Here's the situation I'm in: it's already mid-August, and I am NOT ready for summer to be over yet.
I mean, I haven't gone to enough bonfires, or on enough bike rides. I only went to an amusement park once, and haven't eaten any deep-fried fair food. I missed out on fireworks, haven't been on nearly enough hikes, and don't even have a hint of a tan. In fact, this summer is the first in the past 3 or 4 that I didn't go to a SINGLE beach — in fact, I don't think I even wore a bathing suit.
So, when my boyfriend and I started brainstorming a combined birthday trip for late September/early October, we both decided that we want to extend our summers. We both agreed that we should go somewhere warm. Somewhere sunny. Somewhere… beachy.
We have a handful of options already jotted down. But, from a budget standpoint, Florida makes the most sense. And, the more I started thinking about the Gulf Coast, the more I decided that going to a bigger city would probably be ideal for the sort of active beach vacation we're hoping to plan. I've spent time in small beachy Gulf cities like Port St. Joe and Apalachicola before, and, while they are great, there's not a whole lot to do in them.
Then Panama City Beach's Bucket List campaign fell into my email inbox.
It was almost as if they were reading my mind and KNEW that I was considering a Florida beach vacation.
I've been to Panama City Beach before (and NO, not for Spring Break — though it's a popular destination that time of year, too). My family has held reunions in Mexico Beach in the past, and my mom, sister and I would always head to Panama City Beach for a day of shopping and movie-watching at Pier Park. My sister and I even took a standup paddleboarding/surfing lesson there one summer.
But now I'm kind of thinking it would be the perfect place to extend our summer and cross a lot of things off our beachy bucket lists in the process.
Here's a look at the top things to do during a getaway to Panama City Beach.
The best things to do in Panama City Beach, Florida
Like I mentioned, I've actually done this before — the beaches at Panama City Beach are great for beginner surfers/SUP'ers. My lesson actually started off as a standup paddleboarding lesson, and then ended with us riding the waves on the giant boards. It was a lot of fun, and I would definitely do it again. They even have some paddleboarding companies that offer yoga lessons on the water — I'm pretty sure I would be terrible at that, but it might be fun to try anyway!
After seeing photos of Panama City Beach and the surrounding area from above (and after knowing first-hand how fun a helicopter ride can be), I would really like to fly high above the beach here, too. The water is so clear in places that there's a good chance we would get to see marine life like dolphins and sharks.
Shopping at Pier Park
Every time I've been to Panama City Beach in the past, I've gone shopping, had dinner, and saw a movie at Pier Park. It's a nice outdoor shopping complex with plenty of stores to check out. And hey, Margaritaville is kinda fun.
Panama City Beach and its waters are home to a pod of bottlenose dolphins. These curious creatures are always fun to see in the wild, and there are plenty of tour companies in Panama City Beach that will take you out to see and interact with them in their natural habitat. Many companies will also provide snorkeling gear and will let you hop in the water when the dolphins are nearby (which is really the only way you should ever swim with dolphins!).
Not far from Panama City Beach lies Shell Island, a barrier island covered in sand dunes and forests that are home to lots of native Florida wildlife. I've heard that if you're looking to escape the touristy streets of the city, Shell Island is the place to go. I definitely wouldn't mind spending a few hours on the natural beaches here.
Watch a sunset from a pier
Sunsets across the Gulf of Mexico are always great to watch — you can see the sun sinking into the sea. I would love to catch one of these sunsets from one of Panama City Beach's piers; maybe the Russell-Fields Pier across the street from Pier Park.
I have a thing about sailboats — basically, I love them. So sailing out in the Gulf definitely goes on this list! A sunset cruise sounds nice, though a snorkeling one would be fun, too!
I didn't know about the “Pirates of the High Seas Fest” before doing some research on things to do in Panama City Beach, but it just so happens that it's an annual festival that takes place in mid-October. Sounds like tons of swashbuckling fun.
Day trip to Mexico Beach
Lastly, I couldn't be in the Panhandle and NOT visit some of my favorite beaches in the U.S. A day trip to Mexico Beach would definitely be in order. The sand there is soft and white, and there are hardly any people around. Perfect for a mini getaway.
READ NEXT: The Beach I'm Not Supposed to Tell You About
WHERE TO STAY
Looking to stay in Panama City Beach? Here are some of the best hotel options:
The beachfront Hampton Inn & Suites is the top-rated hotel in Panama City Beach on TripAdvisor, followed by the Osprey on the Gulf. Or you can check out the Sheraton Bay Point Resort, which also has great ratings.
What else would you add to this beachy bucket list of ours?
*Note: This post was brought to you by Visit Panama City Beach, however all opinions and suggestions are entirely my own.