Thursday, 12 November 2015

Located in the Florida Panhandle bordering the Gulf of Mexico, Panama City is the perfect vacation spot for beach-loving families.

It has an average of 320 days of sunshine per year and with a population of 36,000 people, it is never too crowded. Here, we break down 25 things (in no particular order) to do for less than $25 on your next Panama City holiday.

1. Say hello to a dolphin

Get up close and personal with dolphins, sharks, and sea lions at Gulf World Marine Park. There's plenty of shows to enjoy, as well as underwater scuba demonstrations and feeding times of turtles and stingrays to attend. Admission is $19.00 for kids 5-11 years old, but more for adults.

2. Get some retail therapy

Pier Park is a fun place to hang out for the day, especially if you and your family like to shop. The location has 126 of some of your favorite stores and restaurants and while buying items may cost you more than $25, people-watching is free of charge. It also has the Pier Park Amusements with rides like the Tornado and the Giant Euro Slide at just $4 per ride.

3. Visit Ripley's Odditorium

The newly-renovated Ripley's Believe It or Not! features mind-bending and mind-blowing exhibits, like a vampire killing kit and mirror maze challenge. Don't leave without taking a peek at the giant Captain America made entirely of used car parts! Tickets are $17.99 for adults and $12.99 for kids.

4. Eat some ribs

The secret ingredient is "good old fashioned Southern pride" at J.R.'s Rib Shack, where even the banana pudding gets raves. Kids 12 and under are allowed to eat for free (per one adult meal purchase) on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Check online for daily specials.

5. Relax in the sun

St. Andrews State Park is one of Panama City's most popular places to go. Grab your sunscreen and head down to the water to relax on their "sugar white" sands with a picnic. Interested in learning about the local wildlife? Sign up for one of their Campfire Circles. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, a park ranger explains the history and animals in the park. If you park, admission is $8.00 per vehicle.

6. Get paddling

Always wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding? Now is your chance. Panama City Paddle Boards offers one-hour rentals for $20 per person, which includes five minutes of free instruction. Pack your swimsuit and get ready to work out your core.

7. Check out a submarine

Curious about what life is like underwater? If so, check out the Man in the Sea Museum, a fascinating place that features exhibits on underwater machinery and underwater outfits that resemble space suits. Here, you even have the ability to climb through a submarine. Admission is $5 for adults and free for kids under 7 years old.

8. Expand your mind

WonderWorks is a hands-on science museum perfect for kids. The 36,000-square-foot space has more than 100 exhibits, laser tag, and a ropes course. Some exhibits include art history while others allow kids to try lying on a bed of nails! Tickets are $23.99 for adults and $18.99 for kids.

9. Pet a giraffe

Kids love ZooWorld, a zoological and botanical conservatory that is home to more than 200 species of animals. Tickets are $16.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids between 2 and 12 years old. For an extra $15 per person, you can hold a lemur!

10. Visit dolphins

Head over to Shell Island to experience a day of snorkeling with friendly dolphins. Pick up the Shell Island Ferry or take the Shell Island Shuttle, just 11 miles from downtown Panama City, and have fun on the water. Tickets are $24.95 for adults and $18.95 for kids 12 and under.

11. Go miniature golfing

It can be easy to spend an entire day at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park, an attraction that offers miniature golf and the Gran Maze, a fun, giant human labyrinth the size of a football field. This place is open year-round and also has beautiful waterfalls, so be sure to bring your camera. Tickets for unlimited games cost $21.00 per person.

12. Gaze upon the Gulf of Mexico

Camp Helen State Park is a 180-acre park that offers areas for swimming, fishing, and hiking. Most trails are paved, so you are fine wearing your running sneakers. It's also downright stunning, with one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida and surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on three sides. Admission is $4 per vehicle, with a limit of eight people per car.

13. Ride a roller coaster

Your children will love spending the day at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, which includes roller coasters, water rides, a zip line, and a train. The bumper cars are fun for all ages. Tickets are $22.99 for persons taller than 48 inches and $18.99 for persons between 36 inches and 47 inches in height. Those under 36 inches are admitted free.

14. Fly through the air

Have you ever wanted to skydive but don't want to actually jump out of a plane? Slingshot & Indy Speedway is your chance to fly 300 feet in the air at 100 miles-per-hour while still tethered to the ground. Make sure to go on an empty stomach and have someone on the ground with a camera, ready to click. Tickets are $25.00 per ride.

15. Slide into the water

The Aqua Park is a fun water park of inflatable slides and trampolines in the Gulf of Mexico that's available to the public. One hour of inflatable fun will cost you $25.00 per person. Don't forget your bathing suit and sunscreen.

16. Walk through Conservation Park

The 2,912-acre  Conservation Park is perfect for nature lovers and bird-watchers, where families can walk 24 miles of trails. It also offers hiking and biking options, and admission is free. Note: hiking trails are paved and not strenuous. Bring your gym shoes and a few bottles of water, though, especially in the summer months.

17. Eat seafood

Capt. Anderson's Restaurant & Waterfront Market has been a staple in Panama City since 1967 and it isn't slowing down. The sprawling 725-seat eatery is fun for the whole family. Children's menu items include fried grouper fingers for $7.95 and fried jumbo shrimp for $9.95. Prices for adult items are also reasonable; the menu includes She Crab Pie for $19.95 and oven-broiled Gulf scallops for $23.95.

18. Start pedaling

Barley's Bike Rentals lends out bikes for different kinds of riding, be it racing, touring, or mountain biking. Tickets for same-day return start at $10 for kids and go up to $25 for fat-tire varieties.

19. Get your learning on

Head over to the Science & Discovery Center of Northwest Florida for a variety of hands-on exhibits, perfect for kids. Check out the website for current and future events that cover science, technology, and history. There are also half-day and full-day camps for kids during the summer. Daily admission is $7 for adults and $6 for children.

20. Enjoy some comfort food

There may be no better place in the area to enjoy fried chicken and biscuits than PoFolks. On Wednesdays, the restaurant allows two free kids meals per adult entree (dine-in only). Don't forget to try the moon pie. The catfish is also delicious.

21. Play a few arcade games

Lose yourself at Funland Arcade, which has plenty of classic and new video games, as well as skeeball and a children's carousel. Prices are per game but shouldn't cost you more than $25 per person. Don't worry if you get hungry while playing. This spot also offers food such as pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers.

22. Try some salsa

Los Antojitos Mexican Restaurant boasts the most authentic Mexican cuisine around, and kids 12 and under can eat free on Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult meal. Try their award-winning shrimp ceviche or the Super Baked Burrito.

23. Enjoy art

Revitalized downtown Panama City is home to the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida, which is quickly becoming a popular destination for tourists in the Southeast. This place offers free admission and includes a variety of exhibits on local art. Adults: inquire into classes on photography, sculpture, and photography.

24. Walk the pier

At 1,500 feet, Russell Fields Pier is the longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico, and a beautiful place to fish, admire marine life, or just look out at the water during sunset. Don't forget your camera to snap photos of pelicans flying by. Admission is free.

25. Relax under the oaks

Under the Oaks Park, a little off the beaten path but right by the water, is a beautiful place to relax with your family, have a picnic, and play catch. It also has a wooden playground for kids.


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