By Lloyd Carroll

Biloxi, Miss.

Seventy-five miles due east of New Orleans just off I-10 is the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast city of Biloxi (pronounced buh-luck-see) which is known to many as the setting for the play and movie about Neil Simon’s Army basic training, “Biloxi Blues,” and for having been the longtime home of arguably America’s best-known root beer, Barq’s.

While Biloxi is far from the sleepy town it was in the 1940s when Simon’s play was set, it possesses an unhurried charm. A drive along Beach Boulevard (US 90) from Biloxi to Gulfport feels like one on South Florida’s A1A probably did before Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale became a playground for every real estate developer under the sun.

Before tourists started coming to Biloxi, it was a major fishing and shrimping hub, and it still is. If you want to unleash your inner Forrest Gump, there are shrimp trawler operators that will let you spend the day with them in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that one of Biloxi’s most visited attractions is the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. While there, be sure to watch the hour-long documentary on how Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While New Orleans is most associated with Katrina, the 60-minute film, made up solely of actual news footage from local TV station WLOX, makes you realize that Biloxi and neighboring towns absorbed a worse brunt of the storm, as unimaginable as that might seem.

This region has some quirky art museums. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum is devoted to pottery while the Walter Anderson Art Museum across Biloxi Bay in the hip town of Ocean Springs (the South’s answer to Berkeley) contains off-beat works of modern art.

Biloxi has had casinos since 1992. The MGM Beau Rivage gets name talent on weekends and has a terrific buffet that features both local favorite dishes and many ethnic foods.

The Biloxi Shuckers, who play across the street from the Beau Rivage at MGM Park, are the Milwaukee Brewers’ AA minor league affiliate. If you go to a Shuckers game there is a good chance that you’ll run into former Mets catcher Barry Lyons, who is a Biloxi native and the team’s goodwill ambassador.

The Doubletree Hotel is located right on Beach Boulevarad and has plenty of amenities at rates that should fit most budgets.

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