In Panama City, Florida, there’s a salt-in-the-air, sand-between-your-toes atmosphere that goes far beyond the water’s edge. Distinct from the bustle of nearby beaches, there’s a comfortable feeling all its own. Many are surprised by the mix of small-town charm and funky village vibe.
The pedestrian-friendly historic districts of Downtown and Historic St. Andrews are a delightful blend of old and new, with all the charm of a historic city, plus plenty of local character. With an eclectic fusion of vibrant art and music scenes, coastal culinary delights full of Southern flavor, and quaint boutiques for the best shopping around, there’s endless entertainment to be found.
A paradise for anglers and seafood lovers alike, Panama City is protected by an uninhabited barrier island. And with easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, the area offers pristine onshore, nearshore, and offshore fishing conditions 365 days a year. A bountiful catch is brought in daily by experienced and novice fishermen, then distributed among the many local seafood restaurants, oyster bars, and fish houses. Order any seafood dish in Panama City, and you can be sure that it’s so fresh, it was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico just hours before.
One quaint Florida restaurant in particular has made a name for itself as a go-to seafood spot in Florida. Regularly designated one of the best places to eat oysters in the state, Hunt’s Oyster Bar is an immersive experience with family traditions spanning multiple generations. Serving up fresh seafood for more than 55 years, Hunt’s is just one of a dozen stops on the Panama City Oyster Trail, which spans the historic neighborhoods of Millville,
Downtown, and St. Andrews. Housed in an iconic yellow bungalow, Hunt’s Oyster Bar is a staple in Panama City—a place that has become an oyster lover’s paradise. Oysters take on the taste of their surroundings, and the privileged environment along the Gulf Coast produces what many consider to be the best oysters in the world. From the sight of the little yellow building by the bay to the familiar crunch of the crushed oyster shells under your feet as you walk through the parking lot, Hunt’s Oyster Bar has that one-of-a-kind nostalgia that always brings you back.
Tucked in the heart of the bayou across from the marina, Bayou Joe’s offers some of the best Southern-style cooking around with 180-degree views of the water—and you can sail right up to the restaurant and dock. They’re known for their breakfast and quirky menu items—locals rave about the Trash Burger. What’s on it, you ask? A lot of good stuff, particularly whatever the cook decides! A trip to this flamingo-pink restaurant would not be complete without dessert, and we highly recommend the Drunk & Ugly. It may not sound that great—and it’s definitely not that pretty— but the gently stewed peaches splashed with rum, covered in cheesecake topping, and then baked in a graham cracker crust and served with a side of ice cream can only be described as spoonfuls of heaven.
One of Panama City’s best-kept secrets and oldest oyster bars, Gene’s Oyster Bar, is a charming hole-in-the-wall kind of establishment that you don’t want to miss. Although the full menu is praised by local seafood foodies as one of the best in town, the fresh oysters on the half-shell take the spotlight. A historic hidden gem, the old-timey nook is cash only and offers a unique experience as oysters are shucked right in front of you while you sit at a quaint 10-stool bar.
Previously a family home built in the late 1800s, Uncle Ernie’s surrounds one of the oldest structures in St. Andrews, and the walls are filled with photos and memorabilia that make the history tangible. Come by land, or come by sea and tie your boat up to the 320-foot dock that will bring you directly to the back door. Order your plate of fresh seafood to the backdrop of a signature Panama City sunset and the sounds of live music on their two-level outdoor deck.
The deep-blue waters of St. Andrews Bay have been drawing people into Panama City since its beginning as a local fishing village. That legacy still runs deep today—and it’s more than just the good fishing that attracts visitors. It’s the genuine warmth of the locals that keeps visitors coming back to Panama City year after year, where Southern hospitality greets you with a wave and a “y’all.”
Whether you take a kayak tour with an outdoor aficionado or an excursion with a local family charter to reel in a catch, you’ll hear the colorful and authentic stories preserving the heritage and history of these waters. That sentiment extends off the water, too. From Harrison’s Kitchen and Bar, which gives a nod to the town’s name before it became Panama City, to History Class Brewing, the self-proclaimed half-brew pub / half-museum, you don’t have to venture far to sit back and listen to the songs and stories of the locals.
- by Erin Byers Murray