Destin vs Panama City Beach: Which Beach Is Best?

Destin vs Panama City Beach: It’s another battle of the beaches! When planning a beach vacation to the Florida Panhandle, which beach comes out tops when pitting Destin vs Panama City Beach against each other? Let’s start with the facts. They both offer that sugary-soft white beach sand that dreams are made of and are flanked by the shimmering emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Hence why this stretch of coastline is referred to as the Emerald Coast. In fact these two towns can be considered the bookends of the Emerald Coast, with Destin in the west and Panama City Beach in the east.

Their key differences lie in their histories, general atmosphere and the type of attractions on offer. They attract very different crowds generally, however both towns are suitable for families, couples, groups and retirees to visit.

Destin vs Panama City Beach: Overview

Destin vs Panama City Beach
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Sunset in Destin


Destin’s roots date back to the 1800s when it was a prominent fishing village. This reputation for being a prime fishing location has continued into the 21st century, with an abundance of prized fish being found in the area. Avid fisherman can expect to potentially reel in Tuna, Blue Marlin, Amberjack and Sailfish. Hence why Destin has been dubbed the “Luckiest Fishing Village in the World,” along with why you’ll find the largest charter boat fleet in the Gulf in Destin.

There’s much more to Destin than just fishing, however! The area is also great for water sports like surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing and sailing with rentals available at a number of convenient locations across town. Other attractions include Big Kahuna’s Water Park, excellent dining options, no shortage of beach bars and some of the best golf courses in the USA. The Crab Island sandbars are also a highlight of any trip to Destin, as a prime spot for snorkeling, jet skiing and swimming. You’ll also find some very novel floating bars and restaurants here which is fun to experience!

While there are bars and restaurants aplenty in Destin, it is not the town for a wild party weekend or Spring Break. Destin does their utmost to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere so wild shenanigans are not tolerated. With that being said, local bars focus more on live music, karaoke and game nights than on hosting wild ragers into the wee hours. It also tends to be quieter and less crowded than Panama City Beach, making it a popular destination for couples and retirees.

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach was only incorporated in 1969, prior to which was a quiet beach town with seaside cottages and small businesses. By 2000, development really took off and shaped the Panama City Beach we know and love today. From luxury high-rise condos to shopping malls and amusement parks, Panama City Beach is abuzz with activity and has more of a party atmosphere than Destin.

While it may be more of a party town that’s not to say Panama City Beach isn’t kid-friendly. There are great activities for kids to enjoy which includes a pirate-themed adventure at Shipwreck Island Water Park, a highlight for many little visitors. Coconut Creek is also a fun kid-friendly spot to stop in at with an adventure golf course and sparkling waterfalls to mesmerize all who visit.

Kids will also love paying a visit to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium with over 500 exhibits to wow the kids plus exciting interactive displays including a 7D moving picture ride, Mirror Maze and obstacle course. For budding mini scientists, pop in to Wonderworks and take part in hands-on lab experiments (all perfectly safe, of course!).

Panama City Beach has a wide variety of restaurants, bars, lounges and nightclubs to keep you entertained after sundown. Head to the palm lined boulevard at Pier Park where you’ll find restaurants, bars with live music performances and shops aplenty. For the kids there is also a cinema and an amusement park with activities that include laser tag and bungee jumping. For fine dining, head to the beautiful TIDES Restaurant and Lounge for breakfast or dinner. The restaurant overlooks the ocean with both indoor seating and an outdoor terrace, offering an extensive menu and selection of drinks.

Destin vs Panama City Beach: Price Comparison

Destin vs Panama City Beach: Coastline in Panama City Beach
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Coastline in Panama City Beach

Destin is considered to be an upscale resort town however it comes in slightly cheaper than Panama City Beach price-wise. The biggest price difference lies predominantly in accommodation while things like food, alcohol, tours and transport don’t differ much in Destin vs Panama City Beach. When budgeting for your trip, you can expect to spend on average upwards of $140 in both towns but this very much depends on where you stay, what activities you book and how often you plan on eating out.

Final thoughts

When comparing Destin vs Panama City Beach, the one thing you can be assured of in both these coastal towns is pearly white shorelines that overlook a glimmering emerald green ocean which seems to stretch for miles. Destin does have more of a family-friendly atmosphere which is why it does appeal more to families, however it’s not to say Panama City Beach isn’t suitable for kids. In fact there are some incredible activities and attractions for kids in Panama City Beach that’ll have the little ones wanting to go back for more year after year.

Both towns offer excellent restaurants and bars, however Destin is less tolerant of parties so for a party weekend, Panama City Beach does come out the winner. The good news is prices are much of a muchness, with accommodation in Destin only slightly cheaper than in Panama City Beach. Where your next Florida Panhandle adventure takes you depends on your personal preference but bottom line is, you can’t go wrong with either town.


See Also:

When Is The Best Time To Visit Destin?

Panama City vs Pensacola: Which Should You Visit?

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