If it seems like I’ve been in Florida a lot lately, that’s because it’s true. I went to Jacksonville and St. Augustine in March to visit Angie and Jade. I went to PCB in April on a project with Angie and Jade. And I headed back to Panama City Beach two weeks ago with just Jade (no Angie, sadly) for a magazine story.
I’m not complaining; there are few places I’d rather be than in Florida, no matter the time of year—especially with this girl!
This particular visit was different than our last; for one, we didn’t spend all of it eating and drinking because the weather couldn’t have been better—it was mid-80s and sunny as could be, whereas we were met with some rain back in April—and for another, I was only there for a very quick 48 hours. So, as usual, Jade and I managed to cram in as many sights as we could (or rather, collect as much Instagram material as possible in a brief two days).
Headed to PCB soon? Take a few cues from us—here are some of my favorite places to get awesome photos, whether family portraits or selfies or a combination of the two (#felfie?).
I think the question here is: When does a pier not make for a great photo opp? Russell-Fields (aka City Pier) is one of PCB’s four fishing piers and the most prominent of all of them: as the longest pier on the Gulf, it stretches 1,500 feet out over the water.
This spot is smack in the middle of PCB, so go mid-morning (or off-season as we did) to photograph it without the crowds.
I waxed poetic about how I’m newly smitten with Carillon Beach—seriously, how cute are the candy-colored beach houses?—but I didn’t mention how perfect the overlooks are for photos, particularly during the golden hour.
This planned community has eight unique dune walkovers that lead out onto the beach, as well as a Meeting House, well-manicured Promenade, bell tower, yoga studio, Village Green, salon and much more. Even if you’re not a guest of the resort or inn, it’s worth parking in the “downtown” and taking a stroll throughout the intricate complex.
Right next to Carillon Beach flanking Lake Powell, this site of a former hotel burned down in the 1920s and has since been turned into a state park. The 180-acre, day-use Camp Helen is full of prehistoric mounds dating back 4,000 years and devoid of people.
Pro tip: If you time it just right and arrive by foot minutes before sunset, you’ll likely to have the whole park and beach to yourself.
St. Andrews State Park
A former military reservation with Gulf access, this lush state park occupies a protected area along a mile and a half on the lagoon side of PCB. Not only do the multicolored umbrellas create a tapestry across the sugar sand, but the beach also offers excellent views of the PCB skyline just beyond.
Plus, the marshy territory as you enter the park is worth a quick stop, too—if for nothing else, to see what wildlife you can spot among the reeds.
On top of its residents—from raccoons and alligators to various species of birds and dolphins galore—St. Andrews is one of the best spots for water sports in the area, and who doesn’t love a hotdogging kite surfer against a blue sky backdrop?
I feel like it took me far too long to discover this Gulf Coast gem, though all locals and every frequent PCB visitor will know about the iconic mini-golf course as it’s been around for 50 years.
I won’t claim to have actually played a hole—let’s just say I’m as competitive as they come and don’t like to lose; and also golf is probably my weakest sport—but the lady working the ticket counter was kind enough to let us look around anyway.
From a helicopter
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of going out on a 25-minute flight with Panhandle Helicopter, and I promise you it doesn’t get any better than an aerial view of the Emerald Coast.
This seven-mile stretch of uninhabited island may very well be one of my favorite spots in the entire South. Not only is the sand the whitest of whites and the water the bluest of blues, but it’s got shallow waters that are perfect for pulling a pontoon up to. Last year, on my friend Andrea’s Florida bachelorette weekend, we spent an entire day on Shell Island—and did not want to go back to the mainland at the end of the day.
Bonus points if you make it all the way out there and do some crazy acrobatics as other boaters gawk as they pass.
Want some green photos that POP beyond those of the Gulf’s emerald hues? Look no further than the PCB Conservation Park, which boasts 3,000 acres and 12 looping trails and connects to Frank Brown Park via Gayle’s Trails, a comprehensive network of greenways that eventually will span the length of Bay County.
What’s your favorite spot for taking photos in Panama City Beach? I know there are some gems I’ve left off.