For many, Panama City Beach Florida is the ultimate dream vacation destination. Lined with swaying palm trees and sugar sand beaches, this tropical paradise attracts thousands of visitors year-round from every corner of the world.
Once you visit Panama City Beach, you will see why many consider it the ideal getaway. This waterfront town is an outdoor playground full of activities and adventure for every type of traveler! There are tons of things to do in Panama City Beach, Florida, for the whole family.
In Panama City Beach, you can hike or cycle through the wilderness regions of the state parks. Or spend the afternoon kayaking or swimming through the blue lagoons and shallow bays.
If you need some serious relaxation time, you can always stretch out your beach towel and soak in the warm sun rays with an ice-cold drink for an hour or two.
No matter what sparks your interest, Panama City Beach has something for you!
Why Panama City Beach should be on your bucket list
Located on the Gulf of Mexico coast in Florida, Panama City Beach is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. There are over 27-miles of coastline stretching as far as the eye can see.
And with over 100 inlets, access points, and beaches to choose from, you’ll have no problem finding a quiet spot to relax and soak up those tropical vibes.
Although its residential population hovers just above 10,000, it’s a lively city bustling with visitors from around the country and the globe.
When you visit Panama City Beach, you’ll see there is a seemingly endless amount of activities to fill any trip. That’s why we’ve created a list of our favorite things to do in Panama City Beach! From the rugged state parks to the shops and restaurants on the piers, there’s something exciting waiting for you in Panama City Beach!
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Must-Do Things to Do in Panama City Beach
1. Shipwreck Diving in Panama City Beach
Just a short boat ride away from the sugar-white sands of Panama City Beach is a more than a dozen wrecks and artificial reefs waiting for divers. Its extensive list of dive sites has put Panama City firmly on the list of top dive sites in Florida.
There are several dive shops in Panama City Beach. We dove with Diver’s Den. They had brand new top-end gear along with lots of local knowledge and experience on the wrecks.
Pictured above is a diver exploring the bow of one of Panama City Beach’s most famous wrecks, the Black Bart. It is named for the Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage in Panama City Capt. Charles Bartholomew. The 185′ oil field supply ship sits upright at a depth of approximately 45-75 feet.
In addition to several wrecks, there are also some massive bridge spans sitting in the sand at divable depths just in front of Panama City Beach too. In addition to providing some shelter for marine life, they also make for some great dive photography subjects.
The latest addition to Panama City Beaches wrecks is the 400-ton three-story party boat the El Dorado. Hurricane Michale damaged the vessel in late 2018, and after the storm, it laid on its side in the shallow waters in view of the Hathaway Bridge. Earlier this year it was taken 12 miles out and sent to down as an artificial reef. Within just a few weeks the El Dorado is already teeming with life.
2. Shop ’til You Drop at Pier Park
Pier Park is an open-air entertainment center for the whole family. Located steps away from the shores of Panama City Beach, you’ll find plenty of trendy shops, delicious restaurants, and exhilarating activities. For those looking to pick up a new outfit or bikini, Pier Park is truly a shopper’s paradise, with over 120 stores lining the boardwalk.
Kids of all ages will love the Pier Park attractions, like laser tag, arcade games, and even the on-site IMAX theater. So, whether you’re shopping for new flip-flops or wanting to spend the evening dining under the stars, you’ll find what you’re looking for at Pier Park!
3. Explore the Wilderness of Camp Helen State Park
For an exciting day outdoors in Panama City Beach, head over to the coastal shores of Camp Helen State Park. This historic site caters to all types of adventure enthusiasts – from hikers and kayakers to fishers and sunbathers. Since the park is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell, you’ll get to experience some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of Florida.
But best of all, visitors come to Camp Helen State Park to escape the crowds of tourists and beachgoers. It’s common to see couples and families bringing a picnic basket and eating lunch on the beach or grassy fields inside the park.
If you need a break from the busy city or the heat, visit Camp Helen State Park. This hidden gem is a slice of heaven right in the middle of Florida! It’s one of our favorite Panama City Beach attractions.
- Address: 23937 Panama City Beach Pkwy, Panama City Beach
- Entry: $4 per vehicle
- Hours: daily 8 am to sunset
4. Sip the Local Fruits at Panama City Beach Winery
If you’re looking for some adult only things to do in Panama City Beach, head to the winery. You won’t find any dry white wines or full-bodied reds at Panama City Beach Winery. Instead, they’re known for producing some of the most unique fruit wines!
Using only 100% fruit, they produce wine in mouth-watering flavors such as Passion Fruit, Peach, Key Lime, and even Kiwi! They also sell fruit slush mixes, which, when blended with the wine, make the best-frozen cocktails ever to touch your lips.
However, we love that PCB Winery offers complimentary tastings! Located just off Gulf Lagoon Beach, the tasting room is open every day. No reservations are needed to sample the fantastic flavors of their famous fruit wines.
5. Watch the Sunset on the Beach
Grab a couple of beers and a few friends and hit the beach for an unforgettable evening in Panama City Beach. As the sun disappears below the horizon, the sky becomes painted with pastel pinks and vivid oranges. Panama City Beach sunsets are considered some of the most colorful in the entire country!
To make your night even more memorable, light up the bonfire and roast a few hot dogs and s’ mores. Bonfire parties are common and often go late into the evening. You’ll find plenty of people eating, playing beach games, and listening to music after the sun sets.
There’s no better way to end a day in Florida than on the sandy shores of the famous Panama City Beach!
6. Ride High in the Sky with the Skywheel
For one of the best views in all of Panama City Beach, take a spin on the panoramic Skywheel. As you step inside the glass-enclosed carriage, you’ll spin 200 feet in the air with the coastal shores below you. From the top, you’ll have unparalleled views of the Gulf of Mexico, Pier Park, and the Panama City Beach skyline.
Here’s a tip; the carriages are fully air-conditioned! That means you can enjoy 360-degree views while also escaping the heat.
For optimal views, the best time to visit the Skywheel is on a clear day or when the sun sets. If you happen to visit the Skywheel at night, you’ll be treated to a vibrant LED light show. Because of these outstanding views, the Skywheel is one of our favorite things to do in Panama City Beach.
7. Soar Above the Coast in a Helicopter Tour
Soar high above Panama City Beach in your very own private helicopter! As the helicopter takes off from the land, you’ll be treated to birds-eye views of the ocean, beaches, and neighboring islands. This is the best view of the best beaches in the Panhandle.
There are several different helicopter companies, tours, and packages to choose from. First-time fliers can enjoy a quick five-mile ride, while aerial photographers and adventure seekers can opt for a more extended trip. Seeing the city from high above is one of the best ways to experience the magic of Panama City Beach.
For something more unique, try a wildlife helicopter package. That means you can marvel at turtles, stingrays, and even sharks that swim in the water from high in the air.
8. Encounter Dolphins on an Excursion around Shell Island
Get up close and personal with some of Florida’s most famous residents – bottlenose dolphins! Although dolphins can be seen from the shores of Shell Island, the best way to see them in their natural habitat is on a boat excursion.
On a dolphin cruise of Shell Island, you’ll whizz through the warm waters searching for these playful and magical creatures. Watch as they frolic in the wake of the surf and twirl high in the air as they jump from the water. If you listen carefully, you might also hear them talking and singing to each other.
But if you’re looking for an immersive experience, we recommend booking a tour where you can actually get in the water with the dolphins! Hop in and swim next to the dolphins if you can keep up. These dolphins are wild, and this a fun way to see them in their natural habitat. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is one of the top things to do in Panama City Beach.
9. Spend the Afternoon on Russel Fields City Pier
Jetting 1,500 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, the Russel Fields City Pier boasts some of the best views of Panama City Beach. As you walk towards the end of the pier, you’ll have the opportunity to see the city and gulf from an entirely different perspective. Make sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes, because the walk to the end of the pier can be long!
Once you’re on the pier, there is plenty of wild marine life to see below the wooden planks. You’ll find dolphins, stingrays, turtles, and tons of colorful fish.
It’s also possible to purchase a fishing license and rent fishing equipment from the on-site tackle and bait shop. But in our opinion, it’s just as fun to watch the anglers on the pier! You’ll be amazed at all the sizes and species of fish they catch.
The bottom side of the pier is a photographer’s paradise. You could spend hours under the bridge creating all kinds of interesting compositions and capturing some unique shots.
Russel Fields City Pier is the perfect destination for a family fun day out or even a leisurely stroll in the evening.
10. Enjoy a Day of Activity in St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park is the ultimate outdoor lover’s paradise! With 2.5 miles of white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, it’s the perfect place to soak up the warm Florida sun.
But if you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, then St. Andrew’s State Park has something that’ll take your fancy too! Hike or cycle on the paved trails, kayak, and canoe along the Emerald Coast, or even catch your dinner by fishing off the piers.
St. Andrews State Park is an excellent place for spotting wildlife! It’s a frequent migratory stopover for many unique bird and butterfly species. So grab your binoculars and head out in the early morning or evening to see what you can spot.
There are even state of the art camping facilities if you decide to spend a few nights in the park. Equipped with gas, water, and bbq grills, you won’t miss the comforts of a hotel for a second!
- Address: 4607 State Park Ln, Panama City
11. Get Soaking Wet at Shipwreck Island Adventure Park
Escape the Florida heat and humidity by cooling off at the tropical-themed Shipwreck Island Adventure Park. This action-packed water park is fun for the whole family – even for toddlers and adults.
There are dozens of thrilling water rides to slide down, including the Tree Top Drop, the Zoom Flume, and the flowing Raging Rapids! We love the lazy river ride, where you can float through the winding tunnels of water on your very own inner tube. For the younger swimmers, there’s Tadpole Hole, the safe and family-friendly kiddy area.
If you’re interested in something more relaxing, you can pull up a sun lounger and recline underneath the swaying palm trees. You don’t have to get soaked to enjoy the activities at Shipwreck Island Adventure Park – although it’s much more fun if you do!
- Address: 12201 Hutchison Blvd, Panama City Beach
12. Spot an Alligator on an Airboat Adventure
You don’t have to visit the Everglades to explore Gator Country. You experience the excitement of a high-speed airboat and alligator watching right here in Panama City Beach. These propeller airboats will take you through the backwaters, rivers, and marshlands of Florida as you search for wild alligators lurking beneath the water’s surface.
While alligators are the highlight on the airboat tours, they aren’t the only creatures you’ll find. The waters are home to a variety of marine and sea life, including snakes, sharks, and manatees. If you’re lucky, you might even spot other animals roaming the fields, like deer and wild hogs!
13. Spend the Day on the Open Waters with a Fishing Charter
Is there anything more exciting than catching your own dinner for the night? On a fishing charter in Panama City Beach, you can try your hand at deep-sea fishing right off the edge of a speedboat.
You might score some hook bottom-feeding species like Red Snappers, King Mackerels, and Groupers. Or try and catch trolling species such as Mahi Mahi and Black Fin Tuna.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginning angler or a professional fisherman/woman. You’re guaranteed to enjoy a few hours on the open water with a fishing charter!
14. Wake up early a see the mist enough the coastline
A natural phenomenon when the weather conditions are right the entire coastline in Panama City Beach is blanketed in a layer of rolling mist and fog. While it looks impressive from the ground, it really looks epic from the air.
If you’ve ever considered getting a drone, make sure to check out my travel drone guide to see which drone fits your needs.
15. Have a bonfire on the beach
A super fun way to round out any trip to Panama City Beach is a fire right on the sand. The best way to have a fire on the beach is through Endless Summer Rentals, who can set up a nice fire and even cater it too.
Where to stay on a trip to Panama City Beach
With miles and miles of magnificent beaches, it’s hard to go wrong when picking a spot for your trip. However, Panama City Beach covers more ground than you might think.
So, it’s best to choose a hotel close to all of the action or one that is closest to thing things you want to do in Panama City Beach. On our last trip, we stayed at the Tidewater Beach Condominiums by Wyndham Vacation Rentals. It was in a great spot on the beach and very walkable to most of the top attractions near Pier Park.
The condo-style rooms are perfect for family trips as they come with full kitchens, lots of areas to relax and multiple bedrooms. This is also excellent for multi-generation trips and traveling with other couples – everyone has their own space, but you’re all still staying together.
Don’t Forget to Pin Me for Later!
Despite what you may think, there is more to Panama City Beach than white sand and turquoise waters (although there are plenty of those too!). It’s a destination for all types of travelers – from outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers to shopping addicts and fresh seafood eaters.
As long as you pack your swimsuit and lots of sunblock, you’ll enjoy the little slice of paradise known as Panama City Beach!