Friday, May 2, 2014

Destin vs. Panama City Beach - What Destination is Best For You?

So you're looking to vacation to the Gulf Coast and you have to make this burning decision to stay in Destin or Panama City Beach , FL. Both locations have beautiful emerald green water, sugar white beaches, and a lot of great attractions and things to do - so what's the difference? If you talk to any die hard vacationer that habitually visits either city, they will swear one is better than the other. However, I've decided to go a little further in this debate and break it out piece by piece for a clear picture of the advantages and disadvantages of each. Which one will get your vote?

This topic is first on the list with most tourists so I decided to lead with it. The hands down winner for affordability is Panama City Beach. In almost every facet of the vacation experience, Panama City Beach wins in pricing for hotels, tours, restaurants and retail. By comparing hotel/condo rates on and off the beach, Destin averages about 15% higher in lodging using a model that compared similar star hotels/condos. Tours and attractions on average were also about 15% higher in Destin compared to Panama City Beach. 

Although both destinations are not widely known for their culture, Destin does have an advantage with their long standing history with recreational fishing. The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is very accessible and is home to a fleet of nearly 200 charter boats and watersports. Fishing is in Destin's blood and it's a major contributing factor among the local economy. The restaurants, bars and shops that line the harbor boardwalk make it a nostalgic and fun place to hangout from morning to night. Panama City Beach does have a few landmarks that show a past-time of beach culture such as the clubs that line Thomas Drive, but nothing quite like Destin.

If you've been to Destin or Panama City Beach, you know the traffic is bad during the peak travel season. So which destination gets the honor of worst traffic? Without a doubt, it's Destin. Destin has one main highway that runs through the city and there are a few side roads that help the locals get around. As a tourist, it can be a  nightmare getting from point A to point B during peak travel months. Panama City Beach has 3 different roads that allow tourists to travel back and forth from East to West. 

Crime & Safety
Before I go into detail on this subject, I want to say that both destinations are safe for tourists and pose a very small risk for crime. However, Panama City Beach does have a reputation due to its notorious Spring Break during March and April. In addition, the low quality and inexpensive lodging facilities in Panama City Beach attracts visitors that are more likely to cause issues with law enforcement. Staying at a complex with security is always a plus so there is no unauthorized entry into the resort or the parking lots by non-guests.

Activities & Nightlife
Both destinations offer many attractions and things to do. Neither destination stops short of offering great family entertainment off and on the water. The biggest difference between the two destinations is nightlife. Although Destin has some great clubs and bars lining the Harbor, Panama City Beach has a much wider selection of entertainment that caters to all ages. Advantage goes to Destin with the most accessibility as the Harbor allows people to hop from one club to the other in a matter of minutes.

Panama City Beach has made some strides to revive their shopping centers, but Destin still is the place to go. The Destin Commons and Silver Sands Outlet Mall offer 200+ stores with all the popular brands you would expect. There are also several small strip centers throughout the area that have fun nostalgic beach souvenirs for the frill seeker. Panama City Beach has it's popular Pier Park, that continues to grow and be a staple of Panama City Beach. Maybe Panama City Beach will catch up to Destin, but not anytime soon.

It took some thought, but Destin has my stamp of approval for better dining facilities. The restaurants in Destin have such a variety compared to Panama City Beach. This by no way means that PCB doesn't have some good grub, but the selection and quality is more appealing in Destin. For example, Destin is home to nearly 3 times as many upscale/fine dining restaurants compared to Panama City Beach. There is also more selection in cuisine and service. Destin is even home to the only Dinner Cruise in the area

The accommodations in either destinations vary depending on the type. Destin is home to a beautiful Hilton and also offers a variety of comfortable chain hotels such as Marriott and Holiday Inn. Panama City Beach also offers hotels, but the majority of these brands may appear to be more run-down from their Destin counterparts. The condo rental market in both destinations is virtually the same in regards to quality and abundance. The biggest difference is the luxury home rental market, which Destin takes the cake. If you're looking for a beach home to accommodate the extended family, look no further in Destin.

Whether or not you agree with my assertions, it's clear that a vacation to Destin will cost a little more, but it could be worth it depending on your preferences. No matter what destination you choose, you will still get beautiful white sand beaches and breathtaking sunsets. You can't go wrong visiting these beautiful places.