When in Panama City or Panama City Beach Florida during the Labor Day
weekend, pack a picnic basket and make your way to Shell Island. Accessible only by boat; but, worth the trouble to get there. Beautiful pristine beaches of sugar white sand and emerald seas. This barrier island is fairly long providing many places to go ashore and narrow providing an easy walk from the bay side to the Gulf side. Go to just sun, swim, and eat your picnic or search for the large variety of shells found there. If you like to surf fish this is the place to wet your lines, the fishing is good. However, beware there are no facilities on the island, no food court, restaurants, bars, or lifeguards. You are on your own, so pack what you need and take a little extra if in doubt. No pets and no glass products.
Shell Island is mostly part of the St. Andrews park system; but, some private land is owned with no structures. There is a docking area for local charter boats, one of which is Capt. Anderson marina chartering to shell island. They can be contacted at 850-234-5940. Capt. Anderson also provides deep sea fishing trips, contact number 1-800-874-2415. Your best bet for a great relaxing day, rent a Pontoon Boat or Personal Water Craft (PWC) from one of the numerous companies specializing in these rentals. The Panama City area has many of these companies.They’ll all be equipped with all legally required equipment, no gassing up, filling single cycle oil, or launching – board and go!
For those who don’t want to be that far off the beaten track, try St. Andrews State Park proper. Contact at 850-233-5140. When I was last there it cost $5.00 per car load, so stuff the vehicle full. Once in the park there is a lot to do. A large sugar white beach is located on the south end of the park within easy walking distance to the kiddie pool. Don’t let the name turn you off. This area is adjacent to the main pass between St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The rock jetty parallels this tidal pool. Small children can easily walk in this pool without being pummeled by the Gulf waves; but, deep enough in spots to snorkel and watch some great marine life. There are numerous hiking trails in the park and of course Alligator Lake, Yes it has Gators in it. Look don’t swim. You may surf fish the beach, fish from the public pier, or walk out to the end of the jetty and have a shot at catching anything that swims in the Gulf. Remember there are still no lifeguards here and although usually a lot of people are around, small children should be constantly monitored for their safety. During harsh seas small children can be pulled through the jetty rocks to the main pass, so keep them away from the jetty and closer to the shore line.
As a final thought, although some foods and beverages are available, pack a picnic and avoid the snack shack. You’ll have with you what your family likes, won’t have to make the hike for a cold soda, and save a lot of money too. Go early and enjoy the day. Get in the shade if you plan on staying past noon as the Ultra Violet danger on these sugar sand beaches is extreme. Also, a half hour before you get to any beach lather up with sun screen. It works better if your skin soaks it in and replenish often. Again no pets except in the camping area and no glass products. Panama city and Shell Island – the place to be!