Panama City Beach, located on the western edge of Florida’s panhandle, is nestled near the Gulf of Mexico on St. Andrew’s Bay. Families flock here year-round, drawn to gorgeous weather and the crystal waters of its white-sand beaches. Aside from the beach, most families want to know what to do with kids in Panama City, and the great news is, there is something for everyone, no matter what your family loves.
Panama City’s Annual Festivals
Any time you visit, you’re sure to find something fun happening locally. From lobster bakes and crawfish boils, sport fishing tournaments and sailing regattas to music festivals like the Seabreeze Jazz Festival, the Sandjam Music Festival, or the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, Panama City Beach loves a good community event and welcomes everyone.
Panama City Beach hosts so many annual festivals that you’re always likely to find yourself in the middle of the fun. Traditional holiday festivals are celebrated, like New Year’s fireworks (including the 800-pound Beach Ball Drop) and the July 4th parade and festival with two nights of fireworks fun. In February, they also celebrate Mardi Gras with a family-friendly gala of parades, live music, and activities. The fall brings Oktoberfest, with German delicacies and craft beers, pumpkin decorating contests, plus live music, craft vendors, and a kids zone.
You can also visit for celebrations unique to Panama City. Plan your trip in May to see the Sock Burning & Blessing of the Fleet, a local tradition to say goodbye to winter and send luck to all the boats in St. Andrew’s Bay. If your family loves pirates, October brings the Pirates of the High Seas Fest, where you can learn all about the Gulf Coast pirates of yesteryear. You’ll see plenty of staged battles, listen to stories, take part in a treasure hunt, and costumes are encouraged.
Art lovers should visit in November to see the Public Eye Soar, two nights of interactive art displays of light and sound, short films and live performances, the world’s largest pinball machine, and art from around the world. Art activities to enjoy and animation and photography exhibit spark curiosity and imagination in kids and grownups alike.
Parks for Nature Lovers
Nature-lovers should explore Camp Helen State Park, which features 180 acres of beauty from the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell, the state’s largest coastal dune lake. You can get a visitor’s fishing license and fish for freshwater and saltwater species. There are trails for hiking and birding, and you can cool off with a swim or rent paddleboards or kayaks. Stop in at the visitor’s center, where you can learn about the park’s geologic history as well as its roots as a summer estate.
Frank Brown Park is a popular park and hosts many of the town’s events. There’s a dog park if your pup vacations with you, as well as tennis and racquetball, hiking trails, picnic areas, and playgrounds. Oaks by the Bay is a waterfront park that features paths under ancient oaks and a rare variety of four-headed Pindo palm tree.
Don’t miss a visit to Shell Island, an undeveloped barrier island that separates St. Andrew’s Bay from the Gulf. Beachcombers love to explore 7 miles of undisturbed coastline and finding treasures from the sea. You can spot deer, raccoons, armadillos, and even alligators. Sea turtles nest on the island, and you may observe them as long as you stay behind taped barriers. Bottlenose dolphins are plentiful, so if you’re lucky, you could spot them frolicking.
Water & Beach Fun
Swimming with dolphins tops the bucket list for a lot of families. On our dolphin seafari, your guide will teach you about these friendly mammals, including everything you need to know about safely swimming with them in the crystal blue waters of the Gulf. After the dolphin swim, it’s on to Shell Island, where your guide will bring you to the bay. There you can swim and snorkel, and your guide will explore with you, teaching the kids about the local ecosystem and creatures like starfish, pufferfish, crabs, and sand dollars. They also know how to find the best shells. Whether you book a private tour or join a group, you’ll have an unforgettable day.
You might love to spend a day canoeing, swimming, and snorkeling with Econfina Creek Canoe Livery service. Bring a picnic and see unique honeycomb limestone banks, six natural springs, and beautiful Florida vegetation. The trip is one way, with a shuttle back to your car.
If paddling isn’t your speed, pontoon boats are a great choice. These easy-to-manage boats don’t require experience or a license; the captain just needs to be over 18. You can book a half or full-day excursion to Shell Island and the waters around Panama City Beach for groups of up to 12. A map with locations of sandbars, dolphin zones, and great places to snorkel is provided.
Seadragon Pirate Cruises offer your family the chance to party on a pirate ship. Pirate songs and activities, sword fighting, sunken treasure, a dance party, pirate tattoos, face painting, plus a pirate captain make for a fun day on the water. Cold beer, margaritas, and rum punch, plus soft drinks and plenty of snacks, are available.
Fishing in Florida is a must-do, and hiring a private fishing charter is the best way to have fun and catch plenty of fish. You’ll have an expert guide, so even if you’ve never fished before, you’ll be able to catch grouper, flounder, white snapper, bluefin tuna, and trout. All fishing and safety equipment is included; just bring snacks and drinks for your day at sea. Charters are for up to 6 passengers and you can sail for 6, 8 or 10 hours. Adventure awaits!
Outdoor Adventure for the Family
Have you always wanted to ride a helicopter? Panhandle Helicopter Tours give you a bird’s-eye view of the Emerald Coast that will leave you breathless. There are multiple price points available, including the Shark Run, showing hammerheads and bull sharks swimming and hunting. Note that the helicopters can only accommodate three passengers at a time, with a maximum weight limit of 550 lbs, so you may need to divide your group.
If your kids are fascinated by alligators, you can’t go wrong with an Airboat Adventure tour. Start by touring their exhibits and learning about these prehistoric reptiles, then board an Everglades-style airboat for an excursion through the creeks and backwaters, where your captain will point out native wildlife like ospreys, eagles, dolphins, and of course, alligators.
If your family loves thrill rides, don’t miss the Slingshot and Indy Speedway. Imagine being sprung into the sky at 100 MPH for the best view of Panama City Beach or riding the fastest go-karts in town (two-seaters are available for younger kids to ride with an adult). If you’re up to it, take a shot at the Vomatron, which spins you at 70 MPH and imitates astronaut training tools at Cape Canaveral.
Swampy Jack’s Wongo Adventure bills itself as a theme park crossed with a family entertainment center. Their rides are carnival favorites with a twist, using a backstory and combining them with multisensory experiences for unforgettable thrills. Your family will love the story of the Swamp Ape, along with its sound and light effects. The Blue Hole mixes bumper cars with submarines, allowing you to spin rather than just get jolted when hit. There are midway games and snacks for a day of carnival fun.
If you want to spend just a couple of hours, The Cobra Adventure Park has several rides, including a kids-only roller coaster called the Dragon Wagon and a four-level go-kart track, the Cobra. There’s also an arcade and an 18-hole pirate-themed minigolf course.
Emerald Falls Family Recreation Center includes Kids Kingdom, a pint-sized amusement park if you have little ones. You can play minigolf to your heart’s content with two different 18-hole courses, ride bumper boats, or if you want go-karts, choose between the Formula track or the original four-story wooden track, the Vortex. You can cool off in the arcade with the latest video games, too.
Your family will love a guided tour from Panama City E-Bike Adventures. E-bikes are electric bikes, allowing you to pedal but assisting you on hills, making biking almost effortless. Solo riders must be 16 years old, but kids above 48” can ride with a parent for free. Your tour guide will show you the murals and other notable spots in Panama City Beach, tell you about the town’s history, and let you explore for lunch. Helmets, water, a bandanna, and a rain poncho are included.
Rainy Day? No Problem!
If your kids are older and love the challenge of an escape room, Escape Manor Panama City may be just the ticket. Choose from several mysteries with puzzles that will have your family working together to notice every clue. Can you escape?
Kids love to explore weird and fantastic facts, and you won’t find anyplace better than the Ripley’s Museum if you like learning about the more bizarre doings in the world. There are plenty of gallery exhibits to see, but also plenty of hands-on fun. Kids love the laser race (think racing the clock through a web of laser beams without breaking any), the mirror maze, and the kids crawl. The 7D movie theater will delight you as you watch a 3D movie with moving seats, interactive gaming, and plenty of special effects.
Gulf World Marine Park entertains kids and grownups alike while teaching about marine mammals. With indoor and outdoor gardens and exhibits, your family can learn about dolphins, sharks, sea lions, tropical birds, sea turtles, alligators, and more. Live shows, feeding opportunities, chances to speak with trainers, and interactive experiences allow you to get up close and personal with your favorite animals.
Kids love hands-on museums that let them explore their world. At the Science & Discovery Center of Northwest Florida, your family can learn about archaeology at the Dino Dig or play on a pirate ship, where they can dress up and pretend to sail the seven seas. Exhibits change regularly, so there’s always something fun to learn..
Zoo World Zoological Conservatory lets you meet exotic animals from all over the world, from lemurs to lions. Whether your kids want to feed alligators or would rather play it safe and feed budgies in the aviary, Zoo World lets you meet just about any animal your kids love. It’s an extraordinary experience for everyone with an interactive lion exhibit and a nursery for the African crested porcupine.
WonderWorks will have your kids exploring science concepts and using their imagination as well as their bodies. With over a hundred exhibits geared towards hands-on fun, you can learn about weather phenomena, outer space, art, and even play laser tag or monkey around on the indoor ropes course.
Everyone knows that the ocean mostly remains a mystery to us. We are constantly learning more through research and technology to add to the puzzle that is the deep sea. The Man in the Sea Museum is packed with treasures – including actual artifacts from sunken ships from centuries past. You can see examples of early diving equipment, along with videos on how divers used it. There’s a display to honor the history of the U.S. Navy as well as interactive displays on research and experiments conducted by the Navy. Your kids will love climbing through SEALAB, the world’s first underwater living environment, as well as learning about commercial diving and how submarines work.
If you want your kids to learn about classic vocalists like Johnny Cash, Elvis, Tom Jones, and more, don’t miss Todd Herendeen’s Tribute to the Legends of Rock and Country Dinner Show. This show offers family-friendly comedy and music the whole family can sing and dance along to. You’ll also get to explore photos and music memorabilia, autographed guitars, and vintage motorcycles exhibited at the theater. You can opt to just see the show, or go all out with a buffet-style dinner that includes dessert, coffee, tea, and gratuity. Guests with the dinner ticket are seated first for the show; show-only guests are seated 15 minutes before curtain. The theater doesn’t sell alcohol, but you may bring your own. Children under 5 are free.
There is plenty of other things to do with kids in Panama City Beach, and we think these are some of the best spots to start enjoying the area.