Thursday, June 21, 2012

Panama City Beach, Florida - Vacation

Last week was our annual vacation.  We travel once a year for a full one week vacation as a family.  We have frequented the beaches of North Carolina several times and hit up areas in Northern Wisconsin, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Hocking Hills (Southern Ohio), and more in the past.  This year, we wanted to try something a little different.  We started looking along the gulf coast of Florida.  I had never been to Florida, so I was really excited, plus none of us had ever seen the gulf.  We settled on Panama City Beach, Florida and found a great deal on a condo there.

Condo
We stayed at the Tidewater Resort on the 12th floor in a 2 bedroom + bunk area condo with three bathrooms.  We invited my in-laws to come along since we had the extra bedroom.  My son was set on sleeping in the bunk bed.  The owner of the condo had warned us that check-in time is crazy with so many people coming in at the same time.  The resort offers carts to unload, but there's probably only about 25 carts (at most) to be shared among 30 floors of condos.  We carried one load in and met a guy in the parking garage that had a cart he didn't need anymore.  We loaded that cart up until it wouldn't hold any more stuff and moved into the condo for the week.

Picture from HomeAway.

The condo, itself, was probably one of the cleanest places we've ever stayed on a vacation.  As we walked in the entry door, the two bedrooms were right there.  Walking down a short hallway, the bunk area was on the left.  Next, we walked right into the Kitchen/Living Room/Dining Room area.  The kitchen was better stocked than any place I've ever stayed.  There honestly wasn't a single time I felt that we needed a pot, pan, or dish we didn't have.  The living room opened up through a very large sliding glass door onto a balcony overlooking the beach and gulf.

From 12 floors up, we had an amazing view of everything.  I really enjoyed people watching.  We also were able to watch dolphins feeding several times and caught glimpse of a skate or ray one morning gliding along the sand bar.  There was a bit of seaweed that washed up during the day and people used it in the evenings to make creations on the beach.  We saw them create things like college football symbols, twitter names, hearts, and more.  It was kind of fun to see people's creativity.  If you love to lay out on the beach to catch some sun, this condo includes two beach chairs and an umbrella.  All you have to do is go down and reserve your chairs each day.

Area
The area is very commercialized.  The grocery store was very close to the resort, so we had no problem keeping the fridge and pantry stocked throughout the week.  There are restaurants everywhere and shopping is abundant.  Pier Park is almost a town in itself, but is completely made up of shops and restaurants.  We visited here a couple times for meals and then would shop around.

I have to say that getting around town in Panama City Beach was a challenge most of the time.  The speed limit through most of town is 35MPH, but it was extremely rare to ever get close to that.  Traffic was heavy on the two lane road and people were crossing the street wherever they felt like it.

We found several putt-putt courses and even go-cart tracks that we enjoyed.  Of course my son was very disappointed that we didn't get to play every putt-putt course available down there.  We saw Ripley's Believe It or Not and Wonderworks, but did not have time to visit these attractions.

Restaurants


I was surprised to have excellent experiences at all of the restaurants we ate at in Panama City Beach.  The time zone there is one hour behind what we are at home, so we would eat early, about 3:30pm-4:00pm Central Time, avoiding the dinner rush.  We even hit up some happy hour drink deals being there this early.

Red Brick Pizza
This was an amazing pizza place we visited twice when we wanted something more laid back and quick for meals.  We had the Margherita pizza, Red Brick Gourmet Works pizza, Hawaiian pizza, and Rustica pizza.  Each of these pizzas tasted amazing.  To top it all off, they had gelato for dessert.  The gelato flavors changed often, providing a variety of great flavors.

Hofbrau Beer Garden
Here, we found amazing German food and drinks.  I'll admit, I'm a lover of almost anything German when it comes to food.  I love all the different sausages, especially Bratwurst!  I also like darker beers, which they offered here.  I had something very similar to a gyro with lamb in a pita.  It was flavor-filled, making my taste buds dance for joy.  We all shared a giant soft pretzel too.  It was very moist and quite tasty.

Back Porch Seafood and Oyster Bar
We came here looking for great seafood.  We were not disappointed.  The food here was great and the portions were really large.  I ordered the Fisherman's Platter that came with grouper, amberjack, and tuna.  All three fish were perfectly seasoned and the only thing I left wishing for was that I could have cleaned my plate.  I also highly recommend the twice-baked potato side, which is really large and filled with goodness.  I tried The Ultimate Back Porch Punch, which is an alcoholic drink containing Bacardi Coco, Bacardi Superior, Castillo spiced rum, pineapple juice and grenadine.  This was a rather sweet drink that I loved until I started feeling funny.  I think the amount of alcohol in this was too much for me.

Now this was a small restaurant with great seafood.  I have a feeling they get really busy at dinner time, but at 4:00pm, we got right in and enjoyed the food!  Most of us got Po-Boys.  They offer these with oysters, shrimp, roast beef, and smoked sausage.  For me there was only one option.  I had to have an oyster Po-Boy.  Years ago, I had one of these somewhere else and have been wanting another ever since.  Dee's did not disappoint.  This may have been one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.  Another great thing at Dee's was that we were there early enough to get $1.50 draft beer pints for happy hour!

We came across this restaurant on Sunday when we found out Dee's wasn't open.  Pineapple Willy's is located right on the beach, even offering some seating out over the beach.  I ordered a Seafood Platter consisting of fried grouper, fried shrimp, and fried oysters.  As with all our other restaurant experiences, Pineapple Willy's did not disappoint.  Each of the items on my platter were fried to perfection and tasted great.  The atmosphere here was a bit fast paced and loud, but I'd definitely go back again!

Summary

We had a great time in Panama City Beach, Florida.  I do wish that the rip currents hadn't closed the water for a couple days and that we hadn't had so much rain, but you can't control that.  Problems at work also kept me hopping.  But, despite all that, we still had a great time and I got to enjoy some amazing seafood!  For me, the food is the best part of a vacation.  I'm a food lover and often take inspiration from restaurants to experiment in the kitchen at home!  We all hope to go back in the next couple years to experience more of Panama City Beach!
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