimited armband usually works out as better value. Parents waiting for their children can also make the most of the free Wi-Fi.
14. Water Activities
With its abundant wildlife and calm waters, St. Andrews Bay needs to be experienced on the water. The bayside marinas a few miles away in Panama City can be your starting point for all kinds of adventures
These might be fishing charters, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, jet-skiing, pontoon rentals, and much more.
If there’s one thing I think everyone should do it’s to go on a dolphin-spotting cruise. Sightings are frequent, as the bay is home to one of the world’s largest populations of bottlenose dolphins.
These smart mammals are wild but are accustomed to people, and will often approach boats in the bay.
15. Zoo World
There are so many visitor attractions in Panama City Beach that it can be tricky to know where to start.
The first big one to greet you after crossing the Hathaway Bridge is this zoo, with an emphasis on interactivity.
A wealth of experiences were available when I visited Zoo World. You could hand-feed exotic birds, hug a capybara, cuddle a lemur, hold a kangaroo, pet a sloth, and even kiss a giraffe.
On my visit they had just unveiled a brand new alligator area. Residing here are more than 40 yearling American alligators, for an unforgettable Florida-style feeding experience.