Panama City Beach – Comparing Drive Times to the beaches from Northwest Florida Beaches International and the Okaloosa Airport

Panama City Beach – Pat Rice of the News Herald did some driving last week to determine the time it takes to drive from the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport to Destin and conversely the time it takes to drive from Okaloosa County’s Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

Jonathan and I had a similar discussion about the impact of Southwest Airlines and the Panama City Beach airport last week when the Frommer’s Travel Guide, one of the best-selling travel guides in the world with more than 75 million books sold, named the Florida Panhandle beaches as one of its top 12 travel destinations for 2010.

While everyone else was celebrating the imminent opportunity to fly to and from Houston, Nashville, Baltimore and Orlando, Pat was busy on the road, finding the answer for us to another airport-related question.  Namely, how long does it actually take to drive to various points along the beach from Northwest Florida’s airports?

Next to ticket cost, drive time from airport to destination might be the most important question tourists and other visitors to Northwest Florida have as they decide which airport to use. If it takes decidedly longer to travel from one airport than the other, that could matter to visitors.

So Pat jumped in his truck and went on a drive on our behalf.

Pat drove from the entrance of Bay County’s new airport and timed how long it took to reach certain well-known points along U.S. Highway 98 in Walton and Okaloosa counties. The exact route was west from the airport on County Road 388, south on State Highway 79 and then west on U.S. 98.

On the way back to Panama City Beach Pat drove from the entrance of Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Okaloosa County and timed how long it took to reach the same points along U.S. 98. The exact route was State Road 85 north to Niceville, then State Road 20 east through Niceville, then State Road 293 south across the Mid-Bay Bridge to U.S. Highway 98.

The results of Pat’s field trip follow.  Note that Pat made the drive on a Wednesday in the middle of December so drive times will definitely be longer during prime time from either direction.

  1. The east entrance to State Road 30A in east Walton County, 21 minutes
  2. The intersection with County Road 295, which ends at Seaside and WaterColor, 29 minutes
  3. The intersection with County Road 283, which ends at Grayton Beach, 31 minutes
  4. The intersection with County Road 393,  which ends at Dune Allen Beach, 37 minutes
  5. The west entrance to 30A, 40 minutes
  6. The Silver Sands shopping area, 46 minutes
  7. Destin Commons, 51 minutes.

And, in reverse order, here is how long it took to drive to the same points from Okaloosa County’s airport:

  1. Destin Commons, 26 minutes
  2. Silver Sands, 34 minutes
  3. The west entrance to 30A, 40 minutes
  4. County Road 393, 43 minutes
  5. County Road 283, 48 minutes
  6. County Road 395, 50 minutes
  7. East entrance to 30A, 59 minutes

So if you are a traveler heading to points west of the west entrance of 30A, you will save a few minutes if you begin your drive from Okaloosa County’s airport. But if you are heading to points east of the west entrance of 30A, then you would be better off beginning from the new Bay County Airport.

Of course, the real lesson here is that the difference in drive time is negligible.

Pat’s conclusion…Rather than focusing on drive time from the airports, travelers should focus on the price of their airline tickets. And Southwest’s arrival to Bay County’s airport should create competition that means lower ticket prices all around.  That’s a present we can all enjoy.

Pat did not include the drive time to our Panama City Beach Condo so I will:

From PCB – 12 minutes

From Okaloosa 63 minutes

 On a side note Pam and I are booked on the first direct Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Panama City Beach on Mat 23rd.  I hope you join us!


6 responses to “Panama City Beach – Comparing Drive Times to the beaches from Northwest Florida Beaches International and the Okaloosa Airport

  1. What I learned here is why fly into the new airport in Ebro when there is nothing in the vacinity to visit? Why fly into Bay County if you are staying in Walton County or Okaloosa? The answer is they will continue to fly into VPS because it is closer to the tourist destinations. There is nothing in Bay County so why fly there?

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Sorry it took so long to release your comment. Drove from Nashville to PBC today. I have a condo board meeting tomorrow.

    I have not stayed in Destin for a few years.

    Why do you say there is nothing in Bay County?

    Please help me understand what Walton County has that Bay county does not have.



  3. My comment was based on Pat Rice’s comments. He simply has people landing at the new Ebro airport, getting into their cars and driving to either Walton or Okaloosa counties.
    Also, quite frankly many people I have spoken with prefer the shopping, golfing, beaches in Okaloosa County to Bay County as well. Seems like people “settle” for Panama City Beach.

  4. Hi Jonathan,
    I think the Pat was trying to make the point that no matter which airport you use you are only an hour away from the opposite end of the reference points, therefore fly to the airport that is most economical.

    I have never stayed in Okaloosa. Didn’t look like much on our trips across 98 to see the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola.

    We enjoyed Destin except for the traffic and long the waits to eat out during spring break or the summer. Seaside was nice too except it was a little pricy.

    Attraction for attraction Panama City Beach matches up just fine according to our friends and the guests that stay in our Panama City Beach Condos. Believe it or not we have quite a few guests that have stayed in our condos multiple times.

    Oh well I suppose that it just depends on your preference. I still think that PCB has lots to offer and that there is not really a need for anyone looking for a fun relaxing beach vacation or a golf outing to venture out of Bay County especially if they fly into Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. If they ask, I suggest that they make the hour drive from Okaloosa to Panama City Beach even if the land over there.

  5. You are comparing apples to oranges. Or shall I say champagne to Bud Light. As I said, people “settle” for Panama City Beach which I assume is the reason you bought your little condos there. But, it is a personal preference as you suggested and to each his/her own. I do know that of the 10 million tourists that visit northwest florida annually (PC-Pensacola) almost 6 million are staying in Okaloosa county.

  6. Good Morning Jonathon,

    The Bay County Tourist Development Council estimated that Panama City Beach generated 6.1 million visitor days in 2008. May not quite be Okaloosa but it isn’t bad. They are currently working on 2009 (the TDC year ends in October). The PCB visitors come from the following markets:

    Florida (In-State) 8.7 %
    Southeast 42.8%
    Northeast 5.2%
    Mid West 27.2%
    Southwest 7.1%
    Canada 3.1%
    Europe 2.9%
    Remaining US Markets 2.9%

    It is funny that you nailed me! I much prefer a cold beer when hanging on the beach to champagne. However you missed the brand…give me a Miller Lite!

    PS I do like my little condos on the beach!

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