Mexico Beach

A secluded Panhandle beach with a small-town vibe, perfect for getaways during any season.

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Mexico Beach is a small town east of Panama City Beach, with just enough oceanfront and amenities to make visitors feel welcome. [Cat Glorida | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • Plenty of room and privacy.
  • Gorgeous beach, with picture-perfect water.
  • Ideal for family vacations and personal respites.
Cons
  • Not much in the way of things to do (though that could be a pro, too).
  • Limited options for meals and activities.

NOTE: This travel guide was posted before Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, came ashore just west of Mexico Beach on Oct. 10, 2018. We will update this travel guide in the future, after the community has recovered.

Mexico Beach in the Panhandle may be just east of Panama City Beach, but it’s an entirely different world.

With a population of just more than 1,000 people, this is a nice spot to get away from the noise. It’s an ideal spot to see a quiet beach town the way the postcards want you to think of quiet beach towns.

The Apalachee tribe lived in this region before European explorers drove them out or killed them, but the area’s modern history is much more recent. Early settlers were lured to the beach in the early 1900s by rumors of treasure off the coast. Pine-tree harvesting led to more growth of the town, along with the completion of U.S. Highway 98 in the 1930s. The wildlife — especially the fish — drew more people here over time.

Tyndall Field, now Tyndall Air Force Base, was built in 1941, bringing service members to this neck of the woods. Development began in earnest in 1946, when a group of businessmen bought almost 2,000 waterfront acres and started building. The town, named after the Gulf of Mexico, was only incorporated in 1967.

If you’re coming from elsewhere in Florida, you may notice that the culture is fully Southern. Their hospitality is unmatched and their food is homemade.

Don’t come here expecting much in the way of things to do, which is how the visitors (and locals) like it. This place is more for nature lovers who want to be on their own. Birds and other wildlife species are plentiful along the coast. There’s also a pier in a prime location for fishing, which is the local pastime and a big tourism draw.

Homes and condominiums make up most of the surrounding area, but waterfront businesses are purposely limited. It’s easy to travel around because everything is right along the coast. It’s an ideal spot for families and retirees looking for a unhurried pace and plenty of space to themselves.

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GETTING THERE

If you’re flying, the closest airport is the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), just 18 miles from the coast. From the airport you can get a shuttle, taxi, ride-sharing service or car rental to get to the beach.

The other two airports are the Tallahassee International Airport (TLH), which is 100 miles away, and the Pensacola International Airport (PNS), which is about 126 miles away. Both are smaller airports, so it’s best to fly into ECP.

Coming from nearby Southern states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, driving is easier. The beach is just a few hours by car from most locations over those state lines.

The only road you really need to know is US Highway 98, which runs along the coast. One you arrive, biking or driving are your best options for getting around. It is possible to walk, depending on how far you want to explore.

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PARKING

The Mexico Beach fishing pier anchors the town, and is free to use. [Cat Gloria | Florida Beach Insider photo]

This is easy. There are no public parking lots designated here, but rest assured, you can find parking. Even on busier days, you can find open lots along 98.

You can even simply ask business owners if it’s all right to park there, because chances are they’ll be fine with it. Then you can just park and walk to the beach (you should be polite and buy something, however). There are also many side streets with parking, with no need to pay.

Unless there’s some major event happening, there’s little chance you’ll be hard-pressed finding options.

The central spot for parking is on 37th Street off 98, where you can walk onto the pier. There are plenty of spaces there most days. If not, try Mexico Beach Sunset Park just south of 19th Street, which has parking spaces.

Or just do what a lot of the locals do and park right on the highway’s shoulder on the edges of town.

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BEACH SCENE

You can drink on the beach here, but that doesn't mean it's always party time. Often you can have a good stretch of the beach to yourself. [Mexico Beach Welcome Center photo]

Mexico Beach, like other Bay County beaches, sports a strict no-pets and no-glass policy, as well as other rules. There’s no specific ordinance banning alcohol on the beach, so use your plastic containers how you may.

Most crowds hang out to the east of the fishing pier, which has restrooms and parking and is free to visit. But there’s plenty of shoreline for everyone, with about five miles of waterfront in the town.

Some activities, like surfing, swimming and using personal watercraft are restricted near the pier. There’s a canal at the western edge of town that allows for boating access, but swimming in the canal is prohibited. Crooked Island Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base are to the west of the canal.

There’s a beach approach on just about every block in town. Besides the pier, Mexico Beach Sunset Park is a prime gathering spot, offering restrooms and picnic tables.

People can swim out pretty far here because the waters are usually clear, calm and shallow. The beach is picturesque, if not exceptionally large. There’s quality sand and good shelling, thanks to the lack of crowds. The city doesn’t have lifeguards protecting the beaches, so be careful.

You’ll see mostly families enjoying the sandy beaches, but since alcohol is allowed, you may run into some partiers, as well.

Be sure to keep an eye on your watch! The town of Mexico Beach ends at the Bay County line, where State Road 386 meets U.S. 98. Keep in mind that on the east side of 386 is Gulf County, and the communities of Beacon Hill and St. Joe Beach. The road also is the dividing line between the Central time zone, where Mexico Beach is located, and the Eastern time zone. There are a lot of “lost hour” jokes around these parts.

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WHERE TO STAY

A lot of the lodging here is houses and condos that are being used as vacation rentals. You can try home rental services for their selection. There are some notable traditional hotel/motels, too.

El Governor Motel

This beachfront hotel gives guests a chance to relax in a heated pool and sip on a tiki cocktail during their stay. It’s in a prime location along the beach, right on 98. There’s an RV park across the highway if you’ve brought your own accommodations.

Buena Vista Motel

This six-room beachfront motel is quaint, but satisfying. It’s located on the beach, still not too far from the pier, and across the street from a market/convenience store.

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THINGS TO DO

A stop at the Mexico Beach City Pier is a must, even if you aren't fishing. [Bill Fauth | Mexico Beach Welcome Center photo]
Mexico Beach City Pier

The fishing pier at the west end of town is the heart of the beach scene. Access is free, but be aware of the rules.

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

This secluded environment is southeast of Port St. Joe in Gulf County, and can only be reached by boat. There are daily boat shuttles to St. Vincent Island. Take a day trip here to see wild foxes, birds, boars and other species native to the area.

Captain Alan’s Sea Escapes

A boat trip to see dolphins, fish or snorkel for scallops is a typical adventure at any beach. Water conditions on this end of Florida make it ideal, however, with relatively calm waters and lots of sea creatures congregating close to shore.

Tommy T’s

This arcade is the perfect hangout for a rainy day, or just to get in out of the sun. The kids can even trade game tickets for ice cream, and beach supplies are for sale.

Strike Zone Fishing Adventures

Whether you’re a serious angler or just looking for some fun, these charters are top-of-the-line. The tour guides adapt to what you want, right down to a specific species.

MBARA Kingfish Tournament

This two-day event is held every August to support building artificial reefs, and draws anglers from all over. Prize catches earn thousands of dollars, but winners must submit to a lie detector test done by the sheriff’s department.

Fall Beach Blast Triathlon And Duathlon

The race takes place in late summer, starting on Mexico Beach near the El Governor Motel. You can register for a variety of distances online.

Mexico Beach Art and Wine Festival

Every year in October, the beach comes alive for this event. There are food and drink vendors, live music and auctions. The entry fee nets you a wine glass and something to fill it!

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

Boat access to the Gulf of Mexico is available via the canal at the edge of town. [Bill Fauth | Mexico Beach Welcome Center photo]
Mexico Beach Marina

Slips are available at this marina in the canal, as well as boat accessories and service. There are paddlecraft available to rent if you don’t do the motorboat thing.

Mexico Beach boat ramp

On the other side of the canal, across from the marina, is the town’s boat ramp. There’s a fee to use the ramp, and annual passes are available at City Hall.

Barefoot Rentals

This delivery service will bring a rented kayak or paddleboard right to you. They also rent bikes to help you get around town.

Daly’s Dock and Dive Center

Learn how to scuba dive or spearfish off of the coast. Discover the wreck site of the SS Vamar, a ship that sank off of the coast in 1942, or just rent a surfboard for the day.

Mexico Beach Yoga

These yoga classes travel from location to location, with some at a studio, some at motels, some on the beach and more. They’re available in other towns in the area, too.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

Caribbean Coffee

For a less formal breakfast, stop by this cafe for a cup of strong coffee and a warm sandwich. You’ll receive friendly service and homemade snacks.

Mr. G’s Smokehouse and Grill

Hands-down the best seafood tacos in town. They are always coming up with new recipes, so you never know what you’ll get.

Shipwreck Raw Bar

Known for their raw oysters, this nautical restaurant serves seafood straight from the Gulf of Mexico. Open every day at noon, with a daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.

Toucan’s of Mexico Beach

The food is pricey at this waterfront restaurant, the only one in Mexico Beach, but it’s worth it. They host live musicians and offer killer drink deals.

SHOPPING

Only about 1,000 people live in Mexico Beach, which is right on the border with neighboring Gulf County. [Mexico Beach Welcome Center photo]
Shell Shack

The seafood market is known to have the freshest fish in stock, and they will steam it for you if you ask. There’s also souvenirs for sale.

Splendiferous MB

This women’s clothing boutique is in a tiny cottage. You can find cute island gear here and other trinkets to take home.

Gulf Foods

Come here for your grocery needs (it’s the only grocery store in town). They have a full selection seafood, snacks and, yes, alcohol.

Cat Gloria, private eye for FloridaBeachInsider.com, enjoys working alongside the ocean. Her beach expertise stems from her childhood spent on the shores of Wildwood, N.J.

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