THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY BEACH WITH KIDS (FLORIDA ROAD TRIP PART 6)
Please note that we were working with Visit Florida on parts of this trip. Full disclosure at the bottom of the post.
To give a quick overview of our trip, we flew into Miami and spent 16 nights travelling around the state of Florida, visiting Miami, the Florida Keys, Fort Lauderdale, Anna Maria Island, Crystal River, Panama City Beach and Pensacola Beach, before travelling to Louisiana and spending a couple of days in New Orleans. We covered 1825 miles in total. I will be doing blog posts on each destination we stayed in, as well as some practical trips for planning and going on a road trip with young children (mine are 8,6 and 3).
ROUTE CRYSTAL RIVER TO PANAMA CITY BEACH- 266 MILES… 4 HOURS 40 MINUTES
After a wonderful stopover in Crystal River where we swam with the manatees, it was time to head off on the longest drive of our trip- the 266 mile journey up to the top of Florida- and a stay in Panama City Beach.
Panama City Beach is a waterfront town destination in northwest Florida. It’s known for miles and miles of white-sand beaches fronting the calm, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We didn’t know much about PCB before we arrived, only that it seemed the perfect destination to stop on our way to our final destination New Orleans. We were looking forward to spending three nights there.
WHERE WE STAYED
On arrival in Panama City Beach we checked into our accommodation- Tidewater Beach Resort. On first glance the property looked like any other high rise ‘holiday style’ building. But we were pleasantly surprised when we checked into our apartment, in fact it was our favourite of the trip in terms of space and decor. I couldn’t quite work out the set up, but I think the apartments are privately owned and then you can rent them out, so I presume they vary in terms of what the interior will be like. Ours was spacious, with three bedrooms and bunk beds for the kids which they were very excited about.
The building itself was ok, the elevators were a nightmare as there seemed to only be a couple to service the entire building (which is huge). There are two swimming pools right at the front with views of the beach, which were nice to sit around, but the water was absolutely freezing. There were other facilities, like a gym, a shop etc too. The main attraction of course is the fact that the property is situated right on the beach. The beach is beautiful, with soft white sand.
WHAT WE DID
I am going to be perfectly honest and say that out of all the places we visited on our Florida road trip, Panama City Beach was our least favourite. That’s not to say we didn’t have a great time, we did, and it’s a fantastic destination- it just wasn’t our favourite. However I should probably add in an important point here, on the afternoon we arrived we heard a heavy storm was heading into town. We went out for dinner (you can see from the photo above how stormy it was beginning to look) and it began to rain. It didn’t stop raining with heavy winds for nearly the entire duration we were there. Therefore I don’t think we saw the town in all it’s glory. That being said, some of the activities we did were some of our favourites from the trip, and also I can imagine that in the right weather PCB could be a lot of fun.
One thing I will say is that Panama City Beach is very built up. There are high rise hotels and condo’s lining the entire beach front. We found the town to be a little rough around the edges, although I know that they very sadly sustained a large amount of damage from Hurricane Michael in 2018 so they were still rebuilding a lot of the damaged buildings and properties. Personally as a destination to visit, we prefer places that are a little quieter and more quaint, whereas Panama is definitely more of a busy tourist destination with the usual tourist shops and activities you would expect.
I want to stress though that we still had a brilliant time and this kind of destination is perfect for kids- there was so much for them to do even in the not so good weather. I can imagine it being amazing fun when the sun is shining and everything is open. On one of the rainy mornings we went bowling and they had a great time. The beach is beautiful and there’s so many places to eat, drink and have fun. I don’t want to paint an awful picture of it because we are glad we experienced it- it just wasn’t our favourite destination out of all the places we visited.
Here are some of our favourite parts of our time in PCB…
THOMAS DONUT AND SNACK SHOP
If you have children (or indeed just love donuts!) then you need to visit Thomas Donut and Snack Shop. Apparently a bit of a local institution, we ended up coming here twice. You can sit in or order to go and sit on one of the brightly coloured benches in their little courtyard area. Donuts are good (that’s all we had), not incredible, but tasty and definitely worth a trip as a holiday treat breakfast.
If you have kids, love shopping, love eating, watching a movie or all of the above then the Pier Park is the place for you. During the day or at night, this hot spot has everything you could need and more.
It’s typically touristy, but also kind of pretty too, with all the shops and restaurants situated inside quaint looking beach style buildings. There’s also the iconic Sky Wheel too which gives you views for miles. The kids loved going on it.
You could easily spend a day here and not get bored. There’s so much to do.
SANDCASTLE LESSONS- BEACH SAND SCULPTURES
We love trying random, unique experiences while we are travelling, and it doesn’t come more random than this. We spent a lovely couple of hours on the beach (and the weather cleared up too- yay!) having a sandcastle lesson with Beach Sand Sculptures. Who knew just what you could do with some buckets and spades!
We ended up attracting quite the crowd of kids staring at our amazing sandcastle. Our instructor teaching us was great and the children especially loved building our sandcastle. She taught us all the techniques and we were really proud of our creation at the end! It was so much fun and if you are looking for something different to do then I really recommend it.
THE BEACH AT SUNSET
Panama City Beach has some incredible sunsets. We were lucky that two out of the three nights we were there, there was a break in the rain so we could enjoy the sky turning the most beautiful colours.
Some of my favourite ever memories of our travels involve watching the sunset at different places we have visited. To me there is no greater privilege than that moment than sitting there reflecting and feeling grateful of the beauty around us.
Taking sunset photos is also one of my favourite types of photography too.
A random passer by with his dog offered to take our photo. I don’t know if anyone else is like me, but when I see what I presume to be locals, I often wonder what it must be like to live in these places that we visit for such a short time? The world is so huge and I often wonder why I have settled where we have- there’s so many beautiful places left to discover.
I love these photos so much. I love that going away on trips makes me dust off my DSLR and get practicing my photographer. I also love that Jon loves taking photos too, although more often than not I still have to set the camera settings for him. 😉
As mentioned above I must admit as a family we do prefer a more quaint low key beach destination. And it doesn’t come more quaint than Seaside. About 30 miles away from Panama City Beach is the little town of Seaside (even the name is cute!). This Northwest Florida beach community that is best known as the location for the film The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, which Jon couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen. It is beautiful- made up of pastel coloured houses, a stunning beach, and a more laid back vibe than it’s slightly more lively neighbour Panama City Beach. We spent a couple of hours running around on the very windy beach (still stormy but the rain had stopped and there was a slight inkling of blue sky), before wandering around the little town centre. Think take out pizza windows, trendy food carts, and people chilling out in beach bars, and you will start to get a little idea of just how chilled and pretty Seaside is.
I think if we were ever to go back to this area of Florida, we would probably stay around here, and then head to PCB for a day trip and fun for the kids.
Would you recommend a stay in Panama City Beach?
Yes absolutely, especially as a destination on a road trip like we did. Like I mentioned at the start, it isn’t my favourite place I have ever been in Florida. But I think a lot of that was down to the weather and the fact we couldn’t get outside and enjoy it as much as we would have hoped. Panama City Beach has a huge amount for families and I would loved to have the chance to explore it further. There were lots of cool things to do, and some amazing eateries and attractions.
We do prefer more laid back vibes when it comes to beach towns, but if you like stunning beaches, a fun and lively atmosphere, and loads to do for the whole family, you definitely won’t go wrong visiting PCB.
Here is a video that I made during our time in Panama City Beach…
PREVIOUS FLORIDA ROAD TRIP POSTS-
PART SIX OF OUR ROAD TRIP COMING SOON… PANAMA CITY BEACH
NB We were working in partnership with Visit Florida on parts of this trip and some of our accommodation and activities were given to us in exchange for content. Check out their website for lots more advice and inspiration for planning your road trip.