It’s time to return to Panama City Beach. If your memories revolve around crowded T-shirt shacks and gritty mom-and-pop motels, you’re in for a big surprise. This vacation magnet (your grandparents may have met here!) now sports a fresh style. It’s nudged the beach bum culture aside for upscale hotels and condos, good restaurants, a fabulous new shopping district, and sparkling high-rises.
Don’t worry. You can still relax in flip-flops and cutoff jeans in most places. The oyster bars, beach bands, and miniature golf courses with dinosaurs still thrive. Meanwhile polished businesses have opened that show a better look. Here’s our guide to the best.
New School vs. Tried and True
Predictable sunshine, miles upon miles of snow-white sand meeting emerald waves, and a reputation as the Redneck Riviera: This playful mecca keeps its priorities straight.
Its stunning strand remains the prettiest in Northwest Florida due to a recently completed beach replenishment project. To the east, St. Andrews State Recreation Area creates one border, and 17 miles to the west, the multicolored town of Carillon marks its farthest reaches. In between, Panama City Beach (PCB) rocks on with comfortable familiarity--and some updates too.
At first glance along Front Beach Road, the old PCB is hidden between new high rises. The news of a forthcoming international airport (to open in 2010) sparked a frenzy of development. Front and center, Pier Park--an enormous shopping complex stretching between Back Beach and Front Beach Roads--showcases almost 1 million square feet of shopping and dining.
The bedraggled mom-and-pop motels that once sat cheek by jowl have almost all been replaced by gleaming condo towers. Glassed-in walkways several stories high lead to parking decks crossing over Front Beach Road.
Drop by on a weekend, and you’ll find the largest crowds cruising Thomas Drive. Pubs and putt-putt golf still abound, as do water parks, airbrush shops, and pizzerias. And, as always, all you have to do is head west to de-stress in less rowdy locales such as Carillon.
Where To Stay
Where To Shop
Where To Dine
Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.