As a Tennessee native, I’ve been traveling down to the Panhandle annually for the last 30 years: friend vacations, family reunions, work trips — you name the occasion, and I’ve probably done it. One thing I hadn’t checked off my Panama City Beach list, however was a bachelorette weekend with a whole gaggle of gals in tow — until last summer, that is. And I discovered that while PCB is a great destination for families and college kids, it’s also the perfect place for a girlfriend getaway.
With 27 miles of coastline, PCB’s beaches are incomparable with their powdery sand and sparkling emerald water. Venture away from bustle of the Strip and you’ll find one of Panama City Beach’s most cherished stretches of real estate, St. Andrews State Park: 1,260 acres brimming with nature trails for hiking, lagoons for swimming, and more than a mile and a half of beachfront just made for sunbathing. Looking for an active afternoon? SUP Conscious offers standup paddleboard excursions through the park, while Mermaid Heather leads SUP yoga classes and surf lessons nearby. On the western end of Panama City Beach sits Camp Helen State Park, a wooded, marshy display of the region’s biodiversity — flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and a coastal dune lake — that leads out to a magnificent and often empty beach.
For the more adventurous groups, exploring the Gulf’s marine terrain is a must. After all, PCB bears the distinction of being the “Wreck Diving Capital of the South.” As you float through bridge spans and ships’ skeletons, you’ll mingle with schools of amberjacks and angelfish and marvel at Goliath groupers, who earned their name for a reason. Not certified? Not a problem. Consider a Discover Scuba outing through a local dive shop — it’s an exploratory dive giving beginners a chance to get their fins wet.
If underwater adventures don’t light your fire and you prefer the more R&R route, what better time to indulge in a day of pampering than when armed with your pals? While PCB boasts more than a dozen top-notch day spas and salons, Salon Baliage & Spa at the Carillon Beach Resort is a fun spot to get your mani and pedi on and offers customized spa parties, as well as a number of seasonal specials like a Pumpkin Spice Pedicure, Coconut Sweet Lime Sugar Scrub or the three-hour Wrap Yourself in Chocolate package. On the other end of the beach, Serenity Spa at Bay Point is the ideal luxury accommodation option for a girls’ getaway. With its well-appointed suites and stunning pool, many will want to choose a treatment from the spa menu, then spend the day lounging and hanging out, soaking up the upscale vibe of this luxury spa.
HIT THE WATER
Not far from the mainland, Shell Island is a glorious undeveloped seven-mile spit of land surrounded by crystal clear bathwater. Charter a pontoon with Shell Island Snorkeling & Dolphin Tours and make a day of it by packing a cooler with drinks and lunch, and loading up with sunscreen and beach chairs to spend a carefree day beneath the warm Florida sun. Or cap off a great day with a sunset cruise aboard Paradise Adventures’ 52-foot catamaran, which has mood music and a full bar on hand.
DINE ABOUT TOWN
With its growing culinary scene, Panama City Beach is rife in restaurants like the upscale Firefly restaurant or Saltwater Grill, where you’ll find decadent deserts, delicious martinis, fresh sushi, seafood and prime cuts of meat. For a more toes-in-the sand, boat-drinks-in-hand kind of afternoon (or night), nab a table at Schooners or Runaway Island Beach Bar & Grill right on the beach. If you plan to have a drink (or several) and don’t have a designated driver on hand, consider hiring a driver through Bay Limousine, whose fleet comprises a number of trolleys, party buses, Hummers and stretch limos, including one very hot pink Lexus.