How to Spend a Weekend in Panama City, Florida

Waterfront restaurants, fishing and beaches galore

June 15, 2024 10:33 pm
Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach
Charles Schuett/Unsplash

The name Panama City may elicit images of the neighboring beach, a spring breaker favorite, not to mention its representation on a certain MTV show. But the city itself was founded in 1827 as a fishing village, given its current name in a hopeful attempt to associate its port with the Panama Canal. It sits on the St. Andrews Bay, away from the high-rise condos and party crowds, but you can still find plenty of watering holes and seafood joints amongst the mural-covered downtown to make your weekend a great one. 

The Pearl
The Pearl

Where to Stay

Panama City has all of the standard hotel brands, including Holiday Inn, Ramada and the like, but most are out towards the mall. Hotel Indigo Panama City is the first and currently only hotel in central St. Andrews, offering waterfront views. The hotel also has a rooftop bar and restaurant with fresh, local seafood, an outdoor pool and rooms with balconies.

If you’re traveling with a group, a better option is one of the many luxury rentals in Panama City. The Pearl is a four-bedroom home near downtown that sits on the waterfront with a private dock equipped with kayaks and an infinity pool.  

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West Coast-style breakfast burritos courtesy of Finn’s Island Grub
West Coast-style breakfast burritos courtesy of Finn’s Island Grub

Where to Eat and Drink

Start your day with a hair of the dog and a heaping West Coast-style breakfast burrito at Finn’s Island Grub at the Little Village, with a seating area under a thatched roof that becomes a bar at night. 

Luna Muna Cafebar is another option, where you can grab a smoothie and the appropriately named “Boat Sandwich,” made with salami, ham and provolone, taken to-go to enjoy during a day on the water. 

If you’re looking for dockside dining, Bayou Joe’s allows you to BYOB — boat, that is. The restaurant attracts fishermen for the hearty breakfasts, but later in the day you can expect to see diners enjoying the Bloody Mary with all of the toppings and an assortment of fresh seafood. The Trash Burger is an experience unto itself, where the cook decides what toppings it gets on any given day, and that might include animal crackers or candy. 

Bivalve fans know and love Hunt’s Oyster Bar, which employs some of the fastest shuckers around, owned by a family that works closely with commercial fishermen for the best local product. It’s also one of the restaurants in town that offers “hook and cook,” where you can bring in your fresh catch and have it prepared by the experts. 

There’s no shortage of old-school watering holes and dive bars in this part of the Panhandle, not to mention the uniquely Florida phenomenon of package stores with bars in the back. Despite the name, Salty Hobo is a laid-back spot popular with both locals and visitors for its live music and pool tables.

But Panama City has also gotten on the craft cocktail bar trend with Thistle & Thorn, a cozy lounge with open mic nights and themed drinks plus wine, beer and charcuterie. Even if you’re not a craft beer drinker, pop into History Class Brewing to see its artifacts from PC’s past alongside smoked chicken wings and pulled pork. Now that’s the type of class we can get on board with!

A Heritage Excursions charter
A Heritage Excursions charter

What to See and Do

The best part of visiting Panama City is being on the water, whether it’s the calm St. Andrews Bay or the Gulf of Mexico beyond. Just about every guide company in town offers boat tours to Shell Island, an uninhabited barrier island where you might just have the entire stretch of sand to yourself. Bring the essentials for a nearly perfect day. 

If you’re looking to live out your Deadliest Catch dreams (minus the danger), most of the fishing charters that advertise in the neighboring beach area actually come from the Panama City marinas. Here, you can fish for tarpon, cobia and amberjack, depending on the time of year. If it’s your first time, guides can show you the ropes, whether it’s deep sea or fly fishing. 

The local waterways are even part of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, which goes around the entire state. Bring your boat with or borrow one from Sunjammers, an outdoors store downtown.


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