Destin vs Panama City Beach in 2023: An Honest Comparison to Help you Choose!

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Destin Vs Panama City Beach for a family vacation? If you are pondering on this question thinking about which is the best destination for a family vacation, then you are not alone.

Thousands of US families visit these gorgeous beach cities on the Emerald Coast for spring break or New Year’s Eve.  Both destinations provide the best activities, shopping, and adventure experiences, especially for families with kids. So, choosing between the two is challenging for many.

Here is a fair comparison to assist you in making an informed decision about where to take your family on vacation.

If you enjoy fishing, adventure activities, golf, exquisite seafood, vibrant nightlife and shopping in upscale malls and a livelier atmosphere, Destin is the place for your family. Panama City Beach is the place to go if you want a more laid-back vacation with beachfront lodging and plenty of adventurous activities to enjoy with kids.

Destin vs Panama City Beach in 2023?

Before we get into a detailed comparison of these two beautiful cities, let us learn about these two iconic destinations in short.


Destin or Panama City Beach for family vacation

Destin city rests on the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico and is dotted with white sandy beaches, Emerald green water, lush-green golf courses and is known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” due to the abundant and rich marine life surrounding its shores.

Destin, owing to its popularity as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” attracts thousands of fishing enthusiasts from all over the world to its annual fishing festivals, eager to reel in fish such as tuna, blue marlin, amberjack, and sailfish, which are plentiful along the shores of Destin.

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Panama City Beach

Panama City beach

Located 43 miles southeast of Destin and also a part of the Emerald Coast, Panama City Beach is known for its pristine white powdery beaches, calm crystal green water, beachfront resorts and hotels and an assortment of adventure activities which makes it a haven for family vacation.

Why you should choose Destin for a family vacation?

Destin boaters
Boaters in Destin, Florida

Destin is the most visited city on the Emerald Coast and 80% of vacationers visiting the Emerald Coast come to Destin for their family vacation. This alone tells you how popular Destin is as a tourist spot for families all around the US.

If you prefer spending time with your family fishing in the sea, savouring wonderful seafood, playing golf, exploring historical treasures, participating in a variety of adventure activities, and shopping your heart out, Destin is without a doubt the perfect destination to spend a family vacation.

Why you should not choose Destin for a family vacation?

Destin is the most visited city on Florida’s Emerald Coast, making it the busiest tourist destination in the state.

If you want to spend your family vacation resting on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, Destin is not the place for you.

Despite having more premium shopping malls and adventure parks, Destin trails PCB in world-class beachfront rentals. If you want to stay right on the beach, Destin is not the location for you. You’d have to take a short stroll across the main road to get to Destin’s gorgeous beaches.

Why you should choose Panama City Beach for a family vacation?

Panama City beach, Florida - Destin vs Panama city beach for family vacation

For families who love to spend their time in the lap of nature and enjoy the laid-back vibes and crystal-clear green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Panama City Beach is the best place for you.

Panama City Beach offers more oceanfront condos on the beaches than Destin which makes the beauty and serenity of the beaches accessible within a few seconds from your room.

Why you should not choose Panama City beach for a family vacation?

The magnificent beachside condos in Panama come at a cost. Although Panama City Beach is well renowned for its wonderful oceanfront rentals, it lacks budget-friendly lodging options away from the beach.

Another reason Panama City lacks affordable housing options is that there aren’t many hotels away from the beaches, leaving beachfront rentals as the sole option.

If you like a livelier setting with plenty of luxury dining, adventure, entertainment, and shopping opportunities, Panama City Beach is not for you.

Is Destin more expensive than Panama City Beach?

When it comes to choosing between Destin and Panama City Beach, you’ve got a tough decision to make. Cost may play an important factor in tipping the scales one way or another. Overall, Destin is a bit more expensive than Panama City Beach. You’re likely to find higher hotel rates and pricier restaurants in Destin.

That being said, both cities offer great deals on vacation rentals, attractions, and dining experiences that make them worth visiting. So, decide what matters most to your travel budget and pack your suitcase!

Is Panama City Beach water as clear as Destin?

If you’re deciding between visiting Panama City Beach or Destin for your next beach holiday, you may be wondering which one boasts the clearest waters. Ask anyone who has been to both locations and the obvious response is that there isn’t much difference between these two Florida gems when it comes to crystal clear ocean hues.

The turquoise-tinged waves at Panama City Beach are certainly no less captivating than those in Destin – so you can rest assured whether you choose one location or another, a magnificent view awaits. The only way to find out for sure is to take a dip in each, and if that’s not an option… pass on the research and explore them both.

Destin vs Panama City Beach: Accommodation options

When it comes to lodging, both Destin and Panama City Beach have some of the finest rentals that are ideal for a family vacation.

Resorts, exquisite hotels, motels, inns, and condos abound in both of these regions, with lodging options ranging from affordable to ultra-luxurious.

When it comes to budget-friendly lodging options, Destin clearly outperforms Panama City Beach. Although other activities in Destin are more expensive, there are plenty of hotel alternatives in Destin, ranging from affordable condos to ultra-luxurious beachfront infinity pool resorts.

Destin lags considerably behind PCB in terms of rental options right on the beach. Panama City Beach is far superior to Destin in terms of world-class beachfront accommodation alternatives, making getting to the beach a matter of minutes.

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The table below shows the average cost of lodging per person in Destin and Panama City Beach.

Accommodation typeDestinPanama City beach
The average cost of a 7-day trip for a family of 44294$(including other activities)5125$(including other activities)

Best places to eat

Destin food
Infrogmation of New Orleans, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Being known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” it’s not surprising that Destin is also home to one of the best seafood restaurants in the USA where marine life is the backbone of the dining scene.

From fish burgers, fish steaks, grilled fish, oysters, crabs to octopuses’ salad, Destin’s primary cuisines are filled with enough marine life to satisfy the seafood gourmet in you.

Along with Destin authentic dishes, you can also taste classic American, Italian and Mexican dishes while soaking in the beauty of the surroundings in one of the waterfront restaurants in Destin.

Best places to dine in Destin-

  1. Henderson Park Inn– The best resort for everything in Destin.
  2. Marina Café– For fresh seafood, steaks, pasta, sushi’s and wood-fired pizzas
  3. Dewey Destin– Taste the best seafood served with a bit of history.
  4. McGuire’s Irish pub– If you need a break from seafood and savour authentic Irish dishes along with live music.
  5. The Donut Hole– If you love Donuts then you should definitely visit this one.

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is also renowned as the “Southern Seafood Capital.” PCB is also located on the Gulf of Mexico, therefore it, like Destin, offers the freshest and most exquisite seafood in the United States.

From fancy restaurants to seaside local eateries, Panama City Beach offers delectable meals to visitors of all budgets.

Best places to dine in Panama City Beach-

  1. Bayou Bill’s Crab House- Savour the best crab cuisines in Panama City Beach with a view of the beach
  2. Saltwater Grill- Enjoy the signature sesame Seared Tuna with a panoramic saltwater aquarium as a backdrop
  3. Jesse’s Place– For a meal of classic American food.
  4. Andy’s Flour Power- To satisfy your sweet tooth with delicious muffins, pastries, croissants and a 3-egg rolled omelette.
  5. Lotus Café & Juice Bar- For health-conscious folks enjoy a meal made with all-natural and organic ingredients.

The average cost of food per day for a person in Destin and Panama City beach

PlaceThe average cost of food per person/day based on the type of restaurant
Panama City Beach35$/day41$/day52$/day

Is Destin or Panama City better for Beaches?

Many Americans travel to the Emerald Coast for one primary reason: to bask in the sun and scuba dive in the Gulf of Mexico’s crystal-clear waters and play on powdery white sand beaches.

When it comes to choosing the best beach destination, it would be unfair to say that one is better than the other as both these places are gifted with immaculate beaches and activities perfect for families with kids.

However, if you had to pick one of the two, we’d recommend Destin. Not only does this location have some of the clearest, most beautiful blue water you’ll ever witness, but it has plenty of other attractions outside of the beach. From family amusement parks and miniature golf courses to fishing charters and 5-star restaurants—there’s something for everybody in Destin.


Destin beaches

Destin is the most visited city on the Emerald Coast with good reason. To put it another way, thanks to its beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear emerald waters—as well as its mini-golf courses, adventure parks, fine dining options, and world-class shopping centres—Destin is truly a paradise.

Apart from basking in the sun and scuba diving on many beaches in Destin, there are many activities on and away from the beaches that make sure that you enjoy every second of your time in Destin.

A big downside of the beaches in Destin is that being the most visited city on the Emerald Coast the beaches are sometimes overcrowded and at times you will really struggle to find a quiet spot to relax on the beaches.

Best Beaches in Destin-

  1. Henderson State Park – Best beach to explore native marine life including dolphins, loggerhead, tropical fish and green sea turtles.
  2. James Lee Beach – The best beach for an afternoon outing with your kids.
  3. Crab Island- A most famous destination in Destin for paddleboarding, water volleyball, floating, sunbathing and taking a ride on a pontoon boat.
  4. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park- For enjoying Canoeing, Kayaking and paddleboarding.

Panama City Beach

Panama city beach best beaches
People enjoying on a beach in PCB

Panama City beach just like Destin offers some of the best beaches along its 27-mile coastline on the Gulf of Mexico with crystal green waters and thriving marine life.

The beaches of PCB differ from those of Destin in that they are less crowded, cleaner, and have a more laid-back ambience than those of Destin, making them ideal for those who prefer a more tranquil and relaxed beach experience.

Two features distinguish PCB beaches from Destin beaches: PCB provides world-class accommodation options directly on the beach, making the beauty of the ocean accessible to you in a matter of minutes, whereas Destin requires you to walk across the main road.

In addition, Panama City Beach has more pedestrian options, with sidewalks scattered out along the beaches, as opposed to Destin, where you must largely drive along the main roadway.

Best Beaches In Panama City Beach-

  1. Panama City Beach and Pier– The best beach for activities and beachside restaurants
  2. Shell Island- Watch loggerhead sea turtle and green sea turtle
  3. Camp Helen State Park Beach- Best for Hiking and biking
  4. Schooners- For a laid-back vibe with beach volleyball
  5. St. Andrews State Park Beach- Best for water sports activities

Destin vs Panama City Beach: Adventure activities

Adventure activities in Destin

Destin adventure activities

Destin is a paradise for adventure lovers. Theme and water parks, luxurious resorts with private beaches, fishing fleets, well-manicured golf courses, outdoor festivals, museums, diving spots to hiking trails, Destin has it all.

Destin attracts thousands of fishing enthusiasts every year due to its pristine coastlines rich with marine life.

Being known as the “World’s luckiest fishing village” it’s no surprise that Destin’s major festivals revolve around fishing.

The ‘Destin fishing Rodeo’ and Destin seafood festival attract thousands of fishing enthusiasts and seafood lovers from all over the USA.

Some of the best adventure activities to enjoy in Destin include-

100 Fathom curve– For fishing enthusiasts, the 100-fathom curve is the ideal location to be lucky with fishing. The curve is full of sea life with fish species like Cobia, Tuna, Grouper and Flounder in plenty, which is why this spot has been so popular amongst fishermen for centuries.

Impeccable Golf Courses– For golfing enthusiasts, Destin boasts of many well-manicured golf courses with contoured greens and strategically placed hazards that blend beautifully with the spectacular views of the bay.

Some of the best Golf courses are- ⛳️

Kelly Plantation Golf Course

Regatta Bay Golf Club

Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club

The Links Golf Club

Emerald bay golf Club

The Destin fishing and History Museum– There is a reason why Destin has earned the title of “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and there is a deep and rich history behind it.

Harbor Walk Village– Watch the largest charter fishing fleet in the country in action.

Village of Baytowne Wharf– Enjoy Destin’s outdoor festivals and special events.

Thrills Laser Tag and Arcade– If you enjoy indoor games and entertainment.

Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park– One of the best and unique adventure parks in the US with activities for every age group.

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Adventure activities in Panama City Beach

PCB adventure activities

Panama City Beach’s renowned sublime coastline, crystal clear green waters, abundant wildlife and world-class resorts make this place an ideal getaway your family has been looking forward to.

Although PCB pales in comparison to the quality and number of activities that Destin offers, it nonetheless boasts of unique activities for every age.

From water sports, eco excursions, vibrant nightlife, cultural festivals to historical tours, Panama City Beach offers plenty of fun and adventure for every age group who visits this beautiful city.

Some of the best adventure activities in Panama City Beach include-

  1. Paddleboarding- Learn paddleboarding from knowledgeable and patient instructors and explore the beauty of the Grand Lagoon.
  2. Enjoy your time on the beach– The most obvious fun thing to do in Panama City beach is to relax and rejuvenate with a glass of exotic cocktail or you can also swim with the dolphins or enjoy snorkeling in the turquoise waters.
  3. Cobra Adventure Park– For kids who enjoy the adrenaline-fueled sport of go-cart racing.
  4. Shipwreck Island WaterparkBest slides, flumes and rivers with tadpole holes, acres of mini-pool designed with the safety of toddlers in mind.
  5. Coconut Creek Family Fun Park– A unique fun park to enjoy the vibes of a tropical island with cascading waterfalls and a natural lake with native fish.
  6. Gulf World Marine Park– Enjoy the Dolphin shows and interactive stingray shows.
  7. Parasailing– PCB offers the best parasailing experience on the Emerald Coast.
  8. Explore the wildlife-rich parks of Aaron Bessant, Frank Brown parks go hiking in the Camp Helen State Park.

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Destin vs Panama City Beach: Nightlife


The fishing town of Destin is home to wonderful bars, pubs, nightclubs and malls that are open till the wee hours of the morning.

If you are a party animal then without a doubt Destin offers an unparalleled experience.

Best spots in Destin to enjoy Nightlife

  1. HarborWalk Village– The busy port in HarborWalk village with the largest fishing fleet along the sea form a perfect backdrop for a night out with your family.
  2. Village of Baytowne Wharf– Located along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay and is home to Drunken Goat Saloon, Fat Tuesday Daiquiri Bar and Hammerhead sharks.

Panama City Beach

When it comes to nightlife the Panama Beach city lacks the livelier vibe with bars, clubs and upscale malls that Destin offers.

Nightlife in Panama City Beach is more laid-back and geared more towards providing a more secluded experience compared to the party-loving fishing town of Destin.

Best spots in Panama Beach City for Nightlife

  1. Sharkey’s Beachfront Restaurant- Best for steak and seafood.
  2. Spinnaker Beach Club- Enjoy live country music with delicious burgers and coastal grub.
  3. Ms Newby’s- Enjoy karaoke on the beach.
  4. House of Bourbon- A perfect spot for drinks, dancing and music.

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Best time to visit Destin and Panama City Beach


Destin is at its best in April and May, when the weather is pleasant, the water is warm, and the sun is shining (expect highs in the mid-70s and 80s).

Visiting earlier puts you at risk of encountering cooler temperatures and ice-cold water. A vacation in the summer will put you amid the crowds and at the height of the season’s prices.

Panama City Beach

From May through October is the finest season to explore Panama City Beach. Although the area enjoys an average of 320 days of sunshine each year, the highest air and water temperatures are seen in late spring, summer, and early fall.


Both Destin and Panama City Beach have a lot to offer to make your beach vacation an event to remember.

If you love fishing, and enjoy lively beaches with plenty of thrilling activities, upscale shopping malls, and fine eateries, then Destin is the best bet for a family vacation. Choose PCB if you want a laid-back beach experience with plenty of activities to enjoy on and off the beach.

Both these amazing beach cities are only an hour away from each other, so why not spend a night at both these places and decide for yourself which is better? Let, me assure you that you are gonna love both.

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About the author
James Williams
James has been travel lover since childhood. Reading and traveling have been spiritual experiences for him. Learning about new places, cultures, and ways of life and sharing his own experiences and learnings has always been his passion.

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