Known primarily for its stellar beach access, Panama City has slowly grown into a popular tourist destination. With so many things to do and see in the area, you may want to venture from the beach every so often to see all the city has to offer.
Some of the best things in life are free, and Panama City is proof of that with its abundance of scenic parks, beaches, and walkways. Even some of the most sought after attractions come at a very little cost making Panama City a great vacation spot for those on a budget.
Read on for our guide to some of the best free and inexpensive, fun things to do on your next trip to Panama City.
Table of Contents
1. Panama City Beach
Known for being one of the finest beaches in the country, there’s plenty to do across this 27-mile stretch of white sand and turquoise water along the Gulf of Mexico.
Aside from the wonderful swimming opportunities, the beach is popular amongst fishermen and scuba divers because of the abundance of marine life.
Spend the day sunbathing, and head over to one of the many waterfront restaurants for some freshly caught seafood once you’ve worked up an appetite.
The beach’s perfect location makes it possible to enjoy the sunset over the Gulf at any time of year, so grab a drink and get ready to relish in its beauty.
2. Pier Park
There’s no shortage of things to do at the premier shopping center of Pier Park, where visitors can spend the day shopping, eating, and checking out cool attractions.
The park has 124 stores to choose from, offering sporting clothing, home goods, jewelry, shoes and more with a blend of name brand and boutique options.
Whether you’re looking for a snack at Auntie Anne’s, fast food at Five Guys, fine dining at Longhorn Steakhouse, a few drinks at Margaritaville, or fresh seafood at Back Porch Seafood and Oyster House, Pier Park has got you covered.
If you’re not interested in shopping, the park has a huge selection of entertainment venues including an IMAX theater, laser tag, Dave and Buster’s, and a few lounges to dance the night away.
Check out their calendar before you head into town to see what exciting events may be taking place like the Shrimp, Crab & Oyster Festival and the Brew & Boo Beer Festival.
3. Conservation Park
With 2,900 acres of land and nearly 25 miles of trails, the Conservation Park is a nature lover’s dream with a focus on protecting the great outdoors.
The trails range from dirt paths to boardwalks and can be anywhere between half of a mile to 11 miles – so there’s something here for everyone. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars, as the park is known for its great wildlife encounters and stellar bird watching.
Towards the center of the park you’ll find the visitor, center where you can use the bathroom, grab some water, and have a scenic picnic.
The protected park’s mission is to restore life in the wetlands, improve habitats, and save native species from extinction so please remember to leave no trace of litter.
4. Crooked Island Beach
Hidden in the shadows of the iconic Panama City Beach, Crooked Island Beach doesn’t tend to get many visitors making it a great option for visitors looking for some seclusion.
Since it’s a more primitive beach, you won’t have access to many amenities like running water or scuba rentals, but there are porta-potties available. You’ll need to bring your own water, food for the day, and towels, but the beach makes up for it with its tranquil setting, white sandy shore, clear waters, and collection of shells.
Those who visit this beach tend to come early for the best selection of shells, and it’s one of the few places where you can find sand dollars in perfect condition.
The water is usually calm but there are no lifeguards on duty, so swim at your own risk and remember to be cautious of riptides and occasional currents.
5. Panama City Beach Library
Located just steps away from the beach, Panama City Beach Library is a great place to get out of the sun for a little while and relax with a good book.
The library is open to the public, offers many education programs, and hosts an occasional book festival. Even on a slow day, the library welcomes guests to sit on one of its cozy couches and read to their heart’s content from the large selection of books.
Not a bookworm? The library also provides free access to computers where guests can catch up on work, or play one of the online games available.
6. St. Andrews State Park
Perfectly located between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, St. Andrews State Park has plenty of water-based activities to choose from.
The park is home to nearly 2 miles of white sandy beaches to relax on and aqua blue waters that draw in surfers, fishermen, and scuba divers.
As the seasons change you’ll notice a variety of different bird and butterfly species migrating through the park, creating a beautiful atmosphere of life.
Visitors can walk along the inland part of the park and admire coastal plants. There’s also a campground on-site for those who wish to stay a little longer.
7. Carillon Beach
More than just your average beach, Carillon Beach is part of a community along the Gulf where time seems to stand still and everyone you meet tends to have a smile on their face.
The private beach can only be accessed by renting one of the lovely homes in the community, but beachfront condos can be reserved for as little as $140/night – so it’s a win-win.
Enjoy the lack of crowds on the mile of white sandy shore and its calm blue waters as you lay out your towel and spend the day taking in the sun. The community is pedestrian friendly, with scenic boardwalks all throughout – so guests can take a relaxing stroll to admire the grounds.
8. Bear Creek Feline Center
Established in April of 2000 by James E. Broaddus II, the Bear Creek Feline Center provides permanent homes for displaced wildcats like bobcats, panthers, servals, and lynxes. Bear Creek’s goal is to provide a sanctuary for felines who were abandoned by other establishments after being taken from the wild, and to give them a sense of what it’s like to be back home.
Completely run by volunteers, all donations made to the center go directly to the care of these majestic creatures as well as the maintenance of their environment.
If you’re interested in up close and personal encounters with these beautiful cats, check out their website for contact information to schedule a tour.
9. Museum of Man in the Sea
Created by the Institute of Diving in 1976, the Museum of Man in the Sea invites guests to learn about the history of underwater exploration and the contributions of both the military and marine biologists.
The museum takes you back to a primitive time where divers would hold heavy rocks and hold their breath to see how far under they could go, and compares it to modern advances.
Within its 5,000 square feet of space, you’ll find many artifacts from sunken ships dating back to the 1500s and you can admire the evolution of naval equipment.
Climb aboard the U.S. Navy SEALAB to check out the first ever underwater living quarters and walk amongst an assortment of submarines that have advanced throughout the years.
If you happen to be visiting at the end of January, you can partake in the Oyster Bash where you can enjoy live music, drinks, and fresh seafood with the locals.
10. Emerald Falls Family Recreation Center
A collection of family-friendly attractions bundled into one location, the Emerald Falls Family Recreation Center is overflowing with entertainment.
- Head over to Fantasy Mini Golf for an 18 or 36 hole course
- Get wet on the bumper boats
- Play the day away at the Alien Arcade with hundreds of games to choose from
- Enjoy a go-kart experience like no other with three courses to choose from with different features, like horsepower and a 4-stories high track
- Get your heart racing on one of the many thrill rides available or take it easy with the kids on rides at the Kids Kingdom.
With the beach right next door, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy!
11. Shell Island
Only accessible by boat, Shell Island is a tropical oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city with views like no other in the area.
Boat rentals and tours are available at St. Andrews State Park for easiest access to the island. Keep an eye out for friendly dolphins along the way.
The 7 miles of white sandy shoreline is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, and its secluded location provides a safe haven from crowds.
Spend the day on this primitive island basking in the sun, collecting unique seashells, snorkeling amongst the clear blue waters, and enjoying a peaceful picnic.
12. Russell Fields City Pier
The Russell Fields City Pier stretches 1,500 feet out into the Gulf of Mexico and provides breathtaking views in every direction.
There’s a fee of $3.00 to access the pier, but once you are on the wooden boardwalk, you can stay as long as you’d like to admire the vast waters and active marine life. If you want to get in on the fun, a daily fishing license costs only $7.00 and rod rentals are available if you come unprepared.
The pier is known for its great fishing opportunities, so you’ll see fishermen line the pier catching Mackerel, Pompano, Flounder, and more.
13. Ripley’s Believe it or Not
A popular attraction peppered all throughout the country, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and its collection of oddities never disappoints
Walk through over a dozen galleries, each boasting bizarre and unique attractions, and enjoy your fair share of hands-on interaction exhibits.
You can easily spend your entire day admiring the odditorium, but don’t miss your chance to check out some of the other awesome experiences available:
- Transport yourself into a new world in Ripley’s 7D Moving Theater
- Try to escape the confines of Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze
- Channel your inner spy at Ripley’s Impossible Laser Race
Right next to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, you’ll find an equally interesting and entertaining attraction known as Wonderworks. You’ll instantly be drawn to the dual museum and amusement park thanks to its unique structure, resembling a building ripped from the ground and flipped upside down.
Rumor has it that the building was once located in the Bermuda Triangle, housing a top-secret laboratory. An experiment gone wrong launched the building off the ground and transported it to Panama City.
Once inside both children and adults can enjoy over 100 hands-on exhibits that are sure to challenge all ages, spread across 35,000 square feet of space.
15. Camp Helen State Park
Hidden on the western edge of Panama City, Camp Helen State Park is a gem that sees very little foot traffic but is home to an abundance of life. Once a family retreat before it became a donation to the state, the park spreads out amongst 185 acres of land and the historic lodge still stands today.
Surrounded by water on 3 sides, the park is a natural wonder with access to the rarity that is the coastal dune lake of Powell. With five ecosystems located within the park, you’ll see a diverse selection of wildlife and varying flowers and trees throughout the grounds.
Although camping is not allowed on park property, you still have access to fishing, boating, and can even enjoy a fire in some areas.
16. Grand Lagoon Waterfront Farmers Market
On weekends, the Grand Lagoon Waterfront Farmers Market takes over Panama City with its large array of farm stands located right along the water – for shopping, with a view.
Once a small market, Grand Lagoon has grown tremendously and is now considered to be one of the leading markets in the country for baked goods, meats, cheeses, produce, plants and so much more. Grand Lagoon is not your average farmers market, though. They have rotating events to spice things up a bit – like the zucchini races, where contestants build race cars out of zucchini and put it to the test.
There are plenty of parking lots located around the market making it easy to get right in on the action. Its convenient location next to Captain Anderson’s Restaurant provides quick access to dining and the marina.
17. Gayle’s Trails
Connecting two of Panama City’s most popular parks, Gayle’s Trails is a system of paved trails that are easily accessible to cyclists and pedestrians. With over 20 miles of trails and even more routes still in development, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
The heart of the trails can be found in Frank Brown Park, and provides a scenic walk regardless of which route you choose.
The paved walkways make for a leisurely stroll, with dirt trails in locations where routes are being extended, like at Panama City Beach Conservation Park.
18. Pitt and Sylvan Hot Springs
Nestled along Econfina Creek, Pitt and Sylvan Hot Springs have gone under recent renovations to enhance its amenities and restore eroded banks to give guests the best possible experience.
Spread out across 10 acres of parkland you’ll find 3 pavilions with many picnic tables and grills. Enjoy a relaxing day of hanging by the water and barbecuing with friends.
Take a walk along the boardwalk trail that takes you around the springs to admire how the water boils up through the rocks, and to learn about the area through the use of interpretive signs.
The springs are a popular destination for swimming, kayaking and canoeing, but be advised that there are no lifeguards on duty.
19. Rock’it Lanes
With over 50,000 square feet of entertainment, Rock’it Lanes are nonstop fun with activities that will be sure to pique the interest of guests of all ages.
The facility includes a bowling alley, roller skating rink, an arcade, two sports bars, and a grille, so the whole family can enjoy a day of fun, food, and drinks.
Recently renovated, the 24- lane bowling alley is in stellar condition, glows in the dark, has comfortable leather seats, and costs as little as $4.00/game.
The Mega Arcade is one of the largest arcades in all of Florida, sporting some of the latest games with half-price deals on Tuesdays.
20. Todd Herendeen Theatre
If you’re looking for dinner and a show, look no further than the lovely Todd Herendeen Theatre – where you can listen to Todd and the Band perform classic jams.
Todd prides himself on his ability to transform his voice to sound like famous singers, and guests from all over rave about his performance. Once an international traveling musician, Todd Herendeen is known across the globe for his unique talent and can-do attitude.
The theatre puts on one lively show a night, and dinner reservations need to be made at least one night in advance – so make sure to plan ahead to enjoy the full experience.
Dinner consists of two portions of meat, a vegetable, a potato, rolls, dessert, coffee, and drinks catered by the popular Triple J’s Restaurant.
21. ZooWorld Panama City Beach
Known for being one of the most interactive zoos in the state of Florida, ZooWorld is a fan favorite amongst all ages and locals love to visit all year round.
Meet a giraffe, pet a sloth, feed an alligator, hang out with a lemur, play with goats, and get up close and personal with the lions. These are only a few of the attractions available within the zoo, so make sure to check out their website for a full list of ways to interact with the animals.
The zoo continues to grow, adding new exhibits and species every couple of years so it is a great place to visit time and time again.
22. Gator Country Alligator Park
Also known as Airboat Adventures, Gator Country Alligator Park is located in the heart of swamp country just a short 20-minute ride from Panama City Beach.
For as little as $30.00/person, you can venture through the swaps on a boat tour with guaranteed sightings of wild alligators and the chance to spot American bald eagles and dolphins.
Before your boat ride, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the grounds of the Alligator Park where you can learn more about these reptiles and admire some of the trained gators onsite.
The boat ride is an exhilarating experience, with rapid turns and a few bumps along the way – so be prepared to hold on tight!
23. Escape Manor
Put your problem-solving skills to the test and be prepared to work as a team to discover the truth behind a series of mysteries at the thrilling Escape Manor.
Pick between one of four rooms, ranging in difficulty, and spend 1 hour solving puzzles, discovering clues, and figuring out riddles in order to win the game.
The rooms are live-action, which means a hands-on experience, and the room is completely designed to fit the theme without the use of any technology.
Depending on the size of your party, you might will be working with strangers to beat the clock – but if you’d rather have the place to yourself, let the Manor know and it can be arranged.
24. Coconut Family Fun Park
Coconut Family Fun Park really is a fun place for the whole family with 2 mini-golf courses and a massive maze to spark up some friendly competition.
If you’re interested in trying everything the park has to offer, you’re in luck. The establishment offers unlimited access to all attractions for as little as $26.00/day.
The mini-golf courses both have a tropical theme but sport many different features, including waterfalls, caves, animal statues, and unique challenges.
The Gran Maze is the largest of its kind in the state of Florida (it’s larger than a football field!) and has four checkpoints along the way to let you know when you’re on the right path.
25. Rick Seltzer Park
With nearly 200 feet of waterfront access, Rick Seltzer Park provides visitors with a public beach amongst its 5 acres of land. The beach is perfect for swimming, and there are pavilions with picnic benches to enjoy lunch with friends or family.
Relax in the sun or take a walk along one of the many trails with interpretive signs peppered throughout so that you can learn more about the dune environment that surrounds you.
After a day of taking in the sun and exploring the grounds, you’re just a short drive away from a strip of popular restaurants and bars to grab a bite to eat.
26. M.B. Miller Pier
Sitting out 1500 feet on the Gulf of Mexico, the M.B. Miller Pier is a great place to go for a stroll and take in the stunning views at any time of day. You can walk out onto the pier for as little as $3.00, and take as much time as you’d like admiring the vast blue waters.
Fishing is a popular activity, so you’ll have the joy of watching fishermen in action – but if you’d like to join in on the fun, you can purchase a fishing license for only $6.00.
In these waters, fishermen tend to catch Spanish Mackerel, Blue Liners, Flounder, Pompano, and many more.
27. Panama City SkyWheel
Considered to be one of the hottest entertainment destinations in Panama City, the SkyWheel has a variety of attractions to keep the whole family busy.
- Play a game of mini-golf at the 18-hole course
- Soar through the sky on the SkyTrain
- Zip around the grounds on the zipline
- Ride the iconic SkyWheel
The SkyWheel stands nearly 200 feet tall and has 30 temperature-controlled gondolas to ensure a comfortable and safe experience, regardless of the season.
After you’ve had your fun, be sure to stop at the souvenir shop to commemorate your trip and grab a bite to eat at the SkyWheel Snack Shack.
28. Panama City Beach Winery
Did somebody say complimentary wine tasting? Panama City Beach Winery is a popular stop for tourists and locals alike thanks to its delicious selection of wine and free tastings.
Known as the sole tropical winery in Bay County, all of its wines are made in-house, and have received praise from all over the world. Using all fresh ingredients, the winery creates a wide variety of fruit wines that provide a crisp taste to battle the Florida heat.
While you’re there, check out their selection of wine slushies – and when you fall in love with this one-of-a-kind drink, one of the workers can show you how to make it yourself!
29. Goofy Golf
First established in 1959, Goofy Golf has been entertaining guests for over 60 years thanks to its old fashioned charm and affordability.
This is not your average mini-golf course. Its unique additions make it stand out, with its many larger-than-life statues, interesting mix of animals, aliens, and more. The course has many fun challenges along the way to add to the experience and up the stakes, like an alligator that snaps its mouth.
Pick from two equally exciting 18-hole courses, and plan a nighttime visit to see how the dinosaurs’ and monkeys’ eyes light up the course.
30. Swampy Jack’s Wongo Adventure
Although on the smaller side, Swampy Jack’s Wongo Adventure packs a punch with its exhilarating attractions revolving around Swamp Jack’s adventures around the globe.
There are six very different rides to enjoy, including a roller coaster that just barely escapes the grasp of the alleged swamp ape and an underwater-themed bumper car experience.
The real focus is on their one-of-a-kind electric go-kart system that allows players to drive at speeds much faster than a typical go-kart, while enjoying an interactive course filled with speed boosts and tools for sabotage.