My memories of Panama City Beach stretch all the way back to my childhood when we’d often take family beach vacations there. Once we stayed in a large rambling house with other two families and my main memory from that trip is of the dads gathering around to cook burgers from a grill propped on beer cans over the sand. The burgers were far more grit than ground beef but the guys had a heckuva time emptying the beer cans for the impromptu grill
I love the beautiful beaches of the Florida Panhandle, although I prefer to feel the sand between my toes rather than my teeth. It had been a while since I’d spent any time there so we headed down for a weekend last fall where we enjoyed the quieter time of the off-season.
This time instead of being wedged in the back seat between my two brothers with a basset hound at our feet for the seemingly endless road trip, we hopped on a short Delta flight to the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which was the first international airport built in the country in a decade when it opened May, 2010.
There’s plenty to enjoy about Panama City, even if you don’t take the kids. Or you’re not on spring break.
We stayed in a large condo unit on the beach called Splash, which was rented through Southern Vacation Rentals. While we enjoyed our spacious condo with a balcony overlooking the water, families with kids would love the lazy river water park, arcade with mini bowling alley and children’s splash pad. Our condo was very well-appointed and parking was easy in the lot across the street. A covered walkway perched over the road made it easier to cross the road.
As commercial as some parts of Panama City can be, you leave all that behind when you visit the beautiful St. Andrews State Park. You can sunbathe, walk along nature trails, picnic or camp. We rented kayaks for a cruise along the shoreline and also took the pontoon boat over to Shell Island, where visitors can opt to spend the day on this unspoiled barrier island.
I’ve seen plenty of dolphin shows in my time, but the Poolside Dolphin “Meet and Greet” at Gulf World Marine Park was something special. After meeting our trainer and brief instructions, we were introduced to our dolphin friend. Our trainer would tell us to clap, jump up and down and make other motions to direct him to jump up in the water, roll over and other tricks. Then we got to pet him, feel his belly and his fin. This would be a great adventure for the kids as well.
If shopping is your thing, be sure to visit the 120+ stores at Pier Park and then check out live music at one of the many clubs in this outdoor mall.
Our first breakfast was at Andy’s Flour Power, where owner John Certo serves up fresh items for lunch and breakfast in a cozy, colorful café. Locals line up for take-out or a table for the delicious fresh-baked breads, French toast, Cuban sandwiches and homemade chicken salad.
The next morning we enjoyed cinnamon bun French toast at Fatty Patty’s Cakes & Café, then took a quick tour to see a few special cakes she had created for customers, including one in the shape of a John Deere tractor.
Being landlocked in Atlanta, we love to eat with a view of the ocean. Barefoot Beach Club is a fun place to grab a beer and watch the sunset. We had some of the best fish tacos ever at Hook’d Pier Bar right across the street from Pier Park.
For an elegant dinner out, eat where the Obamas did when they were in town. Firefly has a huge indoor courtyard lit up so you feel you’re dining under the stars, the best She Crab soup I’ve ever had, and menu items such as roast garlic crusted Australian rack of lamb and Andouille crusted red snapper.