Al Capone, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Jayne Mansfield, and Marilyn Monroe are just a few of the rich and famous people who escaped the paparazzi (and the police) back in the 1950s and ’60s and found peace and relaxation in the small hamlet of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. They were very well-known but fortunate for them at the time; Ocean Springs was not. Coastal Mississippi still refers to its 62-mile stretch along the Gulf of Mexico as “The Secret Coast,” but savvy travelers discover its many attractions and spread the news.
Ocean Springs is one of the most laidback communities along the coast with its artsy vibe, walkable downtown, historical connections, and fantastic seafood. If the beach is your main reason for visiting, you will find a sandy, three-mile stretch from Front Beach to East Beach that is calm, great for swimming, and unhindered by high-rise condominiums.
Artists Find Inspiration Here
It is easy to see why Ocean Springs is a mecca for artists when you consider the region’s abundant natural beauty filled with lush vegetation and wildlife. A thriving art association provides support and encouragement, and an impressive number of galleries line the streets.
Mississippi’s longest mosaic mural is east of the Biloxi Bay Bridge beside the Yacht Club. It is 120 feet of intricate beauty. Another gem is Shearwater Pottery, which displays the work of the Anderson family. It was opened in 1928 by Peter Anderson and is a little off the beaten path but well worth finding.
My favorite is the Walter Anderson Museum of Art at 510 Washington Avenue. Peter of Shearwater Pottery was Walter’s brother. Walter’s mother was an artist who told her children, “If you surround yourself with beautiful things, you’ll have a beautiful life.” Walter took that to heart and spent his life creating art that surrounded him with beauty. He loved painting murals, and his gift to Ocean Springs is found inside the Ocean Spring Community Center.
The center is connected to the museum and is a must-see part of any tour. In addition to a pictorial representation of the history of Ocean Springs, you will find panels representing each planet of the solar system. If possible, take a tour led by Tony DiFatta. His stories of Walter Anderson’s life and work will mesmerize you for hours.
Shop and Cafe-Lined Downtown
Allow plenty of time to browse and shop along Government Street and Washington Avenue. As you walk past live oak trees, you will find more than 200 independently-owned businesses in this small town of fewer than 20,000 people. Shops such as Realizations, Hillyer House, Coastal Magpie, My Happy Place, and Ocean Springs Mercantile are sure to provide just the souvenirs or must-buy gifts and décor items. Head to Bright-Eyed Brew Company or French Kiss Pastries for a quick snack.
History Dating Back to 1699
While a fort was built in this vicinity as early as 1699, you can see the fort replica at Fort Maurepas Park, across from the beach. You will also find a statue of French explorer Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville. Those interested in World War II will want to schedule a tour of the G.I. Museum on Ritcher Road. Tours are given free of charge, but donations are welcome.
You can find a taste of nostalgia coupled with comfortable accommodations at Gulf Hills Hotel & Resort. The hotel is located where the rich and famous people mentioned earlier liked to play and hide out. It will be restored to its former glory over the coming months in stages. I would advise you to go now while the rates are affordable. The location, less than ten minutes from downtown Ocean Springs, is great.
Fresh Gulf Coast Seafood and Culinary Delights
I can personally vouch for Maison De Lu, The Lady May, Mosaic, and Blue Dog Bistro as restaurants to highly recommend. Maison De Lu has wonderful seafood and delectable white chocolate bread pudding. The Lady May, also on Washington Avenue, is excellent for a light lunch.
I can vouch for the Seared Tuna and the thick juicy burgers from Mosaic on Government Street. Mosaic offers live music every evening and has a large outdoor patio. Blue Dog Bistro caters to people with food allergies or dietary restrictions and is open for breakfast and lunch. The Banana Oat Pancakes and the Spinach Frittata were amazing.
Here is more info for where to eat in Coastal Mississippi.
Big City Life Nearby
Just a short drive from Ocean Springs across Biloxi Bay Bridge, you might decide to spend some time in a more heavily populated environment. Howard Avenue in Downtown Biloxi is undergoing revitalization with new public art and a great breakfast cafe called Greenhouse Biloxi.
For a feast for the eyes and a glimpse of the pageantry of Mardi Gras, step into the Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras Museum.
The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum contains a wealth of information about what makes the area so unique, and Shaggy’s Biloxi Beach is the perfect place to eat great seafood while watching the waves roll in.
Coastal Mississippi, and Ocean Springs, in particular, have the means to inspire, relax, revive, and refresh you. It is visually appealing, delicious, and fascinating. I am glad I had a chance to visit, and I hope to return soon.
This article was written by Connie Pearson of There Goes Connie.
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