Panama City vs. Destin for Family Vacation

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A sandy beach with some wooden chairs on it - Panama City vs. Destin for Family Vacation.

Florida is a unique state with beautiful scenery, one-of-a-kind waters, the only North American tropical climate, world-class golf courses, and so much more. Not to mention some of the best fishing in the world, which brings us to our two cities, Destin and Panama City.

Destin, Florida, is known for its Emerald coast, where the beaches are sandy white, and the Gulf waters are a gem green.

Panama City shares the emerald, green waters as Destin but is also home to the St. Andrews State Park and Camp Helen State Park, in addition to being close to the Everglades National Park.


What are the Differences?

For all of the similarities, these two family destinations will have some stark differences. As mentioned above, Panama City will have plenty of outdoor recreation options with two state parks within city limits, while Destin will feature the Henderson Beach State Park.

Destin offers family-oriented entertainment with family-fun adventure packages and also has the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park and the Emerald Coast Zoo.

Panama City focuses more on the great outdoors offering fishing charters, elite camping options, and beach houses for waking up to oceanfront sunrises.

Panama City will also have a parent’s chance to enjoy an evening together, have dinner, and then take in a show at the Panama City Center for the Arts. In addition, Destin will have fresh seafood restaurants for capping a day at the Destin History and Fishing Museum.


Pros and Cons of Panama City vs. Destin

Let us be frank, the con that needs to be talked about would be the hurricanes and the dangers of hurricane season in Florida and all along the east coast. The latest storm took a toll and slammed this area.

However, Panama City offers a unique pro featuring three piers in which a family can find a fishing charter or a moment with the kids watching the sunset: M.B. Miller County Pier, Russell-Fields Pier, and St. Andrews State Park Pier.

Destin Florida pro to be found will be the multiple boardwalk areas, including the Destin Harbor Boardwalk and Okaloosa Island Boardwalk.

And across the Mid-bay Toll Bridge, a vacationing family will find the emerald coast golf course, both hidden gems of the Florida Gulf coast.


Which one has More Kids’ Entertainment?

Both of these Gulf coast Florida cities will have plenty of entertainment to keep the kids busy and having fun. The difference between Panama City and Destin will be the forms of activities.

For instance, Panama City will have an outdoorsy family’s dream stay options, including beachfront huts, camping in tropical climates, and many fishing options and charters.

Destin, on the other hand, will have some urban entertainment options as well, including:


  • Dolphin Excursions
  • eFoil lessons
  • exploring the beaches at night or Norriego Point tide pools.
  • Snorkeling and wildlife encounters
  • Surfing lessons


Which One has More Things to Do for Adults?

When it comes to daytime activities, these two Emerald coast cities will be very similar in parent-level entertainment. Both will offer world-class fishing and golfing experiences as well as chances to explore the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean waters.

Both will have restaurants offering fresh seafood and top-class culinary dishes, but the difference comes in the arts district.

Panama City will offer more mature entertainment options, including stage theater shows. However, while Destin has Museums, the evening entertainment will be just that much less than in Panama City.


When is the best time for a Family Vacation for Panama City vs. Destin?

Destin, Florida, may not be Davie, South Florida, but Caddyshack has an event every year at the same time as the Shrimp and Grits Festival.

Every year on February twenty-fifth, Destin holds these two events to which the Caddyshack Classic Charity Golf Tournament benefits the Take a Kid fishing day. Panama City has events happening all year round. Here’s a list:


  • Schooner Lobster Festival and Tournament (October)
  • Oktoberfest at Aaron Bessant Park
  • UNwineD (March)
  • Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam (Four days in June) at Frank Brown Park
  • PCB Mardi Gras and Music Festival (February) at Pier Park
  • Emerald Coast Cruizin’ Car Show (March, November)
  • Pirates of the High Seas Fest (October)


Final Thoughts on Panama City vs. Destin for Family Vacation 

These two Florida panhandle cities have some unique experiences to be shared, even just to see the emerald waters for yourself and to spark the imagination of the children.

Warm weather makes the beaches welcoming, the festivals will give you a major activity to look forward to, and the food will keep you coming back.

Both cities will also be close enough that you can enjoy what each city has to offer in one week-long trip along the Emerald Coast of Florida.