The opening of a brand-new international airport in May made Panama City Beach a major gateway to the Florida panhandle, adding direct Southwest flights to/from Houston, Nashville, Orlando, and Baltimore/Washington D.C. News of the airport triggered a surge of development, from condos to new shops, restaurants, and attractions. In a recent story, we highlighted some old and new favorites.
Among them, Pier Park is a pretty big deal. The new shopping, dining, and entertainment district sits right across from the pier. In addition to its 100 or so shops and restaurants, including a Ron Jon Surf Shop and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, it has a cinema and a ferris wheel. It also has a nod to the Panama City Beach we all grew up with. Remember Miracle Strip Amusement Park? Its carousel and a few kiddie rides were saved and placed in Pier Park.
There's a lot going on this summer on and off the beach. PCB is hosting a free concert series on weekends through August. Folks from the visitor's center are surprising visitors with random fireworks on the beach, and initiating "random acts of appreciation," such as handing out gift cards to visitors to thank them for coming anyway. The beach ball drop they tried on New Year's was such a hit that on July 17 they'll do it again, dropping several thousand beach balls (which kids are encouraged to grab and keep) to celebrate the fact that, hey, it's summer. Also look for sand castle contests on July 17 and July 23.
Off-the-beach backup plan: While most of us know PCB as a classic beach town, it's also home to Lake Powell, one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. If oil does happen to wash up during your stay, this would be a lovely place to play in fresh water. Check out Camp Helen, which has access to the lake and the beach, with swimming, fishing, picnicing, and nature trails.
You can see the current status of the beach on Panama City's live webcam and via the daily beach pics they upload to digital billboards throughout the South–one of the most innovative uses of the web we've seen yet. Check out the city's vacation deals page for discounts and zero-risk guarantees.