The Beach and Beyond: 20 Fun Things to Do in Panama City Beach

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Beachfront view of PCB from condo balcony.
Enjoy the gorgeous views of Panama City Beach, Florida. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

This post was sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA and the writer was hosted.

Boasting nearly 320 days of sunshine per year, Panama City Beach, Florida is a beach-goer’s paradise. With crystal clear waters and sandy white beaches, this dream destination serves up breathless views along with exciting outdoor activities for families, girlfriend getaways and romantic escapes. 

PCB, as it’s affectionately called, is located on Florida’s Emerald Gold Coast, where its turquoise waters attract scores of tourists every year. But there’s more to PCB than beaches and sunbathing. Spend an afternoon at Shipwreck Island Waterpark, shop at the Pier Park mall and dine at tasty waterfront restaurants when you want to give your bathing suit a break. Read for our full list of fun things to do in PCB.

SheBuysTravel Tip: PCB is less than six hours’ drive from Orlando, which makes it a great stopping off spot for families road tripping to Walt Disney World!

Shipwreck Island Waterpark racing slides, one of the fun things to do in Panama City Beach
Racing slides are fun for kids when they visit Panama City Beach. Photo credit: Visit PCB

1. Cool Off at Shipwreck Island Waterpark

Family-friendly Shipwreck Island Waterpark is a nostalgic favorite for our family. My husband grew up visiting the park when his family vacationed in Panama City Beach. With attractions like a wave pool, lazy river and tons of slides, this water park offers something fun for families of all sizes and ages!

The waterpark is closed in the fall and water, but will reopen on the weekends starting April 30. The park will return to its seven-day-a-week schedule on May 26.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Pricing is based on height, and kids under 35 inches get in FREE. Visit the Shipwreck Island website to find out how to get discounted tickets to the waterpark.

Pirate ship for the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise, a fun thing to do in PCB
The Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise is a MUST-DO in PCB! Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

2. Hunt for Treasure on a Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise in Panama City Beach

Pirate cruises are campy fun for everyone. The Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise is a two-hour cruise around St. Andrew’s Bay on a pirate ship, complete with swashbuckling lessons, a pirate dance party and a hunt for treasure that’s been buried at sea.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Be early for your voyage time so you don’t get left at the dock!

3. Check Out a Giant Maze at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park

Another activity that is still on our Panama City Beach to-do list is the Coconut Creek Family Fun Park. Mini-golf and a maze the size of a football field will keep kids busy for hours!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check the website for deals and coupons before your visit.

Sea lion
Watching sea lions like this one play at Gulf World Marine Park is one of the best things to do in Panama City Beach with kids. Photo credit: Pixabay

4.  Watch Sea Lions Play at Gulf World Marine Park

Next on our list of fun things to do in PCB with kids is a visit to Gulf World Marine Park. Not only are there daily shows featuring dolphins, sea lions and more, Gulf World also offers interactive programs and opportunities to swim with dolphins. My kids have put this on their wish list for our next trip to Panama City Beach.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Admission deals are available for locals, military, first responders and those who purchase tickets online.

paddleboarders off Shell Island in Panama City Beach FL
Paddleboarding off Shell Island is fun, but there are no lifeguards on duty. Photo credit; PCB

5. Get Back to Nature on Shell Island

Shell Island is a favorite spot for locals. It boasts almost seven miles of undeveloped land between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. Here you can find a more natural experience where wildlife and coastal creatures rub elbows with island visitors.

You can only get there by boat, so make sure you reserve your spot on the Shell Island Shuttle or the PCB Shell Island Express Ferry.

The best thing about Shell Island? The sand squeaks when you drag your feet through it! If you’re looking for things to do with beach shells check out our full post on it.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Shell Island is a pristine natural environment. There are no trash cans, picnic tables, concession stands, restrooms or shaded pavilions. Check our packing list for a day at the beach so you have everything you might need. And then be prepared to take it with you when you leave the island!

Panama City Beach
St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

6. Kayak and More at St. Andrews State Park

Keeping with the naturalist theme, St. Andrews State Park is a less crowded beach option in the Grand Lagoon area of PCB. It offers outdoor adventures including bike and walking trails, kayaks and canoes, snorkeling and more. Plenty of visitors also enjoy swimming in the calmer waters on the Gulf side of the state park.

The park is currently undergoing some construction projects so just be sure to stay out of the construction zone.

SheBuysTravel Tip: There are no lifeguards in the swimming areas, so use caution when venturing out into the water.

Pier Park entrance sign in Panama City Beach
Pier Park is the dining, shopping and entertainment mecca of Panama City Beach. Photo credit: Visit PCB

7. Pier Park Offers Dining, Shopping and More in Panama City Beach

In need of something to do that will entertain the kids besides the pool or beach? Head on over to Pier Park. Pier Park is Panama City Beach’s premier shopping, dining and entertainment destination. It offers more than 124 stores, many dining options and lots of kid-friendly fun.Attractions for kids include a Dave and Buster’s, Emerald Coast Mirror Maze and Laser Tag. There’s even an XD Darkride Experience, an interactive movie featuring stunning 3D graphics and amazing special effects.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check out these Florida resorts. We think they’re worth the splurge!

8. Prepare to Be Amazed at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

When you want a day away from the beach, head to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. This attraction features weird exhibits, interesting artwork, fun interactive experiences and so much more. While we ran out of time to visit this museum in PCB, we have visited another location in Tennessee.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This is a great activity for a break from the sun and sand or if it rains on your beach vacation as it’s all indoors!

9. Wonderworks: Educational Fun for Kids in PCB

Our family absolutely loves Wonderworks! We first visited the Wonderworks in Tennessee, but I am certain the PCB location is just as awesome.

Similar to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, this indoor amusement park is packed with hands-on exhibits that have a scientific component. Your kids will be blown away (quite literally) by the park’s extreme weather zone, and test their courage while lying on a bed of 3,500 nails. At Wonderworks, kids won’t even know they’re learning!

10. Feed an Alligator at ZooWorld

If you have a kid who loves animals, ZooWorld is the place for them. Located on Front Beach Road, ZooWorld is in the middle of all the action in Panama City Beach. My kids wished we had more time to spend in PCB so they could hold a baby kangaroo or feed a family of bearded dragons. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Many of the animal encounter experiences require an adult to accompany children 7 and younger, and a few select experiences do not allow children under 5. Check the website for more information before you promise your kids something you can’t deliver!

11. Have a Family Go Kart Race at Emerald Falls Family Recreation Center

I don’t know about you, but visiting a go-kart track and playing a round of mini golf takes me back to my childhood beach vacations. It’s fun to come full circle with my kids and give them similar experiences now that I’m a parent.

Emerald Falls Recreation Center is exactly what you’re looking for if you want the full arcade game, go-kart, mini golf experience.

12. Stretch Out on the Sandy Beach at Camp Helen State Park

Venture off the beaten path to visit Camp Helen State Park. As it’s located in the far western reaches of Panama City Beach, Camp Helen State Park contains some of the most beautiful beaches in the city. It is often uncrowded, which makes for a potentially peaceful day on Florida’s white sand beaches.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Camping is not allowed at Camp Helen State Park, but wildlife viewing, fishing and paddling are allowed in designated areas.

Conservation Park directions sign in Panama City Beach, a fun thing to do
Conservation Park has many trails for hiking and biking if you enjoy the great outdoors. Photo credit: Visit PCB

13. Hike, Bike or Stroll the Trails at Conservation Park

The purpose of the Conservation Park is to protect and balance the natural resources of PCB and provide outdoor recreational opportunities. Visitors will find more walking and biking trails at Conservation Park than at the other two parks on this list.

That also means there are more rules visitors must abide by when exploring the 2,900-acre park. Those include: no open flames, no overnight stays and no motorized vehicles or horses allowed on the trails.

Pier Park Sky Wheel at sunset in Panama City Beach
The Sky Wheel offers a beautiful view of Panama City Beach. Photo credit: Visit PCB

14. Soar Over Panama City Beach on the Skywheel

At 200-feet tall, the Skywheel Panama City Beach towers over Pier Park, between Front Beach Road and 30A. This attraction is a giant observation wheel with 30 climate-controlled, fully enclosed gondolas. Personally, I love those two aspects of this attraction because it can definitely get hot in Florida, and I don’t want to worry my toddler won’t sit still for the ride!

My kids have also put this on our must-do list for return visits because the venue includes a mini golf course, ropes course and “snack shack” (which is a huge selling point for kids!).

Island Time Sailing vessel preparing to leave for a dolphin cruise in PCB
Search for dolphins on popular sunset cruises around St. Andrews Bay. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

15. Take a Dolphin Cruise with Island Time Sailing

On our first night in PCB, we boarded a huge catamaran to sail around St. Andrews Bay on a dolphin cruise. I’ve been on dolphin cruises before, where I’ve seen plenty of marine life that wasn’t a dolphin. We were not disappointed by our sunset cruise this time.

We saw an entire pod of dolphins as well as a sea turtle that drifted right by the boat! The only thing missing was a sting ray or gator encounter to spice up the otherwise calm adventure.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Evening sailings might get chilly as the wind blows off the water while the boat is moving. Bring a jacket just in case!

16. Look for Gators on a Wild Thang Airboat Tour

Gator fans will enjoy these tours of the West Bay area of Panama City Beach aboard a large airboat. Tours are offered in 30 minute and 1 hour increments. The nighttime, hour-long tour is your best chance to see alligators up close and personal.

Unfortunately, my son wasn’t quite old enough to take part in this adventure (the minimum age is 2), so we will have to save this exciting adventure for our next visit!

17. Go for a Hole in One at Hidden Lagoon Super Golf and Racetrack

Another option for go-karts and mini golf is Hidden Lagoon Super Golf and Racetrack. The Super Race Track is almost a mile long, and it is one of the longest tracks on the Emerald Coast.

Kids under 6 play free at the 18 hole mini golf course. Score a hole-in-one on the 18th hole and win $50 cash!

The park closes for the winter, but reopens in March for the spring/summer season. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Passengers must be at least 56 inches to drive alone on the racetrack, and be between 36 and 56 inches to ride with a parent. Double-check your child’s height before promising them a whirk on the track.

18. Sip Fruit Wines at Panama City Beach Winery

Obviously, this entry is not meant for those with young kids, but if you’re enjoying a kid-free trip or have older children, Panama City Beach Winery is an upscale attraction that is well worth a stop. Wines are made with 100% real fruit and come in interesting flavors like Key Lime, Guava and Mango just to name a few. Head here and pretend you’re Moira on set of a Herb Erlinger commercial.

19. Giddy Up! Sunshine Riding Trails

While not located directly in Panama City Beach, Sunshine Riding Trails offers horseback riding through beautiful Florida Sand Hills. This activity is limited to visitors aged 4 and older, though no previous riding experience is necessary.

Since we have a toddler in our family, we will probably wait to try this activity for a few more years, but I can see my older kids loving it!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Sunshine Riding Trails offers rides by appointment only, so make sure to book online or call ahead of time to reserve your spot.

Snorkeling in St. Andrews Bay in Panama City Beach, one of the fun things to do
Snorkeling in St. Andrews Bay is one of many fun things to do with kids in Panama City Beach. Photo credit: Visit PCB

20. Take a Dolphin or Snorkel Tour

A final activity that is slightly different from the dolphin watching catamaran cruise is an up-close-and-personal dolphin and snorkel tour. Depending on the type of tour, visitors can chose to be in the waters with the marine life by using snorkeling gear or they can stay on the boat and admire the wildlife from a distance.

I, for one, look forward to my kids being steady enough swimmers that we can all safely do this as a family one day!

Find Places to Stay Near Panama City Beach, Florida

There are several options for hotel stays near Panama City Beach, including vacation rentals

Sarah Gilliland is a mom to fraternal twin girls and a baby boy, lover of road trips big and small, and a passionate SEC football fan (War Eagle!). Although her father’s military service took her all over the world as a child, Sarah’s family now calls Birmingham, Alabama home. Sarah happily shares the ups and downs of her parenting journey at On the Road with Sarah. When she’s not writing or traveling, Sarah is digging deep into a good book, binging on Netflix, or planning other people’s vacations.
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