On my first evening in the nearby coastal town of Pass Christian, straight down Highway 90 from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the chef at Whiskey Prime struck up a conversation. He stayed and rebuilt his life here after Katrina. “People are good here, laid back. Living by the water makes you that way,” he said as he prepared the best grits I’ve ever tasted.
People all along Mississippi’s Secret Coast are kind and welcoming in a way you don’t always see. They’ll invite a total stranger in, as they did me. That’s the risk of visiting Ocean Springs for a long weekend. This charming town might just plant a seed, a feeling that this is the place to put down roots as you glance at the homes for sale on the realty office’s window. Its appeal stems, of course, from the people and sense of community.
The vibrant art and music scene, world-class dining, seriously cute boutiques, and pristine beaches are all icing on the cake. And for history-loving fisherman, you’re in luck. Drop a line in Davis Bayou. If you’re as lucky as local fisherman Michael Pluckett, who reeled in Al Capone’s wallet from the bayou, you just might catch something interesting. For everyone else, here is how you can spend a long weekend in Ocean Springs.
Things To Do In Ocean Springs
Visit The Depot
If you’re wondering where to start, the visitors center in the historic L and N train depot has brochures and helpful staff to help you make the most of your long weekend visit to Ocean Springs. The town is centrally located on the Secret Coast so you’ll find information about neighboring coastal communities as well.
Pro Tip: On one end of the depot, Realizations sells Walter Anderson art, which you might be interested in after you learn about this local artist.
Learn About Walter Anderson’s Art
The museum displays Walter Anderson’s framed watercolors and whole-room murals. In walking through the museum, you’ll get a feel for the complexities of this artist who spent much of his time in nature on Horn Island, a barrier island off the coast of Mississippi. Anderson rowed some 20 miles to camp, spend time in nature, and paint. His boat is suspended in the museum.
The adjacent community center showcases Anderson’s murals representing the planets on all four walls. A small shack painted floor-to-ceiling that served as a refuge for Anderson was moved to the museum. The family knew nothing about this room he called Eden until they unlocked its doors after he died in 1965.
Pro Tip: Plan for two hours in this ADA-compliant museum. The museum’s gift shop and Realizations in the depot sell reproductions of his work.
Shop For More Art And Pottery
Walter Anderson wasn’t the only artist in the family. His brother, Peter, a master potter, founded Shearwater Pottery. His descendants carry on the family tradition of hand-thrown pottery, painting, and drawing.
Along Washington Street, galleries feature local artists — photographers, potters, painters, and glass blowers. Hillyer House and Pink Rooster Art Gallery are just two places to check out along Washington Street.
Pro Tip: The Peter Anderson Arts and Crafts Festival, held annually in November, is a juried show loaded with artists, craftspeople, and food vendors. Visit the festival’s website for details.
Admire Outdoor Art
The Crooked Feather sculpture stands along Highway 90 and will be the first public art you see in Ocean Springs if you’re arriving from the west. Whimsical sculptures decorate the grounds around the train depot. And Mississippi’s longest mosaic mural is at the east end of Biloxi Bay Bridge. The 120-foot-long mosaic depicts the harbor, the beach, and the flora and fauna of Ocean Springs.
Pro Tip: To find the mural, set your GPS to the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. The area is wheelchair accessible.
Tour The Charnley-Norwood House
Louis Sullivan, architect, father of the American skyscraper, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, intended to stay in Ocean Springs for just a week-long visit. Instead, he stayed for years, designing and building both his home and that of his friends, the Charnleys, who owned the adjacent beachfront lot.
The original home was destroyed by fire. Having a do-over, Sullivan rebuilt the home with some changes to improve its function for the second owners, the Norwoods.Hurricane Katrina took its toll in 2005, pushing the home entirely off its foundation. It has been fully restored mostly with original pieces found scattered after the water receded. Preservation took the house back to its second design from 1897.
Photographs show the extent of work required to get it to its present state.
Pro Tip: The home is open for pre-arranged free guided tours. Email [email protected] to schedule. Allow one to two hours for your visit.
See Why The GI Museum Gets Five-Star Reviews
War memorabilia collectors Doug and Cheryl Mansfield share their impressive collection and the stories behind what you’ll see with visitors to the GI Museum. You’ll find everything from WAC uniforms to 1308th Pigeon Squadron artifacts — yes, the U.S. military used pigeon post to deliver messages.
The collection centers around World War II and includes a concentration camp survivor’s dress and militaria from a survivor from Omaha Beach, but their collection spans World War I to the Gulf War with a moving tribute to a local nurse killed in action in Iraq.
Pro Tip: Depending on the depth of your interest in military history, you could easily spend two to three hours in this wheelchair-accessible museum.
Pay Your Respects At The Mississippi Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial
Each of 668 Mississippi servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War is remembered at this memorial. Their names and portraits are etched on black granite walls. You’ll see mementos left by fellow veterans and family members similar to those found at Washington D.C.’s memorial.
Pro Tip: Allow 15 to 30 minutes to visit the wheelchair-accessible memorial located on Highway 90/Bienville Boulevard.
Linger On A Pristine Beach
The dog-friendly Ocean Springs’ Front Beach stretches from the Biloxi Bay Bridge to Ocean Springs Harbor for 2.2 miles and offers beautiful sunset views with the bridge in the background.
Piers jut out into the bay along East Beach. You can walk the length (1.3 miles) of this quieter, more residential beach on a paved sidewalk and people- or bird-watch.
Visit The National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore is located on Florida and Mississippi’s barrier islands. Ship Island, reached by ferry service from Gulfport, is a popular place to visit with its fort, abundant marine life, and endless beaches.
Off the Mississippi Coast, Cat, Petit Bois, West Petit Bois, and Horn Islands are undeveloped and require a private boat (or rowboat if you’d like to travel to Horn Island as Walter Anderson did). The Petit Bois Islands and Horn Islands are designated as wilderness, leave-no-trace areas.
Ocean Springs’ Davis Bayou Area is the only land-based part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Here you’ll find a visitor center, hiking trails, a boat launch, and a fishing pier where you can while away the hours watching pelicans.
Pro Tip: The visitor center (currently closed in response to COVID-19), some trails, and the fishing pier are wheelchair accessible.
Search For Sandhill Cranes
The Fontainebleau Sandhill Crane Trail, a part of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, is located on the outskirts of Ocean Springs. This non-migratory sandhill crane is hard to find, with only about 100 birds left in the wild. The refuge focuses on education and conservation of the species.
Best Restaurants In Ocean Springs
Greenhouse on Porter makes a mouth-watering biscuit-based breakfast sandwich out of a small greenhouse – hence the name – in Ocean Springs. They offer outdoor dining or take away so you can enjoy breakfast on the beach.
Pro Tip: If you order online, be sure to choose Greenhouse on Porter (Porter Street is in Ocean Springs) rather than Greenhouse Biloxi (which is located in a bright pink building across the Biloxi Bay Bridge, about 4 miles away).
Maison De Lu offers fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Chef Luanne Ellis’s restaurant serves French-inspired meals for lunch and dinner. Both indoor and outdoor dining and a full bar make Maison De Lu a popular bistro.
Pro Tip: The restaurant is wheelchair accessible.
James Beard semi-finalist Chef Alex Perry and his wife, Kumi Omori, also source fresh local vegetables and seafood for their restaurant, Vestige. They serve both New American and Japanese-inspired dishes. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Their tasting menu changes daily.
For casual dining accompanied by live entertainment every day of the week, check out Mosaic. Their menu features tapas, salads, sandwiches, and burgers. The cocktail and beer selections are extensive.
Best Hotel In Ocean Springs
The Roost Boutique Hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown shopping and restaurants as well as the beach. The historic building-turned-hotel is surrounded by live oaks. A wide veranda with rocking chairs invites you to slow down and appreciate the natural beauty of the property. The hotel’s speak-easy style Wilbur Bar offers wine, craft cocktails, and light fare.
The rooms utilize reclaimed wood and have special decorative touches, including Walter Anderson woodblock prints. My room, The Oyster Suite, had an antique pirogue (canoe) hanging from the ceiling. I think Walter Anderson would approve.
Pro Tip: The Island Suite is wheelchair accessible.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Whiskey Prime, the Pass Christian restaurant Teresa mentions in her introduction, here.