Mississippi’s southernmost tip has beaches and casinos aplenty, but there’s so much more to add to the charm.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Lifetime and longtime Mississippians use a certain shorthand when referring to the 62-mile length of landscape that lends itself as the outline along the Gulf of Mexico at the southernmost tip of the state, the Coast. Simply put, it’s all that needs to be said for folks from the Magnolia State to have a hankering for some sun, sand, shopping and some of the freshest seafood around. And there are always the casinos.
If you’re a history buff, the Coast is a treasure-trove, with stories aplenty both tragic and triumphant. The place and its people have weathered more than their share of hurricanes through the decades, including Camille in ’69 and Katrina in 2005. Lives have been lost. Homes, churches, schools, businesses ravaged and ruined, but later rebuilt and reborn.
Whether you’re hoping for a weekend getaway or a full family vacation, the Mississippi coastal towns along Highway 90 offer a boatload of delightful diversions and delicious dining experiences all along the shoreline and inland. Summertime’s a perfect season for a beach trip right here in Mississippi, so grab your shades and sunscreen and check out some of these places on the Coast.
Lovingly referred to by locals as “the Pass,” Pass Christian got its name in 1699 from a deep-water channel or pass directly offshore that was discovered by Nicholas Christian L’Adnier. It was chartered as a town in 1848.
A large portion of the town is designated the Pass Christian Scenic Drive Historic District, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 for “the enduring presence” of ornate and stylized houses built in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. The area was once a summer destination for New Orleanians seeking relief from the city heat. Although a large number of its historic mansions and cottages were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, many have since been restored or rebuilt to meet historic specifications.
Henderson Point Park offers a walking path and playground equipment, and the Enchanted Nature Trail on Fort Henry Street has a vine tunnel, interactive play station, an insect hotel and so much more.
Art Alley in the Pass is home to local art, home decor and gourmet foods.
Restaurants to try:
-Bacchus on the Beach, 120 S. Hiern Ave. This is a hub for oysters and a huge muffaletta and adult beverages that can be served on the large bayside deck.
-Hook Gulf Coast Cuisine, 133 Davis Ave. Unit M. Fresh seafood, cocktails and more.
Bay St. Louis
Fifty-eight miles northeast of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis has been named one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel. It was also designated a Top 10 Small Beach Town by Coastal Living magazine. And for trivia fans, the 1966 film, “This Property Is Condemned,” starring Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Charles Bronson and Mary Badham, was filmed mostly in Bay St. Louis. The film was based on the 1946 play by Tennessee Williams.
In addition to being home to a less-populated white sand beach and some excellent local restaurants, Bay St. Louis boasts an arts- and antiques-laden old-town area that makes strolling and shopping a most inviting activity.
The historic Bay St. Louis Depot is a don’t-miss spot while visiting the Hancock County town. The depot houses the tourism office and visitors’ center where you can find information on hundreds of places of interest along the Coast.
“Every trip to Bay St. Louis should start here, at the depot,” said Myrna Green, tourism director for Hancock County since 2007. “We are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week.”
The depot is also home to the Alice Mosely Folk Art and Antique Museum. Mosely was a folk artist, a storyteller and a humorist. Known by many as Miss Alice, she was born in Birmingham, Alabama, where she met and married W.J. Moseley from Batesville. She taught English in Memphis for 30 years and began painting while caring for her mother. She took her first 40 paintings to a flea market in Nashville and sold them all in a 30-minute period. She moved to Bay St. Louis in 1980, after the death of her husband, and lived there until her death in 2004 at the age of 94.
The Infinity Science Center is in Hancock County near Bay St. Louis and offers interactive science, technology and engineering rides and exhibits. There are fishing piers aplenty in the Bay, as well as charter fishing opportunities. Keep alert when riding or walking around the city or you could miss the “Angels in the Bay,” once majestic live oaks before a hurricane named Katrina damaged the trees and the town. But Dayle K. Lewis, a chain-saw sculptor from Indiana, visited post-Katrina Bay St. Louis and made the damaged trees beautiful again.
Restaurants to try:
-The Sycamore House, 210 Main St. Located in two 19th-century cottages connected into a single dwelling in the 1850s. “Come casually, we’ll supply the elegance” is their motto.
-Trapanis Eatery, 116 N. Beach Blvd. Famous po’boys, steaks and seafood.
-Cuz’s Oyster Bar & Grill, 108 S. Beach Blvd. Family-owned restaurant serving Southern-style seafood options.
-The Mockingbird Café, 110 S. Second St. Built in 1868, the small, eclectic eatery is known for brunch. “A small coffee shop with a big love for community.”
Just to the west of Gulfport, Long Beach is a charming little beach town that does not feel too touristy. In the early 20th century, Long Beach was a farming production town, whose citizens proclaimed it to be the Radish Capital of the World.
Incorporated in 1905, Long Beach has been called The Friendly City. It boasts many charter fishing businesses for a small town, but perhaps its largest claim to fame it The Friendship Oak. The tree is more than five centuries old and sits on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park Campus.
Artists or artist hopefuls might check out Blue Skies Gallery, which has art supplies aplenty, framing and art classes. It’s also an art co-op, so visitors can see working artists in the gallery.
Restaurants to try:
-Steve’s Marina Restaurant, 213 E. Beach Blvd. Casual two-story beachfront seafood cafe and bar.
-Harber View Café, 504 Jeff Davis Ave. Southern cuisine and po’boys with porch seating.
-Bull’s Restaurant, 300 Jeff Davis Ave. Po’boys, award-winning gumbo, burgers.
-Parrish’s Restaurant & Lounge, 217 Beach Blvd. E. Seafood, steaks, specialty cocktails, house-made deserts.
With many of the historic homes on one side of Highway 90 destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and a plethora of casinos built on the Gulf side, the long-ago footprint of Biloxi has changed dramatically. Still, a few of its well-known and beloved restaurants continue to thrive and there’s always the ever-standing landmark lighthouse.
The Biloxi Lighthouse was built in Baltimore, Maryland, and sent south to be completed at its site in 1848. It is one of two remaining lighthouses on the Coast which once boasted 12. After the Civil War, the first cannery was built in 1881 in Biloxi to process seafood.
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art celebrates the spirit of Mississippi’s master potter George Ohr. Known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” Ohr created art from 1879 until 1910, but it was 50 years after his death that his pottery began receiving the interest and recognition it now enjoys.
The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum opened in 1986 and has exhibits on wooden boats, commercial fishing and much more.
Restaurants to try:
-Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, 110 Rue Magnolia. A mainstay in Biloxi since it opened May 7, 1964, serving locally sourced seafood, steaks and more in a historic setting.
-White Pillars Restaurant & Lounge, 1696 Beach Blvd. Local seafood, handmade pasta and steak.
-McElroy’s Harbor House, 695 Beach Blvd. Casual restaurant overlooking the water. Seafood and Southern fare. Family owned and operated since 1974.
The second largest city in Mississippi after Jackson, Gulfport shares county seat duties with Biloxi for Harrison County. It was incorporated July 28, 1898, and founded by William H. Hardy, president of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad that connected lumber mills to the Coast. The Port of Gulfport became a working seaport in 1902.
In addition to the beach area and casinos, other activities in Gulfport abound. There’s the Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum at 522 Pass Road and the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum at 429 Pass Road.
The Mississippi Aquarium, 2100 E. Beach Blvd., offers something for every age. The 5.8-acre aquarium offers both outdoor and indoor habitats. And there’s also the Ocean Adventures Marine Park at 10801 Dolphin Lane, where you can watch interactions between trainers and dolphins and sea lions, touch stingrays and see a macaw and parrot show while you’re there.
Gulfport is also home to the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, taking place July 1-4. Competitive fishing, live entertainment, carnival rides and more. Learn about it at mississippideepseafishingrodeo.com.
The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center at 246 Dolan Ave., provides interactive activities and an outdoor play area at this children’s museum in a 1916-era former school.
Restaurants to try:
-Half Shell Oyster House, 2500 13th St. #1. Upscale-casual Southern seafood and bar. Oysters, po-boys, steak and cocktails.
-White Cap Restaurant, 560 Beach Drive. Southern accented seafood eatery with Gulf views.
Two miles east of Biloxi, just across the Biloxi Bay, is Ocean Springs, whose quaint downtown and beachfront areas remain untouched by busy casinos. Known as the “City of Discovery,” Ocean Springs was established as a French settlement in 1699.
A stroll through the downtown area clearly presents Ocean Springs as an active arts community where galleries and studios abound. The Walter Anderson Museum of Art, 510 Washington Ave., is a must-see on an Ocean Springs visit. Anderson, though born in New Orleans in 1903, has long been seen as a treasure belonging to Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.
The Gulf Hills Hotel and Resort on Fort Bayou in Biloxi, came into being in 1927 and remains today. Included among its visitors through the decades are Elvis Presley, who stayed there while touring the South in the ’50s; Judy Garland, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe.
Ocean Springs’ Visitor Center is located in the historic L&N Depot. And there’s Shearwater Pottery, founded in 1928 by Peter Anderson, the prolific potter and a brother to Walter, whose four children continue to oversee the production of Shearwater pottery.
In 2015, Ocean Springs was among the Top 10 Happiest Seaside Towns by Coastal Living magazine.
Restaurants to try:
-Pleasants BBQ, 1415 Government St. Established in 1982 by the late Mr. John A. Pleasant. Ribs, brisket, pulled pork and more.
-The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint, 7501 Highway 57. Barbecue on the bayou.
-Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant, 1217 Washington Ave. Catfish, shrimp, fried chicken since 1981, right on Fort Bayou.
-Tato-Nut, 1114 Government St. Home of “the only real donut” since 1960. Made with potato flour.