Pictures and Article by Anne Braly, Travel Writer
There we were, cruising the waters of St. Andrews Bay in our rental pontoon. The bay, a beautiful body of water off Panama City Beach’s coast, is home to many creatures of the sea. But on this day, as if on cue, a pod of dolphins appeared. As we watched, they began a perfectly synchronized show, breaching the water time and again as those of us on board watched in awe.
It’s a sight you just can’t get enough of — one that never fails to send screams of delight echoing across the water.
Panama City Beach, or PCB, as the locals call it, is a gem of a beach on the Emerald Coast. The Gulf waters are crystal clear, and the sands are pearl white beneath a sapphire-blue sky.
Panama City Beach has always been a family destination, but there was a time when the month of March turned the beachside community into party-central for college students looking for a fun time during spring break. Laws put into place in 2016 put an end to much of that, denying all those under 21 entrance to bars during March; alcohol on the beach is now illegal during March; and no alcohol can be purchased after 2 a.m. during the month of March.
Since that time, PCB’s reputation for being a family-centric vacation is solid. If you’re looking for fun in the sun, you’ve got it — and more.
“Panama City Beach is the perfect vacation destination for families,” says Lacee Rudd, public relations manager for the city. And not just in the spring of the year. The beach is the best place to relax, unwind and play any time of year. With 27 miles of sugar-white sand beaches, the possibility of activities are endless. It’s a destination that brings families back year after year to create memories that last a lifetime.”
There’s plenty going on, giving anyone a good excuse when that I-need-a-trip-to-the-beach urge hits.
For starters, there’s the food scene — one that has come a long way in recent years. If you’re looking for that place that oozes beachside vibes, Hook’d Pier Bar and Grill has just what you need: Ocean views, the beach, fresh fish tacos — or burgers if you must — and outside dining beneath umbrellaed tables. You name it, this place has everything going for it for a beachside bar/eatery.
But if you’re looking for something that’s a little more upscale but still exudes a laid-back atmosphere, The Marlin Grill may be what you need. It’ll satisfy that longing for seafood plucked daily from nearby waters by fishermen who visit the marina right outside the door. The menu changes daily; however, you’ll always find grouper picatta, a favorite of the seafood specialties served here.
But back to the beach. You’ll always find sun worshippers lying back and digging their toes into the soft sand. But what about a game of volleyball? It’s a beachside classic game, and volleyball nets dot the beach, just waiting for you to join in a game with whoever’s there.
Or, build a sandcastle. If you need some tips, sign up for a class at Beach Sand Sculptures. Classes last for two hours, and when it’s all over, you may be covered with sand, but you’ll learn the perfect recipe — how much water you should add to the sand to make it stay where you want. Your draw bridges, turrets, and other castle accouterments may rival those adorning Cinderella’s castle.
And how many times have you looked down from your hotel balcony — a good place to do so is the Holiday Inn Resort with beach views from every room — and seen people bending over backward and wondering, “How do they do that?”
There’s no better way to find out than by taking a morning yoga class on the beach from Stephanie Brudnicki, better known by her Twitter handle as @suburbangypsy. She’ll meet you on the beach and reintroduce you to muscles you may have forgotten you had, but one thing for sure, it’s a dynamite way to start your day.
Finally, at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than a bonfire on the beach. Unfortunately, to build your own, you’ll need a special permit from the city’s fire department. Fortunately, there are companies, such as Endless Beach Rentals, that will take care of everything you need, from set up to take down. All you have to do is show up, sit in one of the chairs or hammocks, enjoy the sunset, some cocktails, and roast s’mores. One of the best places for set-up is on the beach in front of one of PCB’s newest beachside restaurants, Hang Five Beach Bar and Grill. That way, you can order a great fish dinner or burger and eat in or get it to go and return to your bonfire.
There’s an ocean full of fun lying just beyond the beach. Rent a pontoon boat from Lagoon Pontoons and chill out on Shell Island for the day. Thanks to its quiet, undisturbed nature, the island is home to shorebirds, deer, sea turtles, and a host of other coastal creatures. Or jump on in the water — maybe a dolphin will come to play.
St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are ideal for fishing, boating, and parasailing above the water, and diving below to see what lies beneath.
On land, get your thrills on the Skywheel, the city’s newest entertainment venue with a miniature golf course, ropes course, and a giant Ferris wheel that takes you on a trip almost 200 feet in the air and gives you a birds-eye view of Panama City Beach.
The Skywheel is located in Pier Park, a tourist area with bars, including Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, coffee shops, restaurants, and the kind of shops you’d expect to find along the beach.
A visit to PCB is about the best way to experience the five senses — the sights, the sounds, the smell of saltwater, the tastes of PCB’s best eateries, and that special touch that soothes your work-weary soul in the way only a beach vacation can do.
Panama City Beach is a year-round destination with festivals to keep you entertained. These include:
* The PCB Food Truck & Craft Beer Festival
* Mardi Gras
* Emerald Coast Boat and Lifestyle Show
* Emerald Coast Cruizin Car Show
* PCB Scottish Fest
* Seabreeze Jazz Festival
* UNwineD Food and Wine Festival
Go to visitpanamacitybeach.com for 2021 dates and a complete rundown on these festivals and more.