This buzzy coastal destination is rife with artistic talent, cute shops, delectable food, and cool new spots to stay.
If Ocean Springs were looking to make a bumper sticker, it might read something like this: "My downtown's cooler than your downtown." This quaint community in coastal Mississippi has no need for personal boasting, however, as its rich history, artistic flair, and small-town atmosphere speak for themselves.
Colorful, contemporary, and culturally rich, the town is especially known for its arts and festivals, including the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival, the largest fine arts gathering in the state for more than four decades. Ocean Springs' walkable downtown features more than 200 independent shops, galleries, and restaurants, and the beach is mere blocks away. Here's what to add to your agenda when visiting Ocean Springs this year.
What to Know
Tourism here first developed in the 1850s because of interest in the healing powers of its mineral springs in nearby Fort Bayou. The town got its name from The Ocean Springs Hotel, which opened in 1854. The railroad and train depot soon brought more visitors, as did an increasing production of fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters in the area. As more hotels sprung up along the main street to accommodate affluent residents of New Orleans and Chicago flooding in, Ocean Springs began to grow as a destination and continues its charming legacy today—coming back stronger than ever post Hurricane Katrina.
What to Do
Take in the Arts Scene
The nationally accredited Walter Anderson Museum of Art downtown celebrates its artist-philosopher namesake's works of coastal plants, animals, landscapes, and people. In honor of its 30th anniversary in 2021, it underwent a rebrand and added a new creative complex offering a transformative cultural experience to this local favorite.
At Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Arts Center (known locally as "The Mary C"), visitors can explore two art galleries; catch a concert, performance, or play at the theater; and shop works from local creatives. The family-owned Shearwater Pottery dates back nearly a century and offers an incredible display of figurines, decorative tiles, and other ceramic objects in its free-to-the-public gallery.
Also contributing to the cultural development of the downtown is Ocean Springs Collective, which will include a restaurant, community garden, bookstore, and fitness center when it is complete. A sustainable garden and "food forest" will be at its center, illustrating its focus on permaculture.
Spend some time digging your toes in the sand at Front Beach, just a short walk from downtown. Swim, walk, or bask in the sun on this quiet stretch that features a fishing pier and beautiful views. One of the best ways to experience the beach in Ocean Springs is with a sunset picnic in the sand. Coastal Picnic & Company will set up a gorgeous spread with options for styles, food and beverage, and add-ons like a fringed umbrella. Visitors can also enjoy many recreational activities along the water, from fishing and hiking to biking, bird watching, and camping as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Where to Shop
Plenty of boutiques downtown offer wonderful shopping, from womenswear at The Bay Collection to trendy clothing and accessories at Charisma. Hunt for vintage goods inside a house at Buddyrow and art from Southern craftspeople at Hillyer House, which has been part of the community for more than 50 years. Find eclectic and one-of-a-kind items at Coastal Magpie. From antiques to works by local artisans, you’ll find something new every time you shop there.
When to Go
Being located off the Gulf of Mexico means summers get especially hot and humid. For the most comfortable weather, visit Ocean Springs in early spring (March-April) or November, when temperatures hover around 70 degrees.
Where to Eat
A smokehouse burger at Woody's Roadside, a top-ranked restaurant in Ocean Springs, is a must. This laid-back spot is a local favorite with nearly 20 gourmet burgers on the menu, plus tacos, fresh fish, and the famous Cheese Bombs appetizer. All-you-can-eat catfish and shrimp are the draws to Aunt Jenny's Catfish Restaurant, a restaurant located beneath 500-year-old oak trees in an 1850s home. (Elvis Presley was known to frequent its cocktail lounge downstairs.) For something more upscale, Maison de Lu is open for lunch and dinner, serving a variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches both indoors and out on the front patio and in the back courtyard. Locally owned Vestige, from a James Beard-nominated chef, is a great spot for a celebration meal, with a five-course tasting menu that changes daily.
Where to Stay
The most unique accommodations in town can be found at The Beatnik, comprised of four floating cabins with their own respective wet bars and outdoor showers, plus a communal pool, garden, and fire pit. The same owners also debuted a boutique hotel, The Roost, in a historic building just off the beach with a rustic-chic vibe and 19 gorgeous bespoke suites.
The Hemingway is another boutique hotel located in a former bank downtown. Each of its four rooms comes with its own brand of charm, including the romantic "Mary" room with exposed brick, wide windows, and a four-poster bed. For a classic Ocean Springs vibe, check in to the 52-room Gulf Hills Hotel & Resort, which was established in 1927 and even served as a getaway for Elvis in the 1950s.