VIBE: Active, Family Friendly
6707 Gulf Dr., Panama City Beach, FL 32408
We spent a few days in the Lower Grand Lagoon area. The white beaches and emerald water are out of this world. It’s no wonder people flock to this area for their Florida beach vacations.
The Lower Grand Lagoon area is less busy than the more famous Panama City Beach location where you'll find Pier Park and shopping. We like quieter beach areas that the locals frequent. However, if you like to shop and be where the action is, you can read more here about Panama City Beach attractions. There's lots to do with your family.
Traveling to Panama City Beach
Traveling to Panama City Beach was a long haul of almost 6 hours of driving for us. Rest stops were a necessity with our dog along for the road trip. There was one in particular that was quite interesting. The Columbia County I-10 Westbound Rest Area is brand new, secure and the cleanest one we have ever seen. In addition, there is a platform located behind the building that allows visitors to view the solar panel farm built and operated by FPL. Our greyhound, Miss Fancy, enjoyed the dog walking area.
You can also fly into the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and drive. If you're renting a car, make sure you read all the terms and conditions so that you know what you're going to pay. The drive will take around 45 minutes to get to the beach. Driving into the Lower Grand Lagoon area takes quite awhile and some of the scenery is not pretty (it's a bit rundown in some areas). However, once you get across the causeway bridge things look great!
Panama City Beach Sand
As soon as we arrived and checked into our little house near the beach, we went right to the beachfront. The 5 minute walk was so easy! The beach was incredible with sand just like Destin. It was a bit cloudy at the end of a hot day of travel so walking in the cool sand was refreshing. White, fluffy and thick, the sand lives up to the hype. It is the best sand in Florida, we think. Even better than Siesta Key.
The sand is thick and soft, so it is easy to dig in and setup a beach umbrella. Make sure you stay covered, when it is sunny the air temperature can reach over 90 F.
Panama City Beach Gulf Water
What can we say? The Gulf beaches in the Panhandle, including Destin, are called the Emerald Coast for a reason! No photoshop needed: this blue green water is real. We think this Florida beach tops any other location including Siesta Key and Clearwater Beach, at least in terms of pure, natural beauty.
The only downside, if there is one, is the beach erosion. The beach is wide so there is plenty of room for walking in the soft sand. However, you must be careful when swimming. There is a drop off and it has lots of small shells. Bruno got one stuck in his foot! However, once you wade out past the dropoff, the sand is smooth and firm.
Because the water here can have more waves than other Gulf beaches, such as Clearwater, it is advisable to swim near a lifeguard. This beach access area, #12, was not guarded so we stayed out of the water until low tide. At high tide it was rough and we could not see our feet. Once low tide arrived, we could see to the bottom and wade out easily. It was fun!
Panama City Beach Parking and Amenities
There was some free parking at beach access #12, but it was also under construction. We were not sure if parking there was legal or not so we just walked.
Rick Seltzer Park, located at 7419 Thomas Dr, Panama City Beach, FL, is the place to go for free parking at the beach. Like any other beach park in Florida, it fills up fast. However, with a pavilion, bathrooms, and showers it is a great place to take the family. This 5-acre park also has lifeguards: we always recommend swimming near them. Panama City Beach can have strong currents and jellyfish.
This beach park also offers small dunes and wooden walkovers. After you spend the day here in the emerald water, you can walk right across the street to FINNS Island Style Grub for fish tacos or Liza's Kitchen for super, homemade sandwiches.
Panama City Beach Activities
At our beach access #12, there were waverunners and banana boat excursions available. We also saw people parasailing. While at the beach, the Sea Screamer boat went by. It was located only a 5 minute drive from our accommodation. At the same location there are fishing charters and dolphin tours. You don't have to go far to find fun!
The Sea Screamer boat is a twin turbo powered 73-footer that delivers thrills! The tour starts at Shell Island waters and then rides the coast of Panama City Beach for 10 miles. For around $30 you can see dolphins play and chase the boat in either the sunshine or at sunset. You get two hours and an experience of a lifetime.
Look Out! This Could Happen..
Aside from the rough surf at high tide, there have been reports of jellyfish swarms. If you can't see down to your feet in the water, wait to go in until you can. You have to really be careful on Panama City Beach's busy streets. Even though there are designated crossings for pedestrians, not everybody stops when you need to cross the street to the beach!
Like many other tourist areas, it is not recommended to go wandering the streets after dark. Panama City Beach has a higher rate of crime so please be careful. Drive after dark to enjoy the nightlife. Mini-golf at night is always fun and we visited Pirate's Island Adventure Golf which was less than a 10-minute drive. If you really want a thrill, check out the SkyWheel, a massive observation wheel that also offers a golfing experience onsite below.
What We Really Think about Panama City Beach
Panama City Beaches are stunning. We had a wonderful time. However, you have to choose the right time of year to go. In May, before Memorial Day, we had no problems or crowds. It stays busy until July and then hurricane season can cause some weather problems. We recommend visiting Panama City Beach and other beaches situated along 30A. Specifically, Santa Rosa Beach and Crystal Beach in Destin, and Navarre Beach.
Where We Stayed in Panama City Beach
We really wanted to bring our Dog, Miss Fancy Pants, with us on this little getaway. The fact that she is a 75 lb. greyhound makes choosing accommodations difficult. Most hotels only let you bring little dogs up to 20 lbs. But we got lucky! We found The Sandpiper which was a five minute walk to the beach - pets allowed. With two beds, a full kitchen, laundry, beach toys and towels it was perfect. There was even a firepit in the backyard! The host of the vacation house was helpful and kind. If you want to check out where we stayed visit PCBstays.com. Our blog readers can use coupon code "truck5" to get a further 5% off.
Restaurants in Panama City Beach
If you've followed our blog since we started in 2021, then you know we love fajitas! We found great food in Fort Myers Beach back then (before Hurricane Ian) and Bradenton (Mr. Tequila). Sombreros Tacos and Bar served up just what we were looking for: sizzling chicken fajitas! Delicious food and fair prices.
We also visited Diegos Burrito Factory and enjoyed some specialty Margaritas. Did we mention we enjoy Mexican food? We also love a good pizza and we found it at Shore Shack. The dough is fresh and the beer is cold. These great Lower Grand Lagoon restaurants were all less than a 10 minute drive from our vacation home.
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Susan and Bruno are travel bloggers. We write about Florida beaches on every coast. Our opinions only.