Panama City, FL
From bayside jazz concerts to art galleries and golf courses, Panama City, Florida, is a down-home mecca for the arts and warm-weather sports. Just across St. Andrews Bay, the neighboring community of Panama City Beach draws the sunbathing crowd with more than 20 miles of sparkling white sands.
A self-guided walking tour of the St. Andrews neighborhood is the place to start exploring Panama City’s historic sites. Among the main draws is the Governor’s Stone, a schooner built in 1877. This shallow-draft vessel, the last surviving schooner of its type, has been a National Historic Landmark since 1991. Other Panama City historic sites on the tour include Mattie’s Tavern, which entertained World War II airmen stationed nearby, and St. Andrews Church, a cypress structure built in the 1870s. The tour begins and ends at the Panama City Publishing Company Museum.
Jazz aficionados who visit town during the right weekend in October can cap off their walking tour with a free open-air concert at the nearby Oaks by the Bay. This delightful city park at the southern end of the St. Andrews district hosts the two-day Jazz by the Bay festival. Fans arrange their folding chairs under the oaks to enjoy performance styles that range from Latin to Dixieland to contemporary jazz.
One of the top attractions in the Panama City area is the 1,260-acre St. Andrews State Park. Visitors to Florida’s panhandle park can dip toes in the water at a 1.5-mile beach. The park also offers hiking and biking trails as well as camping facilities, a boat launch and fishing pier. Tourists can depart here on a day trip by boat to Shell Island, a wildlife-rich barrier island with clear water for snorkeling and pontoon boating. Bottlenose dolphins and stingrays congregate just offshore.
After dark, the pulsating nightlife of Panama City Beach gears up, across the Hathaway Bridge from the state park. College kids invade the hotels, beaches and dance clubs each year during spring break. Right on the strip is America’s largest nightclub, Club LaVela. This hub of music and drinks accommodates more than 6,000 party goers with its 48 bar stations in 11 separate themed rooms.
For those who keep to the Panama City side of the bay, dining options feature wild-caught shellfish and fin fish and Cajun and American classics. Hunt’s Oyster Bar is a family-run, family-friendly establishment that is famous for oysters, frog legs and grilled gator. Bayou Joe’s Marina and Grill offers grilled-to-order grouper, yellowfin tuna and crabcake sandwiches in a waterfront setting.
Another top attractions in Panama City’s metropolitan area is golf. Plenty of sunshine and cool breezes off the water contribute to the region’s top ranking as a golf destination. Among the most demanding courses is the Nicklaus Design Course, one of two at Bay Point Resort Golf Club. This award-winning course winds around St. Andrews Bay and the Grand Lagoon. Another challenging course is at the Hombre Golf Club, which has hosted the PGA Tour Qualifying School.