While Panama City Beach was once noted for its college Spring Break scene, today it welcomes families with its white sand Gulf of Mexico beaches and crystal blue waters. Having just returned from a beach rated #3 in the United States by TripAdvisor fans, I can verify that this sunny destination is a family vacationer’s paradise. I walked the beach, did some sightseeing, relaxed, and ate wonderful meals while enjoying the beautiful weather. There is truly something for everyone from tiny toddlers to grandparents and everyone in between.
Here are my top picks for families visiting during the summer of 2011.
Jazz Festival at Pier Park
The Seabreeze Jazz Festival is an annual event that takes place at Pier Park on the west end of Panama City Beach. Featuring the top national smooth jazz performers, this event attracts over 20,000 fans from the USA, Canada and Europe. Families congregate around the big stage with their own lawn chairs and blankets to relax and enjoy a fun show. The event also features a walking tent-sale that brings in artists, jewelers and food for even more fun and enjoyment. This year many well-known artists entertained including George Benson and Boney James. The 2012 Seabreeze Jazz Festival is set to return from April 18-22.
Before heading to the Jazz Festival, check out PierPark’s many shops and restaurants. The open shopping center features small boutiques that sell clothes, jewelry, home décor, chocolates and so much more. Don’t miss Fish Tales Gallery, a small shop with unique gifts for the home and lovely jewelry for someone special. Everything is handmade by self-taught artist Cindy Stephens who runs the shop with her husband and daughter.
Dining in Panama City Beach
This Gulf Shore destination offers families great, fresh options for enjoying a nice meal or two. Here are our top picks for family-friendly restaurants around Panama City Beach.
In a bright and colorful dining room, Andy’s Flour Power Bakery offers fresh ingredients to make delicious pastries, muffins and omelets. Their breakfast sandwiches are warm and filling, and they are served on a delicious flaky croissant. This cozy bakery is open for breakfast and lunch.
For a large filling breakfast, try Another Broken Egg. Set in a French country theme, this relaxed café serves traditional brunch dishes. The omelets are mouth-watering and come in so many varieties that it’s hard to choose which one to devour.
A special treat for the family is the fresh-baked, old-fashioned donuts at Thomas Donuts. A family owned and operated shop, this friendly establishment has been serving delicious breakfast items since 1971. They also serve other breakfast favorites like biscuits and gravy, bagel sandwiches and muffins.
A great spot for eating-in or taking-out is Liza’s Kitchen. With overstuffed sandwiches served on homemade Focaccia bread and soups and salads, this small family-run kitchen caters to every taste bud. Everything is freshly prepared and made on-site, so each item is tasty and healthy. The Turkey and Brie sandwich was so delicious and filling, but definitely large enough to share.
Whether spending the day on the beach or wandering the shops of Pier Park, Hook’d is a great place for a midday meal. This recently opened al fresco restaurant serves salads, sandwiches and seafood that are tasty and fresh. Friendly service and a casual atmosphere make it an ideal place for all diners.
A 25,000-gallon saltwater aquarium welcomes diners to the Saltwater Grill. This charming restaurant serves hand-cut steaks, Maine lobsters and the freshest seafood around. The Grouper Imperial, sautéed in sherry butter and topped with lump crabmeat, is simply divine. The attentive service, relaxed atmosphere and Panama City’s only piano bar make for a delightful night out.
A winner of several restaurant awards, Captain Anderson’s delivers fresh seafood with a friendly smile. This is definitely a family-friendly restaurant with careful and considerate service and a great children’s menu. Any of the “Greek-style Open Hearth Charbroiled Fish” are sure to please any seafood-lover’s appetite. Also, save room for dessert because Captain Anderson’s makes wonderful homemade treats that are hard to pass up.
Sterling Splash Condos for the Family
There are many reasons to visit Panama City Beach. From great beaches and fun festivals to family resorts and delicious restaurants, I can't imagine there would ever be a dull moment on a family vacation to PCB, especially not in my family. I'd suggest planning a minimum three to four night stay.
Kids of all ages will love staying at Splash, a Sterling Resorts condominium resort. Not only can families enjoy large, open one-, two-, or three-bedroom condos, but you will also feel at home with a full-kitchen, in-room washer and dryer, ceramic tile floors, and spacious balcony overlooking the Gulf waters. Beyond comfortable accommodations, Splash has an onsite water park featuring two unique pools, a lazy river, water slides, spray toys and a dive-in movie theater. The resort also offers other amenities like the pool-side bar and grill, health club, video arcade, beach service and kids’ programs during the peak seasons.
During the month of May 2011, Sterling Resorts is offering a “Tanks for Staying” package. Sterling will provide guests with a $50 fuel credit for travelers staying three or more nights or $100 fuel credit for travelers staying seven or more nights. The package must be booked for travel between May 1 to May 31, 2011 and guests should present a gas receipt showing a complete tank fill-up from their road trip. Their website features ongoing specials and family packages through the fall months.
FTF's Guide to Panama City Beach Attractions
Not only does Panama City offer great dining, but it's easy to get to by car or via the new airport. There are also plenty of attractions for the whole family to enjoy. Check out our hand-picked guide to Panama City Beach attractions for the best advice on what to do in this fun coastal city.
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