I have a secret. I’m not much of a beach person. I love the sand, the sun and occasionally the refreshing waters but for the most part I’m not one to rush into the waves of a sloping water source, not knowing what lies beneath.
Call me paranoid or a scaredy cat but I prefer the peaceful ambiance of coastal towns, dining on fresh seafood, visiting interesting places, and hikingthe beach searching for shore birds and treasures washed up from faraway places. So, when the waters along the Mississippi Coast closed due to an algae bloom from too much fresh water being diverted from the flooded Mississippi River around New Orleans, I wasn’t deterred. In fact, having the Mississippi Coast without crowds sounded like a dream come true.
So, if you’re on the fence about visiting what tourism officials are now labeling “The Secret Coast,” don’t change those vacation plans. There’s so much to see and do along the Mississippi Coast, 12 charming historic towns fronting the Gulf of Mexico. We’re talking great entertainment, Minor League baseball, casinos, world-class museums and restaurants serving up fabulous seafood. And, if you must get in the water, you can always boat out to Ship Island, a barrier island that’s an hour boat ride away, where cool, blue waters lie, or enjoy a sunset cruise on a wooden Biloxi schooner or kayak on the back marshes.
Discover 62 Miles of The Secret Coast
Here are some suggestions on what to see and do along the 62 miles of The Secret Coast, great times that doesn’t necessarily involve a beach. A couple of things to note: the 26 miles of manmade Mississippi beaches are open to walking and beachcombing and birders will cherish the wildlife that make their home on some of the protected stretches. Some beaches are closed for swimming; check Gulfcoast Org for up-to-date information.
Bay St. Louis
This quaint town owns a vibrant arts scene that’s become so hot, Yahoo named it “the Best Hidden Gem Destination in Mississippi.” The small historic downtown features boutique shopping, antique stores and art galleries and the Second Saturday Artwalk runs the gamut of themes, including the popular Frida Fest, an homage to Mexican artist Frida Khalo that happens in July.
Stay at any number of B&Bs in town, including Bay Town Inn that’s conveniently located on the bay and in the heart of town. The property contains 10 king suites and two larger accommodations perfect for family reunions, each with a stocked kitchen, sitting area and décor featuring local artists. Dogs under 25 pounds are welcome too.
There’s plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from, but don’t miss Starfish Café, run by the PNEUMA-Winds of Hope organization that trains adults in the culinary arts and life skills. Enjoy unique meals where diners pay what they can. For breakfast, check out the craft coffees and creative egg dishes at the Mockingbird Café, including their Deep South biscuits with pear butter.
Pass Christian (pronounced Pass Chris-tee-ann) is home to two boutique hotels, one delightful coffee shop-bookstore, unique historical buildings, a bed and breakfast with mob connections and famous actress-comedian-writer Tig Notaro and “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts.
If you want to park your car and relax, choose either Hotel Whiskey or Hotel Pass Christian and walk to the town’s delightful restaurants, boutiques and Pass Christian Books where locally produced Cat Island cookies and crackers are served, as well as delicious café items. The town also offers two great parks – the Ricky Levy West Harbor Park at Pass Christian Municipal Harbor and War Memorial Park with its gazebos and fitness paths. A walk down Scenic Drive offers one historic home after another, plus St. Paul Catholic Church with its elaborate Our Lady of Guadalupe statue on the front lawn.
Numerous artists call Ocean Springs home and art lovers should not miss the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, highlighting the 20th century artist who lived and worked in Ocean Springs, along with his family’s pottery shop, Shearwater.
We recommend The Inn at Ocean Springs, located right on the main drag, for those who want to be at the heart of the action and The Roost for those who desire more peace and quiet, although the latter boutique hotel’s Wilbur bar is a happening place. Both accommodations offer luxurious guest rooms with outdoor spaces.
The restaurant scene continues to evolve in Ocean Springs as well. Chef Alex Perry was recently nominated as one of the James Beard 2019 semifinalists in Best Chef: South Category.
Like Pass Christian, Long Beach’s downtown makes up only a handful of blocks but what’s there is choice, including Bankhouse Coffee, located in a bank building dating back to 1917. Much of the interior is original, so visitors may sit and enjoy the unique ambiance while drinking Coast Roast coffees that are ground and roasted on property. The coffee has become so sought-after that it’s served in many coastal restaurants with 50 percent heading to New Orleans and its dining scene.
Gulfport & Biloxi
Land lovers will enjoy the many museums of Biloxi, including the Ohr-Okeefe Museum of Art, a Frank Gehry architectural wonder that contains the unique art pieces of George Ohr, known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi;” the interactive Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum; and Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Sports enthusiasts may catch a Minor League Biloxi Shuckers game at the MGM Park, across from the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino which features top-notch entertainment monthly.
But for those who must have beach action, take a boat ride to Ship Island aboard Ship Island Excursions, leaving from both Gulfport docks and Biloxi. The barrier island remains part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore so beaches and surrounding lands are protected and you’re far enough into the Gulf of Mexico that the waters are cool and unfettered. Be sure and stop at Fort Massachusetts, a fortification dating back to 1868.
Pascagoula is the last town on the Mississippi Coast before you hit Alabama and the quiet town is home to a naval yard and ship building. Industry aside, Pascagoula offers great opportunities to get out in nature, from paddling the Pascagoula River, the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, to learning about coastal plants and wildlife at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. Birders should stop at the Magnolia Birding Pier to catch a glimpse of shore birds and migratory songbirds.
There’s plenty of history here too, including La Point Krebs House dating to 1757 and arguably the oldest structure in the Mississippi Valley and the Pascagoula Round Island Lighthouse, built in 1859, rescued and relocated to mainland Pascagoula where visitors may enjoy it on weekends.
Stay at the Grand Magnolia Ballroom and Suites and enjoy a drink on a veranda rocking chair. We stayed in the home’s Key West Suite with its nautical décor, relaxing in an oversized chair with a good book.
For a complete list of events, attractions, promotions, and experiences, plus to check on beach updates, visit Coastal Mississippi.
This article was written by Cheré Coen. Read more of her posts: