Panama City Beach Beyond Spring Break

Sure, Panama City Beach, Florida, might be wet-T-shirt-contest central each year in March. But steer clear of those weeks, and you'll find a delightful beach town worthy of another look.
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Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beach, Florida  (Jennifer Maltba Seabolt)

Panama City Beach, Florida, might be synonymous with college spring break during March and early April, but the other months of the year this panhandle spot is a top beach destination to visit, even with your family. Twenty-seven miles of white sandy beaches line the coast, and more than 21,000 hotels, motels, and condos make it easy to find a good deal. Plus, just 15 minutes away from the beach is the country’s newest international airport (opened May 23, 2010); Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) makes it quick and easy to access Panama City and Panama City Beach. Whether you’re looking to relax, indulge your inner foodie, or even enjoy some exercise on your vacation, Panama City Beach is worth a closer look.

When to Go
The temperature in Panama City Beach usually hangs out in the 70s and 80s (not factoring wind or humidity). While the majority of tourists come during spring break (March) or summer (June and July), locals recommend visiting during the shoulder season: mid-April through May and September through December. The weather is delightful and the roads, beaches, and attractions are less crowded.

Where to Stay
There’s no shortage of lodging options in Panama City Beach. The Majestic Beach Resort offers condo-style living quarters with more than 650 feet of beachfront property. The Edgewater Beach & Golf Resort is a family friendly full-service resort on Panama City Beach and features a 27-hole championship golf course and a 9-hole executive golf course. Also, check out the Wyndham Bay Point Resort, featuring 316 deluxe condo-style villas and including five pools, complimentary boat shuttles to Shell Island, and two championship golf courses on the property. President Obama and his family stayed here during their visit to the area in 2010.

What to Do
Panama City Beach’s 27 miles of white sand are probably the biggest reason to pick this destination, but once you get your fill of sand and sun (if that’s even possible), check out some of these great activities.

Gulf World Marine Park: Imagine a more intimate Sea World experience. Start with the sea lion and rough-toothed dolphin show, and then mosey through tropical bird habitats before you grab a seat at the Bird/Cat/Dog show. Other features include sharks, loggerhead turtles, and stingrays that you can pet. Finally, check out the bottlenose dolphin show; if you don’t want to get wet, don’t sit in the first six rows. And on your way out, say hello to Fat Boy the penguin and his possessive girlfriend, Seatab. The park also offers opportunities to meet some of the marine life and even swim with the dolphins. Gulf World was also one of the official rehab destinations for animals during the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill in 2010.

St. Andrews State Park: This state park ranks among the most visited in Florida, and it’s a popular destination for camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, cycling, and even running.  The park features 1.5 miles of beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico and the Grand Lagoon. During spring and summer, take advantage of ferry access to Shell Island, 700 acres of relatively undeveloped island.   For you history buffs, St. Andrews State Park also has seven archaeological sites ceramics and pottery from generations passed have been found.  The park also has plenty of wildlife, from hundreds of white-tailed deer to owls, bald eagles, and even a gator or two at Gator Lake.

Pier Park: Get some retail therapy at Panama City Beach’s 1.1 million-square-foot shopping mecca that boasts 124 stores. Opened in 2007, this area features everything from Target and Dillard’s to Crocs and boutiques like French Charmed. But don’t max out the credit card just yet. Save some money for all the delicious food and entertainment options, like the IMAX theater, the carousel at Miracle Strip, beer at Hofbrau Beer Garden, or margaritas and fish tacos at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Plus, this area hosts concerts and other events like the famous 600-pound Beach Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve. 

Biggest Loser RunWalk 5k or Half Marathon: Jackie and Dan Evans, a mother/son duo from Season 5 of the Biggest Loser, host a RunWalk Race Series based on the show. The inaugural run took place in Panama City Beach on December 30, 2012, and some 1,300 participants of all ages, size, and weight came out to reach a fitness goal. Panama City Beach is planning to host the Biggest Loser RunWalk event in December 2013, too. PCB is also the host of the Florida Ironman Triathlon, and there are plenty of other local races if you want to add one to your vacation.

Speaking of exercise, click through to the next page for our favorite restaurants to fuel up after a big day.

Published: 11 Feb 2013
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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