Panama City Beach has a reputation for being a hot spot for spring breakers. However, during the rest of the year, it is a REALLY beautiful, family-friendly beach. There are TONS of things to do while here. We did some different things on this visit and have some additional things planned for our next visit. Here are 5 things I think are worth your time while in Panama City Beach.
Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post.
5. Shop in Pier Park
This is number 5 on my list for the reason that I am not a big fan of shopping. Pier Park does however have some neat stores that you often wouldn’t find anywhere else. One of my favorites is Del Sol where they have products like shirts and nail polish that change color in the sun! (Remember Hypercolor?) Richie enjoyed looking at the Ron Jon Surf Shop. It’s a neat place to go after dark when you can’t swim on the beach anymore. I would NOT recommend eating in any of the restaurants. They are all packed, over-priced, none are local and there are much better options elsewhere. (See number 2 below.)
4. Shell Island
Shell Island is located inside of St. Andrew’s State Park and is a natural island that is approximately 3/4 mile wide and seven miles longs. It is well known for it’s high concentration of sea shells and for being home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of Bottle-Nose Dolphins. The island is only accessible by boat and unless you own your own boat there are only two ways to get there. First, you can use the Shell Island Shuttle, a service provided by St. Andrew’s State Park. This was how we got to Shell Island. Secondly, you can sign up for a boat tour or a boat/wave runner rental through Shell Island Tours and take yourself to the island.
Shell Island is really cool and something you should definitely see if you are in Panama City Beach but let me tell you the details they dont divulge to you ahead of time! The Shell Island Shuttle is located inside the state park so you have to pay an $8 per car fee to enter the park. The shuttle is then an additional $14.95 per person or $21.95 if you want to include a snorkel, mask and fins. I highly recommend at least a mask and they do allow you to bring your own. Richie brought his own. I rented mine.
Once you get your ticket you will have to wait for the next available shuttle bus which could be at least a 20 minute wait and possibly longer depending on the crowds because the bus only holds 40 people at a time. The bus drives you a few miles to a marina where you then board a small ferry boat that will take you to the island. Again, only 40 people at a time. The ferry boat ride was about 15 minutes long and we got to see lots of Pelicans and many times dolphins are spotted as well. When you arrive at the island there is literally nothing there but sand and people! No bathroom, no food, no shade! It is really important to come prepared! Bring a picnic lunch, lots of sunscreen and an umbrella or some kind of shade tent. The white sands reflect the sun and make it really hot and bright.
Once on the island you are free to go where you please. You could walk the seven miles to the other end or stay relatively close to where the boat drops you off. Of course, the closer you stay to the boat the less shells you will find because it will be more picked over. The prime spots are a long, hot walk through deep sand away. Once you pick a spot, put on your gear and go diving! Most of the shells are found in the water. The shells usually only wash to the shore during extreme weather such as a hurricane. If you are willing to get wet and do a little shallow diving there are tons of shells and sand dollars to be found. Richie and I filled up a sand bucket in no time at all.
Once you get ready to go and you have hiked back to the ferry drop off you again play the waiting game. The ferry only runs about every 30 minutes so you could have a long wait. Again since it only holds 40 people, if the line is long you could end up having to wait additional time for the ferry to return. When we left at about 2 in the afternoon we were lucky to get near the front of the line. However there were a lot of people that weren’t so lucky. I guess the thing that bothered me most was all that waiting. When you are ready to go you are looking at 2 modes of transportation and best-case-scenario a minimum of 30 minutes between the island and your car. If you don’t time it well your wait, just to leave, could be much longer.
The island was really cool, we came prepared and we lucked out with our wait times. I am glad we did it but if I ever went back again I would rent a boat or a wave runner and take myself to the island.
3. County Pier (M.B. Miller Pier)
The pier was first opened on July 4, 2010 and wasn’t finished the last time we visited PCB. There is an identical pier located at Pier Park that was opened in 2009. The pier is about 1,500 feet long, cost about $9million to build and is a popular spot for tourists and fisherman. It is hurricane proof and very well maintained. There is a $2 fee to walk out on it but it gives such a great vantage point of the beach. The pier is open 24 hours a day.
You’re on the beach so why not eat fresh seafood in waterside restaurants? There are so many great, locally owned and operated restaurants that are right on the water that is seems silly to go to the over-prices, over-crowded chain restaurants like Joe’s Crab Shack and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Live a little and try something new! We ate at some really great restaurants!
Schooners – Schooners is an open air restaurant that is right on the beach. We got there at about 7 and while the place was hopping we only had to wait about 20 minutes for a beach-side table. Right as we were seated a live band started playing. I enjoyed the S.S. Shrimp and a side of three cheese grits. The shrimp were a little small but they gave me a bunch so no complaints there. The grits were a little drier and stickier than I typically like but were yummy and tasted a lot like mac and cheese. Richie had the Blackened Grouper. Richie says this was his best meal of the trip. The grouper was a large portion and was truly blackened. Many times when you order blackened fish it comes sprinkled with a little seasoning and that’s it. This was well seasoned and was blackened so that it had that little crusty outer layer. I tried a bite and it was delicious.
Shuckums – Although not “waterside” Shuckums is locally owned oyster bar and has been a PCB staple since 1967. We first tried raw oysters on our last visit to PCB and were interested in trying Shuckums. We opted to get the steamed oyster appetizer rather than the raw and they did not disappoint. They have oysters raw, steamed, baked and topped just about any way you could imagine. Additionally I Had the Oyster Po’ Boy which was tender and crispy. The oysters were perfectly fried in a flour batter that was just the right thickness. Richie enjoyed the blackened grouper sandwich.
Captain Jack’s – There is only one reason to go to Captain Jacks…the crab legs! The all you can eat buffet has a wide selection of items including seafood but most importantly is the all-you-can-eat steamed Snow Crab legs. Although I really didn’t eat anything else on the buffet I did eat my monies worth of crab legs. The legs were cooked perfectly. Crisp shells that snap when you break them filled with large pieces of juicy, tender crab meat. They were so sweet and tasty that they didn’t even need butter! Richie thought the buffet was only so-so. I am not really sure what he ate. I was too busy stuffing myself with crab! He likes crab legs but doesn’t really like all the work and doesn’t really enjoy eating his weight in them quite like I do! If you love Crab Legs then this is a great place to get a lot of crab for one price. If you are not a big fan of crab legs I would suggest dining somewhere else.
Spinnakers* – We hit Spinnakers for lunch. We had a beautiful beach side table but the service was so-so and the meal was just okay. Well-known as an after-hours club and hot-spot, this was my least favorite of all the places we ate at. Richie ordered (can you guess??) blackened grouper! His lunch came with fries and chips and salsa. A weird combination but whatever! I ordered the Grilled Mahi-Mahi which came with a salad and baby bakers, little mini baked potatoes. The salad and the bakers were great but the fish left something to be desired. The menu claimed that the fish was topped with a garlic cilantro lime sauce. When it arrived all that was on it was some chopped green onions. I asked the waitress and she said it was marinated in something before it was cooked. I pointed out that the menu said it was TOPPED with the sauce. She just shrugged her shoulders. The fish was also over cooked and dry. I ate of my salad and the potatoes but I did not finish my fish. Richie seemed pleased with his lunch.
*The online menu is NOT the menu we were given when we got there. It had a better selection – I am just pointing out that it was different.
Three Brothers Pizza – We were craving some not-so-seafoody-food and pizza sounded good. We had driven by this place several times and saw that they offered pizza by the slice and decided to check it out late one evening. They are known for their hand-tossed 24″ pizza! Yes I said 24 INCHES! The Pizzas are huge. Knowing we couldn’t do a whole pizza justice we opted to go for the by-the-slice option. They had several pizzas set out to choose from. They had cheese, pepperoni, supreme, buffalo chicken and mushroom. They all looked good. Richie went for the pepperoni and I went for the cheese. The slices easily compared to 2 or 3 normal pieces of pizza. After you choose your slice they throw it back into the oven to reheat it. Mine was perfect and delicious. Richie’s was a little charred on the bottom but he ate it anyway. When we finished we decided to get a second piece of pepperoni and split it. They were even nice enough to cut it in half for us. In addition to pizzas they also have sandwiches and burgers. The restaurant is a walk up with tables outside. The weather was perfect so we enjoyed our dinner outside in the evening air rather than getting it to go.
The Boatyard – The Boatyard was hands down my favorite place. Our waitress was not very good, disappeared for long periods of time and our table was mostly handled by a waitress from a nearby table however, all that aside, the food and the view was fantastic! The Boatyard is located in the marina. Again it is an open-air restaurant that sits right on the dock where you can watch the sightseeing and fishing boats coming and going. Richie had…BLACKEND GROUPER! (You guess right, didn’t you!) It came with yellow rice and black beans and he also ordered some sweet potato fries. He enjoyed it although he still thought it was better at Schooners. I had the Shrimp and Grits and it was easily one of the best seafood dishes I have ever had. The grits were soft and creamy and cheesy. They were cooked with Tasso and Smoked Gouda Cheese. The shrimp were large, garlicky and perfectly cooked. It was sprinkled with a little cilantro and topped with a wild mushroom and white wine cream sauce. The combination was divine and my stomach is growling just thinking about it!
Pink Pelican Ice Cream – The Pink Pelican is located just across the street from our hotel and has loads of delicious flavors and toppings to choose from. A nice sweet treat on a hot night.
1. Relax on the Beach
So many people in our hotel just parked themselves at the pool all day! I’m all for using the pool a little, especially if you have kids, but why come all the way to Florida and then not even enjoy the beach? We were on the beach for several hours everyday and we loved it! We brought our chairs, our umbrella and a cooler with snacks and drinks and we were ready for a day at the beach. Add some sunscreen, a floaty and a boogie board and we were set for hours of fun. We rode the waves, swam, snorkeled, read and soaked up the sun. Once the daylight faded we walked along the shore or just sat in the sand listening to the waves. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time while in Panama City Beach!