Thanks to a brand-new airport, this beach town is booming. Here, five reasons we’re excited to go this summer.
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Panhandle's New Gateway
Beginning in May 2010, a brand-new international airport in Panama City Beach brings budget fares and nonstop service to to major cities in the Southeast. Southwest Airlines now offers nonstop flights daily from Houston, Nashville, Baltimore/Washington, and Orlando, and Delta offers flights to Atlanta and Memphis.
The airport triggered a surge of development. Towers of condominiums rose up around a new retail district that’s brimming with shops and restaurants, and many of the well-known institutions got an update.
Across from the beach at Russell-Fields Pier, Pier Park holds more than 100 shops, restaurants, and anchor stores. You’ll find everything you need for a fashionable beach vacation, from designer shades at The Eye Gallery to body boards and signature T-shirts at Ron Jon Surf Shop.
3 of 5Photo:Robbie Caponetto
Fresh Seafood Still Reigns
Though the iconic Capt. Anderson’s remains a favorite, newer restaurants offer a taste of something different. The owners of Saltwater Grill transformed a brew pub into an elegant eatery by converting the pub’s brewing vats into a 25,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that overlooks the dining area. Diners watch angelfish float by as they dig into hand-cut steaks and fresh Maine lobster. For a little more local flavor, try the pan-seared diver sea scallops with Parmesan risotto, fresh spinach, and tomato salsa ($23).
4 of 5Photo: Gail Shumway/Getty
Affordable Family Fun
Gulf World Marine Park is on the smallish side, but that’s its charm: In an era of mega-parks, this one is just the right size. Kids love the live shows that bring dolphins and sea lions close enough to give you a kiss. Parents love the price: Kids ages 4 and under get in free, and tickets for older kids start at just $17.
St. Andrews State Park’s mile-and-a-half of pristine shoreline was selected by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (aka “Dr. Beach”) as one of the best beaches in America. (We agree.)
Russell-Fields Pier stretches more than 1,600 feet into the Gulf, making it one of the longest piers on the Gulf Coast. Locals know it as the perfect place to end a fun family day in Panama City Beach.
5 of 5Photo: Richard Bickel/Corbis
Nostalgic about your childhood beach? Don’t worry—it’s there, and Shipwreck Island even added a ride or two. The Miracle Strip Amusement Park may be gone, but its carousel and some kiddie rides found a new home at Pier Park. And the white sands and rolling waves still go on for miles. We’re glad PCB changed without forgetting its roots.