Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
When Pier Park opened its first few stores on what seemed to an "ends of the earth" spot in Panama City Beach, no one believed this shopping and entertainment venue would even survive, much less thrive, in the recession. Over the years, smart marketing (home of the New Year's Eve Beach Ball Drop) and creative events such as the Seabreeze Jazz Festival, and attractions have made it the premier beach destination of the region.
There's plenty to see and do here from browsing through long-time retail-chain favorites to exploring one-of-a-kind shops with unique beach-themed merchandise. Anchored by Target, J C Penney, and Dillard’s department stores, the mall also is also home to Hollister Company, Old Navy, Coldwater Creek, Chico’s, American Eagle Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, and Victoria’s Secret. Ron Jon Surf Shop heads the list of beach stores that includes Beach Scene and Footprints Coastal Décor.
Beach themed restaurants can be found across from the Dan Russell City Pier on Front Beach Road. The list includes Guy Harvey’s Island Grill, Pompano Joe’s, the Backporch Seafood and Oyster House, and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Quick snacks are available at several eateries like Panera Bread Company, the Candy Maker, and the Great American Cookie Company, and great Italian food is served at the Olive Garden.
Over the years, the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast has been home to some great old fun parks. One was the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Built in 1963, it had its heyday in the 1960s and '70s. When Miracle Strip closed in 2004, locals were saddened to see this piece of beach life disappear.
Then in 2009, Jenny and Teddy Meeks bought the beautiful circa 1964 30-horse carousel that was once the centerpiece of the park and had it refurbished. They leased a piece of land at Pier Park and have slowly collected some of the Miracle Strip's original rides along with several other vintage rides to create Miracle Strip @Pier Park.
Other entertainment includes the Grand Theatre with 16 screens and 3-D capability, Pirate Quest Laser Tag, Mirror Maze & Lazer Craze, a family fun house with a labyrinth of mirrored passages and dead ends within the mirror maze, and a corridor of laser beams crisscrossing in a black room in the Laser Craze.
Night life can be found at several venues, but Tootises Orchid Lounge, a famous Nashville nightspot that opened its second location at Pier Park, is one of the most popular. True to its Nashville roots, Tootsies features the live music of up-and-coming artists.
Finally there are major events that take place here throughout the year that include the Seabreeze Jazz Festival, annual Mardi Gras celebrations, the Great American Blues Festival and the Panama City Beach Seafood and Music Festival.
Although there are no accommodations on site, hotels and resorts for those attending events are only steps away.
Panama City Beach Hotels are plentiful and several hotels and resorts are within walking distance of Pier Park. Here are a few of them.
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.
Tidewater Beach Resort - 16819 Front Beach Road, 850-636-8000. This beachfront 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.
Legacy by the Sea - 15325 Front Beach Road, 888-886-8917. Located across the street from Gulf World Marine Park, this 14-story beachfront hotel offers gulf-front rooms with private balconies and fully-equipped kitchens.
And here's a bit of mall trivia - there are over 4000 parking spaces available on the premises and onsite transportation to get you around.
Regular mall hours are Monday to Saturday, 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM and Sunday 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM. For more information call (850) 236-9974 or visit the website at Pier Park.