The pirate compass pointed us in the direction of Panama City Beach, and we were so thankful to uncover this treasure destination that is sure to keep teens busy and active. Whether sightseeing with teens or not, check out our traveling tale as my son and I set a course for Panama City Beach during Columbus Day weekend and managed to become Pirates of the High Seas at the local festival. Maybe it will help you mateys navigate uncharted waters as we share our Panama City Beach things to do that are clearly worthy of the “X marks the spot!”
Hello, Panama City Beach, you fun Florida panhandle destination. Are we ever glad we set our sights on you! PCB is a teen’s dream-namely because the variety of outdoor and indoor offerings and the wide array of food options. Because with teens, it’s about activities and definitely all about FOOD! My teenage son and I set our course for Panama City Beach to take on the fun, soak up the sun, and dive into a ton (of dishes).
Just so you know, Panama City Beach is rebounding from Hurricane Michael and ready for action. Inquiring minds want to know because I’ve been asked about that. While our trip was days before the hurricane, my sources tell me that almost all of the places mentioned in this post are back in business (with the exception of Sheraton Bay Point Resort.)
My son and I were hosted by Visit Panama City Beach for 3 days of fun and exploring. You can count on getting the honest scoop and that my opinions will be 100% upfront-Girl Scout’s honor!
Panama City Beach Things to Do: Teen Tested, Mom Approved
Rule #1: Teenagers are daredevils, which means embracing all the thrills on vacation!
Does this sound familiar: let’s try all the crazy things we can, especially if they involve heights, speed, or spinning? Good, then I’m not alone! Here are the most thrilling experiences we had in Panama City Beach:
My son and I were probably most excited about our jet ski adventure with Adventures at Sea. What a perfect activity for thrill-seekers, water lovers, and those who adore the great outdoors. And especially for teens because they definitely feel the need for speed! Cue the Top Gun line: “I feel the need..the need for speed.” (That’s pretty much my son’s mantra.) So if revving up engines and moving fast is on your radar, then we’d suggest jet skis!
I was looking forward to this for redemption: two years ago, I jetskiied in Myrtle Beach with the family and it was a DISASTER. And when I say that, I mean, I was a total nincompoop when it came to steering the jet ski. I overcompensated when it tried to level off and steered it to the left or right. So I wanted to prove I could DO THIS.
Two things came to light on our jet ski excursion: 1) it is one of the most exhilarating activities a person can do on the water, and 2) I suck at jet skiing! In my defense, they say that it’s harder to steer a jet ski with the weight of two people on it. Excuses aside, we rode the jet skis over to Shell Island and got to take a dip in those gorgeous green waters.After two hours, I had amazingly gotten the hang of my jet ski. Meanwhile, my teen got to ride with our guide and was far more impressed with the tricks and spins he experienced. So it was a success!
With a name like Wild Thang, it HAS to be good! At least it got chuckles from our group. Wild is the right word for Wild Thang Airboat Tours where we got to hold a gator and ride in an airboat. Talk about checking items off a bucket list!
This is perfect for teens because they tend to wear headphones a lot, and our ear protection looked just like my son’s Beats. Good thing because the airboat is incredibly noisy! My teen’s favorite moment? Naturally, when we did a 180-degree spin out move!
While we liked this one, I’d have to say we left a tad bit underwhelmed. Of course, that’s the risk when taking any kind of wildlife tour and not seeing as much as you expect. Nature doesn’t always cooperate. The potential wildlife on the tour range from dolphins, alligators, sharks, manatees, snakes, stingrays, crabs, jellyfish, turtles, catfish, bass, alligators, deer, wild hogs, bears, bald eagles, osprey, herons, and egrets. We saw osprey and lots of the creeks and the indigenous plant life.
I know, a shopping and entertainment complex might at first blush seem was too grounded and low key to fit the bill. But when one has a Sky Wheel, a zip line/obstacle course, IMAX theater, XD Dark Ride 7D Experience, and the Emerald Coast Mirror Maze and Laser Tag, there is no way those words could be associated with Pier Park.
Sure, this outdoor complex also offers 124 stores, restaurants, and plenty of people watching. Not to mention year-round festivals like the ever-popular Pirates of the High Seas Fest in October. Featuring live music, pirate parades, pirate costumes, an 8,000 beach ball drop from the sky, and fireworks, this FREE event over Columbus Day weekend draws locals and visitors alike.
Rule # 2: Finding a destination that has lots of food options is ESSENTIAL with a teenager.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a gagillion times: teens eat a lot, and that goes double for teenage boys! My son has gone through a bit of a growth spurt in the past year: he’s now almost 6 feet tall and only in the 8th grade. With an appetite to match that growth, I may need a bank loan to feed him!
Thankfully, we made it work on our Panama City Beach trip by finding great local spots to eat. His food favorites: steak, tacos, and dessert. (Sound familiar?) So the fact that he could have all three on this trip was an added bonus.
But truthfully, teens aren’t the only ones who love to eat. Am I right? Here were our favorites:
Panama City Beach Places to Eat
Liza’s Kitchen: Liza’s Kitchen offers gourmet brunch and lunch with a laid-back atmosphere and delicious breakfast dishes. Bragging rights for making everything from scratch, including Focaccia bread, soups, and salad dressings.
Finns Island Style Grub: This is the kind of local spot I would eat at ALL THE TIME if I lived nearby. That goes double for my taco-obsessed teen. With fresh seafood and a fun, eclectic atmosphere, Finns has a rasta/reggae vibe with its vibrant colors. Everything is cooked to order and the emphasis is on fresh ingredients. Also on property is Finns Barista Bar and Snack Shack for caffeine fixes and indoor seating.
Andy’s Flour Power: Jazz and brunch? Yes please!Wowing us with a diverse menu featuring Eggs Benedict, french toast, omelets, and biscuits and gravy, Andy’s Flour Power wowed us! Their motto is, “We don’t do fancy. We do fresh, and you can’t fake fresh!”
The Grand Marlin: With an outstanding location, superior seafood and really topnotch service, The Grand Marlin blew us all out of the water! Specializing in seafood, The Grand Marlin has an impressive menu that may make selecting an entree very difficult.
Rule # 3: Making a Trip with One Kid at a Time Is Such a Blessing
Traveling with just one of your kids should be high on everyone’s list because of the one-on-one opportunities that aren’t there when traveling as a family. Between the inside jokes and stories, it turns into a series of really special moments. In this case, it was best of both worlds because he also made friends with other teens on the trip, so he got to interact both with kids his age AND with me. We all know TOO much time together can also happen, so this was a nice balance.
TRAVEL TIP: When traveling with one of my kids, I’ve found that having a tween or teen club for them to meet other kids is very important. It gives them a certain amount of independence and autonomy they are craving and also something to look forward to. My kids have formed friendships with other teens from all over the US and abroad, which only increases their scope and world view. Such a blessing!
Rule #4: When All Else Fails, Throw in the Ocean and Stand Back
Panama City Beach uses the hashtag #realfunbeach and I must say, it fits the place to a T. The beach is a main draw for this area, and rightly so. The combo of Shell Island and St. Andrews State Park gave us the delightful pairing of a beach picnic and playtime. Arguably, this was the hands down favorite of all the teens on our trip. Can’t say as I can disagree: who WOULDN’T want some outdoors time and splashing around in the waves on the Gulf of Mexico? With white sands and balmy temperatures even in October, it was a pure perfection kind of day. The emerald green hue of the ocean here was jaw-dropping.
Then again, my kids have always been suckers for the beach, and I conditioned them that way because I love the beach! There’s something quite peaceful and almost escape-like about retreating to the ocean.
TRAVEL TIP: Since we took a boat over to Shell Island, be prepared to haul your items to the beach or better yet bring a wagon and/or cooler with wheels to put all the goodies in.
Rule # 5: Teens Dig S’mores on the Beach
For that matter, grownups like s’mores, too! Capping off the vacation with an evening under the stars on the beach while making s’mores had to be a quintessential beach moment.
Recommended Hotel: I’d be remiss if I didn’t also suggest the Sheraton Bay Point Resort as a great home base for a stay in Panama City Beach. Picture it: a waterside resort with countless amenities and part of a national chain (using Starwood points). This bayfront, AAA Four Diamond-rated hotel has two heated pools, 36 holes of golf, and a full-service Serenity Spa. We really dug the private Bay Beach, shuttle service to and from beautiful Shell Island, and water sports rentals, including kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and jet skis.
Because of its location, the Sheraton Bay Point Resort also sustained damage during Hurricane Michael. But with plans to reopen late summer/early fall this year, I include this resort because it definitely deserves to be on your radar! In the meantime, consider checking the ample list of resorts at Visit Panama City because they know their stuff!
Thank you to Visit Panama City Beach for rolling out the red carpet and hosting us on this adventure. That way, we were certain to see as much as possible in a short time frame and sure to find the spots the locals like!