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.
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.
For me, I’m looking forward to doing something I’ve inexplicably done every time I find myself at the beach: dig a 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.
We watched dolphins and collected shells on Shell Island. Various trips are available, from basic dolphin-viewing cruises to picnic ferries to the island.
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.
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.
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.