30 Hours in Panama City Beach – A Local on Vacation
Written by Ellie
Having been a smug local…of Panama City Beach for many years, I often find myself thinking how great it would be to experience our fabulous destination as a tourist. Just for a day it would be fun to be on vacation schedule, to see it all through the eyes of the visitor, and to appreciate just how beautiful Panama City Beach really is. It’s easy to take things for granted when they are right on your doorstep, so with a cleared schedule and an open mind, I embarked on a mini vacation in my home town. I gave myself 30 hours to experience Panama City Beach as a tourist, to do or see anything that took my fancy. Here’s what happened.
Friday – 5pm. Sunset with a bang.
Friday night in our house usually consists of some high quality couch time or perhaps dinner and a movie if energy allows. Tonight though, in vacation mode, I decided to put on my dancing shoes and head to Schooners. There’s not many open-air hangouts left along the Gulf Coast, but Schooners is exactly that. It’s a local favorite that’s been serving up fresh seafood and fun times for years. Nicknamed “The Last Local Beach Club”, Schooners is a great place to chill out with a cold drink or some tasty eats, and catch up with friends. Not only is it one of the most laid-back spots on the beach, but the oceanfront view just happens to be spectacular. A cannon is fired every night to announce the legendary sunset, and then after dark the place is rockin’ with live music from local bands. How better to kick off the weekend?
Saturday – 8am. Rise and Shine! It’s Breakfast Time!
I’m on vacation, so that means no cooking or cleaning up the kitchen. There are numerous great places to grab a lazy breakfast in Panama City Beach, so it was a tough decision. I treated my taste-buds at Another Broken Egg Café – and they were thanking me all day. This is an inviting and cozy breakfast/lunch establishment that features an unbelievable selection of healthy, (and a few not-so-healthy!) delectable menu options. From the basic and satisfying American breakfast, to exciting egg creations, to sweeter than sweet fruity pancakes and waffles, there’s a choice for every taste. Everything is fresh, and there’s a bunch of options for us non-meat eaters as well as for the carnivores in the family.
Saturday – 10am. Playing with Pirates.
The Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise is located at the Lighthouse Marina on Grand Lagoon, and is SERIOUSLY fun. It had been a long time since I had set sail on the distinctive red and black boat, and I knew ahead of time that this was going to be a must for my mini vacation. Both kids and adults will have a blast with the friendly pirates who get the whole crowd involved with games, sword-fights, and even a treasure hunt. Between swashbuckling and firing off the kid cannon, there’s plenty of time to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean breeze. Playful dolphin sightings and gorgeous views from every angle are just an added bonus to this popular 2 hour cruise.
Saturday – 1pm. Hanging with the Dolphins.
You could spend an entire day at Gulf World Marine Park – but if you just have an afternoon, that gives you enough time to see a couple of the super cool shows and start mentally planning your next visit. I had previously spent the whole day at Gulf World, and have been itching to get back ever since. This is one of Panama City Beach’s top attractions and well worth a visit. Much larger inside than one would expect, Gulf World is home to dolphins, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, penguins and reptiles, and even a variety of friendly parrots. Pay a little extra for a dolphin encounter, or become a trainer just for the day! The smiling dolphins and mischievous sea lions will melt your heart and make you laugh out loud. This is definitely one of those vacation memories that will stay with you forever, and I am so glad I found the time to visit.
Saturday – 6pm. A Lazy Dinner at Margaritaville.
It’s a tourist favorite and often very busy, but Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville is an awesome addition to Panama City Beach’s ever-growing gastronomic options. Determined to experience it in all its glory, I set off for Pier Park with eager anticipation. As soon as you step through the doors, the tropical ambience and tempting aromas transport you right to the islands of the Caribbean. The extensive menu offers mouth-watering delights including crab cakes, jerk salmon, calypso mahi-mahi and the signature cheeseburger in paradise. The drinks selection is equally impressive, with a scrumptious selection of beverages in both the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic variety. Margaritaville provides a taste of the tropics right here in Panama City Beach, with the oceanfront setting and balmy breezes complementing the restaurant itself beautifully.
Saturday–8pm. Re-discovering Pier Park.
As a local, I have walked through Pier Park countless times. I’ve been a huge fan since this tropically-inspired lifestyle center opened over a year ago, but have always been in a rush or had a specific agenda in mind. It was absolutely fantastic to stroll the streets with no particular destination in mind, to browse the numerous boutique and beach stores and purchase small treasures that I would never have found otherwise. Emerald Coast Laser Craze is located in the heart of the park, and consists of a maze of mirrors that you have to attempt to get through without touching a single mirror, plus a laser system that must be maneuvered without tripping one of the lasers. Both attractions provide a fun-filled stop-off point as you meander your way through the park. Another family-friendly attraction located in Pier Park is the historical Carousel from 1970 that once called Miracle Strip Entertainment Park home before its doors closed in 2004. Pier Park really is much more than your average entertainment and shopping complex. If you truly take the time to soak in the casual atmosphere and experience its specialty stores, exciting restaurants and unique attractions, you will discover a whole new side to it that you never knew existed.
Around 10pm, I headed home and back to reality. I realized that I was so busy having fun that I had forgotten to experience Panama City Beach’s top attraction as a tourist – the beach. In fact, I had been so excited about my vacation choices, I hadn’t even thought about relaxing beachside. I felt a pang of disappointment that was quickly replaced with the wonderful realization that I was lucky enough to live in this extraordinary destination. My mini vacation may be over, but tonight I was packing my sunscreen and flip flops -the beach would still be there tomorrow.