Panama City visitors and natives are never more than a hop, a skip, and a parasail away from aquatic amusement, thanks to Adventures at Sea’s more than 60 locations, most stationed behind Panama City Beach's hotels and condos. The staff rents out pontoon boats for trips to Shell Island and pulls up to six riders on inflatable banana boats with a speedy jet ski. Experienced crews captain charter fishing trips and give fishers everything they need to catch trophies such as king mackerel, red groupers, and Stanley Cups that got away. After action-packed days filled with sunny memories, visitors can rent a lounge chair and soak up the sunset.
Fat Tuesday, a New Orleans–style bar, complements its array of frozen drinks with classic shareable bites. Frozen daiquiris ($7.75 for 12 oz.; $9.75 for 20 oz.) appear in a variety of flavors including 190 Octane, Bushwacker, and a Bourbon-Street-style Hurricane, perfect for cooling down sizzling maws recovering from spicy eats or tongue-rolling competitions. Diners can hone their hand-mouth coordination by ordering a batch of hot, medium, mild, or barbecue wings ($12 for 9; $18 for 13), Sante Fe chicken egrolls ($9), or Cajun nachos ($8). While abdominal vacuoles embrace hearty sips and bites, patrons can ogle sports on Fat Tuesday's flat-screen TVs or practice advanced thumb-wrestling maneuvers on their nondominant hands.
The Boathouse Oyster Bar has shucked local Apalachicola oysters and ladled specialty gumbo at their harbor-side restaurant for a quarter-century. With gulf winds gently blowing through the open-air dining area carrying breezy live tunes, customers can slurp raw oysters ($5.95 half-dozen, $7.95 dozen) or polish off prepared pearl-maker varieties including the Baked Action oysters, doused in butter and flavored with onions, bacon bits, and melted mozzarella ($13.95 dozen). In addition to rib-sticking bowls of gumbo ($7.95), The Boathouse Oyster Bar's chefs prepare savory fruits of the sea such as grilled or fried mahi-mahi ($15.95) and a one-pound-plus stack of Alaskan snow-crab legs, which can be placed on fingers to span large intervals on the piano ($18.95). Landlubbing appetites can be sated with juicy burgers ($8.95+) and sandwiches such as grilled chicken ($8.95) or Black Angus prime rib ($12.95).
The pizza gurus at Bud & Alley's Pizza Bar layer sauce-slathered dough disks with artisan ingredients such as buffalo mozzarella, arugula, and eggplant. Patrons can drown memories of unsuccessful fly-fishing trips in the sauce from a seaside pizza covered in fresh fish, basil, and tomatoes ($15). Classic margherita pies topped with an aerodynamic layer of san marzano tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil ($14) soar from the oven onto waiting platters. Bedecked with arugula, shaved squash, zucchini, eggplant, and cheese, the Farmer's Market pizza ($14) sprouts with vegetables the way the earth would if it were flat and watered with sauce. Customers can also pair slices with meaty clam spaghetti ($16), or orecchiette pasta adorned with morsels of fennel sausage ($15). In between bites, diners can lubricate lips with selections from the lengthy drink list of top-shelf tequilas, mixed drinks, and wines ($9–$13).
Although true time travel is still a thing of science fiction, Teddy and Jenny Meeks have captured a similar sensation at Pier Park. In 2009, the couple purchased the 1964 Allan Herschell Carousel that had been an iconic attraction at the now-closed Miracle Strip Amusement Park. The 30 horses and two chariots were immediately swarmed with giddy riders—some children, and some adults who fondly remembered feeding the horses wooden apples at the carousel's former home. The spinning steeds so charmed the locals that Teddy and Jenny began a more comprehensive revival. They bought Miracle Strip's 1985 Balloon Race and 1952 Red Baron rides, and when they couldn't find the park's original 1975 Ferris wheel, they hunted for one of the same make and model.
The Big Eli wheel now awards its guests views over the Gulf of Mexico and several other classic rides, including a Tilt-a-Whirl and train cars that kids crank by hand. Flowers cloak hanging baskets, and topiaries mimicking animal figures accent sandy paths, adding to the venue's picturesque nostalgia. Teddy and Jenny have also installed a butterfly pavilion, about which Bay Life magazine reports that visitors can glimpse 700 flying specimens, hatching cocoons, and caterpillars drawing up blueprints for wings.