Located just inland from the narrow channel of water that connects West and St. Andrews Bays in Florida’s Bay County, Panama City had a population of slightly more than 36,000 residents at the time of the last census.
Other than Tallahassee and Pensacola, it’s the largest city in the panhandle and is close enough to the neighboring state of Alabama to make day trips an option.
Panama City is one of the state’s largest spring break destinations as well and draws crazy college students from the northeast and Midwest portions of the country.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Panama City, Florida.
1. St. Andrews State Park
In a recent travel magazine poll St. Andrews State Park was voted one of the top five beaches in the country.
Considering the competition, it’s pretty impressive, and in addition to its natural splendor, St. Andrews State Park offers guests a number of recreation options, including fishing, kayaking, and hiking.
The park is home to numerous wildlife species, and many of them are regularly viewed from the myriad of trails that wind their way through the park’s varied habitats.
Nearby Shell Island is a popular side excursion from the park, but most guests are perfectly content with St. Andrews amenities and decide to stay put.
2. Museum of Man in the Sea
Founded in the mid-‘70s by a group of Navy divers and marine biologists, the Museum of Man in the Sea is a unique area attraction that details the long and fascinating history of man’s interaction with the submarine world.
The museum’s exhibits include a submarine and other early diving devices, as well as brass diving helmets and other underwater breathing apparatus that look downright dangerous and scary by today’s standards.
There’s a great introductory film available to visitors that’s a great way to start your exploration; it’ll give you a historical overview of the things you’re about to see.
3. Pier Park
Of all of Panama City’s destinations, Pier Park is probably the most complete because it offers guests incredible views of the sea, beautiful walking areas, and several dining and retail establishments that have been known to keep visitors occupied for hours on end.
The mostly outdoor complex includes more than 100 stores like Old Navy and American Eagle Outfitters. For those who’ve worked up an appetite or just need a shot of caffeine to get them through the day, there is a Starbucks, Red Robin, and Red Brick Oven Pizza.
Consider sticking around for an evening movie or live entertainment as the sun goes down.
4. Signal Hill Golf Course
For more than five decades, Signal Hill Golf Course has been a favorite destination for savvy and value-minded golfers interested in playing a great course without spending an arm and a leg.
Signal Hill is located on Thomas Drive in Panama City and is known for its well-kept fairways and greens, and nice clubhouse and restaurant.
The 18-hole, par 71 course is a bit shorter than most at just over 5,600 yards, which means it’s appropriate for players of most ages and skill levels but still long enough to challenge seasoned players.
Reserve tee times in advance during peak season.
5. Shipwreck Island Waterpark
Featuring half a million gallons of continually moving water in a number of distinct pool areas, Shipwreck Island Waterpark is a popular destination for families with children when everyone has had their fill of the beach.
With several slides, wave pools, and a lazy river course that’s nearly a half-mile long, running out of things to do won’t be a problem. For toddlers who haven’t yet learned to swim, there are separate shallow areas where they can frolic safely with their parents.
The Waterpark has plenty of shaded seating areas and food and drink stands onsite, and it does get filled to capacity during the dog days of summer.
6. The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida
Located on Airport Road in Panama City, The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida is another family-friendly attraction that’s popular with those who’d rather their kids get exposed to engaging and educational exhibits and activities than mind-numbing video games.
The museum focuses on science and technology, animals, the natural world, and even history and culture. Though it was designed with little ones in mind, parents and older children usually end up having a blast too.
Visitors are encouraged to get active as opposed to just viewing passively, and in addition to their exhibits, the center hosts some summer camps.
7. Panama City Beach Winery
Located on Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach, Panama City Beach Winery is an award-winning, family-owned business that produces and sells wines predominately made from Florida-grown produce like berries, oranges, and key limes.
The winery’s staff offers tours and tastings; for wine aficionados, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon out of the harsh sun learning about how common fruit is turned into intoxicating adult beverages.
Tastings are available as well, and between the wonderful flavors and fantastic scenery, you may just get the urge to dust off that old Jimmy Buffet CD that’s been collecting dust in your closet when you get home.
8. Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise
Cruises are great ways to get a unique view of the Florida coast, and the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise that departs from Lagoon Drive in Panama City Beach is a perennial favorite with children and adults alike.
Guests will cruise past St. Andrews Bay and Shell Island aboard a 90-foot pirate ship replica. While most parents choose to relax and take in the sights with a cold beverage, the little ones will have a variety of activity options at their fingertips, including dancing, sword fighting, and firing a mock cannon.
It’s pretty common to see dolphins and sea turtles on the trip too.
9. Coconut Creek Family Fun Park
There’s definitely something to be said for venues that educate kids as well as entertain them, but truth be told, sometimes children just need to have fun and get active without thinking about a silly little thing like learning.
Visitors to the Coconut Creek Family Fun Park can purchase all day tickets that give them access to unlimited mini-golf and forays into their tricky maze, which is a vast area covered by a labyrinth of pathways that may or may not lead in the right direction.
It’s a lot of fun for children and their parents, and though the prices may seem a bit on the steep side, most guests feel like they’ve gotten good value for their money.
10. Zoo World
Though many visitors spend much of their time at the beach when visiting Panama City, there are a variety of non-beach options available, and Zoo World is one of the most popular.
General admission gets guests up close and personal with a variety of animals, including giraffes, gators, and tigers. For those who’d like an added kick, it’s possible to pay extra and get to touch and feed some animals, including lemurs and baby alligators.
Zoo World offers some engaging and educational summer camps for little ones, and there are regularly scheduled lectures as well as a gift shop and snack bar on site.
11. Russell-Fields City Pier
Conveniently located adjacent to Panama City’s public beach, Russell-Fields City Pier is supposedly the longest pier of its kind on the Gulf of Mexico.
Stretching more than 1,500 feet out into the gulf, it is a particular favorite of fishermen and walkers looking for the perfect place to capture a breathtaking Florida sunset.
It’s common to see many marine animals, including fish, turtles, and rays, and the anglers often haul in impressive catches as well.
Full-day access to the pier costs less than a burger and fries, and there’s plenty of seating for those who’d like to relax and take it all in.
12. Panhandle Helicopter Tours
Though it’s definitely not the cheapest way to see the Florida coast, helicopter tours are certainly one of the most magnificent ways to see it, and many guests consider the cost reasonable considering what’s included.
Panhandle Helicopter Tours is a family-run provider of aerial tours in the Panama Beach area offering guests an assortment of tour options ranging from just a few miles to nearly 30 miles up the coast.
Their shark spotting tours are among the most popular and give viewers an interesting and chilling perspective of the size and number of sharks swimming just offshore in Florida’s warm waters.
13. Camp Helen State Park
The 185-acre parcel of land on which Camp Helen Park now sits was used as a summer retreat for management of an Alabama textile company for much of its existence.
Now, the park offers visitors some of the area’s most pristine beaches and dunes, and some old oak forests as well.
Many of the original structures are still standing, though they’ve been renovated over the years. Much of the park is bordered by Lake Powell, which is one of just a few rare dune lakes in the region.
Overnight camping isn’t allowed, but fishing, hiking, and swimming are popular.
14. Panama City Beach Conservation Park
Panama City Conservation Park includes a dozen trails that range from a half-mile long to more than 10 miles; they’re popular with hikers, bird watchers, and amateur nature photographers.
The park is comprised of nearly 3,000 acres, much of which is coastal wetlands that are so vital to shore preservation and home to a vast variety of plants and animals.
Open daily from dusk until dawn, there are plenty of restroom and picnic areas, as well as a covered pavilion that’s available for rent for large group events like birthday parties and family reunions.
The park staff also offer guided nature walks, so check their website for details.
15. Ripley’s Believe it or Not
Located on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach, Ripley’s Believe it or Not is the perfectly weird and quirky destination for those looking for some well-deserved time out of the sun.
It’s a museum of oddities that includes a full-size replica of the world’s tallest man, a few shrunken skulls, and a real-life antique vampire killing kit.
In addition to their exhibits, Ripley’s has a number of engaging activities, like a laser obstacle course and a mirror maze that are fun for visitors of all ages.
Ripley’s can get crowded during peak times, so if you’d like to avoid the crowds, consider visiting when they first open or during the week.