BONJOUR WORLD: Discovering the Secret Coast
It is a secret that isn’t really a secret at all.
Known as the “Secret Coast,” this southern area of Mississippi includes 62 miles of coastline that touches the Gulf and winds into 13 coastal communities that offer exceptional charm.
Hitting the ground in Biloxi this past spring, I soon found that while it is called the Secret Coast, it extends well beyond the coastline and further inland. From a rich culture to activities and attractions that boast natural resources alongside art galleries, shopping, night life and a delicious cuisine, take a week or a weekend and start exploring.
Start in Biloxi located on what is called the Mississippi Sound. This is the coastal community that will draw you in to a smorgasbord of activities. From jet skiing for the active-oriented traveler to just dipping your toes in the sand on the beach, you will enjoy the easy-going charm.
Stop in at the Biloxi Visitors Center and learn about the history of the area in a 23,000-square-foot building where historic displays feature “We are Biloxi” as well as “Katrina and Biloxi.”
The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi reminds visitors of the history that is part of the Coastal Mississippi region. An in-depth look at everything from the early native settlement through the many immigrants who settled in this area beginning with the French in 1699, history is still alive and well. It won’t be hard to understand the reason this area is often known as a melting-pot of many faces.
The highlight of this museum without walls is the large schooner that welcomes visitors from all directions even before walking through the doors. Large floor to ceiling windows towering in the open lobby inside beckons visitors to experience what this coastal town represents.
It would not be a trip to Biloxi if you didn’t take an afternoon and head out on a shrimping excursion. The Biloxi Shrimping Trip has been around since the 1950s and you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about catching, cleaning and cooking shrimp while also being effectively entertained aboard this 16-foot trawl.
After a day spent in Biloxi, it’s time to enjoy some of what the smaller towns in the area have to offer, each one with its own unique vibe.
Ocean Springs’ Main Street has the appeal of a community on the coast with a warm, fuzzy feel. This is the primo spot for shopping in the area with over 200 independently owned shops and restaurants. It is the sort of place where a visitor can park the car and take a walk.
The Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs is certainly worth the stop. Known as WAMA, this artist’s stories and inspiration will continue to inspire your own creativity. While you might not know the man before you arrive, you won’t forget him after you leave. Ask to see Anderson’s secret sanctuary, The Little Room and get true insight into what made this eccentric artist the legend he is in the area even today.
Take a walk in Bay St. Louis, a seaside town that was named one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America.” It is a nod to the small beach town community that sets a place like this apart. Another walkable town, the old buildings and shops will keep you engaged as you discover the throwback charm.
Standing out in Bay St. Louis and a hidden gem is the 100 Men Hall. Outside the hall there are dozens of photo worthy moments with chimes tinkling in the trees. Inside, the real history comes alive. The 100 Men Hall D.B.A. was, and still is, the place where African American social life came alive in this area. The hall was built in 1922 by the One Hundred Members’ Debating Benevolent Association.
There are still live shows on the stage here and over the year’s names like Etta James, Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, Deacon John and so many more played to audiences young and old. Just about everyone in the area has a story about 100 Men Hall and these days you don’t even have to visit and attend a show in order to feel the community spirit embedded in the history.
Next stop, well, it received a nod as the “Hospitality City,” but that is just one of many standouts the coastal community of Waveland is about. Since there are no commercial buildings allowed on the beachfront, this pristine area is still a gentle reminder of what a beach town should represent. Whether you prefer fishing or just taking it easy in nature, Buccaneer State Park is a must stop with 343 acres that once belonged to Andrew Jackson. Nowadays, it is a 4.5-acre waterpark with camping, RVing and a 1.8-mile nature trail.
It would not be a trip to the area if you didn’t stop in at Fishbone Alley in Gulfport. Amazing walking options between 26 & 27th Avenues and 13th & 14th Streets, Fishbone Alley is known for its funky feel. Locals stop by on weekdays or weekends to imbibe and take advantage of the many restaurants and bars in the alley.
If you fancy street art the local artists keep the art rotating on a regular basis. Fishbone Alley was even coined one of the “8 amazing American streets you’ve never heard of,” but now you have. You will want to explore the charm that is part of what makes Gulfport so attractive with its Mississippi kind of appeal.
No matter what you are looking for on the Secret Coast of Mississippi, you will never be disappointed. Culture, nature, the beach and the water mean you will have the chance to experience a rich set of communities that are known for hospitality and some of the finest cuisine in the south.
YOU WON’T GO HUNGRY ON THE SECRET COAST
Drinks before dinner, that would be the Sky Bar at the Reef Biloxi, a snazzy little seafood stop with local options and a choice of 30 beers on tap. http://www.thereefbiloxi.com/
With a knack for real hometown food, White Pillars Restaurant at Beach Blvd. in Biloxi is all about local cuisine from Mississippi. Relaxed atmosphere with a southern charm will remind you it is the “Secret Coast” and you will savor every bite. http://biloxiwhitepillars.com/
If you want a whimsical breakfast, try this repurposed greenhouse on Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs appropriately called The Greenhouse. It is a meeting place not only in the mornings, but all day. Whether it’s coffee and biscuits or live entertainment you are after, the motto here is about bringing people together. Ask about the resident cat too! http://biscuitsprings.com/
Vestige, 715 Washington Avenue, Ocean Springs, boasts Chef Alex Perry. The chef is James Beard nominated and Vestige serves up delicious modern American cuisine that residents and guests alike enjoy. The atmosphere is chic casual, but the food is exceptional no matter what grabs your fancy on the menu. https://www.vestigerestaurant.com/
Bankhouse Coffee in Long Beach is part of Coast Roast Coffee & Tea, and for breakfast ask to see where your coffee came from before it arrived at the table. The smells of coffee and breakfast foods raft out of this 100-year-old roaster using small crop Arabica. If you’re a coffee junkie, ask the Coast Roast owner to give you a tour. https://www.thecoastroast.com/
Bay St. Louis’ Mockingbird Café on Second St. was built in 1868. In addition to tasty treats for lunch, the “rare three-sided gallery,” is a local hangout. The café came about after Hurricane Katrina because locals gravitated to this easy vibe amidst the destruction. The vibe stuck and the café became well-known throughout the coastal communities. https://www.mockingbirdcafe.com/
While in Fishbone Alley, stop in for some Mississippi BBQ at Murky Waters, where live music and patio dining make the atmosphere just right. https://www.murkywatersbbq.com/
RECOMMENDED PLACE TO LAY YOUR HEAD
The White House Hotel, 1230 Beach Blvd, Biloxi. Don’t miss this historic boutique hotel that sits across the street from the beach and has been a landmark in the area since the late 1800s. The hotel survived Hurricane Katrina and underwent a charming renovation in 2014. https://www.whitehousebiloxi.com/