By Charles McCool - McCool Travel
In my worldwide search for cool, fun, and happy destinations, I spent five exciting days exploring the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the region quickly moved up my happy travel destinations list. I expected the Biloxi casinos and a Fins Up vibe due to local hero Jimmy Buffett but many things along the Mississippi Gulf Coast surprised me.
Surprised me in a very good way, that is.
While Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast—and various properties, attractions, and restaurants—hosted McCool Travel and picked up the tab for much of this glorious trip, please be certain that my message is carefully crafted for my awesome audience so that you can make informed decisions in order to Travel Happy on future trips.
Fun Things To Do On The Mississippi Gulf Coast
Oaks, oaks, and more oaks. Magnificent Southern oak trees are everywhere along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and I love seeing them. “My name is Charles. I like oak trees and cannot lie.” Call Morris Day and if there is an OA addiction group, let me know.
Take time to visit the Friendship Oak at University of Southern Mississippi in Long Beach. In an area with many magnificent oaks, the Friendship Oak reigns as the oldest and most prominent. It is over 500 years old but lost a huge branch during a storm earlier this year.
Another favorite spot of mine is a house at the corner of Martin and Cleveland in Ocean Springs, a small lot with a dozen oaks. It is less than a block from The Roost (where I stayed for three nights) and I walked by this house many times. Just walking near this house made me happy, I cannot imagine how lucky the residents are.
Even Southern Oaks that no longer exist are amazing. The remains of a multi hundred year old oak near Hotel Pass Christian has a trunk diameter of over six feet.
Celebrate Mardi Gras Year Round
While touring the Biloxi Shuckers (local AA baseball team) stadium, the marketing director mentioned that they will have a “half way to Mardi Gras” promotion in August. That sounded fun and was definitely not the only time I heard about Mardi Gras. In June, for heaven’s sake. Seems like every other mailbox and plenty of trees still have beads.
One local small business owner told me Mardi Gras is on everyone’s mind year round—from the western Louisiana border (with Texas) to east of Mobile. I shall deem it the #MardiGrasBelt. McCool Travel tip: Visit the Mardi Gras Museum inside the Bay St. Louis Visitor Center to see spectacular and lavish Mardi Gras krewe costumes.
Mississippi Coast Funkiness #MSCoastLife
Certainly most beach communities have funky and artsy vibes but that art funkiness is pervasive and prevalent along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They embrace and celebrate their funk here. In fact, one local small business owner told me, “we are different from the rest of Mississippi. Everything below I-10 is cool.”
Driving east on Beach Boulevard (US highway 90) between the casinos, your eyes will dance when seeing the ultra funky Ohr-O’Keefe Museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, it is Cali cool with Southern charm.
Drive a little further east and across the street from the Margaritaville Resort Biloxi you will see the funkiest Catholic Church. Take my word for it and see with your own eyes. I love that residents create outdoor art galleries in their front and back yards. Even non-artists (like me) can get away with that.
Ruth’s Roots in Bay St. Louis is a community garden with a very funky twist. Nearby, visit the 100 Men DBA Hall, an important stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
While everyone wants to be an artist, only a select few become commercially successful. Visit Shearwater Pottery and Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs and learn about the legendary local Anderson family.
The artistic mentality of Mississippi Gulf Coast extends to their food and drink. I simply had to, really had to, try the grit beer at Hops and Growlers in Ocean Springs. While the grit beer highlighted my experience, I also sampled other craft brews, including You Got the Beet and Oh My Porter.
Science and Nature
Space exploration does not happen without the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While rockets launch from Florida and California, and mission control is in Houston, it all starts in Mississippi. NASA rockets and parts are tested at the Stennis Space Center long before seeing practical service.
Take a bus tour of Stennis from the Infinity Science Center, where you can also see carnivorous plants (yes!), incredibly fascinating hands-on activities (create your own hurricane, design a flood-proof city), the largest and most powerful engine ever created, and much more.
I love liquid road trips and kayaking the Wolf River, especially during a lightning storm, was thrilling. Wolf River Canoe & Kayak provides boats, transports you a few miles up river, and lets you do your thing. I brought along a collection of yummy goodies from Serious Bread in Bay St. Louis and another group brought a whole cooler for their #LiquidRoadTrip adventure. Fun! I may or may not have heard banjo music but there was definitely lightning, so I pulled up on a beach until the storm passed. McCool Travel tip: bring drinks and snacks and look for petrified wood along the river banks.
Some places to visit to learn about the nature of Mississippi Gulf Coast include Pascagoula River Audubon Center, Marine Education Center, Gulf Islands National Seashore (meet the local gators), and Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
Biloxi has vibrant Vietnamese and Croatian communities. That surprised me but also makes a lot of sense. Vietnamese fishermen brought their techniques to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to what was once the world’s most prolific seafood provider. Biloxi is still is shrimping capital of the world (#BigShrimpin). Croatians began immigrating to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1897 to work in the seafood canning factories.
So totally trite and overused (not by me, though) is the concept of people making a place special. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is one of best examples I have experienced. With casinos, military, and other industries, the Mississippi Gulf Coast population is definitely transient. However, the people I met along the Mississippi coast absolutely love it here. They choose to be here.
My tourism host is from Belgium. The Bay Town Inn owner—and unofficial queen of Bay St. Louis—ran tourism sales in New Orleans. She, Nikki, told me that the Mississippi Gulf Coast is where people from New Orleans choose to vacation. The happiest hotel manager I ever met relocated from Michigan. The happiest hotel worker I ever met—from the same hotel, The Roost in Ocean Springs—has Croatian ancestry. The absolutely riveting and disruptive young entrepreneur from Le Bakery (above) is Vietnamese via San Diego. And on and on.
There are even native locals. Amanda, the owner of Paddles Up in Ocean Springs, lived elsewhere for awhile but returned to her childhood hometown because it is in her blood. Dave, the first mate on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, is super entertaining and informative and their shrimp tour is definitely a fun thing to do in Biloxi.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Beaches
Soft sand and wide beaches define the beaches all along the Gulf of Mexico, from Southwest Florida all the way up and around to Bay St. Louis. The Mississippi beaches are clean, inviting, and parking is plentiful right next to the beach. I love that!
Where to Eat Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Seafood, especially shrimp, is super fresh along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I had some amazing entrees at Le Cafe Beignet in Biloxi (fantastic shrimp and grits), Bozo’s Grocery in Pascagoula (old school classic po’ boys), and The Blind Tiger right on the beach in Biloxi (Royal Red shrimp). #BigShrimpin’ yo!
Other places to eat on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (and what I had) include The Shed (remarkable BBQ), Whiskey Prime (incredible fried oysters and filet mignon), Vestige (heirloom tomatoes and high quality sourced ingredients), Biloxi Brewing Company (eight craft brews on tap), TatoNut Doughnut Shop (they use potato flour), Eat Drink Love (massive roast beef sandwich), Doe’s Eat Place (scrumptious filet mignon) at Margaritaville Resort Biloxi, and The Green House (daily sweet and savory biscuit specials).
Where to Stay On the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Below are the hotels I stayed in on two Mississippi Gulf Coast trips. For a more complete list of Mississippi coast hotels, check TripAdvisor and the Gulf Coast websites.
Bay St. Louis: Bay Town Inn
Pass Christian: Hotel Pass Christian
Biloxi: Beau Rivage
Biloxi: Margaritaville Resort Biloxi
Ocean Springs: The Roost (named by Architectural Digest as one of most beautiful hotels in US South)
McCool Travel tip: Make sure you mention McCool Travel sent you for possible special rates and consideration.
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