We have a feeling that you'll be returning to this eclectic Gulf Coast destination year after year.

By Zoe Denenberg

In 2005, the small seaside town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, found itself in the eye of Hurricane Katrina. The process of recovery was long and slow, but the coastal Mississippi community worked to rebuild and resurrect this small town's spirit. Now, with its laid-back attitude, stunning waterfront, and funky, eclectic local culture, Bay St. Louis is one of the Gulf Coast's most underrated destinations.

Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn't feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town's prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. In fact, this strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi's "Secret Coast."

There are countless ways to explore the outdoors at this hidden retreat. Rent a kayak and paddle the blueways, also known as water trails, or walk the beachside paths. Or you can simply spend a day relaxing at the beach, and be sure to bring your pup along: Bay St. Louis's beaches are dog-friendly.

Bay St. Louis is home to a number of piers, but Jimmy Rutherford Fishing Pier is a favorite place to cast a line. Speckled trout fishing is excellent year-round, while the summer months yield prized red snapper catches.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you'll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Don't miss the French Potager, an antique store and flower shop.

Start your morning at Mockingbird Café, an artsy local spot where you can pair your Chicken & Waffles with inventive coffee concoctions (house-made syrup flavors include lavender, pistachio, and rosemary honey; the "Health and Beauty" menu features drinks like Matcha Lemonade and Purple Potato Lattes).

Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of Bay St. Louis's infrastructure, but The Blind Tiger was the first waterside business to open after the hurricane. The open-air bar and island hangout made a name for itself with a short and sweet menu: Try the burger with hand-cut fries and snag a seat on the marina-facing patio to take in the view.

When you're ready for happy hour, grab a seat at Daiquiri Shak for—you guessed it—daiquiris (which come in 15 different flavors). Afterwards, stop by Creole Creamery for a scoop or a sundae—the signature & seasonal menu constantly changes, but features ever-creative flavors like Petit Four, Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake, and Bananas Foster. You can also get a real taste of the South at Ms. Mary's Old Town Snoballs, housed in a charming pink roadside stand.

For a true local experience, stay at a bed and breakfast like the Bay Town Inn, where decks come furnished with white Adirondack chairs (Bay St. Louis prides itself on its Southern hospitality). You can also rent a quaint cottage for your quiet seaside escape.

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