The Best Fun Things To Do in Panama City Beach 2023

Photo : Jamie Ross / Riley 

Along with its relaxed vibe, travel writer Jamie Ross discovers that the best fun things to do in Panama City Beach, FL, include the “four s’s”: sand, surf, sailing, and seafood

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Panama City Beach is set on 27 miles of sugar-white sand beaches bordering the clear, emerald-green waters where the Gulf of Mexico and St Andrew Bay converge. Once known for its annual migration of spring breakers, Panama City Beach has matured into a truly charming seaside destination.

With 320 days of sunshine annually and attractions such as St Andrews State Park and Pier Park, the region has long been favoured by travelers seeking a memorable beach vacation. Here’ you’ll find year-round offerings including championship golf courses, spas, sporting events, award-winning dining, and diverse recreational activities, all of them with options suitable for families, couples, and adventure-lovers.

To help you make the most of your time in this lovely part of the Sunshine State, here’s our list of the top fun things to do in Panama City Beach for 2023.


Fun Things to do in Panama City Beach


Catch a Sunrise While Fishing from the Panama City Beach Pier
Panama City Beach Pier
Panama City Beach Pier offers one of the best fishing spots on the Gulf coast (Photo: Jamie Ross)


If you get up early enough you can catch the sunrise over the sands from the end of Panama City Beach Pier. This famous 460 metre pier also attracts locals who are also early risers, here early to claim their own spot on the lengthy jetty.

Drop a hook and you might be lucky enough to catch Spanish mackerel, cobia, mahi-mahi, and flounder.

Address: 16051 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, FL 


Hang Out in Pier Park
Pier Park Sky Wheel is one of the top fun things to do in Panama City Beach
A ride on the nearly 200 ft tall Sky Wheel is time well spent when visiting Pier Park (Photo courtesy Sky Wheel)


Inland from the pier, Pier Park is a village in itself. This bustling tourist attraction features an electric blend of commercial storefronts, beachy boutiques, dining options, and fun entertainment. You can hang out at a local bar and listen to live music, play laser tag, visit an arcade, or grab a surfboard and head for the ocean.

A must-do here is to hop on the Sky Wheel, a towering 197-foot-tall Ferris wheel that allows a breathtaking 360-degree view of the park, pier, and beach.

Address: 600 Pier Park Dr, Panama City Beach, FL 


Donuts and Bushwackers
The Donut Photo
Enjoy a sweet treat from Thomas Donut & Snack Shop… then take a photo to prove you didi it (Photo: Jamie Ross / Riley)


The line forms early for the freshly made doughnuts at Thomas Donut & Snack Shop, a family-owned, beachfront donut shop whose velvet cake doughnuts are delectable. Before devouring your just-purchased donut, stroll across the road and out to the ocean for an Instagram photo, snapped through the donut hole of the sand and surf beyond. Hey, it’s a tradition.

Perhaps a better Panhandle tradition is to order a Bushwacker to accompany lunch, an adults-style milkshake full of boozy dreams. It might taste like another, but we have plenty more to see and do.

Address: 19208 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach, FL


Explore St Andrews State Park

At St Andrews State Park, rent some bikes and peddle amongst the dunes, stopping occasionally to stroll beside Cyprus-tangled wetlands in search of alligators, snakes, and turtles.

The park has two nature trails, Heron Pond and Gator Lake, where you’ll see plenty of birdlife, and maybe some white-tail deer or coyotes. From Gator Lake, follow the Heron Pond Trail out to the Grand Lagoon with its mile-long sugary white shoreline. Here you’ll spot herons, egrets, and nesting ospreys.

The park’s secluded, sandy shores are hugged by undulating grassy dunes, while the waters offshore are popular with surfers, stand-up paddle boarders, and snorkelers who float with the local marine life along the rock jetty.


Enjoy a Sunset Sailing Cruise Aboard the Ohana

In the evening, skirt the sand-spit state park seaside for a fun cruise past neighbouring Shell Island aboard the Ohanasailboat. These peaceful sunset cruises are provided by Paradise Adventures for intimate adventures for groups of up to six guests.  

This region is said to have the highest concentration of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the world, and the elegant creatures dance playfully in your wake as you sail alongside the expansive beach. Then, while sipping on local craft beer, you’ll watch a beautiful sunset as an iridescent sun melts into the emerald sea with a splash of orange, reds, and purples across the low-hanging clouds.


Sample Delicious Coastal Cuisine
Capt. Anderson's Restaurant & Waterfront Market, one of the best things to do in Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is a superb place to visit for foodies (Photo courtesy Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant & Waterfront Market)


Panama City Beach’s sprawling white-sand coastline isn’t just for show. The surrounding gulf plays host to a massive array of marine creatures just waiting to be caught. The region’s unique geography makes it an ideal locale for fresh coastal cuisine inflected with Cajun, Gulf Coast, and American Southern traditions.

Known as the “Seafood Capital of the South” it should come as no surprise that seafood is the main ingredient at most Panama City Beach menus. Beachfront restaurants abound, serving seafood as fresh as it can be. The Creole influence on the local cuisine reminds you that you are near Louisiana, but the wide variety of experiences suit every taste, with restaurants ranging from fine-dining establishments to ocean-side crab shacks.

Well fed, you’ll be energized to explore more of Panama City Beach’s seemingly endless stretch of sand, searching for the perfect shell, snorkeling in the turquoise waters, or simply relaxing and lounging on your own personal, peaceful, silky-white patch of this Florida Panhandle paradise.

Our favorites include Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant & Waterfront Market, named among America’s Top 50 restaurants and the recipient of the “Best Seafood Restaurant” award from Southern Living; Runaway Island, which boasts two levels of inside dining space and an outdoor deck, with a breathtaking view of the beach; and Firefly, which features fresh Gulf seafood, steaks, and signature cocktails, making it one of the area’s top dining destinations.

Other contenders include Schooner’s, popular for its live music, Gulf-front views, and fresh seafood; and for a great breakfast, Andy’s Flour a favorite among locals for its fresh ingredients, flaky pastries, muffins, omelettes, and popular breakfast pastries.


Enjoy an Overnight Stay at a Panama City Beach Resort
Calypso Resort and Towers By Panhandle Getaways. room overlooking water and beach
Make a getaway of it with a stay at a great beachfront resort in Panama City Beach (Photo courtesy Calypso Resort and Towers)


Whether you’re here for just a night or two or for an extended vacation, the best Panama City Beach resorts offer plenty of opportunities for a memorable stay.

Our favorites include Calypso Resort and Towers By Panhandle Getaways. This beachfront resort features family friendly amenities, full service, private cabanas, an expansive pool, easy beach access, and terrific views of the gulf.  

For the latest reviews, rates, and reservations, visit Calypso Resort and Towers By Panhandle Getaways.


The Details

You can fly into Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), which is less than 20 miles north of Panama City Beach.

For more Information on the best fun things to do in Panama City Beach, FL, including tips and tactics related to accommodations, visit and




Contributor James Ross is a travel writer and columnist, and author of the books Cottage Daze and Still in a Daze at the Cottage. He lives in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.

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