Known for its sugary white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, Panama City Beach has rapidly grown from a quiet beachside military town to spring break partyland and, finally, a family-friendly destination. You probably already knew Panama City Beach could keep the kids entertained with activities from go-karting to boogie boarding.
But there are also plenty of indoor options for rainy days, like Ripley’s Believe Or Not and holiday festivities. Panama City Beach has also been working hard to turn Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year into family-friendly days with live entertainment, kid-friendly events, games, and a beach ball drop during New Year’s.
In addition to all of the organized fun, there’s still the gorgeous, white sandy beaches. Despite the trending attractions like Gulf World Marine Park and Pier Park, this theme park-style city is considered one of “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches” by Conde Nast Traveler. Why such accolades for the beach?
It’s beautiful. According to the CVB website, “Panama City Beach’s legendary pure white sand resulted from quartz crystals washing down from the Appalachian Mountains centuries ago. Along their journey, the crystals were bleached, ground, smoothed, and polished until the Gulf of Mexico surfed these millions of grains of sand on the shoreline.”
Weather in Panama City Beach
Planning your trip around the weather is wise, but keep the climate from deterring you from visiting, even during the colder months. Each season has its unique appeal and opportunities for fun beyond the beach. Here’s what you can expect:
Summer: Panama City Beach experiences sweltering heat from June to September, with temperatures often reaching 90 degrees and lows around 75 degrees. All beachfront properties are equipped with central air conditioning, and most have their pools. While the beaches can get crowded, it’s also the ideal time for thrilling watersports like paragliding.
Winter: Temperatures start dropping to the 70s in November, with December through February seeing highs of 65 and lows of 44. We found this to hold during our trip over New Year’s Eve, with temperatures ranging in the low 60s and mid-50s.
The Gulf of Mexico was chilly but still warm enough for quick dips when it wasn’t windy and raining. If your kids are determined to dive in or go boogie boarding during Fall and winter, bring a wetsuit during colder months to combat outdoor chill. The mid-60-degree weather didn’t slow our daughter down, but the rain and wind kept us indoors having fun on chilly days.
Spring: Brings some of the most temperate weather but also sees an influx of spring breakers ready to have fun. Personally, I would skip going to Panama City Beach in the spring with your family to avoid the “lively” college kids who drive in from local colleges and as far as Nashville and Atlanta. I much prefer the quieter months when families can spread out and enjoy a relaxing vacation full of beachside fun.
Panama City Beach Activities for All Ages
During summer months, set up the family alongside 27 miles of famous, pristine shoreline and let the vacation begin. My 7-month-old was more interested in eating fistfuls of beach than playing in it, but dipping his toes into the water kept him fascinated while we tried to release the sandy bounty from his hand.
Toddlers, babies, and grown-ups need plenty of sunblock and shading gear like umbrellas and hats. Fortunately, there’s a beach supply store every few blocks along the strip, including the Alvin’s Island chain. Look for the giant shark mouth doubling as a front door to make your way into a megaplex of beach fun.
For an educational outdoor adventure, the hiking and biking trail at Camp Helen State Park brings families together with beautiful views of Powell Lake and the “Old Florida” terrain. The path spans 2,000 feet and is constructed from environmentally sensitive materials, giving way to benches and covered shelter for breaks. Because the park is surrounded on three sides by water, it encompasses five different habitats, and educational signs mark many trails to guide the way.
It’s still possible to get outdoors and have fun even on a blustery, rainy day. At Gulf World Marine Park, professional divers flip and twirl mid-air, finishing with an 80-foot-high dive while a magician amazes audiences with his interactive magic show. The park’s Trainer for a Day program lets guests study dolphin behavior before stepping on stage to perform during the Dolphin Show.
ZooWorld for Kids 7 years old and up
Kids 7 years old and up can continue interacting with animals at ZooWorld as a part of the Keeper for a Day program. Home to more than 250 animals and set in a seven-acre lush tropical landscape, ZooWorld promotes wildlife preservation through hands-on activities and personalized animal encounters. Children will enjoy the “Going Wild!” show, where they can discover unique animal facts and pose for pictures with rare mammals, reptiles, and exotic birds. Your kids may be too young to become trainers, but they will definitely love bottle-feeding a tiger.
See more of the Florida Panhandle when you have a rental car, easily arranged from the top Rental Car brands via Priceline.
Unleash the Fun: Shipwreck Island and Coconut Creek – Exciting Adventures Await!
When your kids hit beach fatigue, take active children to Shipwreck Island Waterpark for a wonderland to splash, run and have fun in. Little kids have their own spot at Tadpole Hole full of slides, tubes and swings. Older visitors prefer the White Knuckle River, a 660-foot family tube ride, the Great Ship Wreck and the Zoom Flume. Save time waiting in line by purchasing advance tickets with the waterpark’s online ticketing service.
My daughter was impressed by the spread at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park, home of two unique miniature golf courses with oversized animals. A life-sized elephant sprays mist and a giraffe looms over families of golfers. There’s also a human Gran Maze spanning the length of a football field and modeled after South Pacific islands. Kids will journey through Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa and Bali before completing their journey.
Indoor Fun in Panama City Beach
Whether you need a break from the sun during summer or chilly afternoons in the winter, visit Ripley’s Moving Theater to watch a 4-D movie and stop by the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. The theater features motion, special effects, and action-packed images where kids can feel like they’re stepping into a movie themselves.
Next, let the kids loose in the Marvelous Mirror Maze for a spirited game of laser tag. The Odditorium lives up to its name with over 400 exhibits like authentic shrunken heads, a real vampire killing kit and hands-on activities.
Just across the street lies the interactive WonderWorks. You’ll know you’ve arrived — it’s the only upside-down house on the block. This four-story attraction features over 100 exhibits and challenges available to kids of all ages.
Designated wonder zones include Natural Disasters, Physical Challenges, Light and Sound, Space Discovery, an Imagination Lab, and a Far Out Art Gallery. Despite the invitation for all ages, I personally wouldn’t recommend it for kids 5 and under. Our daughter was too small for most of the activities she really wanted to do, and it was organized chaos on New Year’s Day.
The Viator site is great for discovering unusual attractions in advance of arrival and booking online sure saves time waiting in line.
Thanksgiving and Winter Holiday Fun in Panama City Beach
Families looking to escape all the Thanksgiving meal and shopping drama can head to Panama City Beach and eat at one of the many restaurants ranging from fine dining to hole-in-the-wall fun. There are more options to choose from than you’ll have time for, but no one should leave without a visit to one of the city’s seafood restaurants.
Sharky’s Beach Front Restaurant and Tiki Bar blend just the right amount of fun, foodie-inspired dishes and aesthetic value. Weather permitting, ask for a table outside to view the water. After trying various dishes, from local seafood to steaks, let the kids loose on the Pirate Ship Playground.
Sharky’s also offers a traditional “Turkey at the Tiki” package with a buffet featuring traditional favorites like green bean casserole and turkey breasts, along with crab legs, fried scallops, and grilled mahi. The best part may be kids four and under eat free; it is perfect for picky eaters who will just push food around their plate until they can go play.
There’s more to do in Panama City Beach during Thanksgiving than just eat. The beachside town started organizing family-friendly Christmas concerts, tree lighting, and fireworks kicking off the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you’re organizing a Christmas family reunion or just want to cozy up with your own little clan, Panama City Beach delivers beachfront condos, homes, and hotels.
Pier Park is FUN all year round
Whether it’s the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve, the open-air Pier Park is the place to find year-round entertainment options, events, shopping, and dining. During our visit over New Year’s Eve, we headed to Miracle Strip at Pier Park, featuring new and renovated rides from the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park.
Much to the dismay of locals and tourists, it closed after 40 years of family fun, but its spirit was revived at this new Miracle Strip. Rides include a retro carousel and Ferris Wheel, a modern Balloon Race and Red Baron rides, batting cages, and zip lines.
For New Year’s Eve, Pier Park features live music, kid’s games, and food before a beach ball drop at 8 p.m. Despite the rain, droves of families turned out and crowded around in anticipation of the big ball drop. My 4-year-old thought this was the most amazing thing she had ever witnessed (especially impressive since it was her 4th New Year’s Eve, and she is an old pro by now).
Afterward, the kids were satisfied and ready to head back to their homes, condos, and hotels to curl up. For us, it was a rented movie from our condo’s DVD kiosk and homemade popcorn. By the time our little ones were in bed, we had time to unwind before watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from our beachfront balcony.
Holiday Accommodations in Panama City Beach
What makes the holidays in Panama City Beach especially easy and magical is the wide variety of beachfront rentals. Our family stayed at the Tidewater Beach Condominium and scored a waterside condo. Ours was a spacious one-bedroom but also had a little nook with bunk beds and an additional private bathroom. Aside from our refusal to let her 7-month-old brother sleep up top, our daughter was delighted by her own special sleeping spot.
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There was also an additional pull-out couch that could sleep more family members. We had no trouble finding a spot for our travel crib in the living room, right off the kitchen stocked with pots, pans, cups and more.
The only amenity we would have needed was the beachfront balcony with two sliding doors and a patio set to sip coffee and have breakfast outdoors. Downstairs, the Waves Restaurant served up traditional breakfast right off the griddle for a satisfying start to the morning. An indoor pool and game room kept our daughter busy during the chillier parts of our stay.
Despite explaining the odds of winning at those rigged claw machine games, she managed to win not one, not two, but three stuffed animals simultaneously. (Apologies to the poor soul who probably spent $100 trying to win before she waltzed in.)
There was also a quaint little library with books, puzzles, and a DVD machine to pick various movies, including family-friendly titles. Our daughter loved picking out her “records” and putting them in the DVD machine upstairs for a movie on New Year’s Eve.
Panama City Beach Trip Planning Details
Families can drive down and take advantage of lodging specials, kids-eat-free deals and lots of space to lounge around at some of the beach’s more than 300 condo communities. Here are a few suggestions for fun-in-the-sun accommodations:
Resides on one of the area’s largest beaches with 570 luxury, gulf-front units overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Two lagoon pools, an indoor heated pool, fitness center with Roman spa, movie and media center and onsite restaurant keep guests relaxed.
Welcomes young travelers with crafts on the pool deck. Spanning 26 acres, Pinnacle Port guests can use canoes or kayaks by day and take advantage of free Wi-Fi and DVD rentals at night.
3. The Seahaven Beach Resorts
The rental community offers three different lodging options: Origin at Seahaven (a condominium), Seahaven Beach and The Reef Hotels. It’s well located near Pier Park, has a daily kids club on site, and shows outdoor movies by the pool. Their summer specials include “Kids Eat and Ride Free,” which allows children 12 and under eat for free with a paid adult at nearby Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant and Tiki Bar. In addition, children 12 and under enjoy free wave runners and parasailing with each paid adult.
It boasts five different properties with accommodations ranging from multi-bedroom condominiums to three-bedroom cottages and more. Each property is said to include family-friendly amenities, such as boat docking areas, tennis and basketball courts, fitness centers, swimming pools, a putting green and more.
Welcomes guests to the Legacy, BeachBreak or Beachcomber Resorts, where there are Gulf-front suites and garden view rooms. Family specials often include pizza parties and free kids meals at the Barefoot Beach Club or nearby Calypso Beach Cafe.
6. The Sandpiper Beacon
It presents many family amenities and activities for its guests. Kids will love their indoor lazy river pool and slides, the outdoor and indoor pools and waterslides, the six-hole mini golf course, and the Gulf-front playground. Accommodations range from condos with kitchens to hotel rooms and cottages.
There’s tropical Polynesian entertainment throughout the summer; the drum beat, while the conch shell is blowing, begins the journey of song and dance with hula dancers and the exciting Samoan Fire Knife Dance. Note that you may find the college crowd a bit too loud in spring for your family.
Family Travel Tips: Making the Most of Your Panama City Beach Vacation
Traveling with the family to Panama City Beach? Here are some invaluable tips to ensure a smooth and memorable trip:
1. Packing Essentials:
Remember sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to shield your family from the Florida sun. Pack beach toys and floats to keep the kids entertained by the shore. Consider bringing a first-aid kit for minor injuries.
2. Beach Safety:
- Teach your children about water safety and swimming near a lifeguard.
- Invest in proper floatation devices for young swimmers and closely monitor them in the water.
3. Rainy Day Activities:
- Have a backup plan for rainy days, like visiting indoor attractions such as Ripley’s Believe Or Not or WonderWorks.
- Bring board games, books, or electronics to entertain everyone during indoor downtime.
4. Local Dining Tips:
- Look for restaurants with kids’ menus or options suitable for picky eaters.
- Consider dining during off-peak hours to avoid long wait times, especially with hungry children.
5. Planning Rest Time:
- Factor in downtime for naps or breaks, especially for younger children.
- Select accommodations with separate sleeping areas for parents and kids to ensure a good night’s rest.
6. Medical Needs:
- Know the location of the nearest medical facilities and pharmacies in case of emergencies.
- Bring any necessary medications and a copy of your family’s medical records.
7. Create Memories:
- Capture precious moments with photos and videos to cherish for years to come.
- Plan fun family activities like building sandcastles together or collecting seashells.
With these family travel tips, your Panama City Beach vacation can be a delightful and stress-free experience for everyone.
If you liked this article about Panama City attractions, consider checking out these other helpful articles below –
- Panama Canal Tours Get Popular as Centennial of Canal Nears
- Panama City Beach: There’s More than Meets the Eye
- A Panama City Break at the American Trade Hotel
- Making the Most of 36 Hours in Panama City
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For more information, check out the official Web site of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information and lodging ideas.
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