There’s more than just sun on a beach in this panhandle gem. Snowbirding Panama City is an art form—from where you park, dine, and even dance.
By Marc Acton
Florida’s weather changes dramatically from Summer to Winter, going from hot to slightly less hot. But the Sunshine State’s sneaky secret, and what keeps millions migrating there, is that it’s also a great parking spot for Winter. It might not be hot enough to get a leathery tan on the sand, but there’s plenty worth of other awesome highlights to snowbirding Panama City.
Resort By the Beach
One of the best reasons to visit any beach along the Panhandle is the plethora of RV parks within walking distance (sometimes stone-throwing distance) from the Gulf. In the offseason, most parks will run between $50-70 a night, even with direct beach access.
Visit: Camper’s Inn Inc. Their rates for November 1 through February 28 are $65 daily and $390 weekly, with a discount if you only need a 30-amp site.
Eat Your Weight in Seafood
PCB (aka Panama City Beach) is not a great spot for highfalutin foodies. It’s basic. Chain-driven. But the Gulf is a fantastic source for a huge variety of seafood. So just about any old joint is going to have something just off a fishing boat. What the locals know is that the right combination of a spot near water, the perfect evening glow, just-shucked oyster, warm-not-hot weather, and tasty beverage is never hard to find.
Try: Fresh oysters at Simply Seafood & Oyster Bar, cooking your own shrimp from Shrimp City, or Caribbean vibes right on the Gulf at FINNS Island Style Grub.
Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum
Nicknamed “The Spirit of Naval Aviation,” this museum is great for kids and kids at heart. It’s packed with all forms of flying vehicles, and from a virtual aircraft carrier flight deck to an Apollo 11 virtual reality experience, the displays are as impressive as they are delightful. Time it right and you can even catch a practice (at no extra charge!) of the Blue Angels, which are typically 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Take Note: At this time, the museum is only admitting current Department of Defense ID Card holders, meaning active or retired military, or civilian employees of the DoD. Each card holder can escort up to 15 non-cardholders, so if you’re not military, bring a friend who is. And be sure to check the museum’s website for the most current admission info.
Catch Ghost Crabs After Dark
Sure, the beach shines in the summer sun. But there are plenty of ways to enjoy it without sweating, like catching that last sliver of sun dipping under the horizon on a sunset walk. And there’s fun to be had after dark, too. Bring a flashlight (a cell phone will do in a pinch, but a headlamp is perfect). Walk the sand just past the surf and look for tiny crabs darting around. When you come close, they’ll bury themselves just under the sand, where they’re easy to grab. Their teeny pinchers are harmless, and they’re easy to pick up by hand (wash your hands after). But a beach toy sand sifter works great for an easy pickup.
Tip: This is a great way to get the kids a little runaround exercise time before bed as crab chasing can be mini cardio. Get these crab-catching pointers from a kid!
Get Wacky at a Senior Prom
There’s no denying that when it’s at its vacation-y best, Florida is a bit of a spectacle. Panama City’s senior citizen center embraces that every year, putting on an annual “Senior Prom”—which is exactly what it sounds like. There’s evening wear, a dance floor, punch, and even a “winter resident prom king and queen.”
The Deets: This year’s event is on February 10 at the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort. It’s $10 to attend and worth every penny.