5 Things You're Missing in Panama City
Ever ventured off the beach and across the bay? There's a four-headed palm tree over there.
Panama City Beach has some of the most glorious sand and surf on the Gulf, but believe it or not, there's more to see at this enormously popular Panhandle destination. (Admit it: You still own an "I Slept On Panama City Beach" airbrushed T-shirt from spring break '95.) From great food to a revitalized historic neighborhood to some truly quirky attractions, downtown P.C. has some entertaining tricks up its sleeve. So finish off that bucket of ribs at Pineapple Willy's, rinse off the Hawaiian Tropic, and venture across St. Andrews Bay one afternoon. Here's what you'll find:
Doughnut Burger from a Floating Food Truck
When Ernie Hall, whom you might've seen competing on The Food Network's America's Best Cook, decided to go mobile, he opted out of the food truck biz and instead opened up a food boat. His floating kitchen, Just the Cook, is usually docked at St. Andrews Marina but ventures out to serve seafaring fans on weekends. Hall's claim to fame: the Dan-D Donut Burger, a rosemary-seasoned, all-beef burger topped with Canadian bacon, Swiss and bleu cheese, and a grilled red pepper (here comes the kicker), served between two locally made, grilled doughnuts. That has to be illegal. And where do we find that boat? (Locals know: At Slip 80.)
Panama City has two distinctive neighborhoods: downtown P.C. and Historic St. Andrews. Both are pedestrian friendly, their sidewalks lined with restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and bars. St. Andrews, a wonderful old waterfront community, fell into decline in the 1980s, but revitalization projects have restored many of its historic buildings and breathed new life into the neighborhood. It's connected to downtown P.C. by West Beach Drive, a walkable/bikeable route along St. Andrews Bay.
In Downtown P.C., you'll find all sorts of restaurants and shops intermingled with law offices and banks. On Harrison Avenue, don't miss Ferrucci Ristorante, where owner Mike Ferrucci gets his seafood from the Panama City Marina just blocks away; Millie's Café, a little taste of New Orleans featuring beignets and NOLA-octane coffee; and Trigo San Francisco Style Deli, a local pick for soups salads, subs, and pizzas. Love antiques but hate wading through jam-packed stores? Main Street Antiques on Harrison has a huge selection; all neatly arranged so shopping's a (Gulf) breeze.
At Oaks by the Bay, enjoy a boardwalk with a view of St. Andrews Bay, and see something you just don't see every day: a four-headed Butia Capitata, or jelly palm. There's also the four-fountained McKenzie Park, as well as canine heaven, the Al Helms Dog Park, which opened in 2014, providing off-leash play for pups, separate areas for large and small dogs, benches, water spigots, and lots of room to roam.
Before it was Panama City . . . it was Floriopolis. And that seemed like a fitting name for a hands-on art gallery on Beck Avenue in Historic St. Andrews. Floriopolis offers "Art on the Spot" sessions for artists of all ages; "Drink & Draw+Color" for adults; and $10 Studio Days anytime during regular business hours.
Ukulele for the Masses
The eclectic (bordering on eccentric, but in a good way) St. Andrews Ukulele Orchestra (locals call it "St. Andrews Ukes") welcomes all comers, regardless of skill level, and performs frequent concerts around town.