When the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway canal from Mobile Bay opens into Wolf Bay in Orange Beach, Alabama, it begins crisscrossing a series of estuaries tucked behind the finest white-sand beaches in the world. This stretch of beach between Orange Beach and Panama City, Florida, boasts sugar-soft sands that once were the tops of the Appalachian Mountains. Now they welcome the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If you are in the Gulf Coast, check out this itinerary of Gulf Coast boating destinations and marinas from Orange Beach to Panama City.
Start your journey in Orange Beach, where so many excellent restaurants sit on the water that you’ll want to stay longer to sample them all. Pull into Zeke’s Landing Marina in Orange Beach which is located on a fully protected harbor and accommodates vessels up to 70 feet. For dining, be sure to head to Wolf Bay Lodge where you can enjoy a number a menu filled with freshly prepared local seafood dishes. If you’re in the need of service or maintenance during your stay, Saunders Yachtworks is a marina in Orange Beach that can help with repairs you may need. Over at Perdido Pass, boaters tie up at Cobalt the Restaurant to dock and dine on fresh seafood, while watching the water traffic travel in and out of the Gulf. For shopping, don’t miss Orange Beach’s eclectic collection of retailers and boutiques all along the docks.
Day 1: Boating from Orange Beach to Pensacola
Slip behind the rows of marching condos on Perdido Key to motor out to A&M Perdido Resort and Marina near Pensacola. Be sure to stroll down Palafox Street’s brick sidewalks and take in more than 450 years of history. The street is the heartbeat of downtown. Chic shops, galleries and trendy restaurants populate the wrought ironed buildings.
Hungry? Head over to the Atlas Oyster House or its sister restaurant, The Fish House; they both sit on the bay, and both serve locally caught mahi-mahi, grouper and other Gulf fish. Or maybe you’d prefer to cook your own. Stop at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market to pick up the freshest fish in town. When the sun goes down, join the party over at Seville Quarter with its dueling pianos. Afterwards, stop by Old Hickory Whiskey Bar for a late-night nip.
Day 2: Boating from Pensacola to Fort Walton Beach and Destin
Head out back out through the Pensacola Bay and scoot in between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach along the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Gulf ICW will take you behind pristine Navarre Beach, Santa Rosa Island and Okaloosa Island before popping out into the wide Choctawhatchee Bay. You’ll first come to Fort Walton Beach. When making this stop, dock at Legendary Landings Marina in Fort Walton Beach or head farther into the bay and find Shalimar Yacht Basin and Marina in Ocean City. While docked in Fort Walton Beach make the short trip over to Destin.
Destin, settled as “world’s luckiest fishing village.” These days it’s a beach hub too. Families and fisher folk flock here for incredible beaches, boating and bountiful seafood. It’s the place to rent a paddle board, kayak or jet ski or to schedule a glass-bottom boat ride. Fireworks light up the night sky on weekends. There’s a passel of Gulf-to-table restaurants with Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer especially notable. They will even cook your catch for you!
Day 3: Boating from Fort Walton Beach to Panama City
Move your boat to the east end of Choctawhatchee Bay to enter the narrow canal to West Bay, the Grand Lagoon and North Bay at Panama City. Those feed into St. Andrews Bay where you will find Sun Harbor Marina Panama City. You’ll find a lovely resort setting with a tiki bar onsite and a number of amenities for all your cruising needs. From Sun Harbor Marina you can walk to many shops and restaurants in downtown Panama City. Don’t miss Ferrucci Ristorante for Italian seafood dishes or Millie’s Café for po’boys and beignets. Those with a taste for impeccably curated antiques will love Main Street. Afterwards, try your hand at Corner Pocket, a smoke-free pool hall that also has the city’s largest selection of craft brews on tap.
On your final morning, head over to Andy’s Flour-Power Café & Bakery for the finest breakfast in town. Most tourists haven’t found it yet, so you’ll be able to score a table and sip your way into another beautiful day on the Gulf ICW.
What do you think of these Gulf Coast boating destinations and marinas from Orange Beach to Panama City? Please share below.
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Original content from Marinalife, with updates and modifications by Matt Bee.