Panama City Beach, Florida with Kids

Spring break party town?  Maybe.  But Panama City Beach, Florida is holiday heaven for families too.

A few weeks ago, the Panama City Beach, Florida Convention and Visitors Bureau invited Chet and me down for a visit.  I wasn’t sure what to expect–after all, PCB usually comes up in conversation as either the college spring break hot spot (a la Girls Gone Wild) or as the capital of the so-called “Redneck Riviera.”

But contrary to those notions, we found that PCB was an incredible–and somewhat undiscovered–beach destination made for families.  Not only are there miles and miles of beautiful white sand beaches but there are also plenty of fun attractions that the whole family will enjoy.  Here are some of our favorites.

The Beach

Okay, this is a bit of a no-brainer.  After all, if you’ re headed to a beach destination, you expect there to be a beach.  But Panama City Beach has a gorgeous Gulf of Mexico coastline, with warm, clean waves and gorgeous white sand.  The beach is open to the public and has multiple entry points.  And if you stay at a hotel or condo resort, you’ll usually find easy access mere steps from your lobby. There are also a variety of companies along the water that offer jet skis, snorkel gear, parasailing and all manner of other fun beach activities.

If you are looking for something a little less developed, drive to St. Andrews State Park and take the ferry over to Shell Island for the day.  This is a little bit of paradise on the Florida panhandle, completely pristine and undeveloped.  It’s a great spot for dolphin watching, a beach picnic or playtime in the waves.

Shipwreck Island Waterpark

Water parks more your thing?  Then drive on over to Shipwreck Island and prepare to meet your match in water slides and rides. Take the plunge on the twisting White Knuckle River, test your mettle on the Tree Top Drop or the Pirate’s Plunge or just lounge in the Lazy River. Whatever you and the family decide, it’s sure to be a splash.


Wonderworks is not exactly what it seems–it is a chain (by the same folks who have brought you all those Ripley’s Believe It or Not tourist traps across the nation) but it is actually an informative yet fun science museum.  The premise is a “science lab turned upside-down” by a rogue man-made tornado.  Sure, it’s a little far-fetched but as soon as you walk into the faux tornado walkway (a bit nausea-inducing) and lie down on a bed of literal nails, you and the little ones won’t care.

It’s truly a hands-on type of museum.  Whether you’re playing Mindball, dunking an invisible ball or shadow jumping, you’ll learn AND have a great time while doing it.  Make sure to head up to the top floor and take part in the ropes course–cross unwieldy bridges, climb robe ladders and walk the smallest of balance beams, all 50 feet in the air.

A Sunset Dolphin Cruise

Panama City Beach has a huge pods of dolphins residing in the area.  Several companies offer sunset dolphin cruises.  You and the family can enjoy a lovely sunset boat ride–and see some of the real locals frolicking out in the waves.

Gulf World Marine Park

Sea lions, dolphins and giant turtles, oh my!  The Gulf World Marine Park is a small, yet impressive marine park in the heart of Panama City Beach.  You can check out a sea lion or dolphin show–or get a little closer to the action with a “Swim with the Dolphins” encounter.  You can also check out parrots and other wild birds, reptiles and sharks.  It’s a great place to explore–but it’s also a good place to learn.  The Marine Park is  involved with marine mammal rescue operations in the area.  They also rehab rescued animals in the park itself.  It’s an entrance fee you can feel good about. 

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  1. says

    Jamie, Thanks so much for this article about Panama City. I didn’t even know WonderWorks existed! Where have I been!? I’ll have to let them know about my optical illusion toys.

    I can’t recall where I saw it, but there’s a town in the Florida panhandle that has a delightful building code requiring all homes to have unique fences. Would you know if Panama City is the town?

  2. Chanel says

    Panama City in Florida is a great place for families if you are looking for straight beach fun and those crystal clear waters and white sand is so welcoming, how could you pass it up! I was just in Florida with my own family and had a great time going from beach to beach and trying all the different sea food! OUr favorite was Palm Bay actually-little town but offers a lot to the traveler. The Palm Bay Hotel ( was cheap and right in the thick of it, we all had a great time there!


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