Panama City Snorkeling
St. Andrews State Park, submitted by Rob. submit your own!
I am from New Orleans, Louisiana. For those of us who can't alway afford to make it to South Florida, my family and I recommend St. Andrews State Park in Panama City. There is a cove created by the jetty at the south east tip of the park. There is never any surf or undertow and is very safe, not to mention comfortable, for the smaller kids. The water is clear and the depth ranges from the sand to about 5 or 6 feet. The marine life is plentiful and varies greatley. They'll practically eat out of your hands. It is one of the best snorkeling locations that we've found on the Panhandle.
The urchins are almost gone, though ten years ago you had to watch where you stepped. There is lots of stuff left, though. Plenty of damsels, blennies, pin fish, wrasses, schools of juvenile croaker, redfish, pretty big needlefish, drum, some small species of grouper, rays, blue fish, some spindly looking shrimp and many different fish that I can't identify. I can't say that all of this stuff jumped out at me every time I've gotten into the water, but there is always plenty there, and the visibility isn't bad at all. The best thing I've found to do is find a spot near the jetty wall that is just deep enough to kneel down and just sit still. Lots of different school fish will pass by and the reef fish will eventually go back to doing what they do like you aren't even there.
On the Gulf side of the jetty, while diving, we've seen some fairly big gulf rays, sharks, guitarfish, amberjack, rock crabs, jack crevalle. I once, and only once, saw a school of fish that I had mistaken for a clump of seaweed. My mask was almost up in them before I recongnized them as fish. It is a state park so there really isn't much fishing and I've never seen anyone spear fishing there so the wildlife doesn't have much fear. There is also a scuttled barge there that lies in only 20 feet of water in the bay. I've never snorkeled it, but someone with advanced proficiency might be able to. There is a boat service in the summer months that will take you and your gear across the bay to Shell Island. More jetties there and less visited, but it is quite a hike from the boat landing.
St Andrews State Park Website: http://www.floridastateparks.org/standrews/default.cfm