Beyond the Beach in Panama City Beach

A beautiful morning at Panama City Beach, Fla.

A beautiful morning at Panama City Beach, Fla.

My family will be traveling to Panama City Beach, Fla., soon for a much-needed vacation. It will be a glorious week of sun, sand and surf, not to mention relaxing naps by the pool and lots of great seafood.

But is there more to do on a beach vacation than just relax in the sand? I’m on a mission to find out.

This will be my 11th time to Panama City Beach, and who knows how many more for my wife who grew up going to the Gulf Coast community with her family annually. And in all the times we’ve visited, we tend to not do much more than relax at the beach, eat great food, do a bit of shopping and just relax. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I can’t just sit still for a week on any trip. I have to get out and explore. We usually enjoy the nearby community of Seaside, Fla., with its quaint and beautifully designed houses lining peaceful streets, art galleries and shops, and just a really cool vibe.

Apalachicola, Fla.

Apalachicola, Fla.

One year we drove a couple of hours east to enjoy an afternoon in Apalachicola Bay, where some of the world’s greatest oysters are harvested. We ate great food, did more shopping and just enjoyed being in a laid-back beach community compared to the busy and popular PCB.

But in general, a trip to the beach is a trip meant to relax, enjoy family and get into that lifestyle Jimmy Buffett sings about.

This year might be different. My wife and I and our 6-year-old son will spend a week at the beach with friends and their 3-year-old twin boys. We’re all really looking forward to having some fun in the sand. But we’re also looking forward to finding some adventures.

PCB fun


For me, I’m looking forward to doing something I’ve inexplicably done every time I find myself at the beach: dig a hole.

PCB hole

But with three boys all 6 and younger I’m not so sure spending seven straight days on the beach all day is the best idea. It’s certainly not what I have in mind.

So maybe we’ll take the kids to Gulf World Marine Park. It’s just a couple miles from our condo on the west end of the beach, and might be a fun time watching sea animals at play.

Considering this will be my 11th trip to Panama City Beach, not to mention several to nearby Destin and a few to the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala., areas, it’s crazy to think that I’ve never once been salt-water fishing. It’s even crazier when you consider I grew up pond fishing as a kid. I’d like to remedy that and I’m considering one of these five-hour deep-sea fishing trips.

One thing that is likely is a boat ride of some sort. Way back when Stacey and I first started dating I joined her family on their annual trip in 1996. We took one of the many glass-bottom boat cruises out to Shell Island that are offered from the bay.

Shell Island is a barrier island across the channel from the mainland. The 700-acre island is underdeveloped, making a perfect place for sunning, swimming and shell collecting. (Photo Courtesy of Steve Beaudet Photos/Panama City Beach CVB)

Shell Island is a barrier island across the channel from the mainland. The 700-acre island is underdeveloped, making a perfect place for sunning, swimming and shell collecting.
(Photo Courtesy of Steve Beaudet Photos/Panama City Beach CVB)

We watched dolphins and collected shells on Shell Island. Various trips are available, from basic dolphin-viewing cruises to picnic ferries to the island.

PCB ship

Our last trip to PCB back in 2010 we took our son on a Pirate Cruise. I’m not sure if that’s in the cards again, but I am really intrigued by this sunset sailing cruise offered by Island Time. Or maybe we’ll just consider taking a ferry to Shell Island from St. Andrews State Park.

Speaking of St. Andrews, the park several years ago was named one of the top beaches in the nation. The sand is beautiful and the water is perfect. It’s a nice place to enjoy a more peaceful beach instead of what’s available at many hotels and condos.

St Andrews Lagoon

The St. Andrews Lagoon at St. Andrews State Park.
(Photo Courtesy of Panama City Beach CVB)

Not everything at Panama City Beach is found near the Gulf. Just a few miles north of the beach is a great restaurant called Boondocks. I came across it a few years ago in Southern Living magazine. It seemed like everyone else read the same article, as it was a two-hour wait on an early Sunday evening. What has me interested in returning this time around is an airboat ride with Panama City Airboat Tours that departs from near the restaurant. I know it’s not the marshes and bayous of Louisiana, but experiencing the West Bay and surrounding marshes on an airboat seems pretty cool.

One activity I’m not really sure I’m game for trying is riding a standup paddleboard. I found one company that offers rides on a river, lake and even into the Gulf of Mexico if conditions are right. Something tells me I’d fall, a lot.

(Photo Courtesy of Steve Beaudet Photos/Panama City Beach CVB)

(Photo Courtesy of Steve Beaudet Photos/Panama City Beach CVB)

What else might we do? Find lots of good seafood, go for a run on the beach, maybe find a place to rent a bicycle for an early morning ride. Even though it’s had a reputation for tacky, Panama City Beach has so much to offer families. I’m excited about returning.

10 thoughts on “Beyond the Beach in Panama City Beach

  1. Ted, more than a few of my PCB trips were spring breaks and summer college trips hanging out at Club La Vela. I will say — thankfully — the community has changed quite a bit since the 90s. A lot of the run-down places were bulldozed for nicer condos. Of course that means bigger crowds, but PCB was in need of a facelift. And I really enjoy it now. We have a timeshare we split with family, so we go every three years.

  2. Sounds like you guys are in for a fabulous vacation. I am with you – love love love the beach and san, but there is no way I could spend 7 days without exploring! You so have to try SUP. Have done it a few times now – good times! If the weather is hot, a fall in the water is always welcome! Do you just need someone to dare you … I will, you know. I’m cheering for a few SUP pictures on your blog post vacation! Have fun.
    Anita Mac recently posted…Urban Art: The Graffiti SubCulture in TorontoMy Profile

  3. Have you already visited PCB? If it was this past weekend, then I’m sure you were able to see a different side of the beach…in the rain. 🙂 I hope you took the plunge and tried SUPing!
    Katie recently posted…The List: #19My Profile

  4. We were there all of last week. The first half of the week was great for the most part. But then a monsoon happened. I’ve seen reports of 12 inches and 20 inches in the spots we were for just Wednesday and Thursday. Traveling with kids we ended up focusing on beach time knowing the bad weather was coming. So really the only thing I got to do was fish. I’ve never been deep-sea fishing so that was really cool.

  5. That was literally the most rain PCB has ever seen! Even counting hurricanes! Glad you had fun anyway, and hope you can make it back sometime when the weather isn’t setting crazy records 😉

  6. We were very fortunate that our property has an indoor pool. Our son had just as much fun in the pool as he did on the sunny beach. We will definitely be back. I believe this was my 11th trip to PCB and probably only the second that was seriously affected by rain. Most times it’s just a few hours of rain.

  7. Pingback: Deep-sea fishing Panama City Beach

  8. Pingback: Rainy Day Beach Activities With Kids

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge