Panama City Beach Attractions
Imagine a 1.1 million square foot outdoor entertainment complex with the sparkling gulf and beach as a backdrop. Throw in some of the hottest names in shopping and dining, an IMAX theater and an amusement park. And let’s not forget some really cool nightspots! If this sounds like the kind of place you fancy spending some of your time, then welcome to Panama City Beach!! This is Pier Park – it’s all new, it’s open year-round, and it’s the place to see and be seen!
To say that Pier Park is the premier shopping destination for Panama City Beach is quite an understatement. There’s something for absolutely everyone, and plenty of opportunities to spend some of that hard-earned cash! The park’s three main department stores are Dillard’s, JC Penny and Target, and then there’s hundreds of other specialty, famous name and boutique stores to boot.
So let’s talk food. If you get a taste for something, you’ll find it at Pier Park. Seriously, from sushi to seafood, burgers to bagels and pasta to prime rib, there are so many choices for grub here that it would be almost impossible not to indulge. Pier Park is also the place to bring the family or your buddies when you’re looking to have some fun, and the list of attractions is getting longer by the day. Who says just because you’re on vacation you have to miss that big blockbuster movie? The Grand Theater is A-mazing, featuring 16 screens, an IMAX screen and even comfy high back rocking chairs. Emerald Coast Laser Craze consists of a maze of mirrors plus a laser system that you have to maneuver without tripping one of the lasers. And where once there was just the historical carousel, Pier Park is now home to the majority of the rides from Miracle Strip Amusement Park! It’s an amusement park within an entertainment park!
Nighttime is especially awesome at Pier Park, as the Miracle Strip rides illuminate the area and some of the restaurants transition into hotspots for live entertainment and dancing. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge features live country music nightly, (can we get a yee-haw!) and Hofbräu’s Beer Garden offers traditional German favorites including some really, really good beer! There’s even a brand new dueling Pianos Bar – Rum Runners, located right across from the Grand Theater.
So you know that Corona commercial where the guy is sprawled out with his bottle of beer on the most inviting beach ever? The one where the gentle waves lap against the shore while the palms sway in the balmy breeze? The word “idyllic” springs to mind pretty quickly. Well we’re here to tell you that Shell Island is even more picturesque than that! Who knew! Right here in good old Panama City Beach! You can absolutely recreate that scene and make dozens of new memories just by visiting for yourself.
Here are 5 things you need to know about Shell Island.
Shell Island is an undeveloped barrier island which lies between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. No-one lives on the island and there are no stores, restaurants or facilities. It’s just as nature intended – perfect.
Things to do on Shell Island include swimming, tanning, walking, kayaking, fishing and the all-time favorite pastime – hunting for shells!
There are many local boat companies offering cruises to Shell Island. Journey time is around 30 minutes and you can choose from numerous different styles of vessel. How about a glass-bottomed boat? Or a fancy sunset cruise? Either that or rent a pontoon boat for yourself – it’s easy!
Shell Island in Panama City Beach is home to one of the world’s highest concentrations of bottle nosed dolphins. It’s awesome beyond belief to see and interact with these amazing creatures, and they certainly aren’t shy! In addition to dolphins, there are extensive opportunities to see wildlife on Shell Island, perhaps even the odd gator or two!
Shell Island is spectacular year-round. All the beaches along Panama City Beach’s coastline are beautiful but this one tops the lot. You can visit any time you like, although to avoid crowds it’s best to make the trip in the off-season when it’s still warm enough to swim. Catch a sunset, pack a picnic or just take in your surroundings.
Shipwreck Island Waterpark
Shipwreck Island Water Park | Panama City Beach
Who doesn’t dig a water-park? Whether it was located in downtown Manhattan or high up in the Rocky Mountains we’d be all over it – so imagine (if you will) a tropical water-park overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and begging you to jump in and cool off from the Florida sun. We think that’s about as good as it gets and indeed, at Shipwreck Island in Panama City Beach it really, truly is!
There’s absolutely no better way to beat that heat, work on your tan lines and get your splash fix than at Shipwreck Island water-park. We know, the beach is pretty awesome too, but hey, the beach doesn’t have endless rides, a never-ending lazy river or a wave pool, now does it? We still love you beach, but today we are focusing on how cool Shipwreck is! What helps make this one of Northwest Florida’s hottest attractions is the fact that it has been around forever but still manages to maintain its status as “cool beyond words”. There’s absolutely nothing dated about any of the rides, if anything they just keep getting better year by year! Plus this twenty-acre park features lush landscaping, a professionally trained aquatics staff and a super convenient location in the heart of Panama City Beach. Here’s what you get.
- The Tipping Bucket – The Tipping Bucket is a huge 750 gallon bucket that was added in 2011, and makes a big old splash over 100 times a day. Perfect for the hot days!
- Tadpole Hole – Tadpole Hole is a little world for the little people, and the perfect spot next to the lazy river for families to just kick back and spend the day. There’s a purple frog slide, a ship slide, an elephant slide, a pelican slide, a rope climb, a fort, and a little, yellow submarine known as “The Silly Sub.”
- Skull Island – Skull Island has been a family favorite for years, and now with the addition of the Tipping Bucket it’s even more popular!
- The Great Shipwreck – The Great Shipwreck is actually a replica of a 17th century sailing ship, where you swing out from the ship high on a cable and drop into a deep lagoon pool. SO much fun!
- Ocean Motion Wave Pool – Ocean Motion Wave Pool is a 500,000-gallon pool that generates three foot waves every ten minutes. The setting makes you feel as though you are on the beach, and the water is warm and crystal-clear. This attraction would be amazing all by itself!
- Lazy River – The Lazy River is over 2,000 feet of a slow moving, meandering river that is the park’s most relaxing attraction! Jump in an inner tube and float your cares away!
- White Knuckle River – The White Knuckle River is about as much fun as you could ever have, and features a 660-foot long twisting, winding inner tube ride with tubes large enough for the entire family to splash down in.
- Pirates Plunge – The Pirate’s Plunge Racing Slide is a pair of dueling slides that are situated side by side from a 60-foot tall tower. Of course you can always do both and show people just how awesome you are!
- Raging Rapids – The Raging Rapids is a white water inner tube ride, need we say more? So much fun!
- Tree Top Drop – Thrill seekers – this one’s for you! Tree Top Drop is actually two slides coming off of a 65-foot tall platform. One slide is a dark tube that drops onto a free fall slide, (wowza!) and the other is the Tree Top Drop, which is a dark, enclosed twisting tube slide. You got what it takes?
- Zoom Flume – Zoom Flume has been a fixture at Shipwreck Island water-park since 1976, and is honestly just as much fun for families today! There are three twisting lanes on the Zoom Flume, and it’s actually the only slide in the park where kids can double up with mom and dad as they race on down to the bottom!
So there you have it. Shipwreck Island water-park is without a doubt a must on your Panama City Beach vacation itinerary, and is open May-September. Call (850) 234 3333 for prices, information or tickets.
Swim with the Dolphins
When did you last kiss a dolphin or pet a stingray? Unless by some freaky coincidence you have actually done either recently, we suggest you grab the peeps and head on over to Gulf World Marine Park! This ridiculously family-friendly attraction has been around for years and is one of Panama City Beach’s favorites. Gulf World promises to deliver a fun-filled day of animal antics and discovery, and first time visitors will be blown away at the variety of species that call Gulf World home. Of course, if like many you are a return visitor then you’ll have the opportunity to see all your favorite marine friends in action again!
The dolphins are a huge part of what makes Gulf World so special. We promise that you’ll instantly fall in love with these beautiful and oh-so friendly creatures, and be amazed by their flips, twists and leaps. These dolphins mean business! Trainers work side by side with the dolphins to produce an action-packed show, and there are also plenty of opportunities for guest interaction both in the show, and as part of the ‘Swim with a Dolphin’ program. How does a dorsal fin ride, a dolphin kiss, or a dolphin handshake sound? Pretty cool right?
If you thought the dolphins were awesome, wait till you see the California sea lions! These guys are unbelievably entertaining and funny! They interact with the audience, mimic their trainers and show off their many talents. The dolphins and sea lions may steal the show, but there’s all kinds of other things to see. The stingray pool offers you the opportunity to pet the stingrays, plus there’s penguins, sea turtles, iguanas, flamingos, and even sharks, all waiting to see what’s up.
Ever seen a cockatoo on roller skates? The parrot show in the Tropical Garden Theater will blow you away as you see stunts such as a parrot on a bicycle and a macaw that plays basketball. Not what you expected to see on your beach vacation huh? Plus there’s creepy crawlies and slimy creatures aplenty for freaking out that one squeamish person in your group! The reptile show features snakes, alligators, and lizards, tarantulas and toads, all of which have a starring role in this production. A reptile expert will allow plenty of opportunities for guest interaction – snake around the neck, anyone?
Gulf World Marine Park is a great value day out, especially during the summer season when there’s a breathtaking show by the All American High Dive team plus ‘The Magic of Noah Wells” magic show, both included in the price of your admission. Once you have purchased your ticket, your Gulf World experience is up to you!
For more info on Gulf World Marine Park, call (850) 234 5271
Want to spend a day having more fun than you’ve ever had before? Disaster challenges, an anti-gravity chamber, swimming with sharks, a bed of nails, shuttle lander, wonder coaster and more – it’s all under one roof and is one of Panama City Beach’s hottest attractions! We’re talking about WonderWorks, where grown- ups get to be kids, and kids get an education without even realizing it!
The upside down building that houses WonderWorks has been part of the Panama City Beach landscape since 2010 and it’s a no-brainer when you’re looking for things to do. Absolutely awesome in every way, hundreds of exhibits come together to provide that “science lab gone wrong’ kind of vibe….you know the one. Even stepping into WonderWorks is a challenge in itself. We dare you to keep your eyes open as you walk through the inversion tunnel!
Not content with offering a staggering collection of whacky adventures, challenges and interactive games, WonderWorks also has a ridiculously cool rope challenge (not for the faint-hearted), virtual soccer and even Lazer Tag! How cool is that? If you thought WonderWorks was just for the nerdy science geeks then think again – we’re talking an indoor playground the likes of which you’ve never seen before! Totally worth giving up a day at the beach, we promise.
WonderWorks is open 7 days a week and doesn’t close until late on weekends. No reservations required. There’s special family and group rates available, so give them a call at (850) 249 7000 and let them help you plan your visit! Do it now! And be prepared to have your senses sizzled and your brain boggled!
Where can you have your picture taken sitting with a real wolf, feed an alligator, and lock eyes with a Florida black bear? Although it sounds like a bad episode of “Swamp People” you can actually do all this and more right here in Panama City Beach! Yep – we have our very own zoo, and with the exception of the postcard-worthy beaches it’s one of the area’s most popular attractions!
ZooWorld is a non-profit organization and has actually been around for donkey’s years. Considering Panama City Beach isn’t a huge city, this zoo is pretty amazing and offers a really good selection of presentations, events and educational programs. It’s located on Front Beach Road a little north of Ripley’s Believe it or Not and WonderWorks, and basically gives you and your family the opportunity to enjoy the animals in a gorgeous tropical setting. So which animals will you meet? Well let’s see. There’s giraffes, Bengal tigers, macaws, leopards, monkeys, alligators, pythons, porcupines, African lionesses, Florida black bears and more – all just waiting for the chance to say hi!
The kids will go nuts for the “Parrots in Paradise” show, where the parrots get up to all kinds of crazy antics, including playing a little basketball! After the show the kids get to hold these cheeky animals, and who are more than happy to pose for a perfect picture moment! Looking for more of an educational experience? ZooWorld offers the “Keeper for a Day” program, which incorporates training, food preparation, cleaning and of course lots of fun. (It can’t be all work!) You’ll have your own private encounters with some of the animals and even assist with the Parrots and Pals show. Another great way to interact with the animals is the Animal Encounter program. You basically get 15 minutes to enjoy a one-on-one with your choice of the North American grey wolf, Bengal tiger bottle feedings, Patagonian cavy, kangaroo or a red-tailed boa. The prices are in addition to the regular admission but boy oh boy, what a cool thing to do!
Regardless of whether you’re visiting ZooWorld for fun or learning, (or even a bit of both) it makes for a beyond awesome day out for the family. So when you finally decide to get your tush off the pool lounger or beach towel, just grab the kids and go. ZooWorld is open 7 days a week and the last admission is at 4pm. Visit their website for a ton of info, or call (850) 230-8500 to make reservations for any of the encounters. The animals are waiting to entertain!
There aren’t too many ways to get that bird’s eye view of the sweeping white sands of Panama City Beach – although obviously if you were a seagull you’d be set. Maybe you’ve already tried parasailing (go you!) and found it to be totally awesome, which of course it is! But we’re not all brave enough to soar through the sky with our legs dangling, and so if you’re not quite up for the parasailing but you’re still craving an in-air adventure, how about a Panama City Beach helicopter tour?
A helicopter tour over the Gulf of Mexico is an insanely cool experience. Sure, it may still take a little courage to do it, but any doubts you may have will instantly go right on out of the window along with your wide eyes – it’s truly something you will remember for the rest of your life. Our beaches here in Panama City Beach are some of the world’s best, and kicking back soaking up the sun is what your vacation is all about. But imagine getting off the lounger just for an hour and doing something exciting and brag-worthy in addition to all that oh-so wonderful relaxation. Think of what you’ll see from up there! Think of the stories you’ll have to tell!
Panama City Beach helicopter tours range from a 5 mile intro tour to a 36 mile tour that takes in the surrounding area of scenic highway 30A. One of the most popular tours takes you over 24 miles of emerald coast water viewing historic St. Andrews State Park, the shipping channel, Grand Lagoon, and the spectacular and uninhabited Shell Island. You will be surprised at the abundance of marine life around Shell Island, and you’ll even see sunken boats and man-made reefs which are home to a variety of species of fish. How amazing is that?
All helicopter tours require a 2 person minimum on each ride, and rates are extremely reasonable for such a great experience. We’re talking prices starting at $40 per person, and of course you can take your camera along for the ride too, for the ultimate souvenir. The helicopter can hold three passengers plus the pilot, and believe it or not no reservations are necessary! The only time you may want to call ahead to book is if you’re interested in a romantic sunset flight, as these are pretty popular and availability can sometimes be limited. When it comes to a helicopter tour company in Panama City Beach, Panhandle Helicopter is the area’s top choice. You can call (850) 230 2080 for more info. Bon voyage!
Panhandle Helicopter is located at 15726 Front Beach Road.