Looking for affordable family travel to the beach? You should definitely consider Panama City Beach. Even with the limitations of traveling with a preschooler, we had a blast. Check out all the reasons I loved Panama City Beach with a Preschooler.
This summer, Robert and I visited Panama City Beach on a mother and son trip. I grew up a few hours from Panama City Beach and always assumed it was a party town, the type of town that was only good for spring breakers. I had no idea that there were so many family friendly things to do there. I certainly had no idea it would be the perfect place for a preschooler!
Why is Panama City Beach great for preschoolers and families?
Turns out, Panama City Beach is a great place to take kids because it’s full of affordable family fun. There is so much to do in the area at affordable prices that it’s easy to take some time away from the beach to do other activities.
I know how frustrating it can be to save up money for a vacation, then have no spending money once you arrive. In Panama City Beach, hotels and condos are more affordable than some other parts of Florida. This makes it easier to dine out or engage in activities.
What to do with Preschoolers in Panama City Beach
Since Panama City Beach is a big tourist destination, there is a lot to do in the area. Lucky for us parents, there is a lot for preschoolers too. Here are my favorites we got to experience.
I’m a huge fan of the beaches on the Florida panhandle and Alabama gulf coast. I’d leave the Southwest Florida beaches filled with broken shells in the sand for the fine sand of the panhandle if I could. The water is so green too!
Cost: Free for kids under 35″, $35.98 for over 50″, $24.98 for under 50″
Shipwreck Island was the highlight of the trip for my son who had never been to a waterpark before. The reason it was perfect for him was because the park offers several areas that are safe and fun for his age and size.
The tipping bucket area was a fun place for him to splash around and practice some swimming.
Once he got tired of that area, we decided to explore the section just for smaller kids. Even though he was one of the biggest, he had a blast in the tadpole hole.
It was perfect for the timid kid who wants to have fun but is still to afraid to do big slides or float down the lazy river.
It’s also the perfect place for a pregnant mama to cool her feet and then sit down, relax and watch the kids!
Cost: Options ranging from $21.99- $34.99 depending on if you want lazer tag and ropes course.
As a former science teacher, I love taking my kids to fun and educational places like WonderWorks. It’s considered to be “edu-tainment” because the kids really do learn while having fun.
When we went we saw 6 featured exhibits that got all the kids engaged.
While it was fun for my son and me, I think it will be even more fun when he’s older and we can do laser tag, bumper cars, and the ropes course. This is the type of place that only gets more and more fun each time you visit.
Gulf World Marine Park
Cost: Free for kids 4 and under, $19 ages 5-11, $29 for adults (save $5 by booking online).
Gulf World Marine Park offers 6 different hands on programs where you pay more to experience the animals. Swimming with the dolphins is one of these programs! While the programs look fun, there is no need to do that with preschoolers. They’ll have fun just walking around the marine park and watching the free shows.
We loved checking out sea lions the most because they are so cute!
You can also walk through an aviary to see birds.
Pier Park is a shopping center and entertainment hub with great shopping and delicious eats. They have a little amusement park, a movie theater, Dave & Busters, and a virtual reality experience.
We had fun walking by all the shops, eating ice cream, and then walking to the beach.
It’s great for people watching and something free to do if you need a quick break from the beach.
The only downside is that parking is rough. My advice is to not even look for a close parking spot. Just drive to the back and find an empty spot then walk around. You’ll be walking a lot anyway!
Cost: Varies by location
We almost always mini golf with the kids when we get a chance. It’s something they love and it’s a fun way to entertain them without spending a ton of money.
Panama City Beach has lots of different mini golf businesses all up and down the main strip!
Where to eat with preschoolers in Panama City Beach
Andy’s Flour Power Cafe & Bakery
Voted one of the top 101 best breakfast spots by Urban Spoon, Andy’s Flour Power doesn’t disappoint. Not only do they offer reasonably priced meals that make kids and adults happy, they also have a bakery on site.
Robert enjoyed a kids waffle,
while I enjoyed a breakfast croissant sandwich with bacon, eggs, and a tomato.
Thomas’ Donut and Snack Shop
I’d travel back to Panama City Beach just to eat at Thomas’ Donut and Snack Shop again. It’s that good. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Check out this long line of people waiting to get donuts!
It’s worth the wait though! My favorite donut was the chocolate bacon donut. OMG. I don’t even have the words.
Robert and I each had breakfast sandwiches too. At one point I even found myself telling Robert to finish his bacon so he could eat another donut. What a life, right?
While I love myself a good donut, my favorite thing to eat was the spicy jalapeño sausage biscuit. When you make a biscuit you get to customize it completely with your choice of protein and cheese. I definitely suggest the jalapeño sausage if you like things spicy!
Spinnaker Beach Club
You may not think family friendly when you think beach bar. Think again when it comes to Spinnaker Beach Club. The games and beachfront location keep kids entertained if you must wait.
The food is appetizing enough for parents, while still offering a lot for kids. Robert was pretty happy with his macaroni and cheese.
I was happy with all my food. We started with smoked tuna dip that was smoked perfectly.
I made my own meal with a combination of peal and eat them shrimp, corn and shrimp chowder, and jalapeño cornbread. Everything was delicious, especially the chowder. It was creamy and flavorful.
Located in Pier Park, Pompano Joe’s is a family friendly restaurant that is great after an afternoon of exploring the shops and entertainment.
The kid’s menu has several good options including the option to have fruit as a side instead of french fries. When dining out a lot with little kids, it’s good to skip the fries occasionally!
I decided to try one of Pompano Joe’s most popular dishes, the coconut crusted mahi mahi. The coconut flavors were delicious without overpowering the flavor of the fish. I loved the texture of the plantains on top too!
The Grand Marlin
The Grand Marlin offers upscale dining that is still surprisingly kid friendly. The waterfront bay views are exciting for kids who love looking at boats in a marina.
I’m always happy to find an upscale restaurant that still caters to kids. Robert loved his chicken tenders and fries. In fact, this was the first time he’d ever finished his plate. They must have been some good chicken tenders!
Our group started with some fabulous appetizers. The bbq baked oysters were a hit with everyone.
My personal favorite was the sautéed crab claws with the most delicious butter sauce. This is what I miss most about living near the panhandle. You just can’t get these in Southwest Florida!
For my entree I decided to keep the Southern theme going with New Orleans stye shrimp and grits. While they were delicious, I found myself wanting more butter and less tomato. I blame it on the pregnancy heartburn!
My friend sitting next to me ordered the scallops and they were so pretty that I had to take a picture of them.
Is Panama City Beach for you?
If you’re looking for an affordable beach vacation in a town that has a lot to offer for food and entertainment, then you’ll love Panama City Beach. We loved it with our young kids, but I know it will be even more fun for us as they grow up. It’s the type of beach town that truly offers something for kids of all ages!