Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Panama City Beach, Florida

Panama City Beach sunset
A little early evening boogie boarding




PCB, Florida
This trip to Panama City Beach, Florida,  was taken June 2009 with our friends Dave and Jodie and two of their little ones.  We rented a three bedroom condo in the large complex of Gulf Highlands.  We rented from a family member of our friends, but here is an example of a simple and affordably priced condo at Gulf Highlands.  http://www.vrbo.com/407190  VRBO is an organized site.  Using the top words on the vrbo site, you can search lots of other condos either at Gulf Highlands, the PCB area, or expanding as broadly as you like. I like to start researching an area by reading the owner's descriptions of their rentals.  This will give me a feel for the area and what the area has to offer.   Panama City is on the Florida Panhandle, the strip of the state that lies horizontally.  It's not as long of a drive from the north as the beach towns further south along the Gulf.  Our friends drove all night but we are not night-drivers so we stayed over midway from Ohio.  I actually wasn't expecting a lot from this beach.  We were mostly going in order to spend time with our friends.  All I knew of Panama City was associated with spring-breakers and partying twenty-somethings.  It is actually a nice and very convenient spot to soak up some weeklong sun and salt water.  One drawback is that there is some traffic.  This is a fairly built-up area.  Lots of restaurants and places to buy swim suits.  However, the traffic is not worse than lots of busy suburbs across the U.S.  In exchange for some traffic and a busy road, when you want to run out for steaks to grill or after-dinner ice cream, the stores are right there. The go-cart track we visited was really close to the condos and beach. 

Post Office
Post office of Seaside, where the movie The Truman Show was filmed

           Despite PCB's commercial feel, there are quiet areas around.  During one evening, my friend Jodie and I drove out to Seaside, a quaint little beachtown with the most fabulous shops.  Really museum quality art works and crafts.    You can park and stroll around and drool over beautiful glass figurines, pottery, and jewelry.  This is also the place people go dressed in white to take photos.  Filming of the movie The Truman Show was done here.  They have this quaint little post-office which looks like the oldest post office ever, but, alas, it is not.  But it is one of the most photographed post offices in the country.  Hey, we here in America like our superlatives. 


13 mile bike trail along these beach towns
           On another day we drove over to Grayton Beach State Park to experience a different beach.  Here are some interesting things about this area:  There is a 13-mile bike trail, the 30A bike path, along this area including through the cute little beach town of Seaside.  Zoning restrictions prevent billboards and high-rises to keep the view along the trail very natural.  There are sand dunes and dune lakes along here also.  Apparently Walton County is the sixth most biodiverse area in the United States because of these dune lakes.  In June of 2009, I didn't know about this bike trail.  Or perhaps it wasn't completed.  Also I am sorry to tell you that on the day our group went to Grayton Beach, the lure of the television and air conditioning was too great and we left earlier than I would have liked.  This is an aspect of vacation planning that I haven't figured out yet:  How to not let the television win. 

(above) Look at the color of that water!

 Shell Island.  There is good snorkeling along that rock jetty.
 Our excursion to Shell Island was our favorite. A shuttle boat leaves from St. Andrews State Park http://www.floridastateparks.org/standrews/ .  This park has a nice beach, nature trails, kayaking, etc.  Shell Island is a mostly deserted island with a Caribbean quality beach.   Unfortunately, the shuttle over isn't cheap.  It is $16.95 for adults and $8.95 for children.  The boat goes back and forth every 30 minutes until 4pm.     Sitting in the sand, my friend and I discussed whether or not it was the nicest beach we had ever been too. We decided that, as it was quiet, clean, gentle, and beautiful, there wasn't much more we could ask for. We ate our packed lunch on the beach.  The little kids played on the sand, the big kids boogie boarded, and the adults took turns snorkeling along the rock jetty.  The state park rents snorkel gear at the boat launch, but we brought our own.  If you are a beach-lover, a quality snorkel and mask are a good investment.

You might like this trip if:
  1. You want a warm beach that isn't all the way down into Florida. The Florida Panhandle is a nice compromise for those driving from the north. By the summer, the water is nice and warm, but it, well obviously, isn't as far south.

  2. You don't mind condos a plenty. This is not a beach house town. This is a place of hotels and condos. For beach houses, try Dauphin Island just west in Alabama. On the bright side, when there are this many condos so close together, you can get a good deal.  The tourist has the advantage here over the real-estate owner.

    Race City, Panama City Beach
3. You like things convenient. There are many ice cream stands, fast food joints, minigolf, beach side restaurants, and grocery stores in close proximity. 

For a rainy day, here's something to try:

WonderWorks  science museum, $18.99 child, $22.99 adult; 9910 Front Beach Road, PCB, Florida

That is, if you don't have problems like I do of competing against the television.


  1. We were mostly going to spend our time with Friends or Parents.All I knew of Panama City was associated with spring-breakers. It is actually a nice and very convenient spot to soak up some week long sun and salt water.

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