There’s no better time to visit Panama City Beach, Florida—PCB—than right now. It’s currently the off-season so there are no crowds and you have your pick of hotels, from a beach shack to the luxurious condo/hotels all at prices much lower than high season. As one of the few visitors compared to the scene in the busy summer months, you’ll be interacting with mostly PCB natives, the friendliest and most eclectic of all Floridians.
The beaches of Panama City are like no other in the world. The sand is sugar white and makes the same crunching sound as snow when you walk upon it. There are lush pine forests landward and the crystal clear gulf waters seaward make a walk along any of the 27 miles of beach an unforgettable experience.
So, what to do?
What to do
There are so many recreational activities in Panama City Beach: Taking a tranquil stroll through the pines for bird watching, fishing from the amazing city pier, hiring one of the boats from the large charter fleet, jetskiing in the ocean, paddleboarding, kitesurfing, kayaking—and these are just the water sports options. As home to the largest population of bottlenose dolphin, it’s more than likely you’ll spot some while at the beach or on the pier.
I recommend a visit to the Museum of Man in the Sea, devoted to the history of diving and the preservation of historical artifacts related to underwater operations, including the Navy’s SEALAB submersibles. Gulf World Marine Park, meanwhile, is a comfortably sized marine park with dolphin and sea lion shows. The swim-with-the-dolphins and swim-with-the-stingray interactive programs are really special. They also have an awesome giant aviary with lots of tropical birds that are soaring freely around you.
There are great shopping malls including Pier Park with stores you don’t see at the typical mall. My favorite is The Pepper Palace at 820 Pier Park Drive Suite 110, which sells hot sauces and all things spicy! So much fun just to check out the insane labels on the thousands of different brands and variety of spicy stuff they sell.
What to eat
There are hundreds of places to eat and dozens of beachside bars throughout PCB, and you will not have to battle crowds or have reservations in advance at the most popular places during the off-season. The seafood and barbecue are great and many of the places to enjoy it with a frosty drink are right on the sand. Sharkey’s and Schooners are two of the best (check out their webcams, especially right around sunset).
Two beautiful state parks
The two state parks, Camp Helen to the west and St. Andrews Park to the east, are both on the water and among the best in Florida. St. Andrews is at the mouth of an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico and has a beautiful dune beach with a well-protected calm spot where young children can safely swim, even when the wind is blowing hard on the coast. It’s great for canoeing or kayaking in the back bay through the Grand Lagoon, or over to Shell Island and its pristine paradise of untouched beauty. There’s nothing but nature on Shell Island, a seven-mile stretch of white sand dunes, pine scrub forest and many species of birds. No rest rooms or places for food and water so bring what you need and be sure to take everything with you (no garbage cans) so the visitors after you can enjoy the natural perfection.
Camp Helen is a 183-acre paradise surrounded by water on three sides. It was bought by the Avondale Textile Mills company in 1945 from the first owner Robert Hicks and used as a retreat for employees. Later, it was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1996 and became a Florida state park the following year. The park rangers are super-friendly and knowledgeable and they’ve done a great job of caring for the old buildings including the original Hicks home. I highly recommend a visit. It’s a journey back in time to see an authentic preservation of old Florida.
Coming up: Mardis Gras and Music Festival
This coming Presidents Day weekend—February 5 and 6—is the PCB Mardis Gras and Music Festival. The event is total fun with everyone dressed up in pirate costumes for the parade down the main drag, Front Beach Road, and ending up at Pier Park, where the festivities continue into the night. During the day there are free concerts on the lawn of the amphitheater and from my experience, I think it’s an amazing blend of relaxation and excitement. Everyone has a comfortable place to watch, whether on a blanket or in a chair, with lots of space and no hassle.
PCB is a year-round resort. It definitely changes with the season, but there’s no bad time to go. Even when south Florida is sweltering in the summer, or rainy and stormy in the fall, Panama City Beach is the place to go for a visit to Florida that is unique and has some of the best natural beauty anywhere in the country.
Check out visitpanamacitybeach.com to plan your trip.
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