By Heidi Tyline King
Night or day, Panama City Beach offers something (fishing, great restaurants, beaches, entertainment) for everyone.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Oscar Wilde's philosophy is especially true in Panama City Beach, where it's easy to revel in the decidedly decadent pleasures of life. This gem-of-a-getaway features tourmaline-green waters and sand dazzling as diamonds, but beauty here is more than skin deep. That's because Panama City Beach attractions also include many nonstop activities, and beach bums are eager to keep up the pace. So wind your watches and get ready, get set, and go for an around-the-clock review of the best this beach town has to offer.
Yes, there are people who awake at dawn on vacation, and after taking a fishing charter into the Gulf's bountiful waters, you will know why. The Gulf of Mexico is famous for its deep-sea fishing, in part because it takes less time to reach deep waters from here than from other places along the coast. The other reason - and the one fishermen are most interested in, is the various bounty of fish, including amberjack, snapper, grouper, king mackerel, cobia and black fin tuna. Book a spot on a party boat that takes up to 30 people out, or schedule a private charter where you and your buddies can decide how long you'll stay out. There are numerous companies in the area, each with its own schedule and offerings. Try Kelley Girl and Lady Kelley Charter Boats or Tomcat Fishing Charters.
So much beach, so little time... Panama City Beach has 27 miles of coastline, which means that even if you attempt to see only half of it, you will need to fuel up with a good breakfast. Take advantage of the hot buffets at many of the hotels by grabbing a plate and enjoying your meal al fresco. Thomas Donuts, a mainstay on the West end of Front Beach Road, has donuts from cream-filled to cinnamon twists, all of which are made fresh every morning.
Great weather, great golfing - that's the only thing you need to know about Panama City Beach if you like hitting the links. There are several courses in the area ranging in skill level and price, making it easy to spend a lot of time on the greens. One of the best is Bay Point's semi-private Nicklaus Golf Course at the Wyndham Bay Point Resort, touted as the most challenging championship level golf course in Florida. Hole No. 17 features a green design reminiscent of a “fish bowl,” where the green is actually recessed below the surrounding landscape. The signature hole, No. 5, offers spectacular water views of the Grand Lagoon and St. Andrews Bay. .
No one wants to leave the beach at midday, but if you find yourself famished after a morning playing in the Gulf, duck into one of the fish shacks that abound in these parts. Pineapple Willy's Beachside Bar and Grill is one of the oldest. Their famous Jack Daniel's BBQ ribs are one of the can't-go-wrong menu picks. Bayou Bill's Crabhouse on Front Beach Road is where locals eat fresh Florida seafood.
A sea of swimsuits at Pier Park, an array of specialty diving gear at the Panama City Dive Center - shopping takes a twist in Panama City Beach. If you need some time out of the sun, embark on a treasure hunt for everything from seashell anklets to amberjack dinnerware.
Spoil yourself with a poolside siesta, complete with an icy concoction that beats the heat. Three pools are especially conducive to relaxing. The Holiday Inn Resort sports a waterfall pool and is surrounded by lush, tropical gardens. The Wyndham Bay Point Resort boasts a bayside pool where you can sit back and watch boats as they sail in and out of St. Andrews Bay and Sugar Sands Inn & Suites, with a pool right on the beach, offers grills perfect for poolside beach barbecues.
There are lots of things to love about Panama City Beach, but being on the water at sunset tops the list. Add some romance to your beach rendezvous by sailing on the Lady Anderson dinner cruise, where you will dine on seafood, beef and pasta from the all-you-can-eat dinner buffet. Later, dance under the stars or slip away to the upper deck for a view of St. Andrews Bay. If you have kids to entertain, don't miss adventure aboard the Sea Dragon, a pirate cruise manned by "real pirates" that sets sail daily in St. Andrews Bay in search of treasure. Water pistol fights, an underwater treasure hunt, tugs of war, steering the pirate ship, and going below deck for pirate tattoos keep kids active and entertained for the two-hour sail.
Panama City Beach is the ultimate party town - after all, thousands of spring breakers can't be wrong. Clubs for dancing, mingling, and imbibing line the beach, making the question not "what to do" but "where to go." And grown-up venues aren't the only ones open. Places like Coconut Creek Gran Maze, a human-size maze, and Goofy Golf, a PCB landmark since 1959, also keep late night hours.
The best way to end a day at the beach is with a late night stroll on the beach, pants rolled up and feet sinking into warm, wet sand. Along more desolate spots, you will find yourself alone under a sprinkling of stars, keeping company with only the hermit crabs that flitter about in the water's break.
For this and other Florida travel ideas, go to VISIT FLORIDA's official travelers guide.
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