Sugar white sand and emerald green water greet you as you step past the beachfront high-rise hotels and condos of Panama City Beach, Florida. It's no wonder that this is a spring break mecca for college kids. For far too long these rowdy co-eds have dominated the headlines of this Panhandle destination. The Gulf Coast was made for family fun, and Panama City Beach is slowly turning its image around, attracting families not only with their beaches, but their kidcentric activities as well.
In the water you can swim, boogie board, stand up paddleboard, and even body surf. On the beach you can build dribble castles, fly a kite, and work on your tan or simply squish your toes in the pillow soft sand. If you have never seen the sand on the Gulf Coast you are in for a pleasant surprise. If skiing were a beach sport they would be calling this sand champagne powder.
Off the beach you can explore the ocean from on high via a ride in one of the Panhandle Helicopters. These helicopter rides aren't cheap, but they will give you a ski-high view of the city that you will never get from below. Go on the hunt for devil rays, dolphins, and even sharks. They are much easier to spot in the crystal clear waters from high above.
As the sun starts to set, the historic Miracle Strip lights up the night for family fun with rides for toddlers on up to teens. The roller coaster will give your kids an adrenaline rush, while you can make memories as your toddler rides the carousel for the first time. Plan on spending a few hours here to wear the kids out before you head to Pier Park Drive for dinner and dessert. Here you will find flavors to fit every palate, plus any beach gear you may need to pick up.
You really can't go to the beach without doing a little mini golf. Goofy Gulf has been around for ages, but it does show its wear in many ways and can be a bit scary for younger children. Have no fear; there is pirate golf just down the street and other mini golf spots with more themes than you could count. Parents need to add an extra dose of patience to their morning coffee to play mini golf with their younger kids, but older kids will have loads of fun crushing their parents as they swing their way to the 18th hole.
Panama City Beach may be known for its wild nights of partying over spring break as co-eds drink too much and enjoy hangover breakfasts at Andy's Flour Power Bakery. Don't be intimidated by this outdated beach image though. The bars are still there, but the town is making more room for families. Deep down this is a small community, where parents raise their kids and beach lovers have come to take up residency. Who knows, before too long the toddler crew could be taking over the co-eds. At least with co-eds in town you know you can always find a babysitter.
What are your favorite family-friendly beach destinations?
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