It’s no secret –
Panama City Beach, Florida (PCB) is best known for its miles and miles of white sugar, sandy shoreline; considered by many as the most gorgeous beaches on the planet. Located on the southern end of the famed Emerald Coast in Florida’s Panhandle and facing the setting sun, the beaches here made us feel a bit like we were on the U.S. west coast. It was a piece of heaven to watch our kids and grandkids spread out as some enjoyed the silky white sand, chasing shells in turquoise waves while others snorkeled further out, looking for the best shells and jelly fish. The sunsets were filled with jaw dropping color combinations and designs that just made us watch in awe as beautiful, sweet, sun and laughter-filled days turned to night.
It’s no wonder –
That for decades college students have traveled all across the country to spend their spring break here. The breezes are perfect and so is the water temperature which, by the way is so clear, you can see the smooth sand even when you’re standing in several feet of water.
As for me –
Until recently I had only experienced these legendary beaches via movies and TV shows. After spending just over a week here at PCB with my family, it became obvious that this section of Florida has a lot more to offer than just pretty beaches.
After breakfast and grocery shopping the first morning, of course we headed out to play in the ocean! It seems like more often than not, when playing at the pool, etc. there comes a moment when everyone has had enough. Since we had plenty to eat, no one seemed to want to end the day. The water, the sand; it was all just right and we stayed until dark, with the sweet realization we had more of these days ahead.
On our visit to St. Andrews State Park, a former military reservation, we went looking for Alligators. We’d heard that one had been spotted just off the boardwalk near Gator Lake the day before. That sounded just like the adventure we needed! After walking all around and keeping a close eye on the smaller kids, we decided they were all sleeping in the heat of the day so we went to play at the beach near Shell Island. As the fringes of hurricane Irma had just passed through the day before, one side of the beach was still getting some big waves so we stayed near the island and collected several cool shells. St. Andrews State Park is a former military reservation that includes nearby Shell Island; a beautiful undeveloped island with boat tours available for access.
Shopping and Dining
I have discovered that when visiting Panama City Beach, it is pretty much a requirement that you eat at least one sunset meal at Pineapple Willy’s; the site of the first Panama City Beach. We ate right on the end of the covered pier overlooking the ocean as we watched a glorious sunset. We all tried fried alligator (I didn’t think it tasted like chicken; more like clams)!
Shopping! Most of our shopping was here at Pier Park; a great outdoor mall located right at the beach front. Pier Park pretty much has everything. From quaint little shops to tons of restaurant choices to large chain stores to theaters.
We spent the most time at the smaller shops closer to the beach where tourists such as ourselves can find every kind of souvenir imaginable. At night, the live music began which really added to the atmosphere of fun!
Dolphins, penguins, giant sea turtles, sharks and exotic tropical birds are some of the main attractions at Gulf World. It was eye-opening to see how enormous the giant sea turtles and sharks are up close and personal. The kids LOVED the shows – dolphins, sea lions and tropical birds. Two of our group even got to participate in the exotic bird show. Between shows we explored the different habitat exhibits. We never tired of trying to “pet” the stingrays as they swam past us. Gulf World gives you the experience of larger parks on a more personal level.
In my opinion, the most fun thing we did. Think giant wave runner. Before boarding the “swampvette” we had the very cool opportunity to learn all about alligators and each of us even got to hold one!
It was so exciting to see the different ages of live alligators all around the place and hear about their habits and growth patterns. We learned to respect more than fear them and why it’s so very vital to never ever feed one (they are naturally afraid of humans until someone feeds them).
Climbing aboard the airboat, our 10-year old grandson was invited to sit up next to the captain. We then set out to ride the brackish waters of the Grand Lagoon. In open waters we sped at exhilarating speeds. In the more closed in waters, our captain explained the vegetation and aquatic life as well as, of course, hunted for alligators! We did spot a two-year old gator and our captain promptly pulled the boat over, jumped out and gave chase (in his bare feet)! There was never a dull moment as our captain kept us entertained with stories and facts about everything we were seeing; from Ospreys and Heron to the marshlands, Spanish moss and cypress trees. On the return trip, he handed control of the boat over to our grandson, and then our granddaughter. Overall, it was exciting AND informative; an experience we’ll never forget!
If you haven’t been to PCB yet
I would encourage you to add it to your bucket list. But I’m hesitant to do so because a bucket list usually means something you want to do just one time, I’m quite sure that’s enough to truly experience all that PCB has to offer. Our grandkids missed 7 days of school but on this trip they got to hold an alligator, pet a dolphin and a stingray, drive an airboat, experience hurricane Irma and taste alligator. With the exception of a couple of busy days, we spent time at one beach or another every day we were there; all of them with the same luxurious sand and perfect water. During my 9-day visit I found myself wondering if this might be where I’d like to retire to. There was no doubt I would have preferred to have stayed a few more days!