11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Panama City Beach
Turquoise waves lapping at the gleaming white-sand beaches lining the oceanfront of Panama City Beach create a picture-perfect summer scene. From spring until fall, this small city on the Florida Panhandle is transformed into a true American beach town. Families flock here from the inland areas of Florida and nearby states to lounge on the beaches and enjoy the numerous attractions and activities found around the area. Since this is largely a summer resort area, most of the attractions are outdoors or water related, and many of them are only open seasonally. If you are here in the off season, you'll still find plenty of things to do and lovely outdoor areas to explore.
See also: Where to Stay in Panama City Beach
1 The Beach
Panama City's beautiful beach is the centerpiece of the city and loved by locals and tourists of all ages, who come here to swim, play, relax, socialize, and soak up the sun. Twenty-seven miles of dazzling white sand stretches along this section of the Gulf of Mexico at Panama City Beach, and the shallow waters are inviting beyond belief in the summer heat. One of the major landmarks along the waterfront is City Pier, where much of the hottest beach scene is centered, with beach volleyball games and young people hanging out and socializing. Across the street from the wooden pier is Pier Park, with shops and restaurants. This can be a good place to break for lunch or catch some shade. The beachfront hotels and condos that run up and down the shore fill up from spring until fall. If you are coming in the off season to enjoy the view or the tranquility, these hotels offer steep discounts.
2 Pier Park
Pier Park, directly across from Russell-Fields Pier, more commonly known as City Pier, is a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, with a tourist-oriented twist. This is a fun place to shop and go for lunch or dinner, with some restaurants featuring outdoor patios. If you are looking for a break from the beach, Pier Park is a convenient and pleasant distraction. Shopping options range from beach-themed apparel shops to high-end chain and department stores. Also on site is the Pier Park Amusements, with a number of rides and an IMAX theater.
Russell-Fields Pier is just across the street and juts out 1,500 feet into the sea. People access this pier primarily for fishing, and there is a fee to walk out onto the pier.
Location: Across from Russell-Fields Pier on Pier Park Drive
3 Gulf World Marine Park
Gulf World Marine Park is one of Panama City Beach's fun family attractions, with all kinds of sea life and daily shows featuring dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of birds. On display here are alligators, penguins, sharks, and many other exciting critters. Hands-on experiences include a stingray petting pool and interactive programs that involve swimming with a dolphin or joining a Dolphin Day Camp. The park is open seasonally and closed between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Address: 15412 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida
4 Water Planet
Water Planet offers full-day swim-with-the-dolphin programs that include an educational aspect, a boat tour, and a side trip to Shell Island. Unlike Gulf World Marine Park, participants swim with the dolphins in the ocean rather than in enclosures. Staff, which include interns, take time to educate guests on the dolphins and safety precautions before getting in the water. Children are also welcome on these excursions, which involve finding pods of dolphins and then jumping in the ocean to let the dolphins interact with the swimmers. Tours also visit a few other sightseeing spots in the area for snorkeling or shelling.
5 St. Andrews State Park and Shell Island
St. Andrews State Park is a diverse area with a little of everything when it comes to beach activities along the Gulf of Mexico. Featuring shallow, protected areas for a relaxing swim or snorkel, and sections with larger waves for playing in, St. Andrews is the perfect place for anyone looking to enjoy the beach and ocean.
One of the most popular things to do in this park is exploring Shell Island, a 700-acre barrier island with a glorious stretch of beach. The Shell Island Shuttle runs every half hour during the summer, picking up and dropping off passengers. You can also rent a pontoon boat to get to Shell Island, a great option for families who want to explore the island at their own pace and do some snorkeling.
Location: Three miles east of Panama City Beach, off State Road 392, on Thomas Drive
6 Boat Tours, Kayaking, Canoeing, and Stand Up Paddleboarding
To add a little fun and excitement to your holiday, boat tours are a great way to see some marine life, access snorkeling sites, or do some sailing. Excursions range from dolphin sightseeing tours and Shell Island dolphin and snorkel trips to Sea-Do, canoe, kayak, and stand up paddleboard rentals. Fishing charters are offered by several companies, and catamaran sailing trips are also popular, particularly sunset sails. For families, the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise is a kid's themed pirate ship with two-hour sailings and onboard activities for children. Again, many of these are season specific and are not offered in the low season.
7 Ripley's Believe it or Not!
The newly renovated Ripley's Believe it or Not! is a great rainy day outing or a break from the sun. This facility has four main attractions: the Odditorium, with traditional Ripley's oddities; the 7D Moving Theatre, which is more of a ride than just a movie watching experience; the Impossible LaseRace, with a laser obstacle course; and the Marvelous Mirror Maze, where lights and creatively placed mirrors make finding your way out more than just a minor challenge. Ticket prices vary depending on what attractions you want to participate in, but combo tickets for all four attractions are available.
Address: 9907 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida
8 Shipwreck Island Park
On a hot summer day, this water park is a welcome treat, with a lazy river, raging river, and wave pool, as well as all kinds of water-based rides and slides. Skull Island features a family pool with a kiddy slide, racing slide, and a giant tipping bucket, while Tadpole Hole is a children's pool with activities for younger kids. Shipwreck Island has been in business here for decades and is a great family outing, designed to satisfy children of all ages.
Address: 12201 Hutchison Boulevard, Panama City Beach, Florida
9 Coconut Creek Family Fun Park
An outting to Coconut Creek Family Fun Park is a great off-the-beach option for families visiting with children. The park has mini-golf, with two 18-hole courses, and a large outdoor maze for children to burn off some energy. Viewing platforms looking over the maze let observers watch the action from above. In the same vicinity are Ripley's Believe it Or Not!, in the design of a ship, and WonderWorks, with their signature upside down building. Combined with Coconut Creek, these activities can easily fill the better part of a day.
Address: 9807 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida
Another option for an off-the-beach activity on a cool or rainy day is a trip to ZooWorld. This is a relatively small zoo with an entertaining selection of animals that include giraffes, tigers, lions, tropical birds, reptiles, and many other lovable critters. Close-up encounters include giraffe feeding, lemur snuggling, alligator feeding, and a walk through an aviary with tropical birds flying above. Most of these animal interaction activities involve an extra fee, but some of these are well worth the money.
Address: 9008 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida
11 Conservation Park
With just under 3,000 acres of uplands and wetlands, Conservation Park offers a range of outdoor recreational opportunities, from hiking and biking to birdwatching. The park has a dozen well-maintained trails that range from approximately a half-mile to 12 miles in length, and include some sections of boardwalks. Towering pine trees dominate some trails, providing shade on hot days, and the paths are generally level, meaning they are suitable for anyone. Another great advantage of this park is that there is no admission fee.
Address: 100 Conservation Drive, Panama City Beach, Florida
Where to Stay in Panama City Beach for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly-rated hotels and resorts along the gulf and the bay in Panama City Beach:
- Sheraton Bay Point Resort: 4-star resort, private bay beach, golf and tennis club, beautiful pools, bike rental, full-service spa and salon.
- Osprey on the Gulf: mid-range beachfront resort, friendly staff, full kitchens, ocean-view pools, balconies facing the sea, family games and BBQ area.
- Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach: affordable beachfront hotel, palm-lined pool, colorful splash park, kids' activities, live entertainment.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Panama City Beach: budget beachfront hotel, fantastic location, bright decor, lovely ocean-view pool.