Hello Panama City Beach! The next stop on my Florida tour is known for its white sandy beaches, crystal-clear emerald waters, and its selection of outdoor activities. And it’s mostly on the outdoors that I focus this article, with a few unique things to do in Panama City Beach.

Don’t get me wrong though, you could spend your entire time in PCB sat on the beach, there are after all 27-miles of pristine beaches stretching along the Gulf of Mexico. But that’s not my style, if you follow these tips, you’ll be getting active and seeing a whole new side of PCB you might not have expected.

You could always draw on some of these things to do to make the perfect blend of nature, adrenaline, adventure, fitness and relaxation. Sounds exactly like how a holiday to Panama City Beach should be.

15 Best Things to Do in Panama City Beach, Florida

I can’t wait to tell you more about the things to do in Panama City Beach FL to have an amazing vacation. From taking a helicopter ride to going snorkeling and more, you’re really in for a treat!

1. Helicopter Tour at Panama City Beach

If there’s one way to see Panama City Beach, it’s by helicopter! This is simply the only way to get an appreciation of the unique layout of all the national and state parks, alongside beautiful white sandy beaches. And it’s one for the adrenaline junkies.

My flight took me along what they call the ‘miracle strip’, where I saw the jetties and even dolphins swimming below. However, you can also fly westbound passing Laguna Beach and Lake Powell. We also did a lovely 360 around Pier Park and the Skywheel, which is talked about later. The best part is I saw nearly everything I planned to do, but from the air, giving me a new perspective on where I was going.

My pilot was Dylan, and I flew with Panhandle Helicopter, who were amazing. They are a family run business and offer flights from just $55. JR Hott, one of the owners, explained everything in advance, including introducing me to the team and showing me around. They even plan to have their own flight school there soon.

Take a look at the Panhandle Helicopter Tours here.

2. Take a Day Trip to Cypress Spring

When it comes to the best water adventure tours in Panama City Beach, there’s nothing quite like the Cypress Springs Eco Adventure, and I couldn’t recommend it enough!

Glide down Holmes Creek in your choice of canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, and soak up the stunning scenery as you go.

But the real highlight is Cypress Springs itself – a hidden gem of a freshwater spring that you won’t want to miss.

Once you arrive, the fun really starts. Snorkel in the crystal-clear waters where you’ll get up close and personal with all kinds of wildlife, from fish to turtles and maybe even the odd manatee.

And with the SeaDoo underwater scooters included, you’ll get to explore even more of the underwater scenery with minimal effort. How’s that for a day out?

The guides are top-notch too, and will take care of everything from setting up equipment to providing a delicious sandwich lunch that’ll satisfy any hunger. Can you see why this is one of the best things to do in Panama City Beach?

3. Spot roaming deer at St Andrews State Park

Sure, loads of people come here to sit on the beach, but why not grab a bike and spot some nature. I hired a bike from the camp store and cycled around this 1,200-acre State Park looking for wildlife.

There is a lot of different wildlife to be found, from alligators at Gator Lake, to wild deer roaming freely. Not to mention a host of migrating birdlife and butterflies. It was the deer that caught my eye, not everyone will be lucky enough to spot them in the open, but to see them grazing next to some impressive birdlife was astonishing.

I did get a chance to relax on the beach for a bit, and you can rent kayaks and Stand-up Paddle Boards to explore by sea. And the best bit? It’s just $4 for a vehicle with one occupant, and only $8 for a single vehicle with between 2-8 people.

You can also launch boats from here and camp overnight.

Best Tours in Panama City Beach FL

4. Go Snorkelling at Shell Island

Shell Island is an undeveloped barrier island stretching for 7 miles. It’s completely protected and undeveloped, meaning great wildlife and snorkelling opportunities. Although I was a little unlucky, but we’ll come back to that.

I love a pristine white sandy beach with no toilets, no beach bar, and no human interference. The dunes are also protected, and it’s forbidden to walk on them.

You can get a shuttle to Shell Island from St Andrews State Park or from Port Lagoon. If you can’t find it search for ‘Off the Hook Bar and Grill’.

My shuttle ticket included my snorkelling equipment and ‘Diver Down’ flag, a requirement for snorkelling in Florida.

Alternatively, for a more convenient experience, you can consider booking a snorkelling tour to Shell Island, which is the best way to visit as a couple or family.

Often, you can see turtles, sharks and even Reef Manta Rays! If you end up choosing a tour, I recommend booking as soon as possible, as it’s one of the most popular trips in town.

5. Take a Stand Up Paddle Board Lesson

Have you ever thought about trying a new watersport? Well, Panama City Beach could easily be one of the best places for that. I’m, of course, talking about Stand Up Paddle Boarding!

You’ll have your own personal instructor to guide you through every step of the way, from safety gear and board sizing to proper paddle techniques.

Starting off on Lake Caroline, you’ll get a feel for your board with a quick land lesson before venturing out to the bay.

Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of wildlife – we’ve seen everything from curious dolphins to majestic manta rays. And make sure to bring your camera because you won’t want to miss the stunning local landmarks that dot the bay.

The lessons are tailored to your individual skill level, so don’t worry if you’re a beginner. And with the peaceful serenity of the Gulf, you’re sure to feel recharged and rejuvenated by the end of our tour.

6. Kayak to the Gulf at Camp Helen State Park

Get ready for a busy morning, as at Camp Helen State Park you don’t want to miss the kayaking or the hiking because there’s lots to see. Camp Helen is surrounded by water, the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Lake Powell on the other.

I spent my first couple of hours kayaking along Phillips Inlet which leads you to the sandbar which connects to the gulf. It’s also popular with birdlife, and they have protected nesting sites for the endangered Least Turns, which are increasing in numbers along the Florida Panhandle. I also saw protected sites at Gulfport in Mississippi!

The sandbars are a beautiful spot alone, and you can also walk here on the hiking routes. I highly recommend you do one of the two hikes or trails. There is a loop trail which is the longest, and a short canopy oak trail, which can also lead you to the beach. I barely saw any people on either of these trails, perfect.

7. Go Dolphin Watching On a Catamaran

Another of the unique things to do in Panama City Beach Florida is going dolphin watching on a catamaran, and I’m pretty confident you won’t regret it for a second!

Climb aboard the SV Footloose 40′ Catamaran and get swept away by the beauty of the coast around Panama City Beach!

This 1.5 hour cruise is the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the local wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins along the Gulf Coastline and Bay area. It’s the perfect photo opportunity!

What you’ll love about this tour is the complimentary mimosa or non-alcoholic drink, as well as the onboard bar with of snacks and other drinks available.

And if you’re worried about getting seasick, don’t be! The catamaran is stable and the crew is experienced and super friendly, and that’s exactly what you need on a trip around PCB.

Did I mention that it only costs $40 per person?!

8. Go Scuba Diving

I mentioned SUP before (Stand Up Paddle Boarding) but for the adventurous type like me, scuba diving is the way to go, and there’s no better way to go than joining this 2-hour experience.

No previous experience or swimming skills are required for this exciting adventure, which is an excellent start. The Instructors will provide you with all the necessary gear and guidance, allowing you to dive into underwater life worry-free.

We’ll meet you at the St. Andrews State Park Jetties public area pavilions, where you’ll get a safety briefing and introduce you to the fundamentals of scuba diving.

After that, you’ll slowly go down in shallow waters to get comfortable, and from then, you’re off to the deeper waters!

Complimentary GoPro footage and photos are included to capture your best moments, so don’t forget to bring your smartphone with the Quik app downloaded.

All you need to bring is a towel, and that’s the kind of adventure I could never recommend enough. That being said, they sell out pretty quickly and I suggest booking ahead of time.

Check out Hyatt Place for the perfect stay in town!

They provide world-class service, stunning rooms, and it’s located on the beachfront.

9. Ride the SkyWheel at Pier Park

For your shopping and family entertainment, head to Pier Park! Where one of the main attractions is the SkyWheel. It’s often regarded as a must-visit as you can see the beautiful coastline and panoramic views of Panama City Beach and the Gulf of Mexico.

The SkyWheel stands at 200 feet tall and features 30 climate-controlled gondolas, each holding up to 6 people.

Pier Park itself is a large outdoor mall that offers a variety of retail stores, restaurants, bars, and entertainment options. It spans over 900,000 square feet and attracts both tourists and locals. You can relax with some mini-golf, traverse rope swings, play laser tag or go to the IMAX theatre!

10. Visit the Area Z51 – Zombie Escape

Get ready to put your problem-solving skills to the test with the ultimate zombie-themed escape room at Area Z51!

This hour-long challenge is perfect for groups of friends who love a cool competition and a lot of brain-busting puzzles.

As you enter the escape room, you’ll feel the tension building as your group begins to unravel the various clues and puzzles that will help you escape.

The story will keep you on your toes throughout the experience, and you’ll have to use your wits to work together and solve the mysteries all along.

Lastly, don’t worry about getting thirsty – water and soft drinks are provided to keep you hydrated throughout the challenge. This is a cool, nice way to spend an hour with friends in Panama City Beach!

11. Ride the Scream Machine Jet Boat

If you’re in for a cool ride while in Panama City Beach, stop here and read on, this incredible tour is not for the faint of heart.

The Scream Machine is a true rollercoaster on water, powered by a twin-engine jet boat. You’ll feel the rush of speed as you zip across the waves, enjoying stunning views of the Florida coastline as you go (if you can!).

With 360-turns and an overall crazy ride, you’ll never forget this part of your trip to Florida!

With multiple departure times available to fit around your schedule, the Scream Machine is the perfect tour for thrill lovers looking to add some excitement to their day.

And what I like about this ride is that it won’t book the full day, instead, you’ll have the rest of the afternoon to enjoy yourself, hit the beach, or have a meal at one of Panama City Beach’s restaurants.

12. Take a Sunset Cruise on a Catamaran

Another cruise, yet different from the previous one I mentioned on this post, is a sunset cruise, which was also one of the highlights of my time in Panama City Beach.

We set off with Paradise Adventures PCB who have several different catamaran options during the day and evening. This one included dolphin spotting and a free drink. It was a chilled start as we cruised passed St Andrews State Park and Shell Beach and wasn’t long before we spotted our first dolphins!

No long after that was the best part, a Reef Manta Ray swimming around 100 yards off the shore at Shell Beach.

They only frequent the Florida shores twice a year, so it was a real treat to see the second largest species of ray right next to our catamaran. It looked huge and they typically range from 3 – 3.5 metres in length.

After watching a beautiful sunset and getting to know our captain Justine we started to head back to the harbour before seeing our next treat.

There were wild deer roaming the beaches of St Andrews State Park! Not far from the spot I saw them earlier, we saw 4 deer casually walking up the beach, incredible. That was a fitting end to my time in Panama City Beach.

13. Explore Panama City Beach By Bike

Discover Panama City Beach like never before with a self-guided bike tour that allows you to pedal at your own pace.

This unique experience takes you off the beaten path and into Lower Grand Lagoon neighborhood, offering a glimpse into the local side of Panama City Beach.

Covering over 8 miles, this bike tour is perfect to explore hidden parts of town while staying fit! While there’s no guide, you’ll get an audio-guide at the rental shop, and you’ll hear stories during the tour, which is very cool!

Included in the tour package are a bicycle, helmet, and bike phone mount, so you have everything you need for a comfortable and enjoyable ride.

So, if you’re looking to take a break from the usual beach and bar scene, hop on a bike and embark on a self-guided tour, I’m sure you’ll love it if you’re into some action like myself!

14. Try Floating Yoga

Ready to level up your yoga game in a way you’ve never imagined? Then this private floating yoga session may just be what you’re after.

Picture yourself gliding on a paddleboard across the serene waters of Lake Caroline, finding your perfect spot, and anchoring down for an epic yoga session.

This isn’t just any yoga class – you’re floating on a paddle board, surrounded by the peaceful beauty of nature.

Your coach will tailor the session to fit your skills, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned yogi. Imagine doing your sun salutations with a view of the sky and water around you – How amazing does this sound?.

After flowing through poses, you’ll wind down with a meditation session right there on the water, making it the perfect blend of exercise and relaxation.

While this is unique, it is actually pretty popular, and you’ll want to book as soon as possible!

15. Try all the Seafood at the Amazing Restaurants

I would say there are some of the best restaurants in Florida here in PCB. I’m going to run you through some of my favourites below and I urge you to try them all. Please note I don’t eat shellfish so these are mostly the white fish options.

Dinner Recommendations at Panama City Beach

The Grand Marlin – I really loved the relaxed atmosphere and sunset views over the Grand Lagoon. They have an award-winning chef Gregg McCarthy and all the seafood you’d expect. I ate the jerk swordfish with coconut rice and pineapple salsa, and highly recommend you do too!

Captain Anderson’s – another award-winner with a great reputation among locals and visitors. It’s been named among America’s top 50 restaurants, and I had the Snapper and the house salad.

Firefly – for a little bit of casual fine-dining so they call it. They are best known for their steaks and seafood, and I had the honey glazed salmon, that was delicious. I recommend trying one of their cocktails and taking it into the library once you’ve finished dinner.

Lunch & Breakfast Suggestions at Panama City Beach

Hook’d Bar and Grill – they say come and experience real flavour at this PCB-style restaurant right on the beach. It’s next to Pier Park, so I recommend combining the two. And what I love is that it’s run by locals, it’s always nice to support locals when you travel.

Runaway Island – This one could be included in the dinner options as well. It has a fantastic spot on the beach, so bring your swimmers. You can enjoy fresh seafood on their open deck, and they also offer live entertainment and frosty cocktails! I had the blackened fish tacos, lovely.

Finns Island Style Grub – home to Finns original style tacos, their motto is keeping it fresh. They also serve breakfast burritos and pancakes. Sadly, they were closed on the day I was meant to go there, but I heard really good things about Finns.

Thomas Donut & Snack Shop – open for breakfast and lunch only and another family-owned business. It’s right near the beach and on the way to Camp Helen State Park. They are known for the donut, breakfast biscuits, sandwiches and kolaches. I took a donut out on the kayak with me at Camp Helen.

Andy’s Flour Power – also open for breakfast and lunch only, Andy’s has freshly made pastries, muffins, omelettes and the ever-popular breakfast potatoes. Get there early or be prepared to get yours to go as it can be really busy, always a good sign.

Where to Stay in Panama City Beach

There are a few options where to stay in Panama City Beach, and I’ll be highlighting the best ones here below:

Luxury: Hyatt Place Panama City Beach

The Hyatt in Panama City Beach is one of the best hotels in town, featuring a swimming pool, free parking, a fitness centre, and stunning rooms.

You will be greeted by a world-class staff and all the amenities you may need while on holidays. Despite being more expensive than other properties, it’s definitely worth the price tag, and I highly recommend it.

Mid-Range: SpringHill Suites at Panama City Beach

I stayed at the SpringHill Suites at Panama City Beach. Directly on the beach, tick, amazing swimming pool, tick, and stunning views all ticked. You can’t beat a good coffee on your balcony as the sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico.

The suits are spacious and comfortable, with a separate living and working area, always important for me. They also have some nice amenities such as microwave, fridge and coffeemaker. The general facilities include the fitness centre, 24-hour mini-market, hot tub, and complimentary buffet breakfast onsite parking which is rare in Florida.

You are also centrally located for all of the activities and attractions I’ve mentioned above. All-in-all it was a great stay here at SpringHill Suites.

Budget: Bikini Beach Resort

Featuring lovely and clean rooms, as well as a beachfront pool, Bikini Beach Resort is the ultimate choice for budget travellers in Panama City Beach.

On top of nice views and friendly staff, you’ll also be located near the airport, only 11 miles from Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, and very close Shipwreck Island.

How to Get to Panama City Beach, FL

The best way to get to Panama City Beach fly into Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, which is about a 15-minute drive away.

Many airlines offer flights to this airport, including Southwest Airlines, Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines.

How to Get Around Panama City Beach

When visiting Panama City Beach, Florida, it’s important to know how to get around so you can enjoy all the amazing things in town.

The best way to get around is by renting a car, as you’ll have the freedom to explore the city at your own pace. Also, taxis are a convenient mode of transportation in Panama City Beach. You can easily hail a cab or call a local taxi service like Yellow Cab to get around the area.

Alternatively, you can rent an e-bike or a segway, which are 2 nice ways to discover the city on your trip.

Conclusion

And that brings an end to my Panama City Beach adventures, which activity are you looking forward to trying most? If you liked reading unique things to do in Panama City Beach, next have a read about other places in Florida, including Pensacola and Sarasota!

This trip was in partnership with Visit Florida and Panama City Beach, however as always, all of the views are my own.

4 thoughts on “15 Unique Things to Do in Panama City Beach, Florida in 2024

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