Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
For generations, Panama City Beach was the gulf coast vacation destination for families from Atlanta to Montgomery. When raucous spring-break
crowds began to take over, tourist development folks decided it was time for a change. They began by encouraging development of new family-friendly resorts and attractions, along with upscale shopping and restaurants. They added family-friendly events, concerts and festivals, all of which have brought this once small coastal resort town to the forefront as a world-class family beach playground.
Although the miles of white-sand beaches are the area’s biggest draw, there are also many family activities to choose from. Two local state parks, St. Andrews State Park on the east end of the beach and Camp Helen State Park to the west on the South Walton County line, feature hiking trails and picnicking, and paddling the clear rivers and springs is popular. Museums such as the Science & Discovery Center offer a respite from the sun on really hot days and tell of the local history. Here are a few other Panama City Beach attractions.
*Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum - 9907 Front Beach Road, 850-230-6113. Looking like a shipwreck in the middle of Front Beach Road, the U. S. S. Ripley has the usual displays of Ripley oddities and offers two 4D movies that have viewers reeling down a mine shaft or tearing through the cosmos at breakneck speed.
*Gulf World Marine Park - 15412 Front Beach Road, 850-234-5271. For decades, Gulf World Marine Park has been a Florida vacation staple, offering daily shows that include the dolphin show, the sea lion show, and the Magic of Noah Wells show. Gulf World also offers swim with dolphins programs and serves as the area coordinator for the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
*WonderWorks - 9910 Front Beach Road, 850-329-0782. The upside down building marks the spot where science and fun converge. Interactive games and over 100 science-based exhibits provide hours of entertainment in what is called an “amusement park for the mind.”
*Shipwreck Island – 12201 Middle Beach Road, 850-234-3333. This is the place for water park fun. Dive into the “shipwreck” pool, float on the lazy river, or hang on for dear life on the “white knuckle river.” The Ocean Motion Wave Pool, Tree Top Drop and the Pirate’s Plunge are just the beginning.
*Miracle Strip @Pier Park - 284 Powell Adams Drive, 850-230-5200. You'll find rides and activities for the kids at Miracle Strip@Pier Park, an updated version of the long-time favorite amusement park of the 1960s. Enjoy some of the original rides that include the refurbished 30-horse carousel along with a copy of the Big Eli Ferris wheel and a roller coaster.
*Coconut Creek Family Fun Park - 9807 Front Beach Road, 850- 234-2625. Two 18-hole miniature golf courses wind their way over bridges and around waterfalls of the man-made “Good Luck Lake.” Explorers can test their navigational skills in the Gran Maze, themed after the South Pacific explorer Captain Cook.
Across Front Beach Road from the Gulf of Mexico and the Dan Russell Pier is the newest shopping venue in Northwest Florida. Pier Park offers over one million square feet of upscale shopping and entertainment venues. Stores include Dillard’s, JC Penny, Sunglass Hut, Target, Hollister’s, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Victoria’s, Secret Coldwater Creek and Ann Taylor Loft among others.
Here too you’ll find restaurants like Guy Harvey’s Island Grill, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Olive Garden, Red Brick Pizza, and Back Porch Seafood and Oyster Bar and many more.
There are dozens more shopping venues and attractions to be found in Panama City Beach, including two wineries, Panama City Beach Winery and Seabreeze Winery, where you can shop for gifts and souvenirs and taste some of the local wines.
There are dozens of hotels and resorts along the beach and within walking distance or a short drive from Pier Park and the attractions. Camping at the state parks and at commercial campgrounds is also available.
Holiday Day Inn SunSpree Resort - 11127 Front Beach Road, 850-230-4080. Family friendly and right on the beach, this hotel offers supervised kids’ activities and a free kids club as well as grown-up activities like a martini lounge, and a poolside tiki bar.
Beachcomber by the Sea - 17101 Front Beach Road, 850-233-3600. This beachfront hotel offers a heated, gulf-front pool, gulf-front accommodations with private balconies and fully-equipped kitchens, and is within walking distance of the Pier Park shopping and entertainment complex.
Tidewater Beach Resort - 16819 Front Beach Road, 850-636-8000. Beachfront and near Pier Park, this resort offers one, two and three-bedroom condo units, all with fully equipped kitchen, walk-in closets, washer/dryers and spectacular views of the Gulf.
For more information, contact the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-PCBEACH or 850-233-6503.