Gulfport is Mississippi’s second-largest city, nestled right on the state’s Gulf Coast. The area has long been the summer playground of nearby New Orleanians who sought to escape summer’s oppressive heat. Today, it’s a vibrant spot with something to offer every visitor!
Things To Do In Gulfport
The area is full of history, art and culture, seafood shacks, and, of course, beaches! Outdoor enthusiasts will get their share of fun fishing, kayaking, and just hitting the area’s sugar-sand stretches along the warm and calm Gulf waters. Here are a few of our favorite things to see and do in Gulfport. (You can also read my account of exploring Mississippi’s Gulf Coast: 10 fantastic experiences!)
Enjoy The Sand And Surf
Gulfport Beach is beloved by the locals and tourists alike and is a terrific place to spend the day in the sun, sand, and surf. This man-made beach isn’t that wide but is quite long, extending all the way into neighboring Biloxi. The sand is soft, and for the most part, it’s quieter here than in other stops along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While the water isn’t pristine, it is shallow and refreshing. Bring a picnic, book, towels, and drinks if you’re looking for a low-key outing. If you don’t want to DIY your beach day, there are plenty of umbrella rentals and quite a few cafes nearby where you can duck in for a nosh and get a break from the sun. Free parking is available near the beach and along the nearby highway.
Gulfport is the perfect place to get active on the water, whether it’s simply swimming or sea kayaking, paddleboarding, even jet-skiing. There are water equipment rentals up and down Gulfport Beach, which makes it easy to ramp up the adventure factor during your beach break! If you’re an angler, or there’s one in your traveling party, consider a fishing charter to really take your vacation over the top. There are plenty from which to choose in Gulfport, and most offer a full-day, full-service experience including gear, bait, pre-purchased licenses, and even cleaning service for whatever you’re lucky enough to bring to the surface!
Sail To Ship Island
A dozen miles offshore from Gulfport lies Ship Island. You’ll need to take a roundtrip ferry to get to the barrier island, but trust us, you won’t regret it! This pristine, sandy stretch is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is absolutely teeming with sea creatures. For starters, keep an eye out for pelicans and dolphins on the ferry ride. Ship Island, with its crystal-clear water and unspoiled beaches, is also home to horseshoe crabs, seabirds, and even colorful fish. They can all be spotted here, making it a favorite place for snorkelers. Ship Island is also home to Fort Massachusetts, a historic base built after the War of 1812 and open today for tours.
Pack smart for your outing: The full and direct sun here can blaze right off the clear water, and there aren’t many shady spots where you can escape its wrath. Slather on that sunscreen, stay well-hydrated, and consider wearing SPF gear.
Stroll Jones Park
Want to get your daily steps in on terra firma instead of sand? Head to Gulfport’s Jones Park, an expansive green space that sits adjacent to the city’s marina. Strolling through now, it’s hard to believe that after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the entire area was under 25 feet of storm surge, and once that receded, muck. Rebuilding the park took seven years, at the coast of $40 million, but today, it’s one of Gulfport’s crown jewels. The park routinely hosts special events in its two amphitheaters, and there are paved walking trails throughout.
Meet The Marine Life
In Gulfport, there are a variety of places you can meet the marine creatures that also call the city, beach, and gulf home. The Mississippi Aquarium is a brand-new space slated to open in late August 2020, and its mission is to tell the story of Mississippi’s aquatic animals. Residents include alligators, river otters, dolphins, and stingrays. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies cares for wounded or sick gulf animals, while at the same time providing interactive programming for visitors; the Institute’s Ocean Adventures Marine Park offers many different encounters and experiences with the animals at a variety of price points.
Get Funky In Fishbone Alley
Fishbone Alley is the entryway to Gulfport’s thriving arts scene. Once used for trash storage, this side-alley secret, with its laid-back, funky vibe, now celebrates the intersection of art and culture with its bold, colorful murals. The alley backs up into pubs, cafes, and galleries. Artists from the Gulf Coast are periodically asked to leave their mark here, so the alley rarely looks the same for very long. Festivals, concerts, and other live performances take place here often. It’s the perfect place to grab a nightcap after a day on the beach!
Visit The Friendship Oak
A short drive east of Gulfport, down Highway 90, and you’ll reach the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park. While the campus is charming, what you want to see is the Friendship Oak. This hulking live oak is estimated to be more than 500 years old, and miraculously survived Hurricane Katrina’s wrath as well as storms that wrecked the coast in the centuries before. It’s a stunning natural wonder that has been the site of countless weddings, meetups, and picnics, so it shouldn’t be a surprise the Friendship Tree is one of the most photographed landmarks on the Mississippi Gulf coast!
Best Restaurants In Gulfport
Seafood is king here, and the Gulf waters produce beautiful shrimp, crabs, oysters, and fish, all as fresh as can be! You’ll find it prepared in a variety of ways: fried, sauteed, blackened, and grilled. The Half Shell Oyster House is a great place to grab a bite, with a decidedly French Quarter flair. Located in a historic building downtown, it’s known for incredible local fish, plus pasta and steaks. Shaggy’s Beach Bar has stunning Gulf views with a laid-back family vibe. Its seafood and Southern pub grub fare (including crab cakes and fried green tomatoes!) are a great value.
To get your brew on, head to Chandeleur Island Brewing downtown. This craft brewery is friendly and welcoming and has a large variety of beers rotating through its taps. And for a cool-down that will satisfy any sweet tooth, you’ll want to hit Pop Brothers. This artisan popsicle stand has creamy, fruity, and indulgent varieties of pops, including mango, strawberry, Nutella, and Oreo cheesecake, just to name a few.
Best Places To Stay In Gulfport
Gulfport is blessed with a wide array of overnight options to suit any sort of visitor. There are high-rise condominium complexes, which offer incredible Gulf views and are often available on home-share sites. Casino resorts also abound all around Gulfport, including amenities such as on-site golf courses, spas, and, of course, slots to go with their luxe rooms! The Oasis Resort is just steps from the beach and features comfortable, affordable suites. If you’re looking for a slower pace during your Gulfport visit, no worries. There are plenty of seaside cottages and historic inns to consider: The Guest House at Gulfport Landing is a 1906 Queen Anne marvel with posh rooms decorated in historic furnishings.
Word to the wise: Gulfport, while charming, is not the most walkable city. Many of its attractions are widely spread out along Highway 90. If you’re not bringing a car with you, plan to call a ride-share service, or consider public transportation. The Coast Transit Authority provides comprehensive bus service for just $1.50 a ride.