Panama City

National Parks
Panama City Beach
© Mike Leco /

Rated as one of the best beaches in the United States, Florida's Panama Beach is 27 miles long and famous for its sugar-white sand.

Panama City, Florida

The northwestern extension of Florida that stretches along the Gulf Coast is usually called the "Panhandle of Florida". It is less developed than other parts of the state with sparser population and vast expanses of wild pine forests. The climate is a bit cooler than the southern parts of Florida but it still offers mild winters, hot summers and pleasant spring and fall weather. Its beaches are magnificent with warm shallow waters and fine white sand. The Panhandle attracts fewer tourists, and remains a favorite "undiscovered" vacation spot for local vacationers and retired couples from the northern states.

Located on the Florida "Panhandle"

Panama City is located along the coast of the Florida Panhandle about 350 miles northwest of Orlando, Florida and approximately 350 miles east of New Orleans, Louisiana. It has a small airport with limited access via commuter flights. There is a much broader selection of flights going to Fort Walton Beach, sixty miles to the west, to Pensacola, one hundred miles to the west or to Tallahassee 120 miles to the northeast.

Panama City is a small seaside community with a population of approximately 35,000. It has several large marinas in town and lies adjacent to one of the finest beaches in Florida. Panama City Beach begins just west of the city and extends for more than twenty miles along the Gulf of Mexico. Its beaches are renown for their fine white sand often called "sugar sand" and for the deep azure-green waters that give this area its nickname of "the Emerald Coast" Many travel authorities have rated the beaches of Panama City among the best in the world.

Bar and Grill located on Panama City beach © Mike Leco /
Grab food and drink without leaving the sand at one of Panama City's beachfront restaurants.

Panama City Beach is an undiscovered gem

Due to its somewhat isolated location far from the popular tourist attractions of south and central Florida, Panama City has remained relatively unspoiled by the tourist crowds. The beachfront is not dominated by an unbroken wall of high-rise tourist hotels, and there is still plenty of public access to its beautiful beaches. You can actually find affordable lodging in small hotels and motels right on the beach. There are a small number of exclusive high-rise condominiums along the beach and several more are under construction. Evidently, people are beginning to discover the unique charms of Panama City Beach, so it may not remain unspoiled much longer.

Saint Andrew Park is situated at the eastern tip of Panama City Beach across the bay from Panama City. This 1260-acre park contains natural coastal dunes, wetlands, forests and a large undeveloped island. The entry fee is $2 per person or $4 per car. It offers swimming at its beautiful white-sand beaches, fishing from its jetties and piers, camping, hiking and boating. A shuttle service will take you to nearby Shell Island for a modest fare.

Panama City Beach extends westward from St. Andrew Park for at least twenty miles until it changes its name to Laguna Beach. The eastern half of Panama City Beach is characterized by classy condominiums, upscale vacation rentals, restaurants, gift shops, golf courses and restaurants. The western part of the beach becomes more "honky tonk" with budget motels, modest vacation rental homes, amusement arcades, tourist attractions, souvenir shops, convenience stores and fast food establishments. Laguna Beach becomes more residential with many private homes and vacation rental units.

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Spring Break hits Panama City Beach every March

The best time to visit Panama City Florida is between May and October. During the winter months, it becomes a bit chilly for swimming and sunbathing, but is fine for golf, tennis, biking and other outdoor activities. From mid March through mid April, several hundred thousands of college students from around the USA descend on Panama City Beach for their Spring Break revelries. This is a great time to visit the area if you are looking for wild parties and a youthful crowd. On the other hand, if you are looking for a peaceful vacation, you might wish to avoid Panama City Beach at that time.

The primary attraction in this area is the magnificent white sand beaches with their warm clear waters. Sunbathing and swimming are the most popular activities. Boating and fishing are also very popular. You can fish from the jetties and piers along the shore, or you can join a fishing expedition on one of the many charter boats. Scuba diving and snorkeling are equally popular due to the crystal-clear warm waters in this part of the Gulf of Mexico. Several businesses in Panama City and Panama City Beach offer snorkeling adventures, scuba diving expeditions or charter fishing cruises. Popular year-round activities include golf, shell gathering, hiking, biking and walking.

Shopping is somewhat limited along the beach with most of the shopping malls and major stores located along Panama City Parkway and within Panama City.

Accommodations are along the beach or in the city

There are also some in Panama City but they are 15 to 30 minutes drive from the beach. Hotel prices are highly inflated during March and April due to the Spring Break madness. The rates drop significantly from mid-September through February. I think the best bargain vacations can be found in late September and October as the weather is normally very nice and the hotel prices are low.

Visit our Panama City Hotels page for a list of hotels with descriptions and map locations. You can book your room on line!

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: Mike Leco ©
Photo Description: Panama City Beach in Florida