Along 42 Miles of Sandy White Beach, Coastal Mississippi is Full of Fun Discoveries
By Max Hartshorne
Last week, we spent time in a part of the world that I bet few of my Massachusetts neighbors have seen: Mississippi’s beautiful white sand coast.
The area between Waveland and Pascagoula, MS, is famous for many things, including 26 contiguous miles of beach, fancy big-name casinos, fun small towns with one-story homes, unique boutiques, and funky dives.
The most significant towns here are Gulfport and Biloxi, with Ocean Springs, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Long Beach, and some smaller towns comprising the remaining 62-mile-long Gulf coast.
I travel about once a month, but this domestic trip was a massive bonus. I brought along my 39-year-old son, Sam, to take in the sights and act as my navigator on the trip.
Spending five days together, sharing the drives, the meals, and the activities, made this trip special to me. I think I talked with Sam more than I’ve ever spoken with him in the past ten years. I feel your pain, people who only see their adult children a few times a year.
BDL to Gulfport
We flew into Gulfport, on the Mississippi Gulf coast. The city has a population of about 77,000, and the airport is a breeze, even easier to get in and out of than my beloved home airport, BDL.
Soon, we were driving our rental car into the driveway of one of the funkiest little eateries I’ve ever seen, called Huck’s Cove.
New Englanders can’t imagine a place like this, with its worn, ramshackle exteriors, many crazy signs and banners, and behind the sprawling shack, the bayou with docks for boaters to come and dine.
The food was not memorable, but the atmosphere sure was! Signs on the pier reminded us there is a $2000 fine for feeding the wild alligators.
Next, we’d get a chance to get a little closer to these giant reptiles when we met up with a man driving an airboat, just like in the old 1960s ‘Flipper’ TV series.
Soon, we were zipping over water and grass into a narrow channel of the bayou. Our driver told us that the water was shallow because the region had had about one-third as much rain as usual this summer, which exposed the cypress trees’ roots far more than in other years.
We learned that the outfit that offers these airboat tours, Gulf Coast Gator Ranch and Tours, also has a congregation of about 250 alligators, most of whom have names and distinct personalities.
On our visit, the alligators had just eaten their weekly dinner, so nearly every one was asleep in the mud when we walked by them on a walkway above the water.
Wonderful Ocean Springs
Our accommodations for the first few nights were in the charming little town of Ocean Springs, population 18,000, famous for sprawling live oak with Spanish moss hanging down, and little houses and not nearly the number of chain restaurants you’d expect.
No, here it’s mom and pops all the way. Strong coffee from a tiny cafe called Bright Eyed Coffee, run by Ryan Reaux, was an eye-opening treat before we enjoyed breakfast at Buzzy’s Breakfast Downtown.
One of my favorite things about the Deep South are grits and biscuits… we enjoyed plenty of them here and throughout our five-day trip, as well as plenty of seafood in many forms.
We stayed at two hotels without a check-in desk, lobby, or any staff on the premises. They sent us the key code, and we checked into both the Beatnik Hotel in Ocean Springs and Hotel Whiskey in Pass Christian without meeting a soul.
These days, forget about having your bed made or assistance in person; this is how so many of the hotels I stay in these days operate.
Amtrak Bringing Back Gulf Coast Train Service
The people in Coastal Mississippi are excited about the revival of passenger rail service from Amtrak.
Starting next year, barring any more complications, the new Mardi Gras Service route will operate from New Orleans to Memphis; the tracks run beside Rte 90 along the Gulf, providing service to Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula.
This will mean residents here can take a train and, in 58 minutes, be in the Big Easy. It’s a train with a helluva ocean view!
The biggest catch on the coast here is Gulf shrimp. Locals say these are sweeter because they are harvested from saltwater, unlike much of the shrimp in the rest of the world grown in freshwater tanks.
We discovered all the details about how shrimp are caught and harvested when we joined Captain Michael Moore on a Biloxi Shrimping Trip, trawling just a few hundred yards off the coast.
We watched as the long net was put into the water, forced to drag the bottom by two steel plates. They brought the catch up and filled a little aquarium with what they took out of the net, tiny squid, whole shrimp ( including their long tails), and some small fish.
They took each one out and gave us the details of how they live and what they eat. It was fascinating, and the two men cracked many jokes while educating us about the shrimp business.
Moore’s side project is also interesting…he’s raising baby oysters in a series of tanks so they can be grown in the waters of the Gulf.
Walter Anderson Museum
Later that day, it was time for a bit of culture, and for this, we drove back to Ocean Springs to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.
Anderson, who lived from 1903-1965, was a fascinating artist; he painted pottery, spent much of his time painting alone on the barrier islands off the coast, and was a prolific artist.
His style of folk art is captivating, and his work with his brothers who ran Shearwater Pottery is also outstanding.
The Anderson Museum also has a room that resembles the late artist’s studio, including paint-crusted walls.
Cruisin’ with 10,000 Cars
Coastal Mississippi has an impressive event that brings over 10,000 classic cars to the region every October.
It’s called Cruisin’ the Coast, one of the most significant car events of its kind, and it has been growing impressively since it first began 29 years ago. Woody Bailey Jr. is a lifelong resident here and is the man behind this impressive event.
The rule is that the classic cars must be 1989 or older, and the car owners travel all around the coast, making stops and getting stamps in their Cruisin’ the Coast passports to win prizes and show off their beloved vehicles.
I met Woody at the bar of a beautiful old-time restaurant in Gulfport, the Half Shell Oyster House, and the first thing I did was order a dozen raw ones to slurp down. There is no seafood quite as satisfying as a freshly shucked oyster!
There is so much more to do down here! We found the perfect rainy day to hang out when we visited an awe-inspiring attraction that just opened in June.
This is the brainchild of two brothers who built dozens of Mississippi’s Domino’s Pizza shops, and Glenn and Richard Mueller’s childhood love was model trains.
TrainTastic in Gulfport
So they built TrainTastic in a massive building in Gulfport to house one of the world’s most extensive setups of model trains, from size G scale down to the tiny N Scale trains.
The fun aspect of this massive train layout is that it’s modeled precisely like the coast of Mississippi, with every store, park, and landmark faithfully included.
Visitors push green buttons along the track to make little men lift miniature weights in a gym, and bicycles spin around a park. It’s charming, and it goes on forever.
Outside the buildings is a train big enough for kids to ride, and there is even a room here where kids can put together their own model train layouts using stacks of track, locomotives, and freight cars.
There is more, so much more to see and enjoy here. From a new Mississippi Aviation Museum to a Marine Mammal Rescue Center where you can touch dolphins and sea lions…and historic sites like the former home of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, called Beauvoir.
Its slogan used to be ‘the Secret Coast. It’s no wonder that 14 million visitors enjoy this coast throughout the year–and now you know about it, too.
Coastal Mississippi websites
Find out more about the secret coast of Coastal Mississippi at www.coastalmississippi.com
The author’s visit to Coastal Mississippi was sponsored, but the opionions are his own.