Destin vs Panama City Beach: Which is Better for a Vacation?

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Are you trying to decide between taking a vacation to Destin or Panama City Beach this year?

As two popular Florida Gulf Coast destinations, each offers a unique set of experiences that could make for an incredible getaway.

With the endless stretch of white sand beaches and shimmering blue waters, both offer plenty of sunshine and relaxation.

But how do these beach towns compare when it comes to things like food, activities and nightlife?

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the details so you can choose which destination is best suited for your vacation. Ready to find out the differences between Destin vs Panama City Beach?

Let’s go!

Destin vs Panama City Beach


Things to do in Destin at night with family

Destin, Florida is a popular destination for vacationers looking for fun in the sun. With its crystal clear waters and sugar-white sandy beaches, it’s no wonder why this city has become a go-to spot for beach vacations.

But Destin offers more than just a beautiful shoreline. It’s also known as the “World’s luckiest fishing village,” with opportunities for deep-sea fishing and other water activities.

Visitors can explore the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park or take a stroll along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk for shopping and dining.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach day or an action-packed adventure, Destin has something for everyone.

Relevant reading: 7 Best Public Beaches in Destin Florida for Families in 2023

Relevant reading: How Much Does A Trip To Destin Cost? [2023 Updated]

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach Pier

Nestled in the Florida Panhandle, Panama City Beach is a premier destination that boasts the beauty of emerald waters, sugar-white sand, and balmy weather.

But it’s not just the natural beauty that attracts tourists from all over the world. Panama City Beach offers a perfect blend of relaxation, entertainment, and adventure, making it a unique vacation spot.

As the ‘Spring Break Capital of the World‘, high school and college students flock here to let loose and have fun.

At the same time, families and couples look forward to exploring the vibrant beachfront, indulging in local seafood, and taking part in thrilling water sports, such as jet skiing and parasailing.

Panama City Beach is not all play and no education though. Visitors can also educate themselves on the region’s historical or ecological significance thanks to its many museums and parks.

With so many things to do and discover, it’s no wonder Panama City Beach is beloved by vacationers of all ages.

Destin vs Panama City Beach: The Beaches 🏖

Destin vs Panama City Beach beaches

If you’re planning a beach vacation in Florida, it’s worth considering the differences between the beaches in Destin and Panama City Beach. While both offer gorgeous white sand and emerald waters, there are a few distinguishing features that might sway your decision.

The beaches in Destin tend to be whiter and sandier, whereas Panama City Beach has more of a powder-like texture. Also, Destin is known for its vibrant sunset views, while Panama City Beach has more diversity in its beachscape.

Destin is known for its family-friendly atmosphere and upscale resorts, while Panama City Beach draws a younger crowd and has a reputation for lively nightlife.

Another key difference is the style of accommodations – Destin tends to have high-rise buildings and condos, while Panama City Beach offers more traditional beach houses. Ultimately, both destinations have plenty of sun, sand, and sea to offer, so the choice comes down to your personal preference.

If you’re seeking a more relaxed and refined experience, Destin may be the way to go. However, if you’re after a vibrant and bustling beach with plenty of activities for all ages, Panama City Beach will not disappoint.

Top 5 Beaches in Destin, Florida

Henderson Beach State Park
Henderson State Park Destin

This beach is a favorite spot for both tourists and locals. With over 30-foot-high sand dunes, emerald green waters, and a unique ecosystem, you will never want to leave.

The beach has ample amenities, including restrooms, showers, a playground, and much more. You can also rent a beach umbrella, chairs, and snorkeling gear – everything you need to have a full day of fun.

Crystal Beach

This beach is named after the crystal-clear waters that are perfect for swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking.

Crystal Beach has gentle waves and sugary white sand that’s perfect for building castles, making it one of the most suitable beaches for kids. The neighborhood is spacious and a great place for an evening walk or bike ride.

Miramar Beach
Miramar Beach

Miramar Beach is situated in the heart of the Emerald Coast and is famous for its vibrant atmosphere.

Miramar Beach is a perfect spot for those who love to people-watch or take a dip in the sea.

It is an absolute paradise with crystal-clear waters, vast expanses of powder-white sand, and all the amenities you need to have a great day. The beach also has plenty of restaurants nearby serving fresh seafood.

Norriego Point Beach

Norriego Point is one of the best-hidden beaches in Destin, Florida. Tucked away from the main roads and crowded tourist destinations, this beach is a haven for those looking for a peaceful day by the sea.

Shell hunters and beachcombers will relish combing through the sand looking for hidden treasures. This beach is a great place for family picnics, nature walks, and basking in the sun.

Okaloosa Island
Okaloosa Island Pier

Okaloosa Island is the go-to place for those who want to avoid overcrowded beaches. It is located between Fort Walton Beach and Destin and is one of the most pristine beaches on the Emerald Coast.

The beach has a tranquil atmosphere and boasts white sand, clear blue water, and spectacular sunsets. You can indulge in beach sports, shelling, and enjoy fresh locally caught seafood at one of the beachside restaurants.

🦀 Related post: The Ultimate Guide to Fun on Crab Island, Destin Fl

Top 5 Beaches in Panama City Beach

St. Andrews State Park Beach
St. Andrews State Park Beach

This 1,200-acre park offers two miles of soft, white sand, crystal-clear water, and a variety of activities.

Whether you want to go fishing, kayaking, or just relax in the sun, St. Andrews State Park Beach has it all. Plus, there are plenty of amenities like picnic tables, restrooms, and showers to make your day at the beach even more enjoyable.

Shell Island Beach

If you’re looking for a secluded and peaceful beach experience, then Shell Island is the place for you.

This undeveloped barrier island is only accessible by boat, but it’s well worth the trip. You’ll find pristine beaches, crystal-clear water, and even a chance to see some of the local wildlife like dolphins and sea turtles.

Pier Park Beach

Located in the heart of Panama City Beach, Pier Park Beach is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. With plenty of restaurants, shops, and attractions nearby, you can easily spend an entire day here.

The beach itself is wide with soft sand and colorful umbrellas, making it the perfect spot to relax and people-watch.

Carillon Beach

If you’re looking for a more upscale beach experience, then head to Carillon Beach. This gated community offers a private, uncrowded beach with plenty of amenities like chairs, umbrellas, and a beachside restaurant.

The water is calm and clear, making it a great spot for swimming or snorkeling.

Laguna Beach

Last but not least, Laguna Beach is a favorite among locals. This quiet, family-friendly beach is perfect for those looking to escape the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet.

The water is calm, and the sand is soft making it perfect for building sandcastles or taking a stroll along the shoreline.

Accommodation options 🏠

Destin and Panama City Beach are two popular vacation destinations in Florida that offer a variety of accommodation options.

For those seeking a luxurious experience, Destin has a plethora of high-end resorts and condominiums that provide breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico. On the other hand, Panama City Beach offers a more budget-friendly approach with a range of affordable hotels and motels.

Both destinations offer a mix of beachfront and non-beachfront options, but it’s important to note that Panama City Beach has a wider selection of beachfront properties compared to Destin.

Overall, whether you’re looking for a lavish getaway or a budget-friendly vacation, both Destin and Panama City Beach have something to offer.

Nightlife 🥳

Destin and Panama City Beach are two of the most popular vacation destinations in Florida, and each has a unique nightlife scene.

Destin tends to be more upscale, with classy bars and restaurants lining the beach and harbor. Many of these spots offer live music and a great view of the sunset.

In contrast, Panama City Beach is known for its lively party scene. There are countless bars and clubs along the main strip, and the vibe is definitely more wild and raucous.

The beachfront is also lit up with neon lights and loud music, making it the perfect spot for those looking to dance the night away.

It really depends on your mood and what kind of experience you are looking for, but both Destin and Panama City Beach offer a fun and unforgettable night out.

Relevant reading: 11 Best Things to Do in Destin at Night with Family

Destin vs Panama City Beach: Things to do

If you’re looking for a beach vacation in Florida, Destin and Panama City Beach are both great options with plenty to offer.

Destin is known for its powdery white sand and emerald green waters which make it ideal for beach activities like swimming, sunbathing, and boating.

Meanwhile, Panama City Beach is a popular destination for families with its range of amusement parks, water parks, and mini-golf courses.

If you’re looking for a little bit of everything, then Panama City Beach should be your go-to destination. But if you’re focused solely on beach activities, Destin might be the better choice for you.

Either way, both destinations offer plenty of fun in the sun for everyone.

Top 5 Things to Do in Destin, Florida

Hit the Beaches

Destin is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Crystal clear emerald green waters and white sand beaches make this destination a paradise for beach lovers.

You can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, sunbathing, etc., on the 24-miles of incredible coastline. A few of our top picks include the Henderson Beach State Park, Miramar Beach, and the James Lee Beach Park.

Deep-sea Fishing

Destin has been referred to as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” and it’s not hard to see why. The region is known for its deep drop fishing where anglers can catch anything from Mahi Mahi to Marlin.

The HarborWalk Village provides a variety of deep-sea fishing charters that cater to both beginners and experts.

Whether you’re a fishing enthusiast or a novice, you’ll be sure to make some unforgettable memories.

Shop and Dine

Destin has incomparable dining options to satisfy every taste. From casual eats such as seafood shacks to upscale restaurants featuring fresh from the Gulf cuisine, there is plenty to choose from.

The ambiance here is as unique as the fantastic food. In addition to dining, you can explore boutiques, jewelry shops, surf shops, and more.

The Destin Commons and Silver Sands Outlet Mall are a few popular spots for shopping.

🏖 Related postThe Ultimate Guide to Destin Seafood Festival 2023

Water Sports

Destin’s turquoise waters are perfect for some splash-filled outdoor activities such as parasailing, jet-skiing, and offshore powerboat racing. You can also rent boats, kayaks, and paddleboards from local shops to explore the shoreline. We would recommend Destin X Parasailing for thrilling water sports such as flyboarding, parasailing, and jet skiing.

Visit Destin’s Landmarks

If you’re looking for activities that don’t involve sand and saltwater, Destin has plenty of other options for you.

Visit the Destin History & Fishing Museum, an interesting and informative feature showcasing the city’s past. Kids will love the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, which has dolphin and shark shows, as well as a host of other exotic marine life. Or take a sunset cruise around the coast, which is perfect for couples or solo travelers.

Top 5 Things to Do in Panama City Beach

Visit the beaches

Panama City Beach is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is no surprise that a majority of the tourists visit the beach to enjoy the white sand and the clear, turquoise waters.

Whether you want to sunbathe, swim, paddleboard, or kayak, you can do it all on the beaches of Panama City Beach.

St. Andrews State Park

If you are looking for a quiet and serene experience, head over to St. Andrews State Park. The park boasts of a number of activities that can be enjoyed by both adults and children.

You can explore the natural beauty of the park by hiking, biking, or fishing. You can also take a dip in the emerald waters or just relax with a picnic.

Shopping and dining

Panama City Beach has several restaurants and shopping outlets. From local seafood to international cuisine, there are a variety of options for food lovers. You can also visit the nearby Pier Park Shopping Center and indulge in some retail therapy.

Gulf World Marine Park

Gulf World Marine Park is a great destination for families with kids. The park features interactive exhibits, shows, and animal encounters with dolphins, sea lions, and more. Children will definitely enjoy the fun and educational programs.

Parasailing and jet skiing

If you are looking for some adventure, head over to the coast. You can take a parasailing or jet ski tour and get a bird’s eye view of the coastline.

This is a great way to experience the thrill of the ocean and get an adrenaline rush.


In conclusion, both Destin and Panama City Beach have their own unique charm and offer a plethora of activities for vacationers. It really just depends on what kind of trip you’re looking for.

If you’re seeking a more relaxed, upscale atmosphere with a focus on pristine beaches and luxury accommodations, Destin may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more lively vibe with a variety of entertainment options and a younger crowd, Panama City Beach may be the better choice.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you value most in a vacation destination. Regardless of which one you choose, you’re sure to have a memorable and enjoyable time in the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida.

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About the author
James Williams
Hey there! I'm James Williams, the guy behind I'm a born-and-raised Floridian, and I'm stoked to share my travel adventures with you. On my website, you'll get a taste of Florida through my eyes – the places I love, the hidden gems, and the stories that make the Sunshine State special. Join me on this journey as I take you through the heart and soul of Florida, one post at a time!

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