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(2015 - Fall/Winter Issue)


Looking across Grand Lagoon at the hotels and condominiums towering over the water, it was hard to believe I was standing on the shore of a pristine piece of property with wild deer ambling through the campground behind me.

That juxtaposition of city-meets-nature would be the theme of our trip, and I suspected camping at St. Andrews State Park was exactly the sort of getaway I needed. In this city known for its big concerts, events, shopping and entertainment, I was mostly eager to see the natural side of Panama City Beach but also wanted to explore the city a bit, getting the best of both worlds in one vacation.


My husband and I didn’t have any trouble snagging one of the many RV campsites directly on the water, and ours gave us direct access to the lagoon for stand-up paddleboarding, which we did almost every day. We constantly saw dolphins in the lagoon and even spotted a tiny shark once. We took full advantage of the beach on the other side of the park and soaked up the sun while splashing in the brilliant turquoise water for which the Emerald Coast is known.

A quick ferry ride to Shell Island revealed a busy waterway full of boats and jet skis, which soon gave way to a quiet spot and an unspoiled island where we snorkelled waters teeming with aquatic wildlife, including dolphins that appeared in the distance.

The park is one of many protected natural areas here, and we spent a good deal of time hiking and biking others, including Camp Helen State Park and the Panama City Beach Conservation Park.


Our Panama City Beach trip wasn’t entirely focused on exploring nature, however. Even though we enjoyed grilling our dinners outside and eating by the campfire, we also spent time driving around the coast, checking out surf shops and sampling the local fare, which didn’t disappoint. We discovered fresh flavours and a tranquil atmosphere at Zen Garden and Lotus Café and found out why local favourite Finn’s Island-Style Grub had everyone from teenage surfers to grandparents lining up for tacos.

Our week here proved what we had long suspected to be true: Panama City Beach is not your average beach town. As two people who have travelled extensively along the eastern U.S. and explored nearly every place in Florida, we agreed St. Andrews State Park offered more than most campgrounds we’d seen, and Panama City Beach is in a class of its own.

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