Get a Taste of the Gulf at These Panama City Beach Seafood Spots
(Sea)foodies, rejoice! Fresh, local seafood is close by almost anywhere you tread in Panama City Beach, Florida, otherwise known as the “Seafood Capital of the South.” Thanks to the city’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, its restaurants procure their daily catch directly from the source (in some cases, just a few feet away). Of course, that means no vacation here is complete without sampling a few of the top seafood spots and local delicacies, like famous Gulf shrimp or oysters. If you’re stumped on where to start, just do as the locals do and head to these gems for dishes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
When it comes to embodying the quintessentially chill Floridian vibe, it doesn’t get more laid-back than Dee’s. This is (quite literally) the hangout for getting your grub on once you’ve had your fill of the beach, or even before you go. Dee’s specializes in Cajun-style Gulf seafood, like catfish, oyster, or shrimp po’ boys (served on bread baked by the original inventors of the po’ boy) and varieties of smoked tuna dip (original or jalapeño ranch), a local specialty Dee’s is known for. You can even buy the smoked tuna alone to create your own spin on their dips at home, if you’re looking to flex those culinary muscles.
Schooners dubs itself “the best place on the planet” and with its casual beach food menu, volleyball, and proximity to the surf, honestly, they may be right. It’s a local tradition to gather on the beach behind the club to count down to the sunset and mark it with a cannon blast (yes, really), and that’s when the party really starts. Between the dancing, live music, full bar, and food options that range from light fare -- think grouper bites, lobster flatbread, and salads -- to more filling entrees like redfish filets, seared ahi steak, and seared crab cakes, we won’t blame you if you want to stay all night and into the next day, too.
Once you experience eating dinner while watching the sunset, you’ll never want to dine any other way (trust us). Take in some of those spectacular views and refreshing sea breezes at Hang Five, one of the city’s newest spots, as you indulge in Gulf Coast paella with scallops, shrimp, crawfish, and mussels; pan-seared grouper; or some fresh seafood gumbo. There’s also live music by local bands on Friday nights, so once you’ve had your fill of their fare, grab a drink from their moody wood bar and have a listen on the sand.
Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant has been a Panama City staple since 1967, and for good reason. This waterfront restaurant is located right on the wharf, so we recommend asking for a seat near the windows so you can watch the fishing boats unload their haul. In fact, the owners work so closely with local fishermen that they even help build artificial reefs and preserve natural oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay. The result is some fine seafood, as Capt. Anderson’s has won many accolades over the years, like Southern Living’s Best Seafood Restaurant and Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, and being inducted into Florida Trend’s Restaurant Hall of Fame. Must-trys include the seared sea scallops, jumbo Gulf shrimp, and Florida lobster thermidor, all caught fresh from the Gulf, of course.
Finns prides itself on keeping things simple, fresh, and delicious, and it definitely shows in their dishes, with not a single fryer or microwave in sight. The Mexican-inspired fare, which you can eat at picnic tables in the sunshine, is so popular that the restaurant has expanded to three locations. Local favorites include the Endless Summer Tacos, which can be stuffed with ahi tuna, shrimp, or grilled fish for seafood lovers, and pork or steak for meat lovers. They’ve also got burrito bowls, quesadillas, and wraps to choose from, so there’s something for everyone in your crew. Grab a few lunch orders to go and head to the beach for a true PCB-style picnic.
You can’t truly experience the flavors of the South without diving into some authentic Cajun food, and Bayou on the Beach is where you’ll find them in PCB. Here you can nosh on staples like fried alligator tossed in Buffalo sauce (a regional favorite), fried catfish, “Swamp Cakes” (fried green tomatoes topped with lump crab and bearnaise sauce), or boiled Gulf shrimp and Louisiana crawfish. Of course, Bayou on the Beach is also an oyster bar, and with preparations like Oysters Rockefeller, Imperial, and even Baked Four Cheese, your taste buds will never get bored.
When you need to stock up your beach house kitchen, Buddy’s is your go-to. It’s a retail seafood market/takeout steam bar, so whether you’re in the mood to grill your own fresh catch or get one of their award-winning steam dishes to take to the beach (we recommend the seafood gumbo with a side of new potatoes and corn on the cob), you can do both at Buddy’s. The market specializes in wild American shrimp and local daily catch options like scamp, red & black groupers, snappers, and yellowfin tuna, but their menu changes daily, so there’s always a fresh new haul to sample.
Overlooking Grand Lagoon, the Grand Marlin is the kind of spot where you can sample dishes from an award-winning executive chef without changing out of your flip-flops. Their fully-stocked oyster bar serves Apalachicola and East Bay varieties, and entree options include Key lime grilled lobster tail, Maryland-style lump crab cakes, and ginger soy yellowfin tuna. It’s the perfect spot to take your date to score some major good-taste points.
Once you park your blanket and start soaking up the sun, leaving the beach can feel impossible. But, thanks to Hook’d, you don’t need to travel far once your stomach starts rumbling. Just take a few steps off the beach and grab one (or more) of their signature dishes, like fried baskets (small Gulf shrimp, Bay scallops, or grouper fingers); lobster or shrimp tacos; their famous Pow Pow Shrimp; or go with the seafood platter if you can’t decide which pescatarian delight you want to chow down on. And let’s face it… who can really decide on just one?
Every good vacation includes one high-end dinner, and Saltwater Grill should be yours. Their 25,000-gallon tropical saltwater aquarium with its own reef exudes a sense of calm as you dine on options like grouper Imperial, snapper Pontchartrain, tuna au poivre, or pan-seared scallops. Once you’re full, head over to their newly designed bar for some tropical drinks to end the night on a sweet note.
No matter which way you turn, delectable seafood is always within reach in Panama City Beach. The toughest decision you’ll have to make is how many different restaurants you can pack into one trip… and also which variety of Gulf oysters are your new favorite.