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Cheap Panama City Vacation

Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach

Want a cheap Panama City vacation?

Set up your tent or camper in Saint Andrews State Park, and enjoy its 1,260 acres, as well as its miles of Gulf beaches and lagoon shores.

Tent Camping at Saint Andrews State Park
Camping at Saint Andrews State Park

Feel the sugar-white sand squeak under your toes as you stroll leisurely down what the famous "Dr. Beach" has called one of America's best beaches.

Saint Andrews State Park Beach
This Panama City Vacation Has The Best Beach

Then, jump into the refreshing and clear, emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Clear Gulf Waters of Saint Andrews State Park
The Clearest Waters North of the Palm Beaches

Enjoy clear-water snorkeling along the beach's jetty as well as in the protected inlet area known by divers as the "kiddie pool."

The Kiddie Pool at Saint Andrews State Park
The Kiddie Pool

In my mind, Saint Andrews makes for a superb Florida beach vacation.

And if you don't mind camping, well, you've got it made here.

While you won't get five-star hotel accomodations, the Park owns what I think is the best strip of Panama City beach, contiguous to the inlet and its jetty, and uncluttered by the high rises prevalent in other areas.

What really impresses me about this place is the clear, clear water. I grew up in Palm Beach county where the Atlantic waters are the clearest in the state of Florida. Well, the Gulf waters here at Panama City are a close second.

While the Gulf Stream accounts for Palm Beach's beautifully clear waters, the clarity here results from an ocean floor made up of clean, quartz sand so there's no mud to murk things up.

The quartz sand actually comes from the Appalachians, having been eroded and washed down here over the eons. Unlike the coquina or seashell sand of Florida's Atlantic coast, this stuff can actually squeak under your feet when you walk over it. Coupled with the clear water, it's the pride of what's called Florida's Emerald Coast, obviously named for the water's dazzling green hue.

Wanting to know if the water was like this all the time, I asked around. A few local fishermen at the pier told me that a lot of rain with its accompanying runoff or maybe a west wind can sometimes stir thing up. But eighty percent of the time, they said, the water is beautifully clear.

I don't know about you but I could spend days here--relaxing, exploring, snorkeling, walking, cooking out, kayaking, bicycling and more. Then, when you want to leave the Park, Panama City is right near by. You can go out, eat, shop, whatever.

Saint Andrews State Park Campground
Shady Campgrounds Make for a Pleasant Panama City Vacation

If you get tired of being a land lubber, you can rent a boat for fishing or just boat-riding in the lagoon, the inland water channel located on the Park's north side.

Boat Rental Kiosk at Saint Andrews State Park
Rent a Boat and Enjoy the Lagoon Pictured in the Background

Fishermen enjoy the Park's pier. Since the water is so clear they can see the fish, then they fish for what they can see.

The Pier at Saint Andrews State Park
The Pier at Saint Andrews State Park

The Park has a Camp Store that sells sodas, some food, and a host of other stuff you might not have brought with you but wish you had.

Saint Andrews State Park Camp Store
The Camp Store Sells Those Things You Might Have Forgotten

I spent a fair amount time walking around with my camera photographing the beautiful Gulf and the wildlife.

A Blue Heron at Saint Andrews State Park
Photographers Can Enjoy Capturing Wildlife in Pixels

Gator Lake here at the Park is an inland pond about 600 or so feet across. It's a good place to view wildlife. A variety of birds, for instance, roost in the trees on the island in the lake's middle. While we were there, we happened to notice a gator right next to the sign warning there may be alligators present. As far as I know, gators can't read but maybe the picture on the sign reminded him of someone he knows.

Sign of the Times
Sign of the Times

Panama City is in north Florida, meaning it can get pretty cold here in the wintertime. Water temperatures can drop into the fifties--too chilly for any self-respecting Floridian, but some folks from colder climes don't seem to mind at all. In my view, the best times here are the late spring, all summer (if you don't mind the heat), and early fall.

So, the next time you're looking for an inexpensive but enjoyable getaway, a Panama City vacation could be your ticket to a good time. Just pack your camping and snorkeling gear, your camera, whatever else you want, plus your beach stuff. Then, set your GPS for Saint Andrews State Park in Panama City.

Last one in the water buys dinner.