In the past, the area now known as the Emerald Coast, which stretches from neighboring Panama City Beach west, had a less than stellar reputation, but after a revitalization effort, it’s experienced a boom in visitors and a leap in real estate values. Located on the Florida Panhandle, Panama City is the governmental seat of Bay County and, as such, is far quieter than its boisterous neighbor, Panama City Beach, which attracts a larger tourist crowd. Although not as warm as cities in Southern Florida, Panama City still enjoys a moderate climate year round, thanks to the proximity of the Gulf of Mexico.
The shoreline location and the area’s two military bases lend Panama City a hybrid beach-town/military-town feel, and retirees who want to avoid the tourist crowds of neighboring PBC often choose Panama City for its relative quiet. The area’s coastal location means that water activities top the list of local pastimes, including deep-sea fishing and scuba diving the area’s many offshore wrecks. Residents in general are rather protective of the area’s sea turtles, and many volunteer for turtle patrol during the nesting season of May through October. Most restaurants are very casual, with the majority of the more popular ones serving locally caught seafood.
The ocean and related watersports are the biggest draw here, and most every aquatic activity imaginable is available at one beach or another. The Museum of Man in the Sea showcases the history of underwater exploration, including old-time diving suits. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! holds all the quirky exhibits the brand has come to be known for, as well as a mirror maze and a laser obstacle course that requires ninja-like skill. More than 20 large cats now call Bear Creek Feline Center home, and tours are open for visitors to view the bobcats, panthers, and other animals now being rehabilitated.
The recently revitalized downtown area holds the greatest assortment of shopping and museums, including the kid-friendly Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida. The Panama City Mall is the hub for most shopping, with the nearby Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida providing the region’s largest collection of art. Emerald waters ring the snow-white sands of St. Andrews State Park, a haven to watersports enthusiasts. Most visitors to Panama City come to visit Panama City Beach, renowned for it sandy shores. Nearby Blountstown is home to the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement, with historic log homes, while Pine Log State Forest offers trails for hiking and horseback riding.