The Complete Guide for a Panama City Beach Family Vacation
When you think of Panama City Beach, Florida, does a nice, family-friendly vacation come to mind? If not, maybe you envision crazy college spring breakers or rowdy summer bonfires on the beach. But, we’re here to convince you that this spot in particular offers age-appropriate, affordable fun to be had and memories to be made for both the grown-ups and young children in your travel crew.
Here’s your complete guide to bringing your family vacation to life in Panama City Beach!
WHAT TO DO?
1. Head to Shell Island.
Ready for some fun in the sun and sand? Sure, you are. And Shell Island is the perfect place to enjoy doing just that.
This island is undeveloped with white sand and calm emerald green water, and also doubles as a wildlife sanctuary. It’s a great place to collect shells, take a nature walk, snorkel, rent a kayak, and sunbathe. And there’s always a chance for a dolphin sighting!
While there are multiple ways to venture here and enjoy the day, we recommend hopping on the Shell Island Shuttle. The short cruise out to Shell Island is a treat in itself (especially for your kiddos). But the adventure really begins when you hop off at the Shell Island Jetty. Let the kiddos splash around and cool off in this peaceful cove before signing up for more sophisticated fun.
The best part? This outing is about as stress-free as they come. During the summertime peak season, Shell Island Shuttle leaves St. Andrews State Park every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And you know what that means — no strict schedule to follow!
Tripbound Traveler Tip: you’ll be doing some walking on the island, so limit your beach day necessities (think a beach blanket versus chairs; lightly-packed cooler with snacks/water/beverages).
2. Splash around at Shipwreck Island Waterpark.
Need a break from the sand? Keep soaking up the sun and splashing around at Shipwreck Island Waterpark. With nearly a dozen exciting attractions, this outing is sure to be a popular way for your kids to cool off.
Speed side-by-side down the 60-foot-tall Pirates Plunge Racing Slide. Zipline off the Great Shipwreck into the refreshing lagoon below. Or, hop in a tube big enough for the whole family and wind down the 660-foot-long White Knuckle River. And if you have smaller kiddos, settle in at Tadpole Cove where your littles can venture down the fun animal-themed slides and play on The Silly Sub.
Tripbound Traveler Tip: Choose a weekday to visit for shorter ride lines and, overall, smaller crowds!
3. Go on an Everglades-style airboat ride.
Is your family full of nature lovers? Be sure to add Airboat Adventures to your list. Glide across the marsh areas and backwaters of West Bay in search of wildlife. No matter if you see an alligator or not, it’s an exciting experience for both kids and adults. You might also spot plenty of dolphins during your excursion!
The best part? This outdoor adventure is open seven days a week! The Gator Eco Tour is an hour long and runs every hour and a half from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets start at around $22 for children 2-12 and $33 for adults. Bonus: you can book online!
4. Play a friendly round of mini-golf.
Is any beach vacation complete without a round of mini-golf? We think not. So, visit Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf to putt through two buccaneers’ caves, along waterfalls, and over streams in search of lost treasure.
This family vacay staple is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Adults and children ages 4-12 will pay a small fee, but little pirates ages three and under play for, you guessed it, free!
5. Go on a pirate cruise.
What better way to give your kids an adventure they’ll never forget than by playing pirate on the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise. With nonstop activities alongside Captain “Fearless” Phil, such as swabbing the deck, sword fighting, firing the “Kid Cannon,” finding sunken treasure, a water gun fight, face painting, limbo, and a pirate dance party, this two-hour cruise will be worth the little splurge.
And while the kids are busy living out their dream, you can sit back and enjoy the view as the Captain points out the bottlenose dolphins playing nearby.
WHERE TO EAT?
With all this summer fun, it should come as no surprise when everyone in your travel crew works up an appetite. The good thing is, there are plenty of yummy places to refuel nearby to satisfy any craving you have. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Sisters of the Sea & Dive Bar: for a beachside meal offering authentic flavors of Panama City Beach. You can’t go wrong with the Panhandle Shrimp and Grits or the Big Easy Po Boys sandwich! And save room for dessert—fried strawberries. Plus, come on a Friday or Saturday, and you may encounter a mermaid.
- Sharky’s Restaurant & Tiki Bar: for fresh seafood, entertainment, and incredible views. Fish tacos and oysters anyone? It really is tiki central! There’s also a kid’s playground onsite for your littles to burn off some energy while waiting for food to arrive.
- Shore Shack Pizza: when you just need to pick up a big pie after a long day in the sun!
- FINNS Barista Bar & Snack Shack: an ideal spot for handcrafted coffee, breakfast or brunch (with taco and burrito options, too!), and even smoothies or smoothie bowls.
- Thomas Donut & Snack Shop: a local favorite for donuts and ice cream.
WHERE TO STAY?
Right on the shores at Wyndham Vacation Resorts Panama City Beach!
Here’s why we think you’ll love staying here:
- You’ll have a private oceanfront balcony in your spacious suite-style, two-bedroom unit at the resort, with rates starting at $145 a night!
- The resort has two fabulous pools that offer distinct amenities: one beachfront and one with a splash zone for the little ones.
- You won’t have to worry about beach equipment because there are onsite lounge chair and umbrella rentals so you can get right to relaxing!
- There’s a fantastic bar/restaurant with $10 gigantic refills of delicious spiked slushy drinks next door, just a five-minute walk up the beach.
- The waters in Panama City Beach are breathtaking and calm, which are perfect for the kiddos!
There’s no doubt about it—a Panama City Beach family vacation in the summer is a sure-fire way to give your kiddos an unforgettable adventure. And for you? A break from the daily grind.