Located just an hour east of New Orleans is a sandy stretch known for its quirky charm, white sand beaches, and rich history. Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is 60 miles long, sandwiched between the state’s borders with Louisiana and Alabama. Long known as a place to escape the bayou’s oppressive summer heat, the coast is still in the midst of a renaissance of sorts, after Katrina and the BP oil spill. That said, this vibrant slice of coast offers something for everyone, from outdoor enthusiasts to culture seekers to foodies.
Here are 10 of our favorite things to do while exploring the area.
1. Take It Slow In Bay St. Louis
Bay St. Louis has a casual, laid-back vibe that makes the charming seaside village a terrific place to stop during your Gulf adventure. You won’t find big condominium developments or many chain stores here. In their place, historic homes and cottages are lovingly preserved, as is the town’s history. Bay St. Louis’s L&N Train Depot houses a Mardi Gras museum, the Alice Moseley Folk Art & Antique Museum, and the Hancock County Tourism and Visitor Center, where you can pick up maps for self-guided walking tours. Stop at The Buttercup on Second Street, where they serve up breakfast and lunch favorites; don’t skip the bakery counter or the ice cream!
2. Pass Through The Pass
A bit farther east sits another coastal village that’s bound to win your heart. Pass Christian, simply referred to as “The Pass” by locals, is an idyllic seaside escape. The town’s downtown shopping district, located on and around Davis Avenue, is crammed with antique shops, boutiques, and galleries. Cat Island Coffeehouse is a favorite place to relax with a latte -- be sure to check out the bookstore in the same building. And don’t forget to wander to War Memorial Park. This special waterfront area was dedicated to those who lost their lives in World War II; its magnificent live oaks and sweeping shoreline make it well worth a visit.
3. Explore Ocean Springs
To the east of Biloxi sits the town of Ocean Springs. Long beach walks and bike rides should be on your agenda here. Washington Avenue -- the downtown thoroughfare -- also deserves some time. It’s lined with enormous live oaks as well as a terrific variety of small sweet shops, eateries, and pubs. The Green House on Porter is a quirky little spot that serves up coffee, beer, and biscuits (although you don’t have to order them all at once!). And Craft Advisory Brewing serves handcrafted brews, sodas, and elevated Southern pub grub at its Government Street location.
4. Stroll The Boardwalk
Nothing says “vacation” more than a stroll down the boardwalk. That’s why a leisurely walk along the West Biloxi Boardwalk should absolutely be on your to-do list. This half-mile stretch of raised, winding walkway is just south of Biloxi’s restaurant row and is also dotted with shops. But the best parts about the boardwalk are the incredible sunrises and sunsets you’ll catch right off the Gulf. Make sure to take plenty of photos of this gorgeous spot!
5. Get Your Culture Fix
If you’re looking to spend a day away from the beach, the Gulf Coast has you covered! Start at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, located in Biloxi. The sleek Frank Gehry-designed building houses an incredible collection of pottery and ceramics made by the “Mad Potter” George E. Ohr. Other exhibits include works by local artists. The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs focuses on the paintings, murals, and sculptures of its namesake. His brilliant, bright vision of the natural wonders of the region are both delightful and evocative. And Fishbone Alley, a tucked-away nook in Gulfport, celebrates the intersection of art and culture with its bold, colorful murals.
6. Learn About The Area’s History
This part of the country was first settled by the Biloxi tribe of Native Americans; the French arrived in 1699 and established France’s Louisiana colony. Since then, a whole host of people have made this gorgeous area home.
To get a feel for just how important fishing is to this region, stop by the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi. Exhibits on shrimping, oystering, and marine biology and resources are brought to life by carefully curated artifacts dating back three centuries. The Biloxi Lighthouse, built in 1848, is one of the city’s top landmarks. The 64-foot-tall tower is open each day for tours. Beauvoir, the estate where Jefferson Davis sought solace after the Confederacy’s Civil War defeat, is also open for tours. And the gorgeous St. Rose of Lima Church, built in Bay St. Louis in 1868, served as the first school for black children in the area. Its gospel choir is considered by many to be one of the best in the country.
Pro Tip: If you plan to visit many of the Gulf Coast’s historic places and museums, consider purchasing a Coastal Mississippi Attractions Pass. For $45, you’ll have access to eight of the region’s top cultural sites. The pass never expires, so you can see everything or split up the fun for your next visit.
7. Place Your Bets
If you’re feeling lucky, consider stopping by one of the Gulf Coast’s dozen casinos. There are the names you expect -- Hard Rock, Hollywood, and Harrah’s -- but our favorite is Beau Rivage in Biloxi. The sprawling resort features luxe rooms, a posh spa with a rooftop pool, and even an 18-hole golf course. That’s in addition to all the gaming, dining, and lounging opportunities inside. It’s a great high-end spot to spend the evening after a day on the beach.
8. Set Sail For Ship Island
There are several barrier islands located off the coast. While most require a private boat to reach, Ship Island is the exception. Located 11 miles south of Biloxi, it’s part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and a round-trip ferry runs daily from Gulfport from March through October. Keep an eye out for pelicans and dolphins on the trip there and back!
Ship Island is a terrific spot to spend the day exploring, picnicking, or snorkeling. Its water and beaches are pristine. Ship Island is also home to Fort Massachusetts, a historic brick base built after the War of 1812. While we love the beauty of Ship Island, the sun here is strong, and there’s not much shade. Bring plenty of sunscreen and water, and consider wearing protective clothing as well.
9. Charter A Fishing Trip
Anglers have been drawn to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for generations, and there’s nothing like customizing your own outing. Charter services are located across the area and will help you and your family put together the perfect day at sea. They will provide everything you need: gear, licenses, and even cleaning services for whatever you might be lucky enough to pull from the water. Redfish, red snapper, trout, cobia, and drum are some of the most common catches, and all are absolutely delicious. While chartering a fishing trip isn’t cheap, it’s a blast and well worth the cost for serious anglers. Just don’t forget your Dramamine if you tend to get seasick.
10. Sample The Seafood
If you prefer to have someone else do all the work to get your seafood fix, that’s okay, too. The Gulf is renowned for its brown shrimp, blue crab, oysters, and fresh fish. You’ll find it prepared in a whole host of delicious ways -- fried, blackened, smothered, or sauteed. Sampling it is practically a Gulf Coast requirement!
White Cap in Gulfport has long been a standard, with its seafood platters, grilled oysters, and incredible views of the Gulf. Hook Gulf Coast Cuisine in Pass Christian features a nightly fresh-catch dinner that can’t be beat. And a quick jog inland will land you at Taranto’s Crawfish in Biloxi, where you’ll feast on traditional boiled seafood platters of shrimp, crab, and crawfish simmered in a spicy broth with potatoes and corn.