In the early 2000s a dizzying number of high-rises built along the Miracle Strip—about two dozen in total—led to the formation of a new moniker for this stretch of the Panhandle: the "Construction Coast." This spate of invasive growth turned the main thoroughfare, Front Beach Road, into a dense mass of traffic that peaks in spring and between June and August, when college students descend en masse from neighboring states. The bright side of the changing landscape is that many of the attractions that gave parts of this area a seedy reputation (i.e., strip joints and dive bars) were driven out and replaced by new retailers and the occasional franchise "family" restaurant or chain store.The one constant in this sea of change is the area's natural beauty, which, in some areas at least, manages to excuse its gross over-commercialization. The shoreline in town is 17 miles long, so even when a mile is packed with partying students, there are 16 more where you can toss a beach blanket and find the old motels that managed to survive. What's more, the beaches along the Miracle Strip, with their powder-soft sand and translucent emerald waters, are some of the finest in the state; in one sense, anyway, it's easy to understand why so many condos are being built here.Cabanas, umbrellas, sailboats, WaveRunners, and floats are available from any of dozens of vendors along the beach. To get an aerial view, for about $30 you can strap yourself beneath a parachute and go parasailing as you're towed aloft behind a speedboat a few hundred yards offshore. And St. Andrews State Park, at the southeast end of the beaches, is treasured by locals and visitors alike. The incredible white sands, navigable waterways, and plentiful marine life that once attracted Spanish conquistadors today draw invaders of the vacationing kind—namely families, the vast majority of whom hail from nearby Georgia and Alabama. When coming here, be sure to set your sights for Panama City Beach. Panama City is its beachless inland cousin.
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Things You Can't Miss
Catch a shuttle from St. Andrews State Park to this uninhabited, 700-acre barrier island for a day of sugary white-sand beaches, snorkeling or shell collecting
Danita Delimont / Alamy
The shore is lined with high-rises, but the water is emerald green and the sand is white. Embrace the hustle and bustle and stop in at one of the many eateries.
Teila K. Day Photography / Alamy
There’s fun for the whole family at Gulf World Marine Park. Dolphins, sea lions and scuba divers perform. View penguin and alligator habitats.
Goss Images / Alamy
Bad manners is just one of the many things that irk attendants. See what other things get under their skin.
Environmentally friendly programs run from one day to one week. Get into the Gulf to commune with these marvelous mammals in their natural habitat.
Sampling the local cuisine can be an adventure in some countries, but if you aren't up for scorpion or tarantula, there are some delicious alternatives.
At the southeastern tip of Panama City Beach there’s no traffic — just pristine beaches, vast expanses of marsh and miles of marked hiking trails.
Beth Harpaz/AP Photo
Find out why Samantha Brown recommends traveling with melatonin, comfy socks and other necessities.
Savings at Best Western, Hilton Hotels, La Quinta, Wyndham and more
Shared Trips to this Destination
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