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It’s Good on the Gulf in Panama City Beach

For groups visiting Panama City, life’s a beach.

This all-American beach town gracing the Gulf of Mexico’s Emerald Coast draws group travelers in to relax, explore and recreate in the sandy, sunny outdoors. And while PCB, as the locals call it, may be Florida through and through, those bound for this dreamy destination can expect sweet tea and Southern hospitality to accompany its white-as-sugar beaches.

“Here in the Panhandle, we’re not like the rest of Florida,” said Helen Adami, director of destination sales at Visit Panama City Beach.

“We are truly still in the South so we have that Southern charm. We call ourselves ‘the real fun beach,’ and here you can have fun no matter what you want to do — and most people love getting outside.”

“My favorite group recommendations are drinking a cocktail at a bonfire surrounded by friends, exploring one of our two state parks or going on adventures,” Adami said. Grab the beach umbrellas (and yes, reapplying sunscreen ad infinitum is required, but it’s more than worth it) and count down the days to these must-do outdoor group ideas in Panama City Beach.

Bonfires on the Beach

Thanks to its location on Florida’s coast, Panama City Beach enjoys unrivaled views of the water. Mornings offer gentle walks along the shoreline. Clear skies and midday sun are sure to spark the spirit in adventurers of all ages. But it’s the evening and the enchantment of spectacular sunsets where PCB stands out.

How can travel planners elevate an already captivating moment?

“There is nothing like watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico,” Adami said. “My top recommendation is gazing out over the Gulf as the sun goes down and having a beach bonfire at the same time. It’s incredible.”

Throw in skewers, marshmallows and graham crackers for a crowd-pleasing dessert experience. No need to recall Boy Scout skills to start a fire, either: Planners can enlist the help of local companies to prepare seating, yard games and the bonfire itself.

“It’s hard to overstate this,” Adami said. “Sitting around with the group, watching the sunset with a cooler full of snacks and drinks, beverage in hand… It’s amazing.”

If using an itinerary on this beachy escape, Adami recommends incorporating the bonfire before heading out to dinner. Consider a meal at legendary Captain Anderson’s for a tried-and-true group-approved restaurant. The family-owned establishment right on PCB’s Grand Lagoon has offered views of fleets unloading their fresh Florida catch, like oysters, shrimp, grouper and red snapper, for more than half a century.

Dolphins and More

A trip to the home of the “World’s Best Beaches” doesn’t need to be confined to the shore, either. With the Gulf of Mexico to the south, Powell Lake in the state park to the east, the West Bay to the north and Saint Andrews Bay rounding out its western end, Panama City Beach is surrounded by bodies of water just begging to be explored.

Adami was quick to suggest investigating Panama City Beach’s green-blue waters from the Gulf: “We also have some great attractions like boats with dolphin tours,” she said. Pontoon, jet ski and boat rentals abound to invite visitors to enjoy the pristine waters.

“One of my favorite ways for groups to get on the water is a catamaran cruise where you will always see dolphins,” Adami said. A typical route includes interior views of the city and Saint Andrew Bay before passing by the jetties to the Gulf of Mexico. Typically a two-hour tour, planners can rent out private cruises for the whole group. For groups with divergent interests, individuals and smaller groups can take part in larger step-on cruises with other travelers. “We joke that we pay the dolphins well because they always show off for us. You can’t experience that anywhere else and it’s just beautiful,” Adami said.

Outdoor Adventures

Back ashore, groups can enjoy either or both of the two state parks bookending Panama City Beach’s 27 miles of white sand. Check out St. Andrews on the east end and Camp Helen to the west.

“I’d say both are fantastic for groups,” Adami said, ticking off an outdoor lover’s bucket list. “Snorkeling, swimming, hiking, migratory bird watching, visiting the jetties, going to the beach — they’re both really pretty places for those activities. The senior groups like to see the state parks and just explore.”

Part of the magic of coastal Florida is the presence of myriad ecosystems so densely packed together. The parks of Panama City Beach are no exception. Groups can expect to see dunes with sea oats swaying in the breeze, bike through flatwood pine forests, and canoe, kayak, or paddleboard in Grand Lagoon, all within just a few moments’ walk.

Visitors to St. Andrews State Park can rent a pontoon boat or take the tram and ferry (reservations strongly recommended) to pristine and undeveloped Shell Island, the seven-mile barrier island that forms the southern part of the park. Get in the water with a scuba or snorkel mask to enjoy thousands of different species in the shining waters around Panama City Beach. Allow groups to put a line in. (Florida saltwater fishing licenses required.)

Past and Present

History lovers will enjoy Camp Helen State Park, a public space today but an erstwhile company retreat for a since-shuttered textile company. Camp Helen is home to restored lodges and a coastal dune lake, one of those ecological puzzles where freshwater and saltwater interchange and provide more than ample points of interest for students of wildlife and nature.

For group members angling for attractions of the more modern kind, consider Pier Park, Panama City Beach’s outdoor shopping, entertainment and dining mall.

“Pier Park is great for those days when you don’t want to be outside and prefer to check out a movie,” Adami said.

No matter the trip plans, a spin around the SkyWheel Panama City Beach at Pier Park provides a unique place for rest, print-worthy photo opportunities, and incredible views of the outdoor landscapes and ecosystems that make Panama City Beach so special.