New Year’s Eve plans are always a thing that tend to get us stressed out. For an entire decade, we’ve rung in the New Year in the Hamptons, finally broking that routine last year, by speanding the last few days of 2018 upstate for a ski trip. That was a welcome change, so we’ve wanted to try something different again this year, and finally decided on Panama City Beach Florida because what New Yorker wouldn’t want a beach and sun in December. Located on the panhandle, in the northwest part of Florida, Panama City Beach has been named a top 3 beach in the United States by TripAdvisor. The sandy coast lines stretches for 27-miles along the calm, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve never been to this part of Florida, but some sand was just what our family needed to ring in the New Year.
Coming from New York City, we needed to take a quick connecting flight though Charlotte, but seemed like a small price to pay for the beaches along the Gulf Coast. The airport was small and charming, with rental car lots located right outside the terminal. What a plus, because there is nothing worse than having to wait for and board a rental car shuttle bus after a day of travel. We packed up our truck, and drove to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, just 20 minutes from the airport. Our room was a beach front suite, with 2 double beds, a bunk bed and kitchenette. At first, it was a fight for the top bunk, but we agreed to take turns each night! At 60 degrees, it wasn’t your typical sunbathing weather, but for a bunch of New Yorkers coming from a December chill, there were no complaints! The kids quickly changed into their suits for a dip in the pool, before heading out to a bonfire.
Endless Beach rentals set up an awesome bonfire right on the beach with lounge chairs, corn hole toss, drinks adult and otherwise, and everything we needed for s’mores. Bonfires are one of our favorite things to do at the beach, so this was such a treat. Afterwards, we headed to dinner at Harpoon Harry’s Beachfront Restaurant which was only a short walk from our hotel. Harry’s was super family friendly, and offered plenty of local cuisine, which consisted of lots of shrimp, seafood, and fish tacos. They even had live music.
The following day was New Years Eve, so we wanted to jam in as much as possible before getting our ball drop on. After some breakfast, and coffee, we headed to the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf and Spa Resort for lunch, a spa day for the girls and I, and a golf day for the boys. The Sheraton had recently undergone a complete restoration and new name as they officially opened their doors following the October 2018 impact of Hurricane Michael. Nestled along the historic St. Andrews Bay in Panama City Beach, Fla., the resort endured extensive renovations to return the coastal property back to its peak, and might I add just awesome. They may have lost over 30,000 tress but the grounds are still sprawling and immaculate. We had lunch at their poolside Flip Flop restaurant before heading to our appointments. No matter how many mani and pedis I get with my daughters, it never gets old. This time together is priceless, and love to hear their thoughts and stories. Not to mention, when you add some Gemma into any situation, there are sure to be some laughs!
Jason is not much of a golfer, but that didn’t stop he and Ryder from whacking a few buckets of balls. Not sure if Ryder enjoyed himself more learning how to drive the ball, or trying to drive the golf cart!
After the boys scooped us up from the spa, we drove over the St. Andrews State Park to be greeted by another gorgeous beach and pier. St. Andrews State Park, one of 2 protected nature preserves nearby, hugs the Gulf and has hiking trails and fishing piers. We stayed at the park, tooling around until just before sunset.
We were having such a great time and almost forgot it was New Years eve. Back at the hotel. we showered before making our way to Pier Park, which is loaded with stores, restaurants and plenty of entertainment. Each year, Pier Park hosts it’s annual Beach Ball drop, putting a fun loal spin on the ball drop. This is such a great experience for kids, because the town closes the streets around Pier Park off to traffic, to make way for the thousands of residents and visitors flooding the streets to enjoy live music, entertainment, fireworks and so much more. Best part, the beach ball drop takes place at 8pm, rather than midnight, so kids can take part in the festivities. To add to the fun, thousands of beach balls come billowing down from the sky. Ryder, Siella, and Gemma absolutely loved it, taking home at least two balls each! We hung around Pier Park for a bit afterwards, eating ice cream and chatting. I could tell that the kids were wiped from a long day, so it was time for pjs and we tuned into the NYC ball drop on TV. It was a nice mellow New Years Eve!
With one more full day left in our vacation, we started our day at Camp Helen State Park. From 1945 until 1987, Camp Helen was a company resort for the employees of Avondale Mills, a textile company with numerous mills all over the southeast. The property became a state park in 1996, and has been open to the general public ever since. Most of those buildings have now been restored, so its fun to witness a little piece of history so close the beach. The 183-acre park is open until dusk, and activities include swimming, bird watching, nature study, hiking and biking on the trails, and both freshwater and saltwater fishing.
Since the kids had so much fun at Pier Park the evening prior, we headed back for another healthy helping of ice cream and fudge, took a ride on SkyWheel ferris wheel, logged some shopping hours, and tore up Dave & Busters for some video games. As if our day wasn’t packed enough, we stopped at Wonderworks. an entertainment center focused on science exhibits. Just check out the outside of the building, and you can imagine how much fun we had inside. On the way back to the hotel, surprise surprise, mom wanted some more photos on the beach. We parked and ended the evening with a walk on the beach behind our hotel and even spotted 2 dolphins swimming about. The kids went nuts. Definitely a highlight of the trip for sure!
For our last meal, we headed to Runaway Island, which was by far my favorite restaurant of the trip. With a 2 level dining room indoors, and a massive outdoor deck, the restaurant even had a boardwalk that extends all the way to the shores of the white sandy beach.
Panama City Beach was such a lovely escape for our family, and definitely an unexpected location for us to welcome the New Year. Who wouldn’t like some salt air and sand as they marched into the roaring 20’s!