Beach Travel

Ditch the Deep Freeze: What to Do in Sunny Panama City Beach

Searching for winter vacation ideas? Here’s what to do in Panama City Beach. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’ve decided to escape winter’s deep freeze, head to Florida’s sun-soaked Panama City Beach, coveted for its emerald waters, powder-like sand and temps that rarely dip below the comfy 60s. Once you’ve gotten in a sufficient amount of sun worshipping, you might be wondering what to do. Get active with these other outdoorsy Panama City Beach pursuits.

Tell a Fish Tale

Heed the siren call of the Gulf’s abundant fish population on a deep-sea fishing excursion. Capt. Anderson’s Marina provides everything from rod and reel to bait and fishing license. Experienced anglers take you to the best reefs for grouper, rudderfish and a variety of snapper.

Back at the dock, Anderson’s Seafood Market can prepare your fresh catch to be shipped home. Or you can try what the locals like to call the “hook and cook.” Take your fresh, filleted fish to the marina’s Dockside Seafood & Oyster House or trot across the street to J. Michael’s to have your catch of the day cooked and served with all the fixings.

Insider tip: While your fish is frying at J. Michael’s, check out the photographs, giant sea turtle shells and vintage surfboards filling the walls and ceiling.

Take a Swing

After casting a few lines, how about swinging a few clubs? With five championship golf courses, golfing in Panama City Beach is a popular with winter visitors. Test the terrain at the award-winning Nicklaus Course at Bay Point, the only Nicklaus design in Northwest Florida.

The course surrounds you with of St. Andrew’s Bay, winding around saltwater marshland and a wooded nature preserve. Challenging bunkers take advantage of unique elevation changes, and signature hole number five tees onto the memorable island fairway in the middle of Grand Lagoon.

Insider tip: Beware of hole number 17. This particularly challenging green is recessed below the immediate landscape, making it a semi-blind shot.

Hang Ten

During the winter, east and southeast winds collide offshore, creating big waves. Big waves. Up to 12-foot crashers big. This makes winter the best time for surfing. Never surfed before? No problem. Take a lesson at Mr. Surf’s Surf Shop. The professional instruction and all the equipment you need can have you hanging 10 in no time.

Lesson or not, the funky architecture and memorabilia-stuffed interior of this surf shop make it a must-see destination all by itself.

Insider tip: Examine the legendary “Wall of Fame” with its happy customer photographs dating back to the ’80s.

Hike and Hunt

Need a land-based idea of what to do in Panama City Beach: Take a hike. St. Andrews State Park has two trails that roam over dunes, past rosemary scrub and through freshwater marshland. The park’s Heron Pond Trail leads you through pine flatwoods, while Gator Lake Trail offers lakeside views and the opportunity to spot…well, gators.

Add an adventurous twist by adding in geocaching. Use a handheld GPS to uncover secret caches hidden inside the park for an interactive high-tech treasure hunt.

Insider tip: On the Heron Pond Trail, watch for distinctive “cat-face” scars on the bark of the historic pines, remnants of the nineteenth-century turpentine industry.