By Jennifer Campbell
When thinking of a beach or coastal vacation, put the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the top of your list. The area has changed dramatically over the last ten years as the people and towns have rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the coast in 2005. Even Mississippians don’t realize that the coastal area is back in business, with LOTS to offer visitors. Well, these two Mississippians visited, and we’re here to tell you that, no matter where you’re from, you should get your butt down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast!
1. The coast is back!
The Mississippi Gulf Coast was the setting of most of my childhood vacations. I have very vivid memories of playing putt putt golf, shopping at the huge souvenir shop named Sharkhead’s, seeing the dolphins at a sealife attraction called “Marine Life”, and visiting the fort on Ship Island. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina completely devastated the entire Gulf Coast area.
During December of 2006, just one year after Katrina, Mark and I visited the Biloxi area. Other than seeing news coverage, this was the first time we laid eyes on the destruction. Honestly, it was shocking. No matter how many times we saw the news stories or read about it in a newspaper, we were not prepared for the actual sight itself. The entire area was just…empty. Buildings and most signs of humanity had just been washed away.
We mourned the loss of incredible people, their homes, and livelihoods. I was heartbroken to see the places of my childhood memories wiped away.
In 2018, we returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast once more. This time, we would be visiting more so with happy hearts versus heavy hearts. The coast is back! With happy tears, we saw the coast is back! Of course, there will always be sadness over the losses brought by Katrina, but the Gulf Coast is full of people who love their communities and their coastal lifestyle.
Alongside memorials and art pieces that will bring tears to the eyes of all visitors, you’ll also find beautiful B&Bs, fantastic restaurants, and various museums and attractions. Of these businesses, many are locally owned. So many people of the coast refused to leave their hometown behind and have rebuilt their lives there, putting passion and love into their businesses. Go pay them a visit!
2. Tourism dollars are incredibly helpful to places that have been affected by disaster.
Do you believe that you should stay away from places that have recently had natural disasters? We thought so too, but that is not always the case. Of course, you should not visit right away unless you are volunteering or helping in some way, but eventually these locations will be eagerly awaiting tourists once again.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast has been back in business for a few years now, but even Mississippians don’t realize it. Our memories from 2006 had us believing that it may never thrive again, but boy were we wrong! We urge you to visit the area, especially if you live in Mississippi or nearby state. The people of the coast are rebuilding their lives and tourism dollars are so important.
Last year’s hurricane season, including the monsters Harvey, Irma, and Maria, was one of the worst. These storms caused severe damage and loss in places including Houston, Texas, the Caribbean, and especially Puerto Rico, where, at this time of writing, 10% of the island is STILL without power. These locations are once again open for visitors, with Puerto Rico officially once again welcoming tourists in December, 2017.
Please visit places like these. Volunteer or help out where you can, and remember that your dollars spent locally are important to the economy and regrowth of these ares.
3. The hospitality is out of this world!
Meeting people and talking with locals is one of our favorite parts about travel. If you want to experience true Southern hospitality, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is absolutely full of kind, loving, generous people.
The first person we met during this recent visit was Nikki Moon, owner of the most precious B&B I’ve ever seen (Bay Town Inn). I actually knew that I liked her before laying eyes on her. After arriving at the inn late at night, the lights were left on for us, Nikki had hand-written us a welcome note, and had cookies waiting on us. The next morning, we met Nikki and her fur babies, and she took us on a stroll through Bay St. Louis, which is obviously so special to her. She pointed out shops and restaurants, and waved or spoke to every single person we saw. The love Nikki has for her town is matched by its love for her as well, and it’s obvious why she has guests stay with her time and time again.
We also felt the love from Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism! Anna Roy, Public/Media Relations Manager, arranged our Mississippi Gulf Coast trip for us and joined us for lunch along with CEO of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, Milton Segarra. Have you ever met someone and instantly became best friends? Yep, that was our lunch date. The conversation flowed so naturally from travel to food, backgrounds to pets! Truly friendly, kind people that wanted us to see the best of the Gulf Coast and love it as much as they do. (We totally do!)
The hospitality continued from Mike and David aboard our Biloxi Shrimping Trip boat and extended into the night when we were invited to stay aboard for the Biloxi Fishing Trip. The guests on our fishing trip were also amazing! They may not be from the area, but we had one fantastic, enthusiastic, friendly bunch! Good company always makes an experience better, am I right?
When we arrived at our accommodations for our second night at the Gulf Hills Hotel, Ms. Deborah from the front desk offered to give us a tour of the Elvis suite upstairs. Elvis stayed at Gulf Hills Hotel way back when it was known as The Dude Ranch. Now, the suite is filled with Elvis memorabilia. She also shared their photo album of Hurricane Katrina photos and told the story of how Donna Brown, general manager, allowed local residents to live at the hotel for shelter, had everyone help out with jobs and chores each day, and received an American Spirit Award for her and the hotel’s service to the community.
Are you impressed by the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast yet? These are just a FEW of the stories and amazing people we met! Also, the signs we saw in business windows proclaiming, “ALL are welcome here!” definitely brought tears to my eyes. KINDNESS, Y’ALL!
4. The food is top-notch delicious!
Fresh seafood and lots of locally-owned restaurants is a recipe for some mouth-watering dishes, but the offerings go beyond fish and shrimp!
Freshly baked artisan bread can be found at Serious Bread in Bay St. Louis. Fluffy muffins (including one savory breakfast beast complete with boiled egg in the middle!), fresh coffee, and other breakfast/brunch treats at the Mockingbird Cafe also await you in Bay St. Louis.
See Related: Serious Bread: This Mississippi Gulf Coast Bakery is Seriously Delicious
Patio 44 in Biloxi served us some incredible chef-inspired dishes including Debris Fries, Field Pea, Tomato, Okra Saute’, Shrimp Alfredo, and Chicken Salad Sandwiches. The clear stand-out? The Field Pea, Tomato, and Okra Saute’. Peas and cornbread, yes ma’am!
In Ocean Springs, we just had to try “the only real donut,” doughnuts made from potato flour, at Tatonuts. They’re on my list of favorite doughnuts of all time. Go for the traditional glazed! Also in Ocean Springs, we opted for some barbecue at the junk heap-turned-barbecue joint known as The Shed. After all, you really can’t go wrong ordering barbecue in the south! The sides were also mouth-wateringly good, so we recommend the mac n cheese, potato salad, and the baked beans.
If seafood is your thing, many local restaurants will cook your catch, so head out on a fishing trip before dinner!
Other restaurants that were recommended to us include Government Street Grocery, Maison de Lu, Vestige, Mary Mahoney’s, Aunt Jenny’s Catfish, and Mikey’s on the Bayou. Can’t wait to go visit and EAT some more!
5. The variety of attractions provides an adventure for everyone!
Do not make the mistake of thinking that the Gulf Coast only has casinos! While gambling might be exciting for some, it’s not our cup of tea. Mainly because I’m stingy with my money and because I’d rather have an authentic, local experience when visiting an area.
Did you know that you can visit the Stennis Space Center while visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast? This NASA rocket testing facility can be visited via bus tour from the educational (and impressive) INFINITY Science Center in Pearlington, Mississippi. At the INFINITY Science Center, you’ll find engines, rockets, and tons of interactive displays. A great visit for families!
The coast has great museums! Love art? Check out the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Art not really your thing? Then head over to the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum to see vintage boats, a HUGE shrimp peeler, and learn the history of the seafood industry of this area.
Would you rather be outside? Areas like downtown Ocean Springs and Old Town Bay St. Louis are extremely walkable. You can easily spend a half day in each place meandering down the streets, window-shopping, and popping in and out of stores/restaurants. See the carved trees and memorials for hurricane victims, go tour the famed Biloxi lighthouse, or spend some time with your toes in the sand. Also, don’t miss your chance to go out on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip or Biloxi Fishing Trip, where you’ll learn all about each animal caught.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is beautiful, welcoming, and ready for you to visit! Spend at LEAST a long weekend in the area or even a full week because there is SO much fun stuff to do! We can’t wait to visit again! Thank you for everything, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast!
DISCLAIMER: Our visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast was sponsored by Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism, but, as always, all opinions are our own.
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