Set along the shores of North Bay near Gulf Coast Community College and just east of the Hathaway Bridge, Carl Gray Park provides some of the best waterfront access on the west side of Panama City. Like the rest of the area, it took a beating during Hurricane Michael, and still shows some wear and tear from the storm. Between ongoing cleanup and some significant construction improvements, however, it’s likely only to improve as a destination for bayside R&R and watersports.
Serviced by ample parking, this modest greenspace includes covered picnic areas, shade trees, and a small beach, plus a few sealife-themed benches. A perennial attraction is the boat launch, though the previous version suffered from regular buildups of silt that limited use by larger crafts and required regular dredging. As of this writing, however, a collaborative project between Panama City and Bay County was underway to construct a new and improved boat ramp: one that’ll feature a pair of fixed docks as well as a floating dock designed for jet skis. It’s going to be quite the exciting upgrade, given how many boaters covet the ready access to North Bay, Saint Andrew Bay, and the open Gulf from Carl Gray Park.
Along with powerboats and jet skis, the Carl Gray Park launch is a popular place to shove off in a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard for some non-motorized bay-going.
This is also a good place to cast for speckled trout and other of the prized inshore gamefish that make the Panama City area and Saint Andrew Bay system such a hotspot for saltwater angling.
The in-progress construction at Carl Gray Park also promises a new playground addition as well, which should up the appeal of this public waterfront for parents with young children. The picnic tables, beach, and critter benches have certainly been well used by families.
Another prime attraction of Carl Gray Park, given its westerly perch right on the water, is the evening sunset show. The Emerald Coast enjoys some ravishing sundown extravaganzas, and the quiet shoreline here provides excellent front-row seats.
Depending on when you visit, you may find Carl Gray Park still a little on the rugged side in the wake of the historic wallop of Hurricane Michael, and perhaps still a bit congested by construction. But definitely keep it on your to-do list on a Panama City visit, as it provides a nice portal—slated to become nicer yet—for kicking back along the area’s celebrated bayfront and getting out on the water.
– While the North Bay waters off Carl Gray Park are often calm, southerly winds and waves up the Saint Andrew Bay complex sometimes kick up. If you’re paddling a kayak, canoe, or SUP, you can usually find more sheltered waters by hugging the southeastern shore.