Looking for the best things to do in Panama City Beach?
If you’re planning a vacation but are unsure of the destination, I have the perfect suggestion. Florida! When someone mentions Florida to anyone who has never visited, they usually picture Miami or Orlando. (Those cities are great, but I am partial to the Panhandle.) I am referring to Panama City, Florida.
Known to have “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches,” it is home to locals who inspire others with their sense of community and pride in their town. Most would lose hope following the devastation of Hurricane Michael and then the chaos of the Pandemic. Not Bay County, though.
Neighbors, businesses, friends, and strangers did their best to help while attempting to rebuild their lives. Although still rebuilding, this destination is more than worth exploring. It is like Panama City and its surrounding cities and subdivisions have created their own breathtaking little world. So, for those who have not had the privilege of visiting this hidden gem, here is a list of the 19 best things to do while here.
19 Best Things to Do in Panama City FL
1. Visit the Beaches
It is obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. The beaches are the top stop while visiting Panama City. There are over 100 public access points to choose from along the coast. Along the stretch of the coastline, there are multiple spots to rent chairs and umbrellas already lined along the shore. Also, lovely beaches like Crooked Island, Mexico Beach, Tyndall AFB, and quite a few more nearby.
If you want to fish, Russel-Field Pier is a wonderful place. Watching the sunset from this 1,500 ft pier is breathtaking. People here are laid back and offer an incredible all-around experience. Also, saving you time by offering on-site fishing licenses, rods for rent, and tackle. St. Andrews State Park is a fun time, if a more scenic adventure is up your alley.
You can fish off Tiller Pier, at Grand Lagoon, near the pass, or enjoy the jetties. Camping is an option as well. They have a full facility, pavilion to picnic under, and campsites available to rent. If you have fur babies accompanying you, Dog Beach is a dedicated part of the beach just for pets and their owners. This spot is located right by Russel-Field Pier.
We cannot forget Shell Island either! Whether you rent a pontoon, catch the Shuttle, or take a private boat, a must is taking a day to enjoy the beauty that nature has to offer. You may even see the endangered green sea turtles. With so many options, it’ll be tough to see them all.
2. Center of the Arts
Located Downtown on the corner of E 4th Street and Harrison Avenue, the Center of the Arts is a favorite among the locals. Owned by the City of Panama City and managed by Bay Arts Alliance, it is home to many beautiful and unique pieces made by local talent.
It’s big enough to have variety but small enough to feel the magic. They offer children and adult classes to take, you can be a novice or want to improve your expertise. Or you can rent space from them to have your own event, like a Paint by Numbers or A Night Out with Art. One thing that makes this place stand out from larger museums is how they encourage local artists to get involved.
They hold challenges and competitions for artists from 16 counties to participate in. They even hold on strictly for photography, including a youth competition. During the summer, they hold summer art camp for those that want to expand their artistic side.
Another fun event that they host is the Haunted Walking Tour. An hour of Halloween fun and art. Who would’ve thought that scary could be in the same category as soothes the soul?
3. Movie Night with Bay County Library
On the second Friday of every month at sunset, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office partners with the Bay County Library to host a movie night at the Callaway Sports Complex. The show is for all ages. This recurring event has assisted families in spending more time with each other in a relaxed environment. No worries if you have a munchkin who cannot sit still!
This is an outdoor event. The only thing you need to provide is your own seating. The hosts provide popcorn and water, but you can bring your own snacks if you want.
Last month, adults and kiddos sang along to Encanto. This month, the movie is Moana. If you happen to visit during the second Friday of the month and need a relaxed, family-friendly activity, do not forget about Movie Night in Callaway. One of the most unique things to do in Panama City Beach Florida.
4. Farmer’s Markets
I am sure you have farmer’s markets where you’re from. I’m curious, do you have a Panama City Farmer’s Market? No? What about The Market at St. Andrews? I think not. But guess what? You’re in luck! We have both AND a few more. All show how talented the local artists are with homemade goodies, food, and art pieces. Some offer musical entertainment as well.
Every Saturday, the Market at St. Andrews set up from 9am to 1pm. Saturdays also host the Panama City Farmer’s Market, from 8 am to 1 pm. These are the top two, but if you enjoy them, check out Callaway Farmer’s Market (the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month) and Market on the Meadows (every Tuesday from 5pm to 9pm).
These markets and a couple of others are growing in popularity rather quickly. You won’t believe all the amazing things they have to offer.
See more: Best Restaurants in Panama City
5. Downtown Panama City Beach
Panama City’s Historic Downtown District is like stepping into a different place and time, fusing contemporary with history. You have shops and salons, markets and pubs, restaurants, and a bay view. Murals adorn sides of building, hand painted by local artists.
Hosting local events, like the Haunted Walking Tour, locals enjoy spending time in this area. The history this place holds is surprising. A favorite memory among many residents, including myself, happened on Halloween 2018. All the children were worried about whether or not trick-or-treating was a possibility. Walking the sidewalks and streets for candy with our children was one of the dangers created when a CAT 5 hurricane barrels through your town.
However, military members, EMTs, and police officers aided business owners and parents in making a safe area for the children to trunk-or-treat. Downtown along Harrison Avenue, you could see how hard everyone pulled together for the children. Military members and police officers barricaded off all of Harrison Avenue. People from all over town, including the beach side, lined their cars up and set up candy stops.
Stores and restaurants that were not damaged, opened their doors (several after normal business hours) to hand out candy too. It was quite a sight to see. Memories like this are reoccurring because Panama City and the people are exceptional. So, whether you admire the view of the water from the marina or shop till you drop, take the time to visit the “Mom and Pop” businesses and admire the historic district’s beauty.
6. Ocean Oriental Market
While you are Downtown, you’ll most likely come across Ocean Oriental Market, located at 571 Harrison Ave. I recommend swinging by and making an order. The menu offers authentic Filipino food, desserts, and ice cream.
They also have one of best Boba Tea Bars in town, with a variety of flavors. It also has an area in the back for you to purchase Asian groceries and treats. You can check it all out while waiting for your order. Everyone that works here is amiable and ready to help with a smile on their face. The icing on the cake?
You will not feel guilty coming here daily because their prices are so low! I personally enjoy the Chai and Thai Boba Teas. If you enjoy trying a variety of foods, there are quite a few international markets found around town. This is just one of them to try. However, I encourage everyone, including those who live here, to try all of them.
7. Maddie’s La Casita
A neighbor to Ocean Oriental Market, Maddie’s La Casita is locally owned and operated. The owner, Maria, dishes out some of the best authentic Mexican plates in town. Everyone there makes you feel welcomed and part of their extended family.
The service is outstanding, and so is the food. Their prices are reasonable as well. Favorite dishes include their Chile Relleno, Enchiladas, and Super Burrito. Now let me warn you, the Super Burrito is the size of a grown person’s head. Even if you’re full and take a to-go box, try their ice cream while you are cashing out. A walk through downtown with a waffle cone is something everyone should experience.
8. Papa Joe’s Bayside
A newer spot to hang out, Papa Joe’s Bayside is quickly becoming a local favorite. They have a variety of activities, from renting a pontoon boat or jet ski to bonfires on the beach while holding a mixed drink.
Need an idea for date night? This is your answer! Beachside volleyball followed by food and drink by a fire, all while listening to live music is magical. Don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself!
9. Shipwreck Island Waterpark
If you love the beach but prefer swimming in something other than saltwater, Shipwreck is a local favorite. They have the ingredients to make fun-filled memories to take home with you. Relax and enjoy the lazy river or shoot down the many waterslides.
Or test your skill in the wave pool. A day spent here will create lasting memories, along with tucker the toddlers out. They offer seasonal passes that more than pay for themselves. (Group and birthday party rates are also available.)
Their concession stands sell everything from hot dogs and pizza to slushies and beer. They even have a Tadpole Hole for the kiddos. Make sure to put this one on your itinerary.
10. Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Whether you find yourself searching for a rainy-day activity or want a break from the sun, Ripley’s Believe It or Not can be the answer. Spend a couple of hours exploring the odditorium, 7D moving theater, and the Marvelous Mirror Maze. Who said learning couldn’t be fun?
An adventure awaits; filled with oddities, weird facts, and things that make you tilt your head and squint your eyes attempting to comprehend the possibilities. Seeing these out of the ordinary exhibits enables you to return home quoting a unique fact, or twelve, as someone asks how your trip was.
Friends and family will think you became an anomalist as you share stories of the creepy and unimaginable. So, try not to pass up on this peculiar place in Panama City Beach.
The upside-down building! Adults and children of all ages can enjoy everything WonderWorks has to offer. They are home to the Space Fury 360º, a ride you won’t want to miss! You can explore the various levels or attempt the rope course. They have a gift shop that has some of the best souvenirs. You should see them for yourself!
Have some fun, out of the sun and enjoy a game of laser tag. Oh! Don’t forget to take advantage of the photobooth. Then, you will have a token to remember the fun you had.
12. Ms. Newbie’s (On the Curve & Newbie’s Too)
For the adults that want an entertaining night out, Ms. Newbie’s is the place to go. Two locations, they’ve been on the beach for 35+ years. Laughter with friends, dancing, live music, and did I mention? Karaoke! The icing on the cake, though, is the famous Hunch Punch.
\You can ask anyone around where to get the best cocktail. Most will point you in the direction of Ms. Newbie’s and their dreamy drink!
This drink is more than just a run-of-the-mill mixed drink. People all over the world come to taste this tantalizing and intoxicating, priceless potion. Mix and mingle or hangout playing pool. Stop by and say hi.
13. Aaron Bessant Park
Aaron Bessant Park is 70 acres that holds a multitude of events for ages 0 to 99. Swing through for the Summer Concert Series that begins in June and goes until August or catch the Emerald Coast Cruizin car show in the fall.
If those aren’t any interest to you, then jam out at Jazz Festival or feast at the annual Food Truck Festival in April.
The Santa Rosa Beach Aerial Arts Show offers an amazing experience as well. Bring a seat, some sunscreen, and get ready to enjoy yourselves. Whether you come alone or with a group of family and friends, there’s fantastic fun that never ends.
14. Panama City Beach Balloon Glow
Pier Park holds an annual event that has caught the eye of everyone around. The Balloon Glow Tour is such an exciting experience! Multiple hot air balloons tether at Pier Park and put on a show. They offer rides too! It really is a remarkable sight.
Children that view it really enjoy the show. Adults are known to grin ear to ear and giggle. They sell tickets on their website, but they sell out months in advance. Floating in a Tweety Bird Hot Air Balloon? I think so! You can purchase tickets here.
15. Bike Week (Twice a Year)
Bike Week comes twice a year for motorcycle enthusiasts. Once in Spring and once in the Fall; usually the last week of April and close to the last week of October. Four days slam full of fun festivities. Tourists and locals come out and show out. Bringing their bikes to battle. If you don’t own a bike, that’s perfectly fine! You can still enjoy the activities.
With a literal legion of endless entertainment everywhere you look, even the grumpiest person mellows their mood and enjoys themselves. Take your pick between a variety of competitions, including The Best-Of-The-Beach Bike Show. There’s also the Miss Thunder Beach Pageant, Poker Runs, Rally with a concert and vendors galore.
Just make sure you make your sleeping arrangements ahead of time; the hotels book up well before bike week arrives. For more information, visit their website.
16. Food Truck Fad
Panama City has caught the food truck fad just like the rest of the nation. We have food in every flavor. If you can imagine it, you’ll find it. Grab some garlic parmesan wings (or one of their many flavors) from Patches on the Go. Tex Kitchen is serving street tacos and seafood, along with authentic Tex-Mex cuisine. There’s also BBQ, Mexican, Jamaican, American, and Island style dishes being served at one of the many trucks.
We even have Crepe and Cream if you’re looking for a delicious delight. What does this all mean? Panama’s Food Truck Fad equals entrepreneurs providing you with endless options of entrées. Plus, you get the added bonus of the beach as an option for your dining experience.
17. Patches Pub
If you enjoy what you order from Patches on the Go and want to sample some more but in a restaurant instead, you can always go to their establishment. Patches Pub gets packed with tourists and regulars on a daily basis. This is a little “Mom and Pop” restaurant that is locally owned and operated.
Enjoy a drink at the full bar outback or order one inside. You can listen to live music in the evening or stroll the beach during the day. (Access 1 is only a few steps away.)
This is a place where everyone knows everybody. The employees are all like family and enjoy what they do. Customer satisfaction is of upmost importance to them as well. Patrons laughing and conversing, bartenders joking and making some memorable mixed drinks, and kitchen staff singing and slinging out orders are all things you’ll witness while you’re there. When leaving here, you’ll be planning on when to return. The customers always do. This place creates an experience, not just a meal.
One of the best things to do in Panama City FL for sure.
18. Arcades, Mini-Golf, and Go-Karts
Are you someone who is laidback, or do you enjoy some friendly competition? Personally, I’m the former. That is until you refer to what’s next on our list. Choosing which place, though, is almost overwhelming, even after living here for 20+ years.
As you go down Front Beach Road and Thomas Drive, you’ll have your fill of family fun options. Here are a few options: One you should consider is Coconut Creek. They have 2 courses with 18 holes for those who love putt-putt.
The Gran Maze, a maze the size of a football field, is also a popular attraction located next to their mini-golf courses. Another option is Race City, which offers go-karts and even a rollercoaster with their indoor mini-golf experience. Also, Emerald Falls Family Recreation Center offers mini-golf, arcade, go-karts, and rides (indoor and outdoor). On a side note, you could always make it a personal goal to try them all!
19. Take a Minication from Vacation
With everything listed above, you may need a moment of respite. My suggestion? Take a stroll through our “peace” of paradise or sit silently and watch the waves. With an overwhelming number of options available in every category you can think of, why wouldn’t that also encompass scenery as well?
Popular places include the swings at St. Andrews Marina or a more sedated sunset swinging at Lake Hunnington. Discover hidden trails that lead to the bay or enjoy a more populated atmosphere walking and window shopping through Pier Park.
Be prepared to make a day out of Pier Park because it is an astounding 1.1 million square feet and home to 124 stores. (Pier Park is a list all on its own.) Either path or sidewalk you take is bound to leave an impression.
There are many different opinions when it comes to Panama City Beach, good and bad. Most people will tell you it is a love-hate relationship. You either love it, hate it, love to hate it, or hate to love it. However, most can agree that visiting Panama City should be on your bucket list.
Where else will you experience all four seasons in the same week? Or how about 1 to 2 months of winter? (It gets cold, but rarely below freezing.) A melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, religions, and nature, there are endless possibilities to experience. Just so you know, Florida Man sightings are one of the possibilities while visiting-any town.