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The Sunshine State of Florida is a popular destination, and Panama City Beach is one of its hidden gems. Overlooking the deep blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Panama City Beach and its surrounding areas boast 20+ miles of white sand beaches. Known as the Emerald Coast, the area has nearly 320 days of sunshine each year with an average temperate of 78 degrees. The beautiful weather makes it easy for locals and tourists alike to enjoy what Panama City Beach has to offer.
But don’t let its reputation for being a Spring Break destination fool you (hint: the Spring Break invasion starts late February and ends late April). Want an activity-filled get-away or a relaxing beach vacation? Perhaps you’d like to do something family-oriented? Or maybe you’d like to mix it up and see where the day takes you? Panama City Beach can accommodate any type of vacation you envision.
Panama City Beach’s big draw is its fabled sugar white sand beaches — so sea-front lodgings which are steps away from the warm Gulf waters are a must! But don’t worry, accommodations in various price ranges are easy to obtain.
If you’re looking for the ultimate resort, look no farther than the Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort and Spa (1-800-874-4025). With a newly completed $20 million renovation, this resort offers amenities aplenty. Set near a 1,100 acre wildlife sanctuary, the Bay Point Golf Resort and Spa features two 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts, a full service spa and four onsite restaurants. And if that’s not enough to keep you occupied, there are running and biking trails, seaplane rides, kayak and waverunner excursions and parasailing!
Need the amenities of a hotel but also want some of the comforts of home? Condominium rentals are a popular alternative. Many offer similar amenities to a resort (such as pools and fitness centers), but with kitchens and living areas. Information about condominium rentals can be found at the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (1-800-PC-BEACH).
The campgrounds at St. Andrews State Park (850-233-5140) offer a wide variety of services for those inclined to bring their own accommodations, whether it’s in the form of a recreational vehicle or a tent. Electrical and water hookups are available at the full-facility campsites and RV sites. The park also features picnic grounds and concession stands with snacks, souvenirs and a limited selection of groceries. Sport rentals such as kayaks, canoes, snorkeling equipment and bikes are also available.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation & Parks guards, preserves and maintains the beauty of Florida’s state parks. St. Andrews State Park and Shell Island are two of the most popular state park destinations and both are located near Panama City Beach.
St. Andrews State Park has 1,260 protected acres of wildlife, sand marches and woods, as well as nearly two miles of beach. Hiking and biking trails take you through the diverse ecosystem that features gators, birds, sea turtles and manatees. Curious about the park’s history and wildlife? Ask a ranger at Campfire Circle, an informational program which is held every Friday night from Memorial Day until Labor Day or stop by the Visitors Center for tips on wildlife watching.
Nearby Shell Island is an uninhabited barrier island that is accessible by ferry (850-233-0504) from St. Andrews State Park. The park offers a snorkeling package and kayak rentals for those who wish to explore the island further. Dolphins congregate near Shell Island, and are easily spotted whether you’re relaxing on Shell Island’s beach or touring its nearby waters.
If you love to dive or snorkel, you’re in luck: some of the most unusual sights in Panama City are underwater. Panama City Beach is known as the Wreck Capital of the South, and is a popular destination for divers. In addition to ship and plane wrecks used for Panama City’s artificial reef building program, one of the most popular dive sites is the Empire Mica, a British oil tanker that was torpedoed by a German submarine during World War II. All wrecks now house burgeoning marine and coral communities and provide an eerie beauty to the seascape.
If you’d rather catch fish than swim with them, Panama City Beach has several marinas that offer sport fishing charters. Charters can specialize in deep sea fishing (for large bottom dwellers such as grouper or bass) or big game fishing (for large fish such as marlin and swordfish). An experienced crew will help you land the big one — or at the very least, you’ll have a story about the one that got away!
Learning about marine life is fun for the entire family. The Gulf World Marine Park (850-234-5271) has interactive shows that are meant to entertain as well as educate. Kids ages five and up can swim in chest deep water with dolphins or learn what it’s like to be a trainer. Interested in land based species? Visit the nearly 200 exotic animals at Zooworld (850-230-1243). Zooworld offers several programs for kids as well as a daily alligator feeding.
Although most of Panama City Beach’s activities are centered around water, there are many sites in Panama City that view water as a dangerous hazard: the golf courses!
The Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort and Spa features two 18-hole courses: the Meadows Course (1-800-874-4025) and The Nicklaus Course, designed by Nicklaus Design, a firm headed by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus. The Marriott offers golf specials that include a stay at the resort, a round of golf at one or both courses, and a lunch at the clubhouse.
The Hombre Golf Club (850-234-3673) has the Good, the Bad and the Ugly courses, which feature water in 21 of the 27 holes. And if you need to brush up on your game, Hombre has a golf academy that offers clinics ranging from half a day to five days.
Panama City Beach and its surrounding areas have a wealth of shopping and entertainment opportunities. Pier Park is a premier open air mall that features restaurants, a 16 screen movie theater (850-233-4835) and a variety of retailers such as Target, Old Navy and Dillard’s.
The Coconut Creek Family Fun Park (850-234-2625) is a fun place for both kids and adults. See if you can find your way out of the Gran Maze, a giant labyrinth the size of a football field. Coconut Creek has two 18-hole miniature golf courses, which adds up to hours of fun for you and the kids.
Wondering what it’s like to be a pirate on the high seas? Take the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise (850-234-7400), a two-hour cruise into swashbuckling waters. Enjoy a treasure hunt and learn about pirate legends and lore while aboard this 80-foot pirate ship.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor to Panama City Beach or a seasoned traveler, this Florida jewel has many facets. The year-round temperate weather make this a great destination any time of the year. Just remember to pack comfortable clothing, watch your water intake and wear sunscreen!
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