While much of the Panhandle's charms rely on its mellow 'Old Florida' roots, don't expect to find any of those vibes in Panama City Beach – an insanely overdeveloped gulf-front pocket that's in love with its recent transformation from an old-school resort to a mind-numbing, over-commercialized mob scene of condo-mania. New, architecturally dire high-rises – one less interesting than the next – now line the waterfront, with more outdoor malls, chain hotels and restaurants crowding in at every turn. And, from March to May, the place goes absolutely bonkers as a Spring Break destination, when students from 150 colleges east of the Mississippi roar into town to drink in the sun till they puke.
Luckily, despite the build-up in town, the beaches themselves are quite dazzling, with powder-fine sand and cerulean, crystal-clear waters that beckon fans of swimming, fishing and diving. The area is renowned as a wreck-diving site with dozens of natural, historic and artificial reefs attracting spectacular marine life. And the noisy, raucous family atmosphere that usually prevails (with the exception of Spring Break time) may make it a natural destination – for better or worse – for those traveling with young, hard-to-entertain kids.