One of the strongest hurricanes to ever make landfall in the continental United States devastated parts of Florida’s Panhandle.
While nearby Mexico Beach was practically destroyed by the 155 mph winds of Hurricane Michael in October 2018, Panama City Beach escaped the worst.
The city has some scars but is otherwise open for business and ready for you to visit.
Speaking of the beach — well, let me tell you: Panama City Beach has the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in the continental United States. The spectacular white sand beaches are seemingly endless with something like 27 miles of beachfront along the Gulf of Mexico.
What to do
This should be self-evident, but if it isn’t then I have two words: The beach.
Yes, parts of Panama City Beach are kitsch, but the beach makes you forget about the endless number of strip malls with shops selling the usual overpriced souvenirs. For me, I would return if only for a weekend on the beach, especially from late April through September when the weather is the warmest.
Where to stay and eat
You can’t go wrong with seafood, given Panama City Beach’s location on the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the best restaurants is The Grand Marlin, which overlooks the harbor. On top of fresh daily seafood — if it’s not fresh they don’t have it — you will find an oyster bar and an extensive wine list. A more casual option is Schooners, a local favorite with all-day options. I recommend the fresh grouper.
For lunch or weekend brunch try Liza’s Kitchen, where everything is made fresh.
I stayed at the family-friendly Holiday Inn Express & Suites Panama City Beach. Despite its branding as a limited-service hotel it has a bar and restaurant that overlooks both the beach and the two pools, including a so-called lazy river pool that the kids will love. Oh yeah, the million dollar beachfront views are incredible.
How to get there
The closest airport is Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, about 20 minutes from the main strip in Panama City Beach. American, Delta, Southwest and United or their regional partners all fly to and from the airport.