While Florida isn’t lacking when it comes to beautiful beaches, those of Panama City Beach get especially high marks for their abundance of white, powdery sand and calm, clear turquoise water courtesy of its location on the Gulf of Mexico. With 27 miles of gorgeous beaches at your beck and call, finding a waterfront restaurant serving fresh local seafood — grouper sandwich, anyone? — is inevitable. Here, casual beach bars, upscale restaurants and laidback eateries, more often than not, come with a side of relaxing gulf views at no extra cost.
From flip-flops to fancier attire, you’ll find restaurants for all dress codes in Panama City Beach. Overlooking a scenic lagoon, The Grand Marlin features an award-winning wine list paired with fresh-caught seafood, making it a favorite spot to celebrate special occasions. Born out of a group of friends’ love for big-game fishing and the bounties it provides, The Grand Marlin takes its seafood very seriously, offering daily changing menus to reflect the best of the local catch. Grab a seat at the oyster bar for freshly shucked oysters and a lively atmosphere, or head to the main dining room for a chill vibe. The North Drop, an open-air bar on the second floor, is a perfect spot for taking in a sunset. No matter where you sit, signature martinis and island-inspired cocktails await.
With more than five decades under its belt and a slew of awards to show for it, Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant & Waterfront Market is known for procuring some of the freshest seafood from the many local fishermen. You can even watch the fleet unload their daily catch via the restaurant’s live webcam. A true Panama City Beach culinary classic, Capt. Anderson’s embraces its status with an extensive wine list and serving up classic dishes. If the multipage menu overwhelms you, opt for the signature seafood platter, which includes lobster, golden shrimp, scallops, fresh fish and stuffed deviled crab.
Or perhaps you’re looking for a little romance with your waterfront view? Located right on the beach with unobstructed views of that blue water, Schooners offers that perfect mix of a come-as-you-are atmosphere and terrific food options. Shareable dishes, such as Buffalo-sauced fried shrimp and fish tacos, make for easy ordering. Gather on the beach to countdown the sunset, marked with a canon blast and celebrated with a rum-based cocktail. Afterward, shake a leg on the dance floor or relax while listening to live music.
At Runaway Island, another beachfront spot, you have two floors from which to take in the stunning ocean views and an expansive outdoor deck with a boardwalk for easy access to the beach. A relative newcomer to the scene, Runaway Island sports a chic beach shack design with lots of natural wood, lantern-like light fixtures and soft-glowing strings of lights overhead. A limited early-bird menu rewards those who like to eat before the sun goes down. The full menu includes six types of fish tacos and entrees, such as parmesan-crusted flounder, Caribbean chicken and blackened grouper.
Many of Panama City Beach’s restaurants offer a kid’s menu, but Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant goes above and beyond to cater to the wee ones, including a pirate ship playground on the beach. Don’t worry; parents get in on the fun too at this beachfront spot with a tiki hut — the largest open-air “palapa” in the U.S. — complete with plenty of festive cocktails. Pair your oysters, peel ’n eat shrimp, gator bites and blackened grouper with nightly live music or come early and get in a round of volleyball on the nearby courts.
Located on Pier Park, a short walk from the water, Back Porch Seafood & Oyster House is the second location of the popular restaurant, which started serving Gulf seafood, raw oysters and ice-cold beer out of a rustic beach shack in Destin over 48 years ago. Colorful umbrellas dot the spacious outdoor terrace, which offers a prime spot for people-watching. Whet your appetite with fried pickles, a Gulf Coast favorite, before moving on to Back Porch’s signature amberjack sandwich or a variety of grilled or fried seafood. Afterward, take a walk on the pier, which features more than 100 stores and plenty of entertainment venues.
While you’ll find plenty of locals at Panama City Beach’s restaurants, some attract a more local crowd than others. Perhaps it’s Pineapple Willy’s signature barbecue ribs — hey, you can only have so much seafood, or so we heard — that draws in residents, although the New Orleans-tinged po’boys aren’t to be missed either. Or maybe it’s Pineapple Willy’s elevated beachfront location that’s the lure. Either way, since 1984, this welcoming spot never fails to attract those who know PCB best.
For those looking for some Caribbean flavors with their fresh-from-the-water seafood, Pompano Joe’s, just a few steps away from the Back Porch, is your kind of place. From its beachside location on Pier Park, Pompano Joe’s offers some lovely Gulf views to go along with its garlic-crusted grouper, seafood gumbo, coconut shrimp and other seaworthy delicacies. Come daily between 2 and 5 p.m. and get in on the happy hour drink and food specials.
Whether you opt for Harpoon Harry’s lower outdoor terrace or the one just above it, both offer stellar views of the iconic white sand beach and bright blue water that Panama City Beach is well known for. Colorful interiors add to the festive vibe, as do the special 42-ounce drinks. Make ordering easy and opt for the seafood bucket, which includes snow crab legs, jumbo shrimp, scallops and Andouille sausage. For those looking for a different PCB experience, try the High Tea on Beach, a Sunday afternoon event. If there’s a wait, relax in one of Harpoon Harry’s beach chairs, which so happen to pair perfectly with a tropical frozen drink from the nearby beachside bar.
While breathtaking beach and ocean views on their own have a magical way of making any meal memorable, these Panama City Beach restaurants don’t rely on their looks alone and instead work hard to make sure the food they offer is equally impressive. Pro-tip: Bring sunglasses, sunblock and an appetite.