gulf shores vs panama city beach

Gulf Shores vs Panama City Beach: Where to Go?

Want to plan a beach vacation? You’re probably confused regarding where to go between Gulf Shores and Panama City Beach. After all, both the places are pretty exquisite. 

Yes, we understand. Making a decision may be challenging. But don’t worry. As I’ll try to nudge you in the right direction throughout this long discussion!

So, which is better between Gulf Shores vs Panama City? 

Well, it depends on your personal preference. When it comes to flight, food, and transportation Panama City Beach edges ahead. When it comes to beaches and accommodations Gulf Shore edges ahead. But there are equally good activities and attractions in both places, with great nightlife. 

We’ve elaborated on these factors throughout the article. So, stick with us till the end to find out all about it. 

Let’s begin.

Gulf Shores vs Panama City Beach: Quick Overview

One of the specialties of Gulf Shores is its beaches. Which has sand that is as silky and fine as sugar. Beaches are the specialty of Panama City Beach. The beaches are serene with blue water. And plenty of wildlife.

Gulf Shores

Both locations are distinctive in their own ways. However, there are several things that differentiate them. It’s not like Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach comparison. Because Gulf shores and Panama city beach are far away from each other. 

Let’s have a look.

Do note that all the factors described below are for solo tourists. It multiplied as the number of tourists increased. 

Differentiating FactorsGulf ShoresPanama City Beach
FlightClosest Airport 2.5 Miles AwayClosest Airport 12.52 Miles Away
Accommodation$605-$1275 Approx$770-$1427 Approx
Food More Expensive Cheaper
TransportationMore ExpensiveCheaper
Beaches32 miles27 miles
Activities and AttractionsPlentyPlenty
Unlike choosing between Carmel and Monterey, selecting between one of these beaches is relatively easy. So, let’s get on the details!


When its time to consider the factor of flight, Gulf Shores is better. Because the airport is closer to the city. It’ll help get to the site sooner. 

Gulf Shores

The closest airport to Gulf Shores is Jack Edwards National Airport. This airport is located 2.5 miles away from the city. The airlines that fly into the airport are Frontier Airlines, Delta, United, Spirit Airlines, and American Airlines. 

Flight times from different regions are:

  • Dallas: 1h 45m
  • Washington, D.C.: 2h 20m
  • Denver: 3h 0m
  • Atlanta: 1h 10m

Panama City Beach

The closest airport to Panama City Beach is the Panama City (ECP) which is located 12.52 miles away from the city. Airlines that fly into Panama City (ECP) are American Airlines, Air France, and Aeromexico.

Flight times from different regions are: 

  • Dallas: 2h 05m
  • Washington, D.C.: 2h 14m
  • Denver: 3h 22m
  • Atlanta: 1h 07m

Winner: Gulf Shores


When it comes to accommodation, Gulf Shores is a better alternative. Because it’s slightly cheaper.  

Gulf Shores

The cost of 3-star hotels in Gulf Shore is usually around $605 per night. While the cost of 4-star hotels in Gulf Shores is approximately $1,085 per night. And typically the cost of 5-star hotels in Gulf Shores is around $1275 per night. 

Here are some of the best Gulf Shore hotels

3 Star4 Star5 Star
Hampton Inn Gulf Shores Kiva DunesBest Western On The Beach
The Beach Club Resort & SpaTurquoise PlaceHilton The Lodge at Gulf State Park, AL
Staybridge Suites Gulf Shores, an IHG HotelCaribe by Luxury Coastal VacationsMicrotel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Gulf Shores

Panama City Beach

Average hotel rates in Panama City Beach is $770 for a 3-star establishment. And  $1,268 for a 4-star establishment. An average 5-star hotel in Panama City Beach costs $1,427 per night if you’re seeking something truly extraordinary. 

Here are some of the best Panama City Beach hotels

3 Star4 Star5 Star
Days Inn by Wyndham Panama City Beach/Ocean Front
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Panama City Beach – Beachfront, an IHG Hotel 
JW Marriott Panama
Radisson Hotel Panama City Beach – OceanfrontMarriott’s Legends Edge at Bay Point Bristol Panama, a Registry Collection Hotel
La Quinta by Wyndham Panama City Beach/Thomas Drive

Grand Panama Beach Resort by Emerald View Resorts
Waldorf Astoria Panama

Winner: Gulf Shore

Do You Need a Guide? 

You don’t necessarily need tour guides to visit Gulf Shores or Panama City Beach. 

But there are some services that’ll offer tour guides. Like the Back Bay Charters will be guided by the boat captain in Gulf Shores.

And in Panama City Beach you’ll get Shell Island Snorkel Cruise with Island Time. 


When it comes to food, Panama City Beach is a cheaper alternative. Food expenses can cost a few bucks more in Gulf Shores.

Gulf Shores

An average meal in Gulf Shores cost $24. Basically, the food expenses per day could easily exceed $50 per day. 

The most popular food items in Gulf Shores are beignets, gumbo, jambalaya, etouffée, oysters, etc. 

The most popular Gulf Shores restaurants are

  • The Hangout Gulf Shores
  • Cactus Cantina
  • TCBY
  • Zaxby’s

Panama City Beach

On the other hand the average cost of a meal in Panama City Beach is $21. Basically, you can wrap up the food expense per day within $50. 

The most popular food items in Panama City Beach are Gaucho, Carimañola, Sancocho, Ceviche, etc. 

The most popular Panama City Beach restaurants are

  • Zollo’s Pizza
  • Bayou On The Beach Cafe
  • Five Guys
  • A’More Donuts

Winner: Panama City Beach


When it comes to transportation, Panama City Beach is cheaper.

Of course, it’ll not be the same as visiting either Yellowstone or the Grand canyon.

There aren’t many options for both places. There are limited public transportation options. As a result, many tourists prefer to get around in a car. 

Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores has a public transportation system called the Sunset Beach Trolley. The route covers a whole range of beaches and sites. 

From Clearwater Beach to North Redington Beach. And up to Pass-a-Grille. 

The fare for an adult passenger is $2.25 for this. But there is a subscription option for these trolleys. Tourists can get unlimited rides by buying their 3, 7, 30 days packages. Which could cost from $18 to $70. 

But the best way to get around is by car. In Panama, the average cost of a rental automobile is $70 per day. 

Well, you could also get around in a Taxi. There is a 24/7 taxi service here. Here, cab service is available around-the-clock. Likewise, you may hire cabs online. Besides, there is Uber and Lyft service too!

Panama City Beach

There is a public transportation system in Panama City Beach. It is called the Bay Town Trolley. The route covers almost all of Panama City’s popular beaches and sites. 

The cost per journey with this transport is $1.50. But you can get their monthly package of unlimited rides for about $35.

Panama City Beach

However, the best transportation for Panama City Beach is by car. Don’t worry if you haven’t brought your car. You may easily rent one. It’ll cost you about $36 to $45 per day.

Besides, you can get taxi service 24/7. However, Uber and Lyft services are quite limited. And in some cases, you’ll not find it. 

Winner: Panama City Beach


Well one thing you’ll not find a shortage of is entertainment. Both the places have plenty of beaches, activities and good nightlife. 


When it comes to beaches the Gulf Shore is larger than Panama City Beach.

Panama Beach

The Gulf Shore has a range of 32 miles of beaches to enjoy. On the other hand, Panama City Beach has a coastline of 27 miles to enjoy. 

This allows tourists to explore more of the Gulf Shores. 

Winner: Gulf Shores is more wide and long compared to PCB.

Attractions and Activities

Both locations provide a wide variety of attractions and activities. 

The Gulf shore offers activities that are more on the natural side. Such as natural reserves, state parks, and hiking trails.


Some of the best Gulf Shores activities and attractions are:

  • Sailaway Charters Eco Tours
  • Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
  • Dolphin tours
  • Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Panama City Beach has activities that are more water-based. Such as shelling, snorkeling, etc.

Some of the best Panama City activities and attractions are 

  • Shell Island Waterpark
  • Andrews State Park eco-tours
  • Barnacle Bay mini golf
  • Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium

However, try to pick the appropriate time to visit the gulf shores as the tides are not always the same. Because sometimes the Panama City Beach ocean can be really freightning.

Winner: Both are good in terms of activities and entertainment facilities.


Both the places offer vibrant nightlife for you to enjoy. 

You can lay back and enjoy drinks, music, and the beach during the nighttime. In both places.


You can also enjoy nightclubs, pubs, and other occasional events during the nighttime. 

Some of the best places to go during the night in Gulf Shores are: 

  • The Club at Live Bait.
  • Gulf Shores Sunset Cruise.
  • Flora-Bama.
  • The Hangout Gulf Shores.
  • The Wharf.

Some of the best places to go during the night on Panama City Beach are: 

  • Rock’it Lanes.
  • Club La Vela.
  • Russell-Fields Pier.
  • Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

Winner: Both

The Final Verdict

See the final decision depends on your choice. Both locations offer advantages and disadvantages.

If you consider the flight then Gulf Shores Airport is nearer to the main attractions. 

When it comes to pricing, food and transportation are cheaper on Panama City Beach. On the other hand, accommodation is cheaper on Gulf Shores Beaches. 

But you can enjoy the beaches, nightlife, attractions and activities in both places. Hence it’s difficult to announce a clear winner just like choosing between Avalon and Two Harbors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What season is ideal for visiting Gulf Shores? 

Gulf Shores is at its most picturesque between March through May and September through November. The Gulf Shore still has comfortable temps in the late spring and early fall. So tourists could reap the benefits of these lovely locations. This can be more affordable and less congested. 

What season is ideal for visiting Panama City Beach? 

The months of May to October are the ideal seasons to visit Panama City Beach. The atmosphere is perfect for the tourists at that time. The region has 320 days of sunlight on average each year. However, the highest air and water temperatures are seen in the late spring, summer, and early fall.

Is there a public beach access point in Panama City Beach?

Yes, there are public beach access points in Panama City Beach. Along Panama City Beach, there are around a hundred accessible beach locations. However, not all access points are the same. Some access points have parking facilities. Some don’t. Hence you should choose your access point accordingly. 


By now You ought to be able to distinguish between Gulf Shores vs Panama City Beach. 

We really hope you enjoy your holiday. You won’t regret visiting either of the two places, it’s a guarantee. It will be worthwhile. 

Happy holiday!

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