I've been going to Panama City Beach since I was 2, and to put that in perspective I'm 56 now. The sand is just gorgeous, as are the dunes. The water is often beautiful, but sometimes is marred by the presence of seaweed and alga. The good thing is, you can go to bed one night with the water thick with seaweed, and wake up the next morning to clear water.
About that hidden hot spot. I talk to so many people who say they were disappointed by their visit. I always ask if they had visited Saint Andrews State Park and the answer is almost always "no". If you haven't been there, GO. There are jetties to fish off of and snorkel around, a mile of the prettiest beach you can imagine, with tall dunes, bird nesting areas (but DON'T walk through those, just enjoy the wildlife they bring to the park), deer, seashells all over the place, a pier for the fishermen (and a great place to watch the sundown), a lake containing alligators and tons of nesting birds on a small island, trails to hike, a boat ramp that feeds into the bay, a shuttle that takes passengers across the channel to Shell Island (another cool place, unoccupied by humans except the few that venture over during the day via shuttles or boats) ... okay, I'll stop rhapsodizing now. We always stay at Moonspinner Condominiums, not only because they are pretty nice condos, but they are the last rental units before entering the park. This is not an endorsement of Moonspinner, although as I said they are pretty nice, but if you want easy access to the park (in other words, the capability of just strolling down the beach and being there), this is the place to stay. To my family and myself, this park is the main draw to PCB, although the minature golf courses, game rooms and attractions like Zoo World and Gulf World certainly help us pass idle time :)
So, to summarize: PCB - great family location. St. Andrews Park - a do-not-miss if you visit PCB.