By: Jon Shumaker
Skateboarder in Panama City downtown.
As a newly minted resident of the Panama City Beach (PCB) Florida area, I wanted to get my bearings of the spirit of the area. Very quickly one realized when driving in from the east into Panama City, that its namesake is far more developed and far larger than the Stateside city. With the historic downtown freshly cleansed by covid to bring new vibrancy, the many new businesses opening are bringing the locals back. This area is a good place to hang on the weekend or to sit at my new favorite coffee shop The Press. A great place for a conversation or to work on the computer for a short time but with few outlets, not ideal to work at. Also, if you are into Caribbean food, try the Jamaican restaurant! Now that we made a detour thru PC, now let’s go to the beach!
My favorite guide and my own inspiration to writing a travel guide that doesn’t just point to the tourist spots, but has a local focus is the Thrillist.com (TL). Now I tend to find these articles skim the surface often but is the best local focused guide that I have found. So of course, when I was planning my trip, I referenced three articles from that website and upon visiting, found they did a good job of pointing out the places. What was missing was the vibe PCB gives off.
View of PCB from Shell Island. You can take the ferry or a private boat from the State parks boat ramp.
First off one thing I have found with towns that have easy access to fresh seafood, they often do not have great seafood restaurants. The seafood in the area is all generally very good with the big differentiator in the vibe you are desiring. I had heard of Schooners before and when I saw the big sign along the road didn’t believe their claim. Still, I had to go there and found a very local vibe with reasonably priced food and a fun environment. While Dee’s Hang-out is a local spot that TL nailed as well. Where many places want higher-end finishes, this place focuses on the quality food and the chill atmosphere. The food is top notch and good for the family.
Fishing trawler of the PCB beach.
My second takeaway is the beach front is so long at about 27 miles that if you don’t like one area, you just have to move down a half-a-mile. The area is far less developed than many other beach hotspots (Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach to pick the low hanging fruit) without the pure local vibe of my favorite place (Surf City, NC). There are less cheesy tourist stores and franchise restaurants on the strip, while many of the attractions have a well-maintained classic feel. Instead of having an endless row of restaurants and stores, local housing breaks the dispersed areas of commercialism.
A boat turned into the sunset off Panama City.
My third takeaway is the beaches are amazing and well deserving of the awards it has received. As a person who has been to Myrtle beach several times, it pales in comparison if you aren’t looking for party central. PCB is a slower beach town for relaxing on white beaches, eating oysters with a beer, and renting a paddle board.
The final is a personal favorite of mine, but many of the ice cream places make their own waffle cones and if you have not tried them, you need to add these to your bucket list. Thomas donuts makes waffle cones, and The Pink Pelican makes bowels (along with some good Florida based ice cream at both). Many of the ice cream places have Heresy’s ice cream.
Paddle boarders off of St. Andrews State Park.
PCB is perfect for the non-party crowd looking to unwind or as one gal I meet, to work on the beach (literally). It is easy to enjoy this paradise, just kickup your feet and watch the sunset.