THE MAGIC OF PANAMA CITY

This Florida city will amaze you with its end­less eco ad­ven­tures, his­toric neigh­bour­hoods and cul­tural events.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY STEVE WIN­STON

Where can you ex­pe­ri­ence an old Florida bay-side city and nearby world-class beaches? Where the wa­ters are al­ways warm and the breezes al­ways cool? Where the hos­pi­tal­ity is South­ern (y’all), and folks still say “hello” to vis­i­tors? Where de­light­ful sur­prises pop up ev­ery­where you go, whether it’s a hid­den cove or a pre­cious an­tique? Where the seafood on your plate is so fresh that it was swim­ming in the Gulf of Mex­ico an hour be­fore?

Well, you’ve found it! Panama City is a North­west Florida city with un­lim­ited eco­tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties and wa­ter sports as well as colour­ful his­toric dis­tricts filled with quaint shops and cul­tural and culi­nary scenes usu­ally found in larger cities.

Prox­im­ity is key here with end­less ad­ven­tures all within your reach. East of the Hath­away Bridge you’ll feel the authen­tic­ity of the his­toric dis­tricts and ex­pe­ri­ence the sights and sounds of lo­cal artists through­out the pedes­trian-friendly neigh­bour­hoods. The nearby yet world-renowned white sand beaches are eas­ily ac­cessed by driv­ing west over the Hath­away Bridge or by boat to un­in­hab­ited Shell Is­land or St. An­drews State Park. Po­si­tioned on the north­ern shores of the Gulf of Mex­ico, Panama City sun­sets are sim­ply breath­tak­ing. A fiery yel­low sun morphs into or­ange and then crim­son, cre­at­ing a painted sky above the wa­ter as the sun sinks be­low the hori­zon.

This is a dif­fer­ent Florida . . . so far west it’s in the Cen­tral Time Zone rather than the Eastern. In fact, you’re much closer to At­lanta, Mo­bile and even New Or­leans than Mi­ami or Fort Lauderdale.

HIS­TORIC TOWN WITH DI­VERSE PLEASURES

Panama City lives on the wa­ter! Char­ter boats pro­vide the chance to catch your own din­ner or take you to great scuba and snorkelling ar­eas. Or, book a trip to Shell Is­land, an ap­pro­pri­ately named bar­rier

is­land blessed with pow­dery, white-sand beaches and crys­tal-clear wa­ters that are ideal for snorkelling, and of­fer­ing won­der­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties for dol­phin watch­ing and, of course, shelling.

There are also dol­phin-spot­ting cruises. Or, sim­ply rent a kayak, sail­boat, row­boat, pad­dle­board or jet ski and head out on the wa­ter your­self.

Back on land, ex­plore the dis­tinct ar­eas of Panama City. Down­town fea­tures cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties such as the iconic Martin The­atre, built in 1936; the Panama City Cen­ter for the Arts; eclec­tic art gal­leries; and a va­ri­ety of ex­cel­lent restau­rants. The St. An­drews neigh­bour­hood, right on the bay, still evokes the aura of the quaint fish­ing village it once was, and you’ll love the shops, restau­rants and gal­leries along Beck Av­enue. The aptly named Mil­lville quar­ter has housed pa­per mills and ship­build­ing en­ter­prises for gen­er­a­tions. Here, you’ll find a wa­ter­front park and ma­rina, an oys­ter bar so old it’s in the his­toric registry, a vin­tage art gallery and a va­ri­ety of spots with unas­sum­ing charm that just make ev­ery­one feel like they’re at home with friends.

A NEW FOODIE DES­TI­NA­TION

The “foodie” trend is flour­ish­ing in Panama City, where lo­cal chefs are in­vent­ing cre­ative dishes. That’s not to say, though, that beloved old South­ern favourites like shrimp ’n grits or chicken-fried steak aren’t still cher­ished. You’ll find more than 110 restau­rants here, serv­ing ev­ery­thing from classic South­ern bar­be­cue and Mex­i­can cui­sine to Thai and Mid­dle Eastern fare. And seafood on the menus goes straight from the fish­ing boats to many of these restau­rants.

Panama City even has a “trail” to cel­e­brate per­haps its most trea­sured lo­cal seafood—oys­ters. Some of the most pro­duc­tive oys­ter beds on Earth are found in these wa­ters. Fol­low the Panama City Oys­ter Trail (#Pcoys­ter­trail), which takes you through 12 dis­tinc­tive restau­rants, each of­fer­ing in­no­va­tive ways to ex­pe­ri­ence this de­li­cious treat.

SHOP ’TIL YOU DROP

You’ll never run out of shop­ping op­tions in Panama City. In the his­toric neigh­bour­hoods of St. An­drews, Down­town and Mil­lville, wan­der among quaint bou­tiques sell­ing fash­ion-forward styles. Ex­plore an­tique shops with one-of-a-kind items that date back to the city’s days in ship­ping and man­u­fac­tur­ing. In fact, you’ll even find an old-fash­ioned hard­ware store (third gen­er­a­tion) where you’ll re­dis­cover items you thought you’d never see again.

Na­tional retailers and depart­ment stores line 15th Street (US High­way 98) and 23rd Street, and the Panama City Mall boasts 56,520 square me­tres of great shop­ping and din­ing venues.

CUL­TURE, CON­CERTS AND CON­VEN­TIONS

The Martin The­atre, a 1936 art deco icon, brings na­tion­ally renowned acts to Panama City and hosts the Martin Mar­quee series, which com­bines drinks and a show. The Ma­rina Civic Cen­ter fea­tures in­ter­na­tional tour­ing acts and Broad­way shows. You’ll also find in­ter­est­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and art forms at the Panama City Cen­ter for the Arts. And you can view the works of lo­cal artists at Cit­yarts Co­op­er­a­tive, the largest cre­ative-arts co­op­er­a­tive in North­west Florida.

Fes­ti­vals fill the cal­en­dar year-round. Most no­table is the Krewe of St. An­drews Mardi Gras fes­ti­val, which draws krewes, floats and march­ing bands from across the na­tion. An­other pop­u­lar event is the Cre­ative Con­fer­ence, a two-day event cel­e­brat­ing, con­nect­ing and in­spir­ing cre­ative minds and the geek cul­ture.

And, when it comes to cul­ture, let’s not for­get the kids. The Sci­ence & Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter of North­west Florida is a hands-on, in­ter­ac­tive, just-plain-fun place for all ages.

There’s magic in Panama City. And it’s all just waiting to be dis­cov­ered.

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