Although Front Beach Road, the so-called Miracle Strip, is lined by high-rises (about two dozen in total) built mostly during the early 2000s, Panama City Beach's ample 27-mile coastline still gives you opportunities to avoid the crowds and congestion. Spring-break season in March and early April can bring extra congestion and noise, but the sprawling beach is long enough to accommodate everyone. The one constant in ever-changing cityscape is the area's natural beauty, which, in many areas, helps you forget the commercialization in others.
The busiest section of Front Beach Road is book-ended by two undeveloped and fully protected state parks and their equally beautiful beaches. Stand on the pier and look in front of and behind you to see the abrupt end of the high-rises and the return of nature as far as the eye can see. The shoreline is so long that even when a mile is packed with partying students, there are 26 more where you can toss a beach blanket and find the old motels that have managed to survive. Or you travel inland, toward West Bay and find even quieter quarters, including expanses of undeveloped pinelands and a city park with ample biking trails. What's more, the beaches along the Miracle Strip, with their powder-soft sand and translucent emerald waters, are some of the finest in the state, so it's easy to understand why developers wanted to build here.
The busiest season stretches from spring (when college students descend en masse from neighboring states for spring break and a lot of raucous partying) to summer (when families and others come for the warm gulf waters and beautiful beaches). Come before mid-March, when the temperatures can still be chilly and definitely not conducive to water activities, or after Labor Day until mid-October, when the water is still warm and inviting, and you will find a much quieter vacation destination.
Cabanas, umbrellas, sailboats, WaveRunners, and floats are available from any of dozens of vendors along the beach. To get an aerial view, for about $30 you can strap yourself beneath a parachute and go parasailing as you're towed aloft behind a speedboat a few hundred yards offshore. St. Andrews State Park, on the southeast end of the beaches, is treasured by locals and visitors alike. Camp Helen State Park, on the northwest end of the beaches, is a popular wedding venue with an incredible beach. The beautiful white sands, navigable waterways, and plentiful marine life that once attracted Spanish conquistadors today draw invaders of the vacationing kind—namely families, the vast majority of whom hail from nearby Georgia and Alabama. When coming here, be sure to set your sights for Panama City Beach. Panama City is its beachless inland cousin.