Gulf Coast Dreaming: Panama City Beach

In his ideal world, Mr. TWS would live on a beach with year-round opportunities to jump in the water every morning, afternoon and evening. I admit that sounds pretty good to me, too. However, I would more often be watching from my cabana while sipping a refreshing beverage after a walk or jog on the water’s edge. We live just 15 minutes from beautiful beaches at Half Moon Bay on the Northern California coast and they’re great for taking walks and watching surfers brave the waves, but they’re not so great for taking a swim. Those surfers are wearing wetsuits and the waves can get dangerously high! So we sometimes look for idyllic, balmy beach getaways and we’re currently setting our sites on an area that we haven’t experienced before – Florida’s Gulf Coast, particularly Panama City Beach.

"Panama City Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida"

Panama City Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida

Visit Panama City Beach has a fun Bucket List program where visitors choose activities in which they want to engage. When they check them off, they receive fun prizes like beach towels and T-shirts. I hope I’ll get a chance to visit and check off some Panama City Beach Bucket List items sometime, too.

Here’s how I envision spending a perfect vacation there.

Fun in the sun

Mr. TWS and I like a nice mix of activities, and it looks like Panama City Beach has plenty of recreational things to do. Of course, we would want to stay in the water as much as possible — swimming, snorkeling, and admiring the dolphins and other sea life that we’re likely to see close to the beach and especially further out in the water. Those activities can also be enjoyed while spending a day at Shell Island, aptly named for the vast amounts of seashells found there.

"The white sand of Shell Island between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, Florida"

Shell Island between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, Florida

Although you can take a ferry from Panama City Beach to Shell Island to explore the seven miles of its white sand dunes, I’d like to rent a pontoon for a leisurely ride to the island. Either way would be fun. I can picture having a picnic lunch there while basking in the sun with my feet resting on the warm, sugary white sand.

I think I’ll also get Mr. TWS to try stand up paddleboarding, something I tried for the first time this year — my technique wasn’t pretty, but I liked it! I’ve heard that we might even find ourselves directly over an old shipwreck as we paddle about in the area’s calm waters.

"Paddleboarding in Panama City Beach, Florida"

Paddleboarding in Panama City Beach

One of my favorite forms of outdoor recreational activities is bicycling and Panama City Beach looks like a perfect place for it at Conservation Park (where there are over 20 miles of trails), St. Andrews Park, or just around town. It surprises me that there are wooded areas like those at Conservation Park in a Gulf Coast beach area.

"Trails for hiking and biking in Conservation Park, Panama City Beach, Florida"

Trails for hiking and biking in Conservation Park

Indulge in fresh seafood

There isn’t a shortage of opportunities to get a fresh taste of Gulf seafood along the beach and in town. Mr. TWS is crazy about seafood — all kinds, cooked or raw. I’m much more conservative, but have recently been broadening my horizons. Since Panama City Beach has been touted as a “Seafood Capital of the World”, there will be plenty for each of us to enjoy.  A real treat, as it always is for me, will be dining al fresco beneath the palms while sipping a glass of wine. Maybe in this setting a better fit might be a tropical cocktail, but hold the umbrella. And if our timing was right, it would be ideal to catch the Panama City Beach Seafood & Music Festival on October 17 and 18, 2014.

"Seafood dishes at restaurants in Panama City Beach, Florida"

Bottom left and top: Fresh local fish and sushi at Firefly; Bottom right: Grouper Ponchartrain at Boar’s Head

Here’s a taste of a few dishes at the popular Boar’s Head and Firefly restaurants that I’d love to try. I’ve also heard that the shrimp tacos at Finns Island Style Grub are pretty awesome.

Try something new

This may come as a surprise to some, but I’m adding fishing to my Panama City Beach Bucket List. For me, it’s fun to try something different in a new place. It doesn’t have to be anything adventurous or dangerous — just something I haven’t done before. So let’s picture Mr. TWS and me on one of Panama City Beach’s fishing piers. I throw out the line, something takes the bait, and the fun ensues. It could be any one of these local catches — amberjack, bluefish, cobia, flounder, grouper, king and Spanish mackerel, mahi mahi, marlin, pompano, redfish, red snapper, trout, wahoo, sailfish and yellowfin tuna. I had to look up a few of those varieties since I’d never heard of some like “wahoo” and “cobia” before. Have you?

"Russell-Fields Pier, Panama City Beach"

Russell-Fields Pier

Relax and Romance

I think that it’s also important in a beautiful seaside destination like this to relax, rejuvenate, and relish the balmy weather. And let’s not forget romance. With our wedding anniversary coming up soon, it seems especially appropriate. I can picture sitting on the patio of our rental cottage facing the Gulf of Mexico to view a breathtaking sunset with Mr. TWS followed by a barefoot stroll along the beach in the quiet of the night. Isn’t that romantic?

"Sunset in Panama City Beach"

Sunset in Panama City Beach

I think we would have a great time in Panama City Beach. In fact, I have a feeling I wouldn’t want to leave. Mr. TWS just might end up with his house on the beach sooner than expected.

What are your favorite activities in a beach destination?

Photos courtesy of Visit Panama City Beach.


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29 thoughts on “Gulf Coast Dreaming: Panama City Beach

  1. Dave Cole

    I’m a little too impatient to just sit on the beach for too long, so I really like having the option of activities like you mentioned above. Cycling at the Conservation Park in the early morning certainly would be one of the highlights of a trip to Panama City Beach. And those shrimp tacos sound perfect after a day soaking up the natural beauty.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I think that’s what attracts me to PCB – the diversity of activities in what is a balmy beach location. I enjoy sitting on the beach, but that’s best enjoyed when mixed with other activities.

  2. Nancie

    Hi Cathy! Thanks for linking up this week. Panama City Beach sounds like a great vacation spot. I’d do a lot of “beach sitting”, but nice to know that there all lots of activities too.

  3. jan

    Shell Island and the Russell Fields Pier are too good to be true photos. I feel the urge to kick off my sandals and wiggle my toes in that white sand, maybe with a plate of sushi close at hand. 🙂

  4. Aggy

    Loving your dream beach destination! I have seen a lot of people taking up paddle boarding and I am intrigued! Would love to try it, and those beaches look really lovely and serene, I can just imagine myself relaxing there!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Paddle boarding is fun, but I still need more practice. I was pretty awkward when I tried it in Hawaii this year. Luckily, nobody got hurt. 🙂

  5. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    After living right on the beach for 3 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I like looking at it but not necessarily sitting in the sand or getting in the water. However, paddleboarding sounds like fun, and I also remember liking it the one time I tried it. Panama City looks like fun. I can’t wait to read your trip report.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I know what you mean, Michele. I most enjoy sitting on a patio right next to the beach with a glass of wine in hand while Mr. TWS is swimming or splashing about. He could stay in the water all day long.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      That is a good question, Sophie. The city was founded in 1936 and the name such as it was the nearest American port to the newly opened Panama Canal.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      You and Mr. TWS about the sushi, Francesca! Cool that you’ve been fishing in Florida before. I think it would be much fun as a new activity for me. Whether I’d like it enough to do it again remains to be seen.

  6. Marisol@TravelingSolemates

    Hi Cathy, I enjoyed your Panama City dream. Sounds a perfect destination to celebrate your anniversary. You’ll definitely be in for a lot of fun and romance…and great food! Shell Island looks inviting. Have not seen white, really white dunes before.

  7. Maria Falvey

    Cathy, I like the way you think – that would be a great location for a romantic getaway, especially since it’s perfectly in line for one to “relax, rejuvenate, and relish the balmy weather.”

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      The 3 R’s! I don’t often get to do that. We’re usually very busy and on-the-go when we travel — which I love. But I think it would do the mind and body good to kick back a bit.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’ve heard that Panama City Beach (which is actually a different city than nearby Panama City) was once most associated with spring break, but is not quite a different destination that is much enjoyed by families and couples.

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