by Lesli Peterson (365 Atlanta Traveler)

This was my first visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and what a beauty she is. The region is back in full force and open for business, showing Hurricane Katrina who’s really the boss…this community!

With barrier islands out in the Gulf of Mexico protecting the beaches along the state, the shoreline is calm and pristine…simply gorgeous.

You could come here and never leave the white sands…but don’t do that! There are plenty of fun and exciting things to do here beyond the beach. Here are my favorites from a recent trip to Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Pascagoula River Audubon Center
Pascagoula River holds honor as the last free flowing river in the lower 48 states, and one incredible way to see how important and diverse a river this is, is to visit the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

Visit the interpretive center, explore the Children’s Nature Discovery Center outdoor playground, and bring your binoculars for spectacular birding along the bayou.
Rent a kayak, or set aside time for a natural history lecture…I would love to be a local who could take advantage of their Novice Birding or Master Naturalist classes!

One of the highlights of my visit was taking the McCoys Swamp and River Tour. It is an additional charge on top of your entrance fee, and you’ll want to make reservations beforehand…but you don’t want to miss this!

We explored the tidal marsh, learning about the importance of the river to the animals and industry of the area, the impact of changes to the river, and hoped for a peek at alligators, water birds and more.

Because I visited during a conference, we did not have an opportunity to take the boat from the marsh into the swamp, but you will on this 2-hour excursion. The old-growth swamps, with majestic trees hung with cypress moss, are as wild as they are romantic.

Biloxi Shrimping Tour

Nothing says “Mississippi Gulf Coast” like fresh seafood, and I loved learning more about how that happens down here. A ride aboard the Biloxi Shrimping Tour is fun AND educational!

You’ll spend a little over an hour in the Gulf, learning about how fishing boats work…you’ll even watch as they drop a 16-ft trawl into the water…and catch a glimpse of what comes up!

We learned about different types of shrimp, which ones taste best, and why the shrimp caught here is such a delicacy. You’ll hold a few shrimp and see other sea creatures along the way (omg! I loved seeing the puffer fish!)

The boat sits guests on an upper and lower deck…when the sun is shining warmly and the salt air is blowing, the upper deck is a dream. Don’t worry if you miss a seat up there; about half-way through the tour the guide will ask you to switch places for a while.

One of my favorite surprises was TJ the Service Dog. He walks the top and bottom floors of the boat, offering cold drinks to guests. Take the beer from his vest, deposit your money, and enjoy your drink! Now that’s a service dog!

Wut SUP Paddleboarding
Paddleboarding…kayaking…bikes…jet skis…pontoon rentals…if you can use it for fun in the water then it’s happening here!

Wat SUP sits on the Bayou Bernard, which offers a small waterway loop for newbies or a large waterway loop out to Big Lake. You can explore the lake on jet skis or a pontoon boat…or opt for a less wild ride like I did with my friend Karon above, and take the stand-up paddle boards out for a spin.

We loved exploring right in the area, with colorful barges along the shoreline, and gorgeous sea birds flying in the sky.

A few friends opted out of the water fun with us, but still enjoyed the sunshine by lounging in hammocks or riding a bike. Whatever your passion, Wut SUP can help supply your gear.

Fishbone Alley
Tucked between tall buildings in downtown Gulfport sits an unpretentious alley with a world of wonder and stories held within its walls. If not for the large sign designating the entrance, you might overlook it. But don’t you dare!

Fishbone Alley is in fact, just that. An alley. But if you look closer you see that it’s an art gallery, a community space, a concert venue, a dining hall…and so much more.
Be sure to look through the IG photos above to see the art work, live music and more. I love the graffiti art that local creators add in an ongoing project to show love to the space.

When you visit, check their Facebook page for events. You’ll often find live music, community tours, festivals and more posted there.

Another awesome feature? The to-go cup ordinance! You are free to grab a drink from one of the bars or restaurants and linger a little longer as you enjoy the vibe here.

Restaurants along the alley that we love? Half Shell Oyster House with AMAZING oysters. Seriously! Also 13th Street Jazz Bistro offers great cocktails and loads of fun.

Where To Stay
Even if you’re not a gambler (I’m not…I’m just no good!) you will still enjoy staying at (or touring) the 12 casinos in the Gulf Coast.

I stayed at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi and adored it! The rooms are spectacular, and I loved having a view of the gulf!

There is also impeccable entertainment, like Billy Idol and Jim Gaffigan coming this year. And you don’t have to stay here to enjoy one of the headliners.

Another thing that blew me away? The FOOD! First, the breakfast buffet. I have never seen this large a breakfast buffet in all my life. I’m not kidding! And every bit of it was delicious.

And the other restaurants offering eats for lunch and dinner…Coast Seafood, Stalla, BR Prime…these were spectacular! They could each stand on their own, but to have them under one roof was a treat.

Bringing the kids? You can’t take kids on to the gambling floor, but they are always welcome in the restaurants, plus there is an arcade at Beau Rivage for them to enjoy. And a Haagen Dazs…what’s not to love about that?

I also toured Hard Rock and thought that my kids would have enjoyed it there, too. Even if you don’t stay there, be sure to take them on a tour of the lobby area (and grab a burger for lunch!)

On Our Bucket List
I was lucky enough to get a taste of the Mississippi Gulf Coast while I was there attending the Travel South conference (thanks for hosting me Travel South and Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast) but it just wasn’t long enough. I hope to be back with the kids in the near future…here’s what’s on my bucket list!

Ground Zero Hurricane Museum

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center

Institute for Marine Mammal Studies

Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs

Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum

Biloxi Lighthouse

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art

Alice Moseley Folk Art and Museum

This Property Is Condemned Walking Tour in Bay St Louis

Mardi Gras Museum

…and yes…even with all of this…we still want to lounge a while on the 26 miles of white sand beaches!

Full article here