They may not claim a large amount of Gulf shoreline, but Mississippi’s oceanfront towns really know how to celebrate it.
By James and Dorothy Richardson
The Mississippi Gulf Coast may be short in distance, but it is long in activities for the visitor lucky enough to discover that small section of oceanfront property. Mississippi packs plenty into a small stretch of land. Excellent beaches are open for enjoyment during the daylight hours, and glittering casinos entice visitors to take a chance in the evening. An assortment of restaurants, shopping establishments, and historical sites also are scattered throughout the area.
Between Waveland to the west and Moss Point to the east, Mississippi boasts 26 miles of oceanfront property. If you’re traveling from the west, the most expedient way to get to the Mississippi Gulf Coast is to leave Interstate 10 just after entering Mississippi from Louisiana. Take exit 2 along I-10 and stop at the welcome center to pick up information about activities and attractions. Follow the signs to U.S. 90, the coastal highway that connects Waveland to Pascagoula.
Most of the tourist activity takes place in Gulfport and Biloxi. However, the first sign of coastline appears after travelers cross the bay bridge from Bay St. Louis and enter the town of Pass Christian.
Pass Christian is a neat place. As U.S. 90 passes through the town, it separates the beach and coastal attractions from a long line of exclusive, stately residences and historical buildings. The town takes its name from an offshore channel (or pass) called Christian’s Pass, named for Lieutenant Christian L’Adnier, who served under explorer Pierre le Moyne d’lberville. Although you wouldn’t know it now, the downtown area was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969.
A visit to Pass Christian is not complete without a meal at the Harbor View Café, on Beach Boulevard (U.S. 90 West). Do not judge the restaurant by its rather plain outside appearance — the food is great. The eatery is open every day but Tuesday. Across the highway from the restaurant is a picturesque marina that was the site of the South’s first yacht club, established in 1849.
The long, scenic beachfront of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is commonly associated with Gulfport and Biloxi. The two towns are so close that the same welcome sign announces your arrival into Biloxi on one side and into Gulfport on the other.
Visitors come to Gulfport mostly for the fun-in-the-sun atmosphere amidst white-sand beaches adorned with colorful umbrellas and lounge chairs. In the background of almost every beach scene is a tall, colorful casino offering plenty to do, especially when the sun sets. Twelve casinos rim the Mississippi Gulf Coast: one in Bay St. Louis, two in Gulfport, and the other nine in Biloxi. Even if you’re not a gambler, you’ll find other things to do, such as dining at the casino’s excellent restaurants and enjoying popular live entertainment. Playing on the beach, shopping, and visiting historical spots also keep everyone occupied.
Some of Gulfport’s other non-casino highlights include fishing and boating opportunities. Fishing is good along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and several deep-sea fishing and sight-seeing charters operate from the Gulfport Marina.
From Gulfport, you can take a boat out to Ship Island to see Fort Massachusetts. The fort, completed in 1866, was never fully armed, and was eventually abandoned in 1900. But the site was of strategic importance many years ago. In December 1814, 10,000 British soldiers landed there before attacking New Orleans. The young United States learned the hard way that it was vulnerable to invasion, and began building brick forts for coastal defense — Fort Massachusetts among them. The cruise from Gulfport to West Ship Island is educational and scenic.
Ship Island was one continuous piece of land until Hurricane Camille blew through in 1969 and cut the island in two. East and West Ship islands are two of several barrier islands that form the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS). Portions of GINS can be visited near Ocean Springs, too, as well as the coast of Florida.
While you’re at West Ship Island, look for the Ship Island Lighthouse “” it’s a modern replica of one built there in 1886.
The Ship Island Excursions ferry company may be contacted at (866) 466-7386 or at www.msshipisland.com.
Another attraction in Gulfport is the Marine Life Oceanarium. There, you can enjoy shows put on by Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, learn about marine life through interactive exhibits, and take a train tour of the harbor area. The Oceanarium is open daily; phone (228) 864-2511 or visit www.dolphinsrus.com for more information.
Nine casinos dominate the entertainment scene in Biloxi. However, as in Gulfport, other activities are available. Fishing boats and sight-seeing charters depart from the marinas along the waterfront. One popular cruise takes passengers out on the Sailfish shrimp boat and lets them observe as it carries out its daily routine, netting not only shrimp but squid, crab, stingray, flounder, and other creatures. (Phone 800-289-7908 or visit www.gcww.com/sailfish.)
Beauvoir, the plantation where Confederate president Jefferson Davis lived the final 12 years of his life, is located on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. Visitors tour the grand estate, which includes a beautiful presidential library, a museum, and Davis’ home. For more information, phone (800) 570-3818 or visit www.beauvoir.org.
The Biloxi Lighthouse is a central attraction — and it’s hard to miss. It literally sits in the middle of U.S. 90. Erected in 1848, the lighthouse is one of the first made from cast iron and is located in front of the Biloxi Marina and the town’s visitors center.
From the Biloxi visitors center, you can start the Biloxi Historical Walking Tour, a self-guided trek that leads past such establishments as the Magnolia Hotel (which houses the Biloxi Mardi Gras Museum); Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant; and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which is inside a contemporary building designed by Frank O. Gehry.
The museum contains the work of George E. Ohr (1857-1918), a man who made art pottery and is believed to have been one of America’s first abstract artists. His works are displayed in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Los Angeles County Museum. The museum is currently on G.E. Ohr Street; a new facility is scheduled to open in 2005 along Beach Boulevard. Phone (228) 374-5547 or visit www.georgeohr.org for more information.
What’s Going On?
A major event or activity can be found on the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s calendar almost every month of the year. For example, Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades and balls, with more festivities occurring as “Fat Tuesday” (February 25, 2004) draws nearer.
In March, the Gulf Coast Garden Club presents the annual Gulf Coast Pilgrimage, a tour of historic homes. The Country Cajun Crawfish Festival takes place in Biloxi in April. The Great Biloxi Schooner Races and the Biloxi Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet occur in May, as does the Pass Christian Tour of Homes.
June’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, a sport fishing tournament for deep-sea anglers, and the Mississippi Coast Coliseum Summer Fair & Music Festival are not to be missed. Like crab? In July you’ll be able to eat your way through the Crab Festival in Bay St. Louis. Late summer ushers in September’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Blues Festival, as well as the Biloxi Seafood Festival.
Each October, the George E. Ohr Fall Festival of the Arts is held in Biloxi, as is the annual Cruisin’ the Coast, a classic car show. Also in October is the Fall Muster, a re-creation of Confederate times with a military camp, battle re-enactments, a camp village, and much more, all on the grounds of Beauvoir.
These and many other events take place throughout the year. Check with the Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau for a complete calendar.
And no matter when you visit, be sure to stop for a long while on Mississippi’s “short” coast.
Biloxi Visitors Center
710 Beach Blvd.
Biloxi, MS 39530
Approximately 20 campgrounds are in the immediate Biloxi-Gulfport area. Check your campground directory or area tourism bureaus for more information. Gulf Coast FMCA member campgrounds are listed below. A list of additional campgrounds along the Gulf Coast is available online at www.gulfcoast.org/stay/campgrounds.html.
Baywood Campground Inc., C2478
1100 Cowan Road
Gulfport, MS 39507
Casino Magic BSL, C8997
711 Casino Magic Drive
Bay St. Louis, MS 39571
Fox RV Park & Complex, C6778
190-B Beauvoir Road
Biloxi, MS 39531