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Are you planning a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida but can’t decide between two of the state’s most stunning coastal cities—Destin and Panama City Beach?
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that Destin and Panama City Beach are a couple of my favorite places to visit along Florida’s Emerald Coast!
Both cities offer miles of pristine white sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, mouth-watering seafood, and a range of activities for visitors to enjoy.
However, there are a few nuances that might sway your decision one way or the other.
We’ll break down Destin and Panama City Beach in terms of all the fun things you can do, nearby attractions worth exploring, events you won’t want to miss, scrumptious food to try, the cost of your trip, and, of course, the beaches.
Plus, we’ll sprinkle in some amusing tidbits and answer your most pressing questions along the way.
Booking a last-minute trip to Destin or Panama City Beach?
If so, we have you covered. Here are some top recommended tours and experiences!
Top Tours in Destin
Cruisin’ Tikis & Crab Island Sandbar Tour (Half-Day Cruise From Destin to Crab Island)
Sunset Dolphin Watching Cruise (Small-Group Sunset Cruise From Destin Harbor)
Banana Boat Experience (Perfect for kids and parents!)
Top Tours in Panama City Beach
Snorkel and Dolphin Catamaran Cruise (Top-Rated Island Cruise from Panama City Beach)
Sunset & Dolphin Catamaran Cruise (2-Hour Sunset Sail)
Scream Machine Thrill Ride (One-of-a-kind thrill ride perfect for adventure lovers!)
Top Hotels In Destin
Hotel Effie Sandestin – (Top-Rated Hotel With Lots of Activity Options)
The Grand Sandestin – (Exceptional Guest Experience)
Top Hotels In Panama City Beach
Marriotts’s Legends Edge At Bay Point – (Best Panoramic And Lagoon Views)
Holiday Inn Express & Suites – (Top-Rated Beachfront Hotel)
Looking To Get Around In Destin Or Panama City Beach?
Check out rental car rates here! 🚗
Destin is a true gem on the Gulf of Mexico, nestled in the Florida Panhandle just 50 miles east of Pensacola.
It’s a slice of paradise that’s waiting for you to discover its stunning white sandy beaches, emerald green water, and lush-green golf courses.
Yep, it’s as beautiful as it sounds. But that’s not even the best part.
Destin is also known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” – thousands of fishing enthusiasts flock to Destin every year for their annual fishing festivals.
Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach, on the other hand, is located further east, about 95 miles from Pensacola and 43 miles southeast of Destin.
Panama city beach is also a part of the Emerald Coast, with gorgeous white-sand beaches, crystal-clear green water, and plenty of beachfront resorts and hotels, it’s a family vacation paradise.
Things To Do In Destin vs Panama City Beach
Destin and Panama City Beach are two hotspots bursting with nearby attractions that are just begging to be explored!
Here are some of the best things to do in each city:
Things To Do In Destin
Go fishing: Destin is known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and offers some of the best fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Visit Henderson Beach State Park: This beautiful park features white sand beaches, nature trails, and picnic areas.
Go on a dolphin-watching cruise: You can see dolphins up close on a boat tour from Destin Harbor.
Visit the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park: This aquarium and marine park features live shows, animal encounters, and exhibits.
Play golf: Destin has several world-class golf courses, including the Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club and the Kelly Plantation Golf Club.
Things To Do In Panama City Beach
Visit St. Andrews State Park: This park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking.
Go on a helicopter tour: Get a bird’s eye view of Panama City Beach and the surrounding area on a helicopter ride.
Visit Gulf World Marine Park: This marine park features live shows, animal encounters, and exhibits.
Go on a sunset sail: Watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico on a romantic sailboat ride.
Visit Pier Park: This outdoor shopping and entertainment complex features over 100 stores, restaurants, and attractions.
Nearby Attractions Destin vs Panama City Beach
Did you know that Destin and Panama City Beach aren’t just about sunbathing and splashing around in the water?
Nope, there’s a whole world of adventure waiting for you beyond the beach, my friend!
If you’re feeling the urge to explore, you’ll be happy to know that there are some pretty awesome nearby attractions that are definitely worth checking out:
Nearby Attractions Destin
Seaside: This charming beach town is located between Destin and Panama City Beach and is known for its pastel-colored houses, boutique shops, and restaurants.
Grayton Beach State Park: This park features beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and a coastal dune lake.
The Village of Baytowne Wharf: This waterfront village features shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park: This water park features slides, pools, and other attractions for all ages.
Gulf Islands National Seashore: This protected area features pristine beaches, historic forts, and nature trails.
Nearby Attractions Panama City Beach
Shell Island: This uninhabited island is located just off the coast of Panama City Beach and is a popular spot for snorkeling and wildlife watching.
Panama City: This city is located just a few miles inland from Panama City Beach and offers shopping, dining, and cultural attractions.
Econfina Creek: This scenic creek is located about an hour from Panama City Beach and is a popular spot for kayaking, canoeing, and tubing.
Florida Caverns State Park: This park features guided tours of underground caves and hiking trails.
Apalachicola National Forest: This forest covers over 500,000 acres and features hiking trails, fishing spots, and wildlife viewing areas.
Free Things To Do In Destin vs Panama City Beach
Get ready to save some cash and have a blast because both Destin and Panama City Beach offer amazing free activities for visitors!
Here are some of the best free things to do in each city:
Cheap Things To Do In Destin
Visit the Destin History and Fishing Museum: This museum features exhibits on the history of Destin and the fishing industry.
Walk along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk: This boardwalk is lined with shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Visit James Lee Park: This park features a beach, picnic areas, and a playground.
Watch the sunset at Norriego Point: This scenic overlook offers stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico.
Visit the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier: This pier is a popular spot for fishing and offers great views of the Gulf of Mexico.
Cheap Things To Do In Panama City Beach
Visit the Conservation Park: This park features hiking trails, wildlife viewing areas, and picnic areas.
Walk along the Panama City Beach Pier: This pier is a popular spot for fishing and offers great views of the Gulf of Mexico.
Visit the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater: This outdoor venue hosts free concerts and events throughout the year.
Visit Frank Brown Park: This park features sports fields, a playground, and walking trails.
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Which Is Best For Families Or Couples?
Both Destin and Panama City Beach are great destinations for families and couples.
However, each city has its own unique attractions that may appeal more to one group than the other.
So, you’re wondering if Destin Beach is a good spot for families and couples?
Well, as the most visited city on Florida’s Emerald Coast, it’s definitely a popular destination!
But if you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation where you can sip a cocktail and soak up the sun without a care in the world, Destin might not be your cup of tea.
Sure, it’s got some awesome shopping malls and adventure parks, but when it comes to beachfront rentals, Panama City Beach steals the show.
If you’re dead set on staying right on the beach, you might want to look elsewhere because in Destin you’ll need to take a quick walk across the main road to reach those gorgeous sandy shores.
Panama City Beach
If you’re looking for a getaway with your loved ones, Panama City Beach is a great option!
This place is perfect for families who love to relax by the beach, bask in the sun, and dive into crystal-clear waters.
Plus, with more oceanfront condos on the beach than in Destin, you’ll be spoiled with choices to stay right on the beach.
But, let’s be real, those beautiful beachside condos in Panama can leave a hole in your pocket.
So, if you’re looking for budget-friendly lodging options, you might need to search a bit further from the beach.
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Better Events Throughout The Year?
Destin and Panama City Beach are home to some of the best events in Florida, and they happen all year long.
And guess what? We’ve got the inside scoop on some of the best events around!
We’re talking about food festivals that will leave you drooling, music extravaganzas that will have you dancing, and beach bashes that will have you feeling the Florida vibes.
Events in Destin
Destin Seafood Festival: This annual festival celebrates the local seafood industry with live music, arts and crafts, and plenty of delicious seafood.
Destin Fishing Rodeo: This month-long fishing tournament takes place every October and offers over $100,000 in prizes.
Emerald Coast Cruizin’: This classic car show takes place every November and features over 3,000 hot rods, muscle cars, and classic cars.
Mardi Gras Parade: This colorful parade takes place every February and features floats, costumes, and plenty of beads.
Sandestin Wine Festival: This annual festival takes place every April and features over 500 wines, gourmet food, and live music.
Events In Panama City Beach
Gulf Coast Jam: This country music festival takes place every September and features some of the biggest names in country music.
Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally: This motorcycle rally takes place every spring and fall and features live music, bike shows, and plenty of vendors.
Pirates of the High Seas Festival: This family-friendly festival takes place every October and features pirate-themed events, such as a pirate parade and a pirate invasion.
Beach Home for the Holidays: This annual event takes place every December and features a tree lighting ceremony, live music, and holiday decorations.
Spring Jam: This music festival takes place every April and features a mix of rock, country, and alternative music.
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Best Restaurants In Each City
Let’s talk about something serious—seafood!
And when you’re in Destin or Panama City Beach, you know you’re in for a treat.
But what sets these two spots apart when it comes to culinary delights?
Well, for starters, both places have their own unique vibe when it comes to food.
So, let’s dive in and discover some of the best places to chow down in each city!
Best Places To Eat In Destin
The Back Porch: This restaurant is located right on the beach and offers fresh seafood, burgers, and sandwiches.
Harbor Docks: This seafood restaurant has been a Destin institution for over 40 years and offers a wide variety of fresh seafood dishes.
Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House: This waterfront restaurant offers fresh seafood, craft cocktails, and live music.
Louisiana Lagniappe: This Cajun restaurant offers fresh seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes.
The Donut Hole: This breakfast spot is known for its delicious donuts, pastries, and breakfast dishes.
Check out this post for more of the best restaurants in Destin!
Best Places To Eat In Panama City Beach
Captain Anderson’s: This seafood restaurant has been a Panama City Beach institution for over 50 years and offers fresh seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes.
Firefly: This upscale restaurant offers a fusion of Southern and Asian cuisine, as well as craft cocktails and a beautiful outdoor patio.
Saltwater Grill: This seafood restaurant offers fresh seafood, sushi, and steaks, as well as a beautiful saltwater aquarium.
Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant: This beachfront restaurant offers fresh seafood, burgers, and sandwiches, as well as live music and a beautiful outdoor patio.
Andy’s Flour Power Cafe and Bakery: This breakfast spot is known for its delicious pastries, breakfast dishes, and coffee.
Accommodation Options In Destin vs Panama City Beach
Both Destin and Panama City Beach have some amazing places to rest your weary head after a day of adventure.
You’ll find everything from posh resorts to cozy inns, with accommodations that fit every budget.
So whether you’re looking for a fancy hotel or a budget-friendly condo, both of these spots have got you covered.
But, if you’re looking to save some dough, then Destin is the place to be.
They’ve got loads of affordable options, so you can still enjoy all the fun activities without breaking the bank.
However, when it comes to beachfront rentals, Panama City Beach takes the cake.
They’ve got a whole bunch of luxurious options that will have you feeling like royalty.
And the best part? You’ll be just a stone’s throw away from the beach.
Panama City Beach Beachfront Rentals
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Which City Has Better Beaches?
Both Destin and Panama City Beach are known for their stunning beaches, but there are some differences between the two.
The beaches in Panama City Beach are beautiful, but the sand is a bit coarser and the water is a deeper blue.
Panama City Beaches are also known for being less crowded and more relaxed, which is great for those who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of a busy beach day.
Destin’s beaches are known for their powdery white sand and emerald-green waters, lively atmosphere and abundance of activities.
If you’re someone who loves a beach with a bit more action and adventure, then Destin might be more up your alley.
Destin vs Panama City Beach FAQs:
Is Panama City Beach Water As Clear As Destin?
The water in Destin is known for its clarity, but the water in Panama City Beach is also quite clear.
However, it can be affected by weather conditions and other factors.
Is Destin Cheaper Than Panama City?
One of the most significant differences between Destin and Panama City Beach is the cost.
Both Destin and Panama City Beach can be expensive destinations, especially during peak season.
But, generally speaking, Destin is considered a more upscale destination, with higher prices for accommodations, dining, and activities.
Panama City Beach, on the other hand, is known for its affordability, with more budget-friendly options for visitors.
However, this can vary depending on the time of year and the specific accommodations or activities you choose.
What Beach Is Better Than Destin?
There are many beautiful beaches in Florida, but it’s hard to say which one is better than Destin.
Some popular alternatives include Clearwater Beach, Siesta Key Beach, and South Beach in Miami.
What Is Between Destin And Panama City Beach?
Seaside is a charming beach town located between Destin and Panama City Beach.
It’s known for its pastel-colored houses, quaint shops, and beautiful beaches.
Final Thoughts: Destin vs Panama City Beach
Both Destin and Panama City Beach offer beautiful beaches and plenty of activities for visitors.
Ultimately, the decision of which one to visit comes down to personal preference and what kind of vacation experience you are looking for.
If you are looking for a quieter, more upscale vacation with a focus on fishing and water sports, Destin may be the better choice.
If you are looking for a livelier, more affordable vacation with a focus on nightlife and family-friendly activities, Panama City Beach may be the better choice.
Regardless of which one you choose, both Destin and Panama City Beach offer plenty of opportunities for fun and relaxation in the sun.
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To Book Activities- For activities, I suggest booking with Viator, they have thousands of 5-star activities to choose from!
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