Panama City Beach, Florida is well-known throughout the college campuses. Since this popular beach-front destination is a big deal with spring breakers, it is often over-looked by families for their next travel destination. Until now.
My daughter and I headed down to Panama City Beach to uncover all the kid-friendly things to do while visiting with a family. Even though our three days were packed full of activities, there was so much to do there that we barely cracked the surface.
Located on the Gulf of Mexico about 90 miles from Pensacola, this small tourist town is bustling with activity from morning until night. With white sand beaches and pristine waters, this is a fabulous destination for all the beach-loving families. (Disclosure: The water was a little murkier than normal because of the significant amount of rain that they had a couple weeks ago!)
The great thing about Panama City Beach is that it is so much more than just the beach. We are talking carnivals, water park, miniature golf, arcades, go carts, museums, shopping, restaurant, fishing, boating, pirating (by way of pirate ship, of course!), spas, dancing and the #2 state park in Florida. Yep, there is a lot to do here!
Our first stop was a huge outdoor mall packed with restaurants and stores called Pier Park. This area is rather new to town, only about 5 years old, but is a very popular place to visit. Located right off the beach and pier, you’ll find everything from Dillards and Target to fun beach-side boutiques.
We hit the beach-front restaurant Hook’d Pier Bar & Grill for dinner and had some of the best shrimp tacos that I’ve ever had. It is located across the street from the Pier Park entrance. The service was great, food was exceptional and they catered to kids with a kid’s menu full of choices.
My 8-year-old’s favorite part of Pier Park was Miracle Strip. This is carnival-type area in the center that is decked out with a huge Ferris wheel, rides and even a butterfly house. With the dirt pathways and classic cotton candy stands, it reminded me of a carnival right out of the movies with cheery teenagers at work instead of the creepy carnies that you’d usually see. You can pay per ride or get an all-day wrist band.
GULF WORLD MARINE PARK
Our next stop was Gulf World Marine Park – a fun place for sea animal lovers that is home to the only bottlenose dolphins in North America. Driving down “the strip” you may not give the Gulf World building another thought, dismissing it as another big t-shirt and beach goods store at first glance, but in reality this is a great place to take the kids for a morning or afternoon. You’ll only need about 3-4 hours to do everything there but it’s definitely worth a stop. The dolphin and sea lion show was terrific and petting the stingrays was a highlight.
ST. ANDREWS STATE PARK
Even though this is a family-friendly town, we wouldn’t recommend visiting during college spring break. It might just get to crazy for the wee ones.
If you do happen to visit at that time, are looking for a great place to get off the beaten path or you want to camp, the St. Andrews State park is a great place to go. This is the #2 state park in Florida and is home to 1 1/2 miles of white sand beaches and rolling dunes. There is plenty of space and since there is no drinking on the beach there, the college crowd tends to stay away.
While we didn’t get a chance to visit Shell Island, I couldn’t leave it out of my article. This island is a big draw for families but it was just too hot for us the day we were there to justify heading over to an island with absolutely no facilities. That means there are no bathrooms, shops, food/water stands or even trashcans. Think Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. The only way to get to shell Island is by boat or to swim. You won’t swim over there though.
Ahoy Matey! For two hours one day, we hopped on a pirate ship and sailed away in search of sunken treasure. The pirate cruise sails out of the main port and is definitely a great thing to do with the young kids. I’d say perfect age would be 4-9. The cruise is run by pirates that keep the kids busy by dancing, sword fighting, tattooing, shooting canons and discovering sunken treasure with the kids. If you are looking for a break and would like to sit back and enjoy a boat ride while your kids have a blast, this Pirate Cruise is it! They do all the work and they even put your kids to work by having them clean the deck. Everything a good pirate should do!
GO KARTS, MINIATURE GOLF, A WATER PARK AND MORE
As you drive around Panama City Beach, you will pass endless activities that you can stop and enjoy whether you have 15 minutes or the whole day.
A large water park complete with lazy river, big water slides and a wave pool is situated in the middle of town. We didn’t have a whole afternoon or day to spare, so we skipped this park and will save it for our next trip.
If your kids like go-karts or miniature golf, there are plenty of places to choose from. We drove go-karts at two different locations and had a blast both times. Most of the tracks require the driver to be at least 54” tall (otherwise they can’t reach the pedals!) so my daughter had to be the passenger while old mom drove but she still had a lot of fun.
There are also plenty of bungee jumps, arcades and other carnival-type rides to experience.
Overall, there is so much to do in Panama City Beach, Florida that you can do a lot or a little. Whatever floats your boat!
For more information on Panama City Beach, Florida, you can visit their site at www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
*Disclosure: Thanks to Panama City Beach, Florida for having us as their guest for our review. As always, all our thoughts, statements and opinions are our own.