72 Hours: Panama City Beach

72 Hours: Panama City Beach
Words and Photos by Isaac Ray Norris
 Panama City Beach is not the way you may remember it. For those looking for beautiful beaches with white sand and strikingly cerulean water, Panama City Beach is your kind of place. Here’s one you can spend 72 hours there.

Day One 

I began my weekend by checking into my room at Tidewater Beach Resort by Wyndham. The moment I stepped out onto the balcony I was immediately struck by the water and Gulf breeze. Check out the photo for proof.

Tidewater has everything a family would need: spacious rooms, pools, beachfront access, privacy, walkable parking, and most importantly, coffee for those early mornings. And to make this trip even more fun, I’ve brought along my mother.

After a quick nap, we’re ready for the 2018 UNwineD Wine Festival Biscuits & Jam Kick Off Party, just down the road from the resort at Aaron Bessantt Park. The party is the first celebration in a weekend lineup of wine and beer tastings, combined with some truly amazing samplings of coastal delicacies.

The sheer amount of food at the party is astonishing, and the variety of purveyors is refreshing. There are oysters prepared in some of my favorite ways: fried, grilled, smoked, and of course, raw. There’s tuna tartare, shrimp and grits, paella, octopus salad, redfish sandwiches, and on and on and on.

After I finish eating, I remember desert. The breeze had finally picked up at this point, and I see two of the prettiest treats I’ve ever seen. The first is a lemon meringue prepared to look like a fried egg, the second, a ruby red cup of the most delicious raspberry pudding.

Day Two

Day two begins with coffee, as per usual. But what makes this coffee special is that I get to enjoy it on the beach. There’s something unusual about morning coffee on the beach that makes it even more appealing and relaxing.

After relaxing on the beach for a bit, my mother and I get ready to attend the second day of UNwineD, the Grand Afternoon Tasting, again at Aaron Bessant Park. The park is lined with tents full of vintners, chefs, and area restaurateurs. It’s hot, hot, hot, but the wine and food soon make me forget.

There’s one wine that is especially attractive, Honey Bubbles Sparkling Moscato. The sweetness and lightness of the drink quell the heat, and for a minute I’m floating on a sparkling cloud.

What makes Honey Bubbles special is that the company is a give back brand: a portion of their proceeds are donated to research that fights the dreaded Colony Collapse Disorder that is destroying hundreds of thousands of honey bee hives.

My mother orders a bottle (or two) immediately.

Later in the evening, we’re treated to more music and a live concert, featuring Los Colognes and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Adjacent to Aaron Bessant Park is a live music venue, complete with an outdoor stage and areas for food trucks, of which there are many. My personal favorite is Smokin’ Butts BBQ, simply because their food truck looks as if it’s actually a house.

I’m immediately drawn to Nivol Brewing Co.’s Roadside Blonde Ale (primarily because it won UNwineD’s craft beer competition), and am delighted to find that Nivol Brewing Co. is located right in Panama City Beach!

The concert kicks off and it is of course amazing. St. Paul and the Broken Bones delivers an energetic performance of his latest music, and ends the concert by running into the crowd.

We finish the night at The Brass Tap, a beer bar that offers more than 150 craft beers from around the globe. It was a great nightcap!

Day Three

Day three begins similarly to day two. Still somewhat reeling from the food and music filled day we just had, we prepare for our departure.

After breakfast, and more coffee, we make our way to Shell Island, which is part of a St. Andrews State Park Aquatic Preserve in Panama City Beach. You can only get there by boat, but we had a joviant captain lead the way and carry us there. We just so happened to come across several pods of dolphins, even a few with calves!

When we arrive to the island, there’s virtually no one on the beach, and it’s a shocking site, something we aren’t used to. The sand is blindingly white, and the name of the island holds true—there are shells everywhere. Shells of every size, shape, and color. The water is of course too rough to swim in, but it is clear and keeps that emerald green color.

On the bayside of the island, you can find starfish, sea urchins, and crabs everywhere. The critters move about, avoiding our footsteps.

We relax on the beach, talking with new friends and learning more about each other. Eventually, it becomes time to leave, so we pack up on the boat and make our way back to shore.

If you’re looking for somewhere new to adventure (or rediscover) Panama City Beach may surprise you.