9 Reasons To Vacation at St. Andrews State Park and Shell Island
St. Andrews State Park near Panama City, Florida, is spectacular. This beautiful coastal park is the area’s crown jewel. Once you see the color of the water, you’ll understand why.
We loved visiting so much. Here’s our guide to exploring the park as well as Shell Island.
Where Is St. Andrews State Park?
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St. Andrews State Park is located near Panama City, Florida, in the panhandle. The park is roughly 30 minutes from Panama City and sits between Saint Andrew Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The central part of the park can be easily accessed with your own vehicle.
Shell Island is another favorite part of the park; it is only accessible by boat.
Things To Do at St. Andrews State Park
If you’re looking for a fun, outdoor-filled day, St. Andrews State Park (link to Florida State Parks) is the place. With tons of activities to choose from, you are sure to have a great time.
The park has a few trails to choose from. You might even see wildlife along the way.
Gator Lake Trail: Be sure to hike the short trail along the lake, where you may see the resident alligator. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it, but the trail was beautiful.
Heron Pond Trail: You can walk this short boardwalk to see Herons in the marshland.
Sandy Point: There are sandy trails out to the point.
There are no official biking trails; however, you can bike the paved road through the park (that is what we did).
3. Wildlife Photography
The cool thing about St. Andrews State Park is that its diverse ecology is home to many types of wildlife. There are five different ecosystems to explore.
Inside the park are marshlands where visitors can see intercoastal birds, shorebirds, and alligators. Along the coast, you might be able to catch a view of a manatee or sea turtles from the St. Andrews fishing pier. Near the jetty, you can see small aquatic life, such as fishes, sea slugs, and crustaceans. At Shell Island, you can see dolphins (we did!).
4. Water Sport Activities
There is a place to rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks within the park.
5. Swimming Areas
Gulf Coast Beaches: The park is surrounded by white sand, turquoise water, and beautiful beaches. It is right next to Panama City Beach. There are multiple areas to access and enjoy the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.
The Jetty: The artificial jetty is a cool place to snorkel, swim, and paddle. We loved looking for little crustaceans first thing in the morning here.
Shell Island: You can purchase tickets to ride the ferry to Shell Island and spend the day swimming from this famous barrier island’s unspoiled and wild beaches.
6. Fishing Spots
St. Andrews State Park Pier: If you love fishing, the fishing pier is a great spot.
When we visited, we met a fisherman who had spent a few days fishing from the pier, and he saw a manatee, sting ray, and shark.
Sandy Point: There are sandy trails leading along the coast to the point.
7. Visiting Shell Island
Shell Island is absolutely worth checking out. With its white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, it’s easy to see why this spot is a favorite among visitors and locals.
We had heard about this beautiful island before visiting, and we are so glad we took the ferry to explore for half a day. We recommend doing the same.
Shelling Tip: The locals say the best time to go shelling is after a big storm. But you can go to enjoy the beaches and swim.
Shell Island is awesome. You have to see it for yourself.
How To Get To Shell Island, Florida
Visitors can access the 7-mile island by catching the Shell Island shuttle, which takes you to the ferry. The ferry ride is 15-20 minutes. The ferry drops visitors off at a dock on Shell Island, where you’ll walk the boardwalks to the beaches on the Gulf side. The ferry runs at specific times, so visit the schedule to plan your day.
Shell Island Shuttle Prices
We visited in mid-May and purchased tickets the day of. In peak season, late May through August, you’ll probably want to reserve tickets ahead of time.
8. Snorkeling at Shell Island
Shell Island is the perfect place to snorkel if you’re visiting the Panama City area. We brought our snorkeling equipment from home.
Ready to see more of Shell Island’s magic? Watch the Ultimate Guide to Shell Island on YouTube.
What To Bring To Shell Island
There are no facilities on the island, meaning there are no restrooms, no places to eat, and no shade! Consider this when planning your island adventure.
Along with your swimwear, below is what we recommend bringing (and what we brought).
Beach umbrella – Pack a beach umbrella with a sand anchor. Though it might seem clunky to haul around, protecting yourself from the sun extends the day at the beach. We have one like this (link to buy on Amazon) with UV protection. It makes a huge difference.
Beach chairs – Bringing beach chairs is so nice. We have these (link to buy on Amazon). They have straps so you can carry them easily, like a backpack. Plus, you can lay back if you want.
Water and snacks – We bring water in insulated bottles (link to buy on Amazon) to keep our water cold. We also pack easy snacks like granola bars and trail mix.
Towels – Don’t forget beach towels. Have you heard of Nomadix (link to buy on REI)? We like that they have anti-stink fabric and dry quickly. We also use these for camping.
Sunscreen – Pack reef-friendly sunscreen. We like to use SunBum products (link to buy on Amazon).
Sunshirt – Although it’s super fun to wear a bathing suit and rock my favorite swimwear, I have learned to wear sunshirts to extend the days at the beach. It makes a big difference.
9. Camping at St. Andrews State Park
St. Andrews State Park has a great campground, and it is practically brand new (since it was wiped out in a fairly recent hurricane). There are campsites right on the bay with full hookups. The bathhouses are clean and have air conditioning. You can tell everyone working at the campground cares for the park.
You’ll want to make reservations since this is a popular place to camp and book months in advance (like 11 months in advance). We loved camping here.
Want to see more of the campground? Check out our St. Andrews State Park Campground review on YouTube.
- Reservations are required, and you can make them online (link to Florida State Parks).
- RVs, vans, campers, trailers, and tent camping are welcome
- Pets are allowed at the campground (but not on the beaches)
- There are two bathhouses (with AC)
- Grills and picnic tables at each site
- Full hookups at each site
- Some campsites have shade, but most do not
Best Time To Visit the Park
Spring: April and May are a great time to visit. The weather is not too hot, and there are fewer crowds. We love exploring the Florida panhandle in early to mid-May. We typically experience nice weather this time of year. Spring break is also a popular time to visit.
Summer: is the best time to get in the warm water, but it is the busy season.
Fall and Winter: are quieter and more relaxed, and there are fewer crowds.
Keep in mind that hurricane season in the Gulf is from June through November.
The park is open year-round.
Have a Great Beach Trip
If you’re looking for a fun and beautiful place to spend a day, weekend, or longer vacation, St. Andrews State Park outside of Panama City is an awesome place. The park offers crystal-clear water, sugar-white sand beaches, and lush vegetation. You’ll be in paradise without leaving the U.S.
There are plenty of things to do, including swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, camping, and hiking nature trails. It’s also a great place to relax and enjoy the Florida scenery.
You might enjoy watching more things to do at St. Andrews State Park on YouTube.
We hope this guide helps you make the most of your next beach vacation to Panama City, Florida. You’ll seriously be in awe when you see the color of the water.
Ashlee & Pablo
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