Panama City Beach with Kids: 30 Best Things To Do in Panama City Beach, FL

Cuddle a capybara at the ZooWorld Zoological Park.
Cuddle a capybara at the ZooWorld Zoological Park.
6/15/24 - By Meghan Rose

Locals say that Panama City Beach has the most beautiful beaches in the world, and after days spent walking them, you won’t get an argument from my family. Whether you call it the Florida Pan Handle, the Emerald Coast (for its sparkling, emerald-green water), or the Sugar Coast (for its fine white sandy beaches), the northern Gulf Coast of Florida is a gem of a family vacation spot.

No need to choose between walks on white sand beaches and action-packed days at family-friendly attractions, Panama City Beach has it all. Plus, my daughter’s personal favorite: loads of animal interactions (Peanut, the cuddly baby capybara, we miss you!). All that, plus incredible seafood, welcoming locals, and totally reasonable rates. What are you waiting for?

For more places to visit along the Gulf Coast, check out our guide to the best things to do in Destin; Orange Beach, Alabama; and more fabulous Florida family vacations.


The turquoise water at Panama City Beach is mesmerizing!
The turquoise water at Panama City Beach is mesmerizing! Photo courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Best Things To Do Outdoors with Kids in Panama City Beach

1. Panama City Beaches

Walk out your hotel’s front door and enjoy 27 miles of the softest white sand beach and crystal-clear water. Make sand castles, go for long walks, and swim all day in the warm water. Most hotels have beach chairs on the beach, beach towels to borrow, and you can hit one of the many Alvin’s Island stores where you can get anything you need for the beach. Night beach walks are magic here, as the moon reflects off both the water and the sand, keeping it light.

2. St. Andrews State Park

Technically, this is the beach, as well, but it’s the southernmost point of Panama City Beach’s peninsula. Hit a more secluded beach, hike, go bird watching, rent bikes at the general store, go fishing, rent a kayak, go snorkeling, and even camp at the campgrounds. This is also where you can catch a boat to Shell Island, which we highly recommend.

3. Shell Island

While pirates once roamed Shell Island’s 7 miles of pristine beach, now all you’ll find are day-trippers and local wildlife, which includes birds, deer, ghost crabs, and sea turtles. On your boat ride over to the island, you’re also all but guaranteed to see bottle-nose dolphins. There are several options for getting here, from dolphin cruises to the ferry to shuttles. Check hours, as they change with the tourist season. Remember that this is an undeveloped island, so bring any snacks, water, and sunscreen that you’ll need for the duration of your stay. There aren’t any bathrooms either, so definitely plan accordingly!!

Zoo World Zoological Park's Flamingos together: Panama City Beach with Kids
ZooWorld Zoological Park is home to exotic animals you can meet and interact with.

4. Zoo World Zoological Park

This was my family’s favorite place to visit in Panama City Beach. Feeling less like a massive zoo, and more like a small conservation park, there are a myriad of animal encounters to delight kids and parents of all ages at Zoo World. Whether you opt into a meet-and-greet with a capybara, sloth, baby alligator, kangaroo, baby bearded dragon, tapir, or lemur (which adds $45 per person to your admission ticket price) or just spring for regular admission, it’s an enchanting place to spend the day.

We chose a capybara snuggle, as it’s my daughter’s favorite animal and one we’ve never seen up close. We also bought a bucket of alligator food and budgie sticks for just a few bucks. You can also purchase leaves to feed the giraffes. And you can spend all the time you want looking at the baby gators and petting bunnies.

5. Gulf World Marine Park

The animal you can’t meet at Zoo World is a dolphin. For that, you have to go to Gulf World, where you can see bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions, harbor seals, African penguins, stingrays, and rough-toothed. You can even book an opportunity to swim with dolphins (for a hefty additional fee).

6. Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise

If seeing Shell Beach and dolphins are on your agenda with little swashbucklers, I highly recommend taking the pirate cruise with Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise, where you take a pirate ship right near the island and will more than likely see dolphins in the wild. All aboard a ship where kids can do a little sword fighting, fire the kid cannon, discover treasure, party with the big pirates, and play. Grownups can relax with a drink while kids are entertained.

7. Goofy Golf

Beach towns are famous for having lots of mini golf options, and Goofy Golf is one of two favorites in Panama City Beach (the other is indoors, in the next section). There are two 18-hole courses, and you can climb on the attractions, so kids can run free, play, and touch anything. Old-school fun with old-school prices.

8. Swampy Jack’s Wongo Adventure

This smaller adventure park has enough things to keep kids busy without driving parents to distraction. At Swampy Jack's you can choose from mini golf, go karts, rides, a carousel, games, bumper cars, and more. The park is free to enter, and you can choose which attractions to pay for (or get a 2-hour wristband). Additionally, some attractions are outdoors, and some are inside, so when it gets hot, you can duck inside and cool off.

9. Shipwreck Island Waterpark

If lounging on the beach isn’t enough of an adventure for your active kids, Shipwreck Island will keep them wet and busy. There are 15 acres of rides that go from slow to fast and are perfect for all ages. From some rides, you can even see the ocean. Kids under 35 inches tall are free, so it’s a great deal for families with young kids.

Best Things To Do Indoors with Kids in Panama City Beach

Sometimes, from about May to September, it can be too hot for non-locals to spend the whole day in the sun. That’s where these indoor attractions come in handy.

10. Science and Discovery Center Children’s Museum

The Science and Discovery Center Children’s Museum has interactive science and natural history displays, play areas, live reptiles, and a nature trail. It’s a perfect place for kids ages 2-7 to burn off some energy when it’s hot or rainy. The interactive play spaces, like the boat and construction vehicles, are really wonderful for hours of imaginary play.

11. WonderWorks

We drove past this and the kids insisted we go in, because the upside-down building looks like that much fun. And it is. If you need a break from the beach, you can spend the afternoon at WonderWorks. They call it an indoor amusement park for the mind, and there are cool interactive exhibits, but for my money, the most fun is the rides. Good for ages 5 & up; best, I think, for ages 9 & up. The astronaut training area, bubbles, light-up bumper cars, and indoor rope course were my family’s favorites.

12. Ripley's Believe It or Not!

This is another fun way to spend an afternoon inside. It’s kind of an IYKYK - if you like Ripley’s, you’ll love this one, because it’s shaped like a sinking boat and has a few fun extras, like the Mirror Maze and 7D Moving Theater. The displays are impressive and interactive, and it’s worth a visit if you’re either a Ripley’s fan or if you’ve never been! Fun for kids of all ages.

13. Rock’it Lanes

This is another great spot to while away a rainy or humid afternoon or spend the evening. Rock'it Lanes has roller skating, laser light bowling (at night, regular bowling during the day), and a mega arcade – plus kid-pleasing food – all at great prices. It adds something memorable and fun to your vacation.

14. Emerald Coast Mirror Maze

Come for the mirror maze, stay for the rubber ax throwing! Plus laser tag, a laser vault, and a Nerf-style shooting game. You can get tickets to one attraction at Emerald Coast Mirror Maze, or combo tickets for several.

15. Rain Forest Black Light Golf

Nothing says vacation like mini golf! When we visited Panama City Beach, it was just starting to get too hot for my fair-skinned family to spend all day on the beach, and this was a not-too-expensive indoor outing we could all enjoy at Rain Forest Black Light Golf. 18-holes of black light mini golf got us all laughing and competing (which is my family’s love language) while we cooled down, and it was a perfect escape.

16. SkyWheel at Pier Park

Be sure to visit the SkyWheel at sunset, where you can see the spectacular colors reflected in the ocean from 200 feet in the sky. The pods on the wheel are completely enclosed and air-conditioned, making it a must-do no matter the weather or if anyone in your group dislikes heights!

17. Man in the Sea Museum

Man in the Sea Museum is great for a kid like my son, who is fascinated by technology. Owned by the Institute of Diving, there's a ton here about underwater technology and early submarines. It’s great for history buffs of all ages, and everyone will be fascinated to learn about SEALAB. There’s a scavenger hunt to keep kids interested, too.

Destin: Miramar Beach: Panama City Beach with Kids
Relax on the white sand at Miramar Beach in Destin. Photo by Jackie Jones

Easy Day Trips from Panama City Beach

18. Florida Caverns

Stay tuned for our detailed review of a visit to the Florida Caverns, coming soon! The short story is that these caverns, outfitted for tourists by the CCC in the 1930s are a gorgeous and fascinating place to see stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and draperies. A 90-minute drive from Panama City Beach, I highly recommend taking a day trip to tour the caverns and hike in Florida Caverns State Park.

19. Destin

Check out a different beach town along the Emerald Coast, with a drive up to Destin for the day. The vibes of the beach towns are a little different, with Panama City Beach offering more things to do, and Destin being a little more laid back. Be sure to take a stroll along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk while visiting.

20. Cypress Springs

40-minutes north of Panama City Beach, Cypress Springs is a beautiful cold-water spring that can only be explored by boat, kayak, canoe, or stand up paddle board. You have to rent them through Cypress Springs Adventures. Unique, relaxing, and gorgeous, if your family loves water adventures, I highly recommend this!

 Finn’s Island Style Grub: : Panama City Beach with Kids
Dine on fresh healthy food at Finn's while kids play!

Best Family Restaurants in Panama City Beach

21. Pineapple Willy’s

Make your first dinner in PCB dinner at Pineapple Willy’s, a justly famous landmark. Get there early as they don’t take reservations, order a drink for the grownups and a blue slushy for the kids (the preferred flavor as it turns tongues blue instantly), and get ready for some fabulous seafood, alligator bites, or bucket o’ ribs. Then walk it all off on the gorgeous beach that the restaurant sits above.

22. Andy’s Flour Power Cafe & Bakery

Oh my goodness, Andy’s Flour Power is staffed with the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life, as well as having the best French toast, biscuits, and peanut butter cookies in the world. It seems like everyone in Panama City Beach is in on this secret, so the lines can get long. But if there’s a wait, the manager will direct you to the bar to order some “adult juice” and they give free cookies to all the kids (and anyone else!) while waiting. Open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays and jazz brunch on the weekends.

23. Finn’s Island Style Grub

There comes a time in every vacationer’s life when they need a little something lighter and healthier. That’s where Finn’s comes in. Inside, by the surf shop, there’s a coffee and smoothie bar. Outside, alongside games and toys for kids, there are some truly epic quesadillas, burritos, and fish tacos. Fresh, healthy, delicious.

24. The Pour

Advertising the best cinnamon buns around, this coffee shop feels like a taste of home, wherever your home might be! Populated with comfy couches and chairs and swings, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy a coffee, breakfast sandwich, or pastry. Don’t miss the cinnamon buns or pistachio muffins (get them heated up!).

25. Capt. Anderson's Restaurant

You can’t visit the Gulf Coast without having a great seafood meal. And Capt. Anderson's Restaurant is a classic old-school spot on the waterfront with great seafood, a fabulous wine list, loads of gluten-free options, and a delicious kids menu with something for everyone. Leave room for dessert, and make it the Feud Cake, which is a Capt. Anderson's Restaurant special and is so good I looked up the recipe online to recreate at home.

26. Pink Pelican

Every beach town needs a great local ice cream and treats shop, and that’s exactly what the Pink Pelican is. The specialty is the Pink Pelican: butterscotch ice cream with brownies, heath bar, cookies, peanut butter, and a ribbon of butterscotch. It’s pretty divine. There are also no sugar added and vegan options.

embasyt-suites: Panama City Beach with Kids
Kids love the pool and the water slide at Embassy Suites, while parents love the suites and wine nights by the pool.

Best Panama City Beach Hotels for Families

27. Embassy Suites by Hilton Panama City Beach Resort

This is where we stayed because: suites, awesome pool with a waterslide and pool cabanas, right across the street from the beach so we had beach views, but a little quieter atmosphere, there was wine by the pool and a great breakfast included, and it was right by the Pier and shopping. Super convenient, great price point for families, too.

28. Marriott's Legends Edge At Bay Point

With villas (complete with separate bedrooms and kitchens) available for families, a playground, pools, splash pad, games, and a “Wreck Room” for kids, this hotel is all about families. And that’s not even the best part; for me, the draw for this hotel is that it’s a little off the beaten path and quieter. It’s at the tail end of Panama City Beach, right near St. Andrews State Park and easy access to the Shell Island boats.

29. Holiday Inn Express & Suites Panama City Beach

This hotel is perfect for families who want to stay right on the beach. The pool and lazy river are open until midnight for post-dinner swims, and you can spend the day running from the beach to the pool and back again. Families can get rooms with bunk beds, so kids don’t argue about sharing. The included breakfast is excellent, and you’re centrally and conveniently located.

30. Splash Resort Condominiums Panama City Beach

These condos make it so easy to stay on the beach with kids. There’s easy beach access, plus a water park for the kids with a lazy river, 2 pools, a splash pad for littles, and a hot tub for grownups. A quick stop at the local Winn-Dixie or Walmart lets you stock up on snacks or meals you can cook in the kitchen. Perfect for traveling with a larger or extended family!

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Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

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