Aside from that beautiful beach, we’ve got some cheap, cheerful, and sometimes even free things to do in Panama City Beach.
If you’ve yet to experience the white sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle, you’re missing out. I was never much of a beach person — East Coast beaches just didn’t seem attractive to me. But when I set my eyes on the white sand of Panama City Beach, everything changed. In fact, my wife and I moved to Florida and eventually made our way to the area because of that first visit.
Whether you live here or are just visiting for a fun vacation, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Of course, some things cost a ridiculous amount of money. Nevertheless, I’ve found quite a few cheap and even free things to do in Panama City Beach. And there are some great places to eat, too! As you’d guess, many of these attractions involve the great outdoors.
Given the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, please be sure to check the rules and regulations of the local government before visiting any attractions. Some activities may be available currently, but situations can quickly change, so try to keep an eye out for updates!
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Panama City Beach
The beach itself is by far the biggest attraction. If you aren’t staying in a beachfront hotel or condo, you can park for free at the MB Miller County Pier or the Russell Fields City Pier and take a quick walk to the beach. My wife and I love camping out on the sand in the shadow of a pier because you can avoid the scorching sun without an umbrella or a tent.
If you get tired of the beach, you can visit the Conservation Park, which has no admission fee. While it isn’t the beach, it does offer 24 miles of trails and more than a mile of boardwalk. The park can be a bit insect-ridden during the summer, so be sure to bring bug spray.
The Pitt Spring Recreation Area cold-water spring is completely free. It offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, hiking, canoeing, and more. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the beach, but it is well worth the trip.
The water is 11 feet deep, and at a chilly 68 degrees, it will definitely cool you down on a hot day.
The spring leads to the Econfina River, which you can explore as well. At the recreation area, there are plenty of picnic tables as well as a few covered pavilions.
Have you ever wanted to see how the rich and famous vacation at the beach? Then take a ride along Scenic Highway 30A. This road is home to some of the most expensive residences in the area. Along the way, you’ll find many small towns with shopping areas and public parking. Keep it cheap by window shopping or just enjoying the fancy buildings.
Meanwhile, St. Andrews State Park isn’t free, but with an entry fee of only $8 per car, it isn’t a bad deal at all. The park offers beaches on both the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay. The latter beach is at the opening of the bay and has a rock jetty, allowing for extremely calm, shallow waters that kids can enjoy.
Another fun thing to do is attend the weekly Summer Concert Series at Aaron Bessant Park. The concerts are held every Thursday night from June through August. Each week is a different artist, so there is always something new and exciting to be found. Just make sure you bring a chair and stay socially distanced!
The next feature isn’t free, but is worth the price of less than a single morning’s coffee. The Panama City Beach Aquatic Center offers an outdoor Olympic-size pool plus a kids’ splash pool complete with an obstacle course. Best of all, the pools are heated and cooled depending on the season. As we are in the midst of a pandemic, availability of certain activities may be limited, so be sure to check in with state and local officials to see what will be open.
Cheap Places to Eat in Panama City Beach
In addition to finding affordable things to do in Panama City Beach, it’s pretty easy to save money on food while you’re here. If you rented a condo with a kitchen, that will be the cheapest place to eat; shop at one of the many local grocery stores and cook your own meals to save some dough.
If you don’t want to cook or you’re staying in a hotel, one of our favorite deals comes from Wayback Burgers on Panama City Beach Parkway: Just download the app and get a free burger after the first purchase!
David’s Sno-Balls offers some of the best-shaved ice I’ve ever had. They serve authentic New Orleans cuisine, as the owner moved from there to Panama City Beach after Hurricane Katrina. The prices are very reasonable, especially in light of just how good the food is.
My wife and I go to Texas Roadhouse when we want a decent-priced steak. The floor is littered with peanut shells, so it isn’t exactly fine dining. But the atmosphere is a lot of fun. If you plan on eating here during peak season, take advantage of the call-ahead waiting list.
Diego’s Burrito Factory is another great place to get some grub. These build-your-own burritos are made exactly how you want them, yet are still inexpensive. With outside seating and a few cornhole boards, you can enjoy the weather even as you eat.