Panama City Beach, Florida has always been a popular destination for tourists, many of whom come to sunbathe on the beach during their spring or summer vacations. But there’s a wealth of fun stuff for families to do year round. Check these out next time you’re in town.

Educational excitement

Not that PCB has many rainy days, but should there be one, WonderWorks is a top spot for indoor fun. This unique ‘edu-tainment’ complex, shaped like an upside down museum (replete with upside down palm trees!), has a wide variety of cool things for kids and parents to do. Get electrified with a Tesla coil, experience a hurricane, even lie on a bed of nails – everything gets kids learning in addition to having fun.

Challenge your sense of direction in the Gran Maze of Coconut Creek, a football-field-sized maze that will interest both the young and the young-at-heart. Wander through, trying to orient yourself by using the various nautically themed markers – buoys, lookout stations, even a replica orca.

For more sedate excitement, try the Man in the Sea Museum, a 5000-square foot building dedicated to the history of scientific and recreational diving. Some of the exhibits are hands-on (or whole body; you can climb them!).

A white sand beach meets turquoise water on Shell Island in Panama City Beach.
Shell Island is a serene offshore escape near St. Andrews State Park. Image courtesy of Visit Panama City Beach.

Nature and beauty

Top of the list is the lovely St. Andrews State Park, the area’s top spot for nature-lovers. Once used by the military, it’s now home to numerous wildlife species, with docks for fishing and boating, overnight campsites, and numerous walking trails. Gator Lake is a great place to spot Florida’s famous reptile. Bring binoculars and do some birding, bring a rod and catch some fish, or just enjoy the peace and quiet of a winding trail through untouched forests and beaches.

From St. Andrews you can take a boat to Shell Island, a pristine stretch of stunning white sand beaches, gentle waters, dolphins to spot, bird life, and (if you’re lucky) perhaps a visit from a sea turtle or two. Even though you take a boat to get here, don’t expect to have the place all to yourself – it’s a popular destination and you’ll be sharing the beauty with plenty of others.

Inland, not far from Laguna Beach and the Rte 79 intersection is Conservation Park, a woodland area with twelve walking trails of differing lengths winding through the pristine forests and restored wetlands. See woodpeckers, warblers, other songbirds, snakes, squirrels, and possibly even spot deer, foxes, or raccoons. Depending on the trail you take, you could actually get away from it all – or feel like it, anyway.

Sunset over wetlands in Conservation Park with egret perched on a wooden boardwalk.
Wander the eco-rich Florida wetlands in PCB's Conservation Park. Image courtesy of Visit Panama City Beach.

Water, water, everywhere...

Much of the fun of Panama City Beach is that there are so many different ways to get wet. Whether you like swimming at the beach, snorkeling around a pier, scuba diving, or boating, there are numerous options for you and your family to enjoy these incredible waters. Grand Lagoon, St. Andrews State Park, the outer beaches – they each offer unique fun in the sea.

While there are a lot of ways to see dolphins – be it from shore with binoculars or a pair of good eyes or from a boat – sometimes the best thing is to dive right in. Blue Dolphin Tours offers groups of up to six people the chance to do exactly that: dive right in. You will locate a pod of wild dolphins, don your snorkel gear, and plunge into the water, where if you’re lucky, the graceful cetaceans will stick around long enough for you to snap underwater selfies or at least get an up-and-close look at them.

If you want more boat-based action, check out the fun Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise, a two-hour adventure that begins with you saying, ‘Aye, Aye, Matey!’ (or maybe just ‘Yaaaarrrrrgh!’). Prepare to grab a sword and swashbuckle, fire the canon, or just stand on the lookout for the friendly damsels of the sea (dolphins, that is!) that you’re likely to spot during the voyage.

For those who’d rather enjoy the ocean views from up high, the new SkyWheel at Pier Park soars 200ft above PCB with 360 views of the coastline and the Gulf.

A cannon is fired from a pirate-themed ship in Panama City Beach.
Adventure-loving kids can sail the friendly seas aboard this pirate-themed ship. Image courtesy of Visit Panama City Beach.

Fun (and fine!) dining

The fun doesn’t have to end when the kids get hungry, as a number of PCB’s spots for good grub also make the dining experience fun, if a bit hokey at times. It would be hard to top the over-the-top fun at Sisters of the Sea, where you can meet or even swim in the pool with mermaids, and where pirates can sometimes be found roaming about. Kids will enjoy the chance to swim in the pool while they wait for their food, too. And who knows, parents might just enjoy a few moments alone with their margarita as the kids are occupied.

Sometimes it’s just about having a good meal that you know everyone will like. David’s Sno-Balls are hard to beat, with Louisiana-style options like po-boys and beignets, but the pièce de résistance is the stuffed Sno-Ball, available in a myriad of flavors and options.

The tastiest food is always what you catch yourself, and at Anderson’s Fish Market they offer ‘hook and cook’ for whatever you caught that day – they can clean and fillet, too, if you’d rather bring it home. Alternatively, you can window shop, looking at the big glass displays with the variety of fresh fish and seafood (fresh, never frozen), as well as ready to eat dips and other delicacies.

Lonely Planet has produced this article for Visit Panama City Beach. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.

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