Exciting Gulf Coast Vacation: From New Orleans to Panama City Beach in 3 Days

Traveling along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans, LA, to Panama City Beach, Florida, offers the perfect balance of Creole food, Bayou-style homes, and beach towns. This trip includes the ideal blend of culture, music, food, and nature. Travelers who can’t decide between one focus will rejoice in the vast array of available activities and attractions found along this route.

Beginning the trip in energetic New Orleans, you’ll find fun festivals to attend and 18th-century stunning architecture that will draw you in. The trip takes you along Route 10 through Mississippi and Alabama before leaving you in a state of relaxation at some of Florida’s best beaches.

Street Car in New Orleans

This 3-day journey is ideal as a road trip, allowing you to stop off at cities and towns between New Orleans and Panama City Beach. This road trip lets you dive into New Orleans’ wonderful sites and food, then travel through Bayou Sauvage National Park’s fresh and natural marshes to Mobile Bay and finally into a Florida beach lover’s paradise with white sand and turquoise waters.

With options to stop off at locations like Biloxi, a historically rich and casino-heavy Mississippi city, and Gulf Shores, Alabama, offering a wildlife refuge and gorgeous state park, a road trip along the Gulf Coast is an unforgettable experience. Travel through nature and history to reach the soft sandy beaches of Panama City Beach in this itinerary.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Getting to New Orleans is made easy by flying into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. From the airport, it’s only a 15-mile drive to downtown New Orleans. Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll want to rent a car and continue on highway 10 to downtown New Orleans.

After spending a day in New Orleans, the road trip will continue along Route 10, eventually becoming highway 331 and 79 right before reaching Panama City Beach. The total drive time is just under five hours and consists of a 319-mile trek on the Gulf Coast.

Day 1: Soak up New Orleans Culture

Day one in New Orleans, aka Crescent City, is jam-packed with activities. Start by enjoying a swamp tour on the famed Bayou. These tours generally last a few hours and offer views of the combination of saltwater and freshwater areas in the swamp. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, which includes alligators basking in the sun, shrimp, crawfish, and deer. These tours are available throughout the year, though summer yields more wildlife views.

Airboat tour of the famed Lousiana bayou.

For those who would rather spend their day absorbing the local culture, many museums are available to stop at. The National WWII Museum is a top attraction in New Orleans. A visit to this museum offers everything from war documentaries to artifacts from the period. It will take about three hours to view every exhibit in the museum, though it can be longer for those who are history buffs.

Next on the itinerary is refueling with a tasty lunch at Jeri Nims Soda Shop, an eatery found inside the WWII Museum. Visitors can enjoy fun milkshakes, sandwiches, and more at Jeri Nims. It’s open daily, making it an excellent option for hungry travelers.

Afterward, you can make your way to the Garden District, nearby the French Quarter. This area is ideal for viewing New Orleans’ famous architecture. This lovely historic neighborhood offers a peaceful respite and stunning garden views before traveling to the famous French Quarter. Before your next stop, spend some time at Prytania Street and Washington Avenue for shopping, cafes, and additional eateries.

The French Quarter

The final stop is the French Quarter, a neighborhood that holds some of the most popular attractions in New Orleans. This area is also a National Historic Landmark and includes the famous Bourbon Street. A stop on this street is a must-do while in the city. It holds some of the best bars and street performers. For visitors who enjoy the nightlife, circling back at night for entertainment and a few drinks is a fun option.

Besides rowdy bars on Bourbon St., you can enjoy historic sites like the Cabildo, a historic building with a long history of important government events from signing the Louisiana Purchase to housing the Supreme Court. Now, this attraction holds a museum offering insight into Louisiana’s history.

The St. Louis Cathedral, situated in the French Quarter, is another must-see in the city. It holds the title of the oldest North American cathedral and continues to offer religious services. Its impressive architecture draws in many visitors annually.

If you have extra time, stop by St. Charles Avenue, a street that provides views of the world-famous Carnival route.

The French Quarter

You’ll find many restaurant offerings in the French Quarter, from casual eateries to fine dining establishments. Finish the evening by stopping at Restaurant R’evolution for Creole and Cajun offerings. This restaurant is a favorite for locals and travelers alike.

A favorite stay for many people is the Omni Royal Orleans, a luxury stays nearby Bourbon Street. This hotel offers friendly staff, multiple onsite bars, a rooftop pool, and more. If you’re planning on seeing Bourbon Street at night, this is a great option.

Day 2: Stop In Biloxi and Gulf Shores

Day two is split between Mississippi and Alabama, so you’ll want to start early. If you get up early enough, try taking the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway detour, and you’ll be able to travel over the largest bridge over a body of water in the world.

Biloxi Lighthouse

Biloxi is only about 1.5 hours from New Orleans. It offers attractions like the Biloxi Lighthouse, a landmark that has survived natural disasters and been rebuilt to symbolize Biloxi’s resilience.

After spending a full day in New Orleans, you can learn even more about its most famous festival, Mardi Gras, by visiting the Biloxi Mardi Gras Museum. Found inside the Magnolia Hotel, this museum features an impressive costume display alongside informational placards.

Before continuing to Gulf Shores, you can stop at Grind Coffee & Nosh for extra energy with a delicious sandwich and one of the legendary cinnamon rolls. This casual spot offers perfectly made coffee drinks, paninis, salads, etc.

Continue on I-10 for approximately two hours to reach Gulf Shores, Alabama, where you’ll spend the rest of the day. This family-friendly area is wrought with beautiful nature views and outdoor activities. Once you arrive, spend a few hours exploring Fort Morgan. This historic fort is found on Fort Morgan Road and offers views of an 1800s military fort and Pelican Bay. If you’re enjoying the beach located at Fort Morgan, stay later for an incredible sunset over the water.

Sunrise at Fort Morgan, AL. Photo courtesy of Chad Cooper

Gulf Shores is renowned for its oyster farms, so stopping by any available restaurants serving this tasty food is a must. The Original Oyster House Boardwalk is an excellent option for dinner, offering southern-style seafood. It’s a more casual environment and kid-friendly, so it’s perfect for all ages.

Finish the evening by making your way to Gulf State Beach Park. Here, you can camp (or glamp) underneath the stars. Those who want a more comfortable stay can spend the evening at one of the Eagle Cottages onsite. These cottages are alongside Lake Shelby, creating a peaceful environment for a good night’s sleep.

Day 3: Panama City Beach Arrival and Exploration

The final day on this itinerary is split between Panama City Beach’s attractions before you continue to its lovely beaches. It will take about three hours to reach your final destination, so it’s best to head out early in the morning.

Panama City Beach

Once you arrive in Panama City Beach, you’ll be welcomed by an array of restaurants for breakfast. The Sunrise Café & Bakery makes a great first stop. They offer favorites like biscuits and gravy and breakfast sandwiches. Grab a few of the house-made donuts and pierogis (European menu) for snacks later in the day.

Panama City Beach features fun activities, like a ride on the SkyWheel. This Ferris wheel has air-conditioned gondolas and amazing views as you travel through the air. This fun ride is located in Pier Park, an area of Panama City Beach that houses multiple attractions, cute shops, and restaurants.

Other activities at Pier Park include zip lining and mini-golf. It’s easy to spend a full day at Pier Park alone. If you can peel yourself away, check out Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum in Panama City Beach. Besides viewing oddities, you can make your way through a laser obstacle course and a mirror maze before enjoying the 7D Moving Theater.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Panama City Beach

Now that you’ve seen a few of Panama City Beach’s attractions, it’s time to head to the beach for a long list of water sports and shell hunting opportunities. This resort town holds plenty of resorts, vacation rentals, and hotels, making it a town you won’t ever want to leave.


Panama City Beach, Florida

Read next: Explore Florida’s Gulf Coast: Panama City Beach

Discover all there is to do in Panama City Beach, from nature preserves, Gulf Coast seafood, to thrilling adventures for the whole family.

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