If you’re into Instagramming, put Downtown Panama City, FL on your list. Its got a 30’s Art Deco theatre, waterfront vistas, historic buildings and an overall vintage vibe that will make your Instagram followers jealous? We put together a list of the most popular Instagram spots for you to check out plus a few of our favorites that are a little off the main thoroughfare. Click here to view the Google Map Tour of these unique places.
More and more we want to be travelers – not just tourists. We want to experience our destination like a local. As travelers, we want to know all the best places to eat, shop, stay, and play! Located in Northwest Florida, Panama City and Panama City Beach are separated by the Hathaway Bridge. It’s a relatively small bridge, that offers a connection to the best of both worlds. Most everyone knows the Panama City Beach side for its beautiful white sand beaches, but not everyone knows about the plethora of cool places on the Panama City side. We’ve put together this fun little list, so that you’ll understand why we #LovePC. From ecotourism, to the eccentric little shops and the mom & pop restaurants that will blow your mind, Panama City, is a beautiful bayside city that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The historic neighborhoods…
Historic St. Andrews is a high-spirited neighborhood known for clinging to its roots as a salty fisherman’s village. Today, it’s highly pedestrian with sidewalks, parks, a full service marina, dockside dining, live music and a splash of artistry in everything you see. The Historic St. Andrews neighborhood is loved by locals and adored by visitors. It’s a treasured anomaly amidst a world filled with normalcy, and the people of the neighborhood are some of the funniest, top-notch amateur tour guides you could hope to meet. All around Beck Avenue, the main corridor, you’ll find shops, restaurants, live music, maybe watch some dolphins play along the marina wall, and plenty of new friends.
Historic Downtown Panama City is the quintessential historic neighborhood wrought with old Florida charm combined with a slightly different art deco flare! It’s art scene isn’t just up & coming – it’s on fire! It’s an enclave of private galleries and boutiques housed in vintage buildings with a wide variety of exciting educational, cultural, culinary and entertainment gems. Harrison Avenue is heartbeat of the district, but be sure to explore the side streets and the Panama City Marina. Aside from the beautiful marina views of St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Historic Downtown Panama City is alive with family friendly activities and happenings.
Historic Millville is a quaint out of the way neighborhood, located south of Scenic Hwy 98. Just east of Watson Bayou, Millville was one of the original frontier settlements in Bay County. WIth the massive greenspace of the Millville Waterfront Park, to the antique retailers, galleries and the iconic eateries, you’ll be in awe of the how well they’ve retained their historic character.
First and foremost, the Destination Panama City Visitor’s Center is the most important spot! It’s located in what was the first bank in St. Andrews. The old-style craftsmanship and phenomenal woodwork stuns every person upon entry. The Destination Panama City team provides insider info about everything Panama City! Located in Historic St. Andrews
On to dining…
“Eat local” takes on a whole new meaning in Panama City. Every restaurant on this list is independently owned and prides itself on a unique menu that reflects the personalities of its owners and chefs.
Serving lunch and dinner, Dan-D-Donuts is a hometown favorite among locals and visitors. This family-owned shop offers up specialty items like the King Dan ( A donut the size of an adult male’s head) to your normal everyday favorites. With affordable prices and freshly made treats, your stomach and your wallet won’t be disappointed. Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Just the Cook is a walk up food boat; you read that right – food boat – sort of like a food truck – but so much cooler! Docked in St. Andrews Marina, it offers a view and a vibe like no other! It’s been featured on the Cooking Channel for the creation of the Dan-D-Burger and Chef Ernie is the epitome of a “unique character”. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Peruse the Historic St. Andrews Farmers Market and connect with the local makers, artisans and producers offered every Saturday at the Smith Yacht Basin along Beck Avenue! Located in Historic St. Andrews
Finns Island Style Grub, located inside Little Village, offers outdoor garden-style seating mixed with food that bursts with flavor, freshness and vegetarian options. We recommend trying the Killer Carnita Burrito, blackened fish tacos, shrimp quesadilla, ceviche…basically, try everything. We know you’ll want to come back again and again. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Tucked in the heart of the Massalina Bayou, on the eastern edge of Historic Downtown Panama City, Bayou Joe’s is painted bright pink – so this hidden gem stands out for more than one reason. This local secret is the only place that offers delicious “Old Florida” style food with a beautiful 270+ degree view of the water. If you’re out boating, just pull up and hop in through the window – we all do it! We recommend trying the infamous “Trash Burger”! It has a little bit of everything. We won’t say anymore, you’ll see when you try it! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
g.Foley’s has great lunch specials and early bird dinner pricing that won’t break the bank. This sophisticated restaurant seamlessly blends the interior modern furnishings with the beautiful oak tree-shaded courtyard outside. Hosting live music a few times a week, this restaurant is casual elegance with an eclectic menu of locally sourced fare & creative cocktails. Located in the Retail Corridor
Basically, everyone knows the world’s best oysters are harvested and raised right here along the Northwest Florida shores. Oysters are such a way of life in Panama City, they created their own oyster trail (#PCOysterTrail). Grab a guide at the Visitor’s Center, or download the map and make a stop at a few of the oyster bars along the way. Whether you like them raw, grilled, fried, baked, or sauteed – in Panama City, it’s oysters all ways, always! Located throughout Panama City
We couldn’t mention oysters without the mentioning Honor Allen, a shucker at Hunt’s Oyster Bar & Seafood Restaurant. If you didn’t know, Honor is the back-to-back USA Oyster Shucking Champion! He’s traveled the world competing and is just one of the most genuine young men around! His fame and talent haven’t gone to his head – you can find him most days at Hunt’s Oyster Bar where he shucks about a “dozen a minute”! Located in Historic St. Andrews
Sweet Magnolia’s is a charming deli-style restaurant housed in a 100 year old building. It’s casual atmosphere and the smell of the wisteria flowers over the outdoor trellis are where all great afternoons begin! The selection of house made sandwiches, soups, salads are wonderful – but their dessert tray is the everything!
Located in Historic Millville
Started by a local teen, Vinny & Bays Coffee and Eatery employs people with disabilities and allows them to have a job with meaningful employment. Their adorable designer milkshakes are delicious and photo worthy! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Seeking a sweet treat? Sugar Boogers is the place to go! This family owned and run scrumptious shop is filled with coffee, cookies, cake and the biggest cupcakes with even bigger icing on top. Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
We know what you’re thinking, how can we possibly try everything? It’s as easy as signing up for the Panama City Food Tour. This $40 culinary journey consists of a 2-hour stroll through the historic neighborhood eateries. Located in Historic St. Andrews and Historic Downtown Panama City.
Located by Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill is the Governor’s Stone. This National Historic Landmark celebrated her 140th birthday in 2017. You can sail for FREE aboard the national historic landmark schooner, Governor Stone on the second Saturday of each month (weather permitting), while relaxing on the last known working shallow draft Gulf Coast schooner. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Stop by the Panama City Publishing Museum. This historical museum not only provides tons of information, but it’s also famous for being the previous business location of Panama City’s Founding Father, George Mortimer West and features vintage printing presses as well as copies of decade old newspapers. Located in Historic St. Andrews
The Panama City Publishing Museum also offers a free guided Walking Tours on Wednesdays and Fridays at 1:30 PM. If you are too busy exploring the town and miss it, do not worry. They offer an audio tour that you can download to your smartphone! Located in Historic St.Andrews
Oaks by the Bay is one of seven waterfront parks in Panama City. There is a quiet place that includes a boardwalk down to the bay shore, with an observation platform and benches for watching the waves and enjoying the salt breeze. There is also interpretive information explaining the local history, including a salt kettle used to distill water from St. Andrews Bay for salt making during the Civil War. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Another educational spot to wander is the Bay County Historical Society Museum where you can learn about all the rich history of the area. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Known to have deep Native American roots, you can check out pre-Columbian shell, bone, stone and clay artifacts from the local and surrounding areas at the Native Spirits Museum and Gallery. The museum is free and open to the public. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Aging like a fine wine, The Old Sentry is a heritage Oak Tree that is estimated to be over 250 years old. This picture-perfect spot is in the center of the Oaks by the Bay Park. It stood “during the war between the states, as if a Sentry Standing Guard over St. Andrews Bay”. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Creativity at its core…
A great place to start is the Panama City Center for the Arts. Originally built in 1926, the historic building used be City Hall/Police Station/Fire Department and Jail. Now this 2000 square foot gallery showcases a substantial art collection, as well as local and traveling art exhibitions from around the nation and abroad. Annually, it features one of the largest Muhammad Ali memorabilia collections available for public display. Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Trips Vintage Art and Custom Frames is pretty awesome. In a restored historic home, you’ll find a lifelong collection of antique art and frames with a special interest given to nautical scenes, military photos and early hand tinted photography. Check their schedule for their quarterly free cheese and wine socials! Located in Historic Millville
Often referred to as America’s best-known coastal artist, Paul Brent’s Gallery is located in Historic Downtown Panama City. Established in 1990, this 8000 square foot gallery and studio was designed by the artist himself. You will surely get lost for hours browsing through his original work and others! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Get creative and participate in “Art on the Spot” at Floriopolis. It’s a community arts metropolis with gallery, market, studio and courtyard and offers a free 10-minute art project that is fun for everyone! Located in Historic St. Andrews
Stroll on over to Jani Ceramics to get the creative juices flowing. Here you can create your own masterpiece. Grab a paint brush and let your imagination take over. She supplies everything you will need to craft a keepsake to remember all the fun you had in Panama City. Located in Historic St. Andrews
There are tons of hidden murals everywhere like #thisisnotamural. Take an adventure and find plenty of photo opportunities around Panama City. We know you’ll walk away with a perfect selfie with #nofilter needed! Located in Historic St. Andrews and Historic Downtown Panama City #thisisnotamural is located on the side of Sunjammers in Historic St. Andrews and was made with #chalk.
Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill will have you feeling at home as you enjoy award-winning food in a laid-back atmosphere. The quaint yellow house will have you enjoying live entertainment, incredible food, indoor and outdoor views of St. Andrews Bay and of course “Bay County’s Most Beautiful Sunsets” along with the best Bloody Mary in town. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Located on the site of a former WWII shipyard and also on the #PCOysterTrail, lies the Shipyard Grill. Nautically themed, this restaurant pays tribute to the rich shipbuilding industry of Panama City area. The Shipyard Grill offers and upscale yet relaxed American fare highlighted by fresh local seafood and colorful drink specials! Located at the Sun Harbor Marina just east of the Hathaway bridge
Little Village is a place where you can trade in the sun and sand for shade and serenity. With bohemian style decor, large majestic oak trees, super views on the shore of Lake Ware and live entertainment, it’s the perfect setting to relax, catch up with friends and make new friends. Located in Historic St. Andrews
Mosey’s Downtown is the one of the coolest spots in Panama City. Not only do they serve some gigantic pizza pies – they have several large rooms to choose your perfect vibe. From a cozy mahogany bar featuring a variety of craft beer, to a game room sporting a pool table, cork dartboards and a ping pong table, to an 1100 square foot music venue, you’ll find something for everyone. Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Come enjoy Harrison Avenue and watch Downtown fill up with live music every Wednesday for Music Matters. But, just so you know, live music is offered somewhere in Panama City every night of the week. For the latest live music listing – stop by the Visitor’s Center for the weekly events calendar! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Tucked on the side of a dance studio, Wine Knot offers an authentic Spanish tapas, Mediterranean cuisine and new twists on old favorites. We recommend their house-made, smile-inducing Sangria, piquillo pepper tapas and the tomato asparagus stack! Wine, food and dancing – ingredients to a great evening. Located in the Retail Corridor off 23rd Street
Looking for a blast from the past? Check out the Martin Theatre. This classic art deco cinema was built in the 30’s and originally known as the “Ritz”. They host a variety of affordably priced shows, everything from classic movies to musicals. Fun fact: Clark Gable visited the theatre when he was stationed at nearby Tyndall Air Force Base. Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
The Marina Civic Center is an intimate 2,509 seat live entertainment & events theatre with a fully-equipped stage, industry-level lights & sound, Box Office, Concessions and Bar Services, two lobby spaces and three Galleries. MCC hosts a variety of events – International Tours & Artists, Tony Award-winning Broadway Musicals, National Dance Competitions, Arts in Education Programs, Operas & Orchestras, Conferences & Seminars – something for everyone, all ages and budgets! Located on Panama City Marina in Historic Downtown Panama City
We Are Downtown PC, is a collective of local merchants in the Historic Downtown Panama City area that host regular family friendly events. Just about every Saturday, weather permitting, they host a Movies in the Park Night at McKenzie Park. The movies are free and open to the public. Events held throughout the Historic Downtown Panama City Area
Into the eclectic music scene? The Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews (born 2013) boasts over 140 members that you can find playing at various venues around the City. Smiling is required and ultimately inevitable when you watch this group! And it’s all for a good cause! They play for tips and all the proceeds go to putting ukuleles in the local schools for music education. And if you really fall in love with them – they host the Strummin’ Man Ukulele Festival every fall! Located at venues throughout Panama City
Shh…it’s the almost unassuming door in the middle of Floriopolis and Estate Treasures. Mariners Daughter Emporium & Pub is the epitome of a modern day speakeasy that leaves the door open. Disguised with a gift shop in the front, the bar in the back is where it’s at! Like a true speakeasy – half the fun is finding the hidden treasure of the back bar! Located in Historic St. Andrews
Up for some friendly Pub games? The Corner Pocket & Craft Beer Emporium touts over 200 craft beers, more than 10 pool tables and it’s non-smoking! If you’re up for the challenge….we recommend going on a Thursday afternoon for the $5 craft beer tastings! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
No Name Lounge takes sitting on the dock of the bay to a whole new level. Located at the foot of the Hathaway bridge it’s a casual, no frills, leave your worries at the door kind of place. Not only does this old style beach house converted into a bar serve up inexpensive drinks and occasional live music – it has one of the largest back decks around! The sunsets leave us speechless! Located just east of Hathaway Bridge on Hwy 98
Three words. Little Mustard Seed! There’s three floors of shopping, but not your ordinary everyday shopping. They like to consider themselves a community of makers, creators, custom furniture builders and DIY enthusiasts extraordinaire! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
On the hunt for a timeless treasure? Elegant Endeavors Antique Emporium is a multi-level, 22,000 square feet antique store filled with collectibles, memorabilia, vintage anything and everything, trinkets, baubles and relics from a bygone age. Schedule your day accordingly, because this travel through time will take awhile! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
Design Salvage, a 25,000 square foot warehouse, is a like getting lost in a designers dream. Specializing in unique items, elements, decor, vintage and designer furnishings – they have everything from door knobs to barn doors! Open to the public on Friday – Sunday Located just off Hwy 98
Panama City is also home to the largest single level indoor shopping mall in the county! Panama City Mall has everything! From the large national brand anchor stores we all know and love, to the specialty shops and designer boutiques – it’s a shopper’s paradise. Their family-friendly special events are the greatest bar none! Where else does Santa drop by from a helicopter, bilingual story time and local tryouts for the Voice happen? Located on Hwy 231 and 23rd Street
Get in touch with your wild side at St. Andrews State Park. Well-known for its sugar white sands and emerald green waters, this former military reservation has over one-and-a-half miles of beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon. Water sports enthusiasts can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and canoeing. Two fishing piers, a jetty and a boat ramp provide ample fishing opportunities for anglers. Two nature trails wind through a rich diversity of coastal plant communities – a splendid opportunity for bird-watching. Those wanting to relax can sunbathe on the beach or enjoy a leisurely lunch under the shade of a picnic pavilion. Shell Island Boat Tours are available during the spring, summer and some of the fall.
Park Admission is just $8 per car and the Shell Island boat tours are under $20! Located in Panama City
Some say yoga is the fountain of youth. Aerial Dance Panama City is the perfect place for novice to advanced aerial yogis. Classes average about $20 per person and no one leaves in a bad mood – ever. Located in Panama City
The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida will educate and inspire children and adults through hands-on, interactive exhibits and programs that promote discovery of science, technology, and history. Adults are $7; kids, military and seniors are $6. Located in Panama City
Need something to get your gears turning? With an elaborate mix of puzzle solving and adventure, Escape Manor, is the place for you. Once the door is locked – you and your team have one hour to solve your way to freedom! Located in Historic Downtown Panama City
We all know the real adventure in life is love! So if you’re ready to take the real plunge, head over to the Bay County Courthouse and get that marriage license! Technically, it’s $86, but marriage is a partnership – so that’s really only $43 each! Seriously though, a destination wedding in any of our waterfront parks would make memorable occasion for the whole wedding party! Bay County Marriage FAQ.
Get creative at Floriopolis, a uniquely inviting family-friendly art gallery and interactive studio. Not only can you shop for one-of-a-kind creations by local artists, but you can make your own! Bring the family to take a 10-minute art break by participating in Art on the Spot, a free mini art lesson disguised as fun projects! Art on the Spot happens daily, but the theme changes weekly! If you want to create your own museum-worthy masterpiece, enjoy open Studio Days, where you’ll be provided a working space and a variety of different supplies to use! Whether you want to paint a picture or build a robot…Floriopolis is the place to go!
No family vacation is complete without a little competition! Play a family-friendly game of disc golf for free at one of the many disc golf locations in Panama City. Not only is it fun for all ages, but it’s a great way to elicit lots of laughter and create lasting memories. You can find great disc golf courses at Bay Memorial Park, FSU Panama City campus and Joe Moody Harris Park.
Are you ready for a night of exciting live action entertainment? If you answered yes, then make your reservations at Escape Manor now! Perfect for families with older children, this is an hour-long adventurous game of strategy to solve the mystery at hand and unlock the room. But you better hurry, because you’re on a time limit! The entire family will have to work together to crack a series of codes, puzzles and riddles using clues and hints to unveil the secrets hidden in the room.
Design your very own ceramics at Jani Ceramics. With hundreds of ceramic shapes on the shelves, you can pick your perfect piece! Design and paint a one of kind masterpiece with dozens of beautiful, vibrant paint colors to choose from. After it’s been glazed and fired, you can take it home! No matter what your age or skill level, you’ll have a great time! Bring the whole family and sit back and enjoy your creative time at Jani Ceramics!
Catch a show at the Martin Theatre, an old-fashioned art deco theatre. The theatre first opened its door in 1936 as the “Ritz”, but bas since been fully renovated. Early memories boast visits by such notables as Clark Gable and cowboy great, Bill Elliot. Now, the family-friendly theatre hosts a variety of shows, events and themed movie nights!
The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida is a fun and engaging destination for children to inspire, create, explore and have fun! Through hands-on learning, interactive exhibits and programs, children and adults are educated in science, technology and history.
Explore Shell Island, an uninhabited barrier island stretching for 7 miles between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. You’re likely to catch a pod of dolphins playing in the water, and can even jump in to join the fun! Once on the island, there’s endless amounts of fun to be had! Shelling, snorkeling, fishing and maybe even a sea turtle sighting! You can rent a pontoon boat, or even jet skis, for unguided excursions to the island. Whatever you decide, relax and enjoy the sunshine on your adventure!
Explore St. Andrews Bay on a guided expedition with Ashley Gorman Shell Island Cruises. Snorkel the shallow waters of the Bay and then venture into the Gulf for a chance to swim with the dolphins! Fun for all ages, kids can collect sea shells and explore marine life. The 3 and ½ hour trip includes snorkel gear and a hotdog lunch with chips and drinks.
Have a sweet tooth that won’t quit? Do you eat cupcakes for breakfast? Does hearing the words “icing shots” make you drool? Then you need to run to Sugar Boogers! And the name of their business is even sweeter than their specialty cakes – it was inspired by a nickname that the owner’s grandpa called her Oma. Sugar Boogers is the place to stop if you’re looking for cookies, ice cream, or gourmet cupcakes on an exciting day in Panama City, or if you’re looking for a cake for a special occasion!
Embraced by the shores of St. Andrews Bay, Panama City is an idyllic destination for travelers seeking enrichment and outdoor pursuits in a scenic waterfront setting. The proximity to the water and subtropical climate encourage year-round inshore and offshore fishing. Panama City is known as an angler’s paradise and a world-class sailing destination, with travelers from around the globe envying the constant breezes and calm waters of St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf. Offering near perfect winds that many coastal communities envy, visitors to Panama City have the opportunity to sail in the deepest and largest protected bay in the area.
Sprawling more than 68,000 acres behind the protection of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, St. Andrews Bay is home to abundant aquatic life. The bay spans more than 20 miles and includes a wealth of saltwater flats and seagrass beds that offer rich bounty. Redfish, speckled trout, black drum, cobia, sheepshead and flounder are just a few of the species populating these channels. Shell Island is an undeveloped barrier island occupying a 7 mile stretch between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. Shell Island, only accessible by boat, is a protected preserve with pristinely white beaches, natural dunes, and emerald waters. The clear waters of this extensive ecosystem are ideal for both novice and expert anglers.
Spend the day with one of Panama City’s experienced boat captains on a guided fishing expedition. You’ll love the excitement of hooking one of the Gulf Coast’s many popular varieties of seafood, but what you’ll love more is enjoying the “Hook and Cook” dining experience. Upon docking, a local chef expertly cleans and prepares your bounty for a flavorful meal at one of Panama City’s charming local restaurants.
Long revered as a sailing destination, Panama City is home to numerous regattas throughout the year. The 2018 ISCA Masters World Championship Regatta will be held on March 17 – March 20 and the 2018 USSCA National Championship at Midwinters will be held on March 21 – March 24. Now is a great time to start planning your trip to Panama City!
Julie Merritt is a Panama City local and President of the St. Andrews Ukulele Orchestra.
When is the last time you sat around with a group of friends and played music and sang songs? Whether singing along with the radio, around a camp fire, or a night out on the town with friends singing along with your favorite band. The sheer joy of keeping company with good friends and belting out happy tunes makes for a memorable time.
Enter the ukulele; for the past 4 years a group of music lovers has met at Little Village once a month to play on their ukuleles and sing songs. The group in itself has grown from around 20 participants at that first meeting in November of 2013 to an active playing membership of around 80. Initially, we would bring our TV set and post the songs on the tube via laptop and we would play and sing along to some classic old tunes. To our surprise, the Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews has become a very active family of musicians that includes not only ukuleles, but trumpets, cellos, accordions, drums, vibra slaps and kazoos. It is truly an “orchestra”! As the group has grown in number and diversity of instruments, so has the range of musical interests ranging from classical ukulele tunes to rock and roll, blues, folk, and cabaret. The group now performs at venues across the Panhandle and has raised money through donations and tips to spread the love by providing ukuleles to local elementary schools, after school groups and the local library. To date, the group has provided ukes to five Bay County elementary schools, Girls Inc., and the Bay County Library – Panama City. The goal is to continue raising money and putting ukes in all of the local schools as well as to foster teaching and performance.
As the group continued to grow, and raise money, we decided to sponsor a ukulele festival. Several members had participated in workshops and festivals across the country and thought “Why not here?” The Strummin’ Man festival is planned for the second weekend in October at the St. Andrews Marina. This festival will bring internationally recognized ukulele talent from as far away as Hawaii and will include workshops, vendors, local and regional live performances and open mic opportunities for new and old strummers who are anxious to share their musical interests. October in St. Andrews is one of the best places to be on the planet and nothing will put a smile on your face like a ukulele. Come on down, bring the family and join in the fun!
Nicole Bielenin is the family and children photographer behind the lens of Lavender Roads Photography in the Florida panhandle. When she’s not taking pictures, you can find her spending time with her husband, chasing her toddler, or planning her next getaway (and she’s never too far away from a carton of ice cream).
Anyone who has taken a trip with a toddler knows how much fun it can be! (And for those of you who haven’t ever taken a trip with a toddler… by “fun,” I mean it could make a saint want to pull her hair out). Even so, everyone knows that a trip can be good for the soul. So where should you plan to go if you want a place that’s both appealing to adults while still offering fabulous options for the littlest members of the family? Well, lucky for you, I know the perfect family-friendly destination: Panama City!
Recently, I took a day trip to Panama City, meeting with a friend to spend the day adventuring with our toddlers. At the time, they were both between a year and eighteen months old (I know, momma’s… you’re hearing those screechy violins from horror films). So how did we manage to not only pass the time with them, but to really enjoy our day?
We began the day in Downtown Panama City at a seafood restaurant right on the water (literally!), Bayou Joe’s. Dining on their covered dock provided for a relaxed atmosphere that was perfect with two little ones…bonus points for snagging a window seat where they can be entertained by watching the boats come in and out- of which there were plenty to choose from!
Following our meal, we ventured over to historic St. Andrews. Here, we headed to Floriopolis, an art studio and gallery. I know this may not sound kid-friendly, but stick with me… Floriopolis is truly a gem! It is a cozy, eclectic place with the friendliest faces. They offer studio days for those of all ages with a large assortment of art materials to be explored. Because we weren’t at home and didn’t have to worry about a kiddo permanently redecorating our pretty furniture (not that that’s ever happened to me before), we chose the messiest option for our littles: paint! It was an incredibly fun experience for kids and moms alike! Aside from being fun, it was also so rewarding to watch them explore their creative sides. Floriopolis is not a place to be missed, even if you just go in to peruse the local art displayed there.
Once we got the kiddos cleaned up and presentable again, we decided to let them run off some energy at Oaks by the Bay Park. I immediately fell in love with the picturesque Spanish moss-covered towering oaks overlooking the bay. I don’t think I stopped gushing over them the entire time we were there! The stretch of pristine white sand along the bay was the perfect place for tiny bare feet to run- and run they did! After some time playing here, both kids were thoroughly exhausted- another mom win!
My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the area. The Downtown Panama City and historic St. Andrews areas are truly some of the most beautiful around. I will definitely be returning as soon as the opportunity presents itself… and when I do, I can be confident that there will be plenty for not only me to enjoy, but for my little girl to enjoy, as well!
Panama City kicks off the inaugural Strummin’ Man Festival this fall at the marina in Historic St. Andrews. The Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews, known around town as Ukes St. Andrews, is organizing the festival, which is sponsored by Destination Panama City and Holiday Inn.
From October 13-15, the city will welcome international ukulele artists for concerts and workshops as well as local and visiting ukulele enthusiasts – and of course curious neophytes. “Most of us had no playing experience or musical background when we started,” says Jennifer Jones, a charter member of the orchestra and director of Bay Arts Alliance. “The ukulele is approachable and non-intimidating, it’s just a fun instrument, and we’re so diverse and welcoming.”
The Ukes St. Andrews hatched in 2014 when a local businessman invited friends to play. “He said, ‘If you play, I’ll pay for the ukuleles,’” laughs Jones. The group has grown to a core of more than 100 musicians, although rarely all are free to join for one event. “We are big enough now that there are always enough people on hand for us split into two groups and play two gigs at once,” she adds.
With the instrument’s broad appeal, the orchestra is a diverse group of locals, including a rocket scientist, computer programmers, bankers, photographers, educators – even folks who have never picked up an instrument. “We try to balance skill with fun,” Jones says. “We want to sound our best without making it so rigorous it discourages anyone from playing – or joining.”
Since their beginning, the group has prioritized supporting local music education. Noting that the ukulele is a great gateway instrument, Jones explains that the orchestra, a 501(c)(3), has provided hundreds of ukuleles to Bay County schools and libraries. “One advantage the ukulele has over introductory wind instruments like the recorder is that you can sing to it,” Jones says. “It allows children to use the musical instrument they’re born with in concert with the ukulele.”
True to this mission, the Ukes will donate all profits from Strummin’ Man to buy instruments for Bay County school students. “We hope to raise enough to donate ukuleles to any school in the county that wants them,” Jones says.
In addition to immersive offerings such as workshops, jam sessions and open-mike stages, Strummin’ Man Festival will welcome some of the world’s leading ukulele artists, including Lil’ Rev, an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and music-historian; Rachel Manke, one of the brightest stars in the ukulele universe; Taimane, whose expansive repertoire spans from Bach to Led Zeppelin; and duo Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee.
Tickets are available in advance at www.standrewsukes.org. Through August 31, attendees can take advantage of early-bird packages ranging from all-access weekend passes for $85 to day passes for $15.
Panama City has it all – a perfect location overlooking St. Andrew Bay with easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, a thriving arts and culture scene, a range of dining offering the freshest local seafood, and diverse shopping and antiquing. You won’t be lacking of anything to do while you’re in Panama City!
A local favorite and a place where you can get the true experience of Panama City is Little Village, a waterfront shopping and entertainment venue located in Historic St. Andrews. A sidewalk community built on the shores of the Bay and dedicated to giving an organic experience, Historic St. Andrews uses the slogan #KeepStAndrewsSalty. With a hippie vibe, Little Village will give you just that – an organic experience that you won’t find outside of Panama City. When you first walk in, you’ll be greeted by lots of friendly faces and possibly even Kenny the house-cat. Make your way to the little indoor huts for a little bit of shopping, each offering a unique selection of items. As your exploring each hut, don’t forget to look around you, or you’ll miss the fun outdoor and garden decorations. There’s a large indoor shopping area located in the back with a deck that extends over the lake. The inventory is constantly changing and you can discover handmade, eco-friendly, fair trade, recycled, and re-purposed items from around the globe with a special selection of local artists’ work. Little Village also offers a selection of flavored salts by Gulf Coast Saltworks, a local company that harvests salt from the local Gulf Waters.
While you shop, you can enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine or snack on Finns Island Style Grub cuisine and listen to live music on the outdoor patio overlooking a superior water view. You can’t go wrong with anything you choose to order from Finns, from the overstuffed fish tacos to the burrito bowls and quesadillas all served fresh and made to order. Inspired by a combination of saltwater, tropical islands, fishing and a deep cajun history, the menu at Finns Island Style Grub is a blend of unique ideas that won’t disappoint!
This entertainment venue is also home to the 200-person Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews. You won’t be able to help but smile watching this fun loving group of people radiate nothing but happiness as they strum their ukuleles. Coming up later this year on October 13-15 2017 is the Inaugural Strummin’ Man Ukulele Festival, a multi-day festival featuring renowned ukulele artists’ concerts, workshops, vendors, and local and visitor ukulele groups. You won’t want to miss this event! For more events and happenings in Panama City, visit the Destination Panama City Events page.
Panama City POPS Orchestra explore the art and artistry of David Bowie
David Robert Jones was born in London on January 8, 1947. He died January 10, 2016 two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his twenty-fifth (and final) album, Blackstar. Better known to the world as David Bowie, he changed artistic personas – notably Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke – even more frequently than he changed his name. Along the way he bent the rules on gender identity decades before doing so became an acceptable part of everyday conversation.
He also bent the musical rules, continuously pushing popular music beyond its frontier boundaries, and in doing so became a highly influential artistic trailblazer (for example, he almost singlehandedly invented the Glam Rock genre). Despite the fluidity of his musical approach, he consistently infused his music with a level of sophistication and intellectual vigor otherwise too frequently lacking in pop music, always raising the bar for a musical genre constantly in danger of becoming frivolously banal and predictably imitative. His songwriting throughout decades displayed deeply introspective and philosophical expressions of a lifetime spent wrangling with his own spirituality, political evolution, sexuality and social attitudes (including towards race).
But his art extended well beyond the musical stage and recording studio as he brilliantly transferred his innate theatrical knack to acting roles both in front of the camera (most famously as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth) and in live theater, often playing mysterious villains, outcasts or, occasionally, himself in cameo appearances. He was also a critically acclaimed painter, focusing primarily on the human form (including a series of self-portraits) rendered in usually grotesque, boldly pigmented neoexpressionist daubs and swirls. He was also an obsessive collector of contemporary masters with a collection valued at over $12 million at the time of his death.
Not enough water has passed under the bridge to take a fully critical assessment of his cultural contribution, but it seems fair to venture a rash judgment by claiming he was the William Blake for our age. Iconoclastic, esoteric – seemingly perched, like his famous character in “Space Oddity,” miles above planet Earth, a perspective from which he was able to observe, yet still not fully rationalize, the quotidian comings-and-goings of his fellow mortals.
On January 8, the eve of the 70th birthday of this artistic genius, Panama City POPS Orchestra will present a season extra, “The Music of David Bowie.” Under the baton of Richard Carsey, the POPS will perform a musical tribute of David Bowie’s repertoire scored by the critically acclaimed Windborne Production Company, which has produced similar tributes to such iconic rock legends as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, The Doors, Queen, The Rolling Stones, U2, Journey and Michael Jackson.
The POPs will be joined at the Marina Civic Center at 7:30 by vocalist Brody Dolyniuk along with a full rock orchestra as they guide the audience on a musical odyssey spanning Bowie’s entire career, performing hits such as “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “China Girl” and “Under Pressure.” Tickets for what promises to be an unforgettable night start at $19.50 and are available online by visiting www.panamacitypops.org.
Panama City fishing guide provides an ultimate dock-to-dish experience.
How many times have you stood helplessly by, biting your tongue while you watched a friend completely botch preparing and cooking a nice, clean piece of fish he (or she) labored all day in the hot sun, at the stern of a rocking boat, miles offshore, to land? Next time you plan an offshore fishing excursion in Northwest Florida, you may want to avoid committing a similar culinary faux pas and subjecting your dinner guests to overcooked cobia with the consistency of a retread tire. How’s that, you ask? For too many occasional fishermen, catching fish is a bit like the dog that chases the bus and doesn’t know what to do with it once he’s caught it.
Captain Todd Jones knows the waters (both inshore and offshore) around Panama City so well he could navigate them blindfolded on a moonless night. He also knows how to find his way to a good business idea. Captain Todd operates out of Sun Harbor Marina, docking his 27-foot center console Seacraft just steps away from Shipyard Grill. Like most charter captains, he has always cleaned the days catch and iced it down for his happy, worn-out clients before sending them on their way with a mess of clean fish and a load of unanswered questions about what to do with it once they get it home.
One evening, soon after Shipyard Grill opened, he noticed his clients walking with their bags of fresh catch right past the front door and patio of the restaurant, and the idea appeared to him as clear as a channel marker on St. Andrews Bay: why not offer clients the opportunity to have the restaurant professionally and expertly cook the fish they worked so hard (and spent their hard-earned dollars) to catch?
“There are many advantages to this ‘Hook and Cook’ approach,” says Captain Todd of his idea. First, he notes that somebody who rarely cooks the wide variety of edible Gulf fish they’re most likely to land avoids the stress of preparing it incorrectly. Secondly, there’s no mess to clean up afterwards. Thirdly, fishermen often travel with spouses, other family members or friends who don’t join the expedition but still want to share the bounty, which Hook and Cook allows. Finally, fresh frozen fish is better than store-bought fish, but never-frozen swimming-this-morning dock-to-dish fish is in a stratosphere of its own.
Now, instead of lugging your fish home to Atlanta or Birmingham – or even Ohio – in a cooler strapped to the hitch-all of your Suburban, you walk 20 (more or less) steps from the boat to the dock-side restaurant, present your bag of fish and choose one of three preparations for your catch (fried, blackened or grilled – which the restaurant charges an average $13 to $15 to cook) along with two sides. (Although not quite as convenient, in addition to Shipyard Grill, Captain Todd can also deliver you with your fish to Captain’s Table Fish House Restaurant in Historic St. Andrews or to Treasure Island Seafood Market to be cleaned and delivered to J. Michael’s in Downtown Panama City.) Then you head back to your lodging to wash up and fetch your family and friends, and return with them to the Shipyard Grill to proudly treat them to an unforgettable meal that you caught four hours earlier, as you regale them with your fish tales. One of those people will certainly buy you a drink and toast your virtues as a fisherman and a host.
Be sure to check out Captain Todd’s episode on Hook and Cook on Emerald Tales airing in January on the Pursuit Channel (check local listings). To book a charter with Captain Todd, please call 850-819-5829