Is It Cheaper To Go To Destin Or Panama City?

Planning a beach getaway but torn between the stunning Destin and vibrant Panama City? Well, the burning question on your mind is whether Destin or Panama City will be lighter on your wallet. Both of these popular vacation spots in Florida have their unique charms, captivating visitors with their natural beauty, thrilling activities, and vibrant nightlife. In this article, we will compare the costs of visiting Destin and Panama City to help you make an informed decision, ensuring you have an unforgettable vacation without breaking the bank. So, let’s determine whether Destin or Panama City offers a more affordable escape!

Is It Cheaper To Go To Destin Or Panama City?

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Hotels in Destin

When it comes to accommodation options in Destin, you have a wide range of hotels to choose from. Whether you’re looking for luxurious beachfront resorts or budget-friendly options, Destin has it all. Some popular hotels in Destin include The Henderson, a lavish 5-star resort known for its impeccable service and stunning views, and the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, which offers a variety of amenities and activities for both families and couples.

Hotels in Panama City

Panama City also offers a great selection of hotels catering to different budgets and preferences. From beachfront resorts to cozy boutique hotels, you’ll find a range of options in Panama City. One highly-rated option is the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort, which boasts beautiful ocean views and an array of amenities. Another popular choice is the Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach, known for its family-friendly atmosphere and proximity to attractions.

Renting a Vacation Home

If you prefer a more homely and private experience, renting a vacation home can be a great option in both Destin and Panama City. There are numerous vacation rental options available, ranging from beachfront properties to cozy cottages. Renting a vacation home allows you to have more space, privacy, and the convenience of a fully-equipped kitchen.

Camping Options

For nature lovers and adventure seekers, camping can be an exciting way to experience Destin and Panama City. There are several campgrounds located near the beaches and parks, providing a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area. Some popular campgrounds include Henderson Beach State Park in Destin and St. Andrews State Park in Panama City.


Driving to Destin

If you prefer the flexibility and convenience of driving, Destin is easily accessible by car. The city is located along Highway 98, which connects to major highways such as Interstate 10. The drive to Destin can be a scenic one, with beautiful coastal views along the way. However, it’s important to note that during peak seasons, traffic can get congested, so plan your travel accordingly.

Driving to Panama City

Similar to Destin, getting to Panama City by car is straightforward. The city is conveniently situated along Highway 98 as well. The drive to Panama City offers picturesque views of the Gulf Coast and surrounding nature. While traffic congestion can be an issue during busy times, especially around popular attractions, planning your travel beforehand can help you navigate the road smoothly.

Flying to Destin

For those traveling from farther distances, flying to Destin is a convenient option. The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) is the primary airport serving the area. It is located just a short drive away from Destin and offers direct flights from various cities in the United States. Renting a car or utilizing airport transportation services are recommended to reach your accommodation from the airport.

Flying to Panama City

Similarly, Panama City is also easily accessible by air. The Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) serves the area and offers direct flights from major cities. The airport is located approximately 20 miles from Panama City Beach. Renting a car or utilizing transportation services from the airport are convenient options to reach your destination.

Is It Cheaper To Go To Destin Or Panama City?

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Food and Dining

Restaurants in Destin

Destin is a food lover’s paradise, boasting a diverse culinary scene with a variety of restaurants to suit every taste and budget. Whether you’re craving fresh seafood, international cuisine, or classic American fare, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your palate. Some popular restaurants in Destin include Harbor Docks, known for its fresh catch seafood and waterfront dining, and The Back Porch, a local favorite serving up delicious beachside meals.

Restaurants in Panama City

Panama City is no stranger to delicious cuisine either, offering a range of dining options for all preferences. From casual beachfront eateries to upscale dining establishments, you’ll find a wide array of restaurants to choose from. One must-visit spot is Captain Anderson’s Restaurant, a long-standing seafood institution that has been serving locals and visitors for decades. Another popular choice is Firefly, known for its elegant ambiance and creative dishes.

Grocery Shopping in Destin

If you prefer to cook your own meals or stock up on snacks for your vacation, Destin has several grocery shopping options available. You’ll find familiar grocery store chains such as Publix and Walmart in the area, as well as smaller local markets. These grocery stores are conveniently located and offer a wide variety of products to suit your needs.

Grocery Shopping in Panama City

Similarly, grocery shopping in Panama City is convenient and easily accessible. In addition to major supermarket chains like Publix and Walmart, there are also local markets where you can find fresh produce and specialty items. Whether you need to pick up ingredients for a homecooked meal or grab some beach snacks, you’ll find plenty of options.

Activities and Attractions

Beaches and Parks in Destin

With its stunning white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, Destin is a haven for beach lovers. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, go for a swim, or try your hand at water sports, there’s something for everyone. Destin is also home to several beautiful parks, such as Henderson Beach State Park, where you can explore nature trails, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the scenic views.

Beaches and Parks in Panama City

Panama City is equally blessed with beautiful beaches and parks. Panama City Beach, known for its emerald-green waters and soft sand, offers a perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and beach activities. St. Andrews State Park is another must-visit destination, offering pristine beaches, nature trails, and opportunities for fishing and kayaking.

Water Activities in Destin

Destin is renowned as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” so it’s no surprise that fishing is a popular activity here. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, you can take a fishing charter or participate in a deep-sea fishing expedition to catch your own dinner. Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities for boating, jet skiing, parasailing, and other thrilling water activities.

Water Activities in Panama City

Water activities are abundant in Panama City as well. From jet skiing and snorkeling to paddleboarding and kayaking, there’s no shortage of fun to be had on the water. For those seeking a more leisurely experience, take a boat tour to explore the coast, spot dolphins, or even go on a sunset cruise.

Other Attractions in Destin

Beyond the beaches, Destin offers a variety of other attractions to explore. Visit the Destin Harbor Boardwalk to enjoy waterfront dining, shopping, and live entertainment. The Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park is a hit with both kids and adults, featuring water slides, go-karts, and minigolf. Golf enthusiasts will also appreciate the numerous championship golf courses in the area.

Other Attractions in Panama City

Panama City is not only known for its beaches but also its family-friendly attractions. WonderWorks is an interactive museum that combines education and entertainment with over 100 hands-on exhibits. Gulf World Marine Park offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with dolphins, sea lions, and other marine animals. For history buffs, a visit to the St. Andrews State Park and Shell Island Historic District can provide insights into the area’s past.

Is It Cheaper To Go To Destin Or Panama City?

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Nightlife and Entertainment

Bars and Nightclubs in Destin

When the sun goes down, Destin comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene. There are numerous bars and nightclubs where you can enjoy live music, dance the night away, or simply unwind with a cocktail. The Village of Baytowne Wharf is a popular destination for nightlife, offering a variety of bars, restaurants, and live entertainment venues.

Bars and Nightclubs in Panama City

Panama City is known for its energetic nightlife as well. The city is dotted with bars and nightclubs catering to different tastes and preferences. From laid-back beach bars to lively dance clubs, you’ll find plenty of options to keep the party going well into the night. The Strip, located along Thomas Drive, is a prime spot for bar-hopping and enjoying live music.

Live Entertainment and Events in Destin

In addition to the nightlife scene, Destin also offers a range of live entertainment options and events. The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation hosts outdoor concerts and performances, showcasing local and national talent. The Emerald Coast Convention Center is another venue that hosts various events, including concerts, trade shows, and festivals throughout the year.

Live Entertainment and Events in Panama City

Panama City is no stranger to live entertainment and events either. The Marina Civic Center is a popular venue that hosts a variety of concerts and performances. Throughout the year, the city also hosts events such as the Seabreeze Jazz Festival and the Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally, attracting visitors from near and far.


Malls and Shopping Centers in Destin

Destin is a shopper’s paradise, with a range of malls and shopping centers to explore. The Destin Commons is a popular outdoor shopping center featuring well-known brands, specialty stores, and restaurants. The Silver Sands Premium Outlets is another must-visit destination, offering discounted prices on designer and brand-name merchandise.

Malls and Shopping Centers in Panama City

Panama City also offers several malls and shopping centers for retail therapy. The Panama City Mall is a centrally located shopping destination with a mix of national retailers and local boutiques. Another shopping center worth visiting is Pier Park, an outdoor complex with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Local Markets and Boutiques in Destin

If you’re looking for unique souvenirs or locally made goods, Destin has a range of local markets and boutiques to explore. The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is a great place to find locally crafted items, artwork, and beachwear. The Crystal Beach Plaza Farmers Market is also worth a visit, offering fresh produce, handmade crafts, and food vendors.

Local Markets and Boutiques in Panama City

Panama City also boasts its fair share of local markets and boutiques. St. Andrews Farmers Market is a popular spot to find fresh produce, local products, and artisanal goods. Downtown Panama City is also lined with boutique shops and galleries, offering a variety of unique shopping experiences.

Is It Cheaper To Go To Destin Or Panama City?

Seasonal Factors

Peak Season in Destin

The peak season in Destin typically falls during the summer months, from June to August. This is when the weather is ideal for beach activities and families with children are on summer vacation. During this time, you can expect larger crowds and higher prices for accommodation and attractions. It’s advisable to book your accommodations and activities well in advance to secure the best deals.

Off-Season in Destin

The off-season in Destin typically occurs during the winter months, from December to February. While the weather may be cooler during this time, there are still plenty of activities and attractions to enjoy. The off-season often means smaller crowds and lower prices for accommodations and activities, making it an attractive option for those looking for a more relaxed and budget-friendly vacation.

Peak Season in Panama City

Similar to Destin, the peak season in Panama City is during the summer months. From June to August, the beaches are bustling with visitors, and prices for accommodations and activities tend to be higher. It’s important to make your reservations ahead of time to secure the best rates and availability.

Off-Season in Panama City

The off-season in Panama City falls during the winter months, from December to February. While the weather may be cooler, it’s still possible to enjoy the beaches and take advantage of lower prices. The off-season offers a more tranquil and peaceful atmosphere, ideal for those seeking a quieter getaway and better deals.


Climate in Destin

Destin enjoys a subtropical climate, characterized by hot and humid summers and mild winters. Summers in Destin can be quite warm, with temperatures ranging from the 80s to the 90s Fahrenheit. Winters, on the other hand, are mild with temperatures ranging from the 50s to the 60s. Spring and fall are pleasant with temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

Climate in Panama City

Panama City experiences a similar subtropical climate as Destin. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures soaring into the 90s. Winters are mild, with temperatures in the 50s to 60s range. Spring and fall offer pleasant weather, ideal for outdoor activities, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

Is It Cheaper To Go To Destin Or Panama City?

Budget Considerations

Cost of Accommodation

The cost of accommodation varies depending on the season and type of accommodation you choose. In both Destin and Panama City, prices can range from budget-friendly hotels to luxurious resorts. During peak season, prices tend to be higher, so booking in advance or visiting during the off-season can help you save money.

Transportation Expenses

If you decide to drive to Destin or Panama City, you’ll need to factor in the cost of gas and tolls, if any. Flying to either destination will incur expenses such as airfare, airport transfers, and potentially renting a car. Comparing prices and airlines can help you find the best deals on flights.

Food and Dining Costs

The cost of dining out and groceries will vary depending on your preferences and choices. Fine dining restaurants and seafood establishments may be more expensive compared to casual eateries. If you plan on cooking your own meals, shopping for groceries at local markets can be more budget-friendly.

Activity and Attraction Costs

The cost of activities and attractions will vary depending on what you choose to do. Excursions, water sports, and entry fees to parks or museums will incur additional expenses. Look for discounted packages or deals online, and consider prioritizing the activities that interest you the most.

Nightlife and Entertainment Expenses

The cost of nightlife and entertainment will depend on your preferences. Drinks, cover charges, and tickets for live performances or events can add up. Setting a budget and researching happy hour specials or discounted tickets in advance can help you better manage your expenses.

Shopping Expenses

Shopping expenses will depend on your personal spending habits and the items you choose to purchase. Budget-conscious travelers can look for sales or discounts, while those seeking unique items may be willing to spend a bit more on specialty products or locally made souvenirs.


Whether you choose to visit Destin or Panama City, both destinations offer a wealth of options for accommodation, transportation, dining, activities, and entertainment. Consider your budget, preferences, and the time of year when planning your trip. Destin and Panama City both offer beautiful beaches, exciting attractions, and a vibrant atmosphere that will make your vacation a memorable one. So pack your bags, get ready for some fun in the sun, and embark on an unforgettable adventure along Florida’s stunning Gulf Coast.