By Janet K. Keeler
Amusement park or mall? First-time visitors might wonder as they drive under the sign at Pier Park Mall in Panama City Beach. The archway throws off a fun-shopping vibe, and certainly anyone willing to give up a few beach hours will find entertainment in this massive open-air bazaar.
Who are we kidding? A few hours? Even a casual shopper will find a day’s worth of exploration among the 125 stores and restaurants. Just steps from the Panhandle’s best sandy beaches, the 900,000-plus-square-foot mall is a great place to stock up on souvenirs, sample food with Florida flair and tire out the kids so they’ll get a good night’s sleep. The complex, which opened in 2008, kicked off a flurry of development in the west end of Panama City Beach, one of the state’s most popular vacation destinations.
If you’re worried about your tootsies aching from all that walking, stop into the Crocs store for a pair of shoes to soothe the dogs before they start barking. Then just before you call it a day, head to Chicken Salad Chick for a big mess of salad to take back to the family at the condo. Shopping and beaching build big hunger and 15 chicken salad varieties are capable of pleasing everyone.
When you’re in Panama City Beach, you’ll hear plenty of Southern drawls and fishing tales, and that means the food ought to match. At Pier Park, sample the best of Southern classics at Dick’s Last Resort (mac-n-cheese on a burger); Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (complimentary ice cream!), and Shoney’s (buffet heaven). And since you’re close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to taste the saltwater, a fish dish should also entice. Get your fill of tropical cocktails and laid-back fare at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (cheeseburger in paradise); Back Porch Seafood and Oyster House (smoked fish spread and char-grilled amberjack), and Pompano Joe’s (seafood with a Caribbean accent).
Shoppers can’t live by food alone, though the fuel does help endurance. Pier Park has a collection of fine stores, both national department stores such as Dillard’s, Target and Marshalls and smaller boutiques.
Andi’s at the Pier bills itself as “a girlie girl boutique” that now carries women’s sizes. Shoes, too… and what shopper looking for strappy sandals doesn’t like that? Cariloha is another spot to pick up some treasures because everything in the store is bamboo-based, including dresses, socks, bed sheets, towels and jewelry. Shop for a sassy dress that will wow them at dinner at Irene & Co. Unique Boutique.
Time for a little chill after walking the mall halls? Stop for a mani-pedi at Cosmo Nail Bar or Nails So Happy. It will be nice to head to the beach showing off those bright red nails. You can get a spray tan, too, if the rays of the honest-to-goodness sun aren’t your thing. Or make it a true beauty makeover day and pamper your head at Paradigm Blow Dry Bar.
What to do with the kids while you’re getting beautified? Send them (and some money) to Pirate’s Quest Laser Tag, for 1,800-square-feet of competitive fun. It’s open most nights until 9 p.m. so it might even be their go-to activity while the adults are sipping something frothy. The IMAX Grand Movie Theatre or the XD Dark Ride Experience are also options to entertain the kids, or kids at heart.
No doubt, the Pier Park Mall has enough to keep you busy for a full day, or maybe more.
When you go…
Pier Park Mall
600 Pier Park Dr, Panama City Beach, FL 32413-2179
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