Fifteen minutes into our drive through Coastal Mississippi, the sun loses its grip on the sky erupting in a blaze of citrus shades fanning out from the centre. We couldn’t have timed the sunset better if we’d planned it.
Discovering the Secret Coast
Coastal Mississippi is sandwiched right in the middle of our 12-day girl’s trip through the Gulf Coast. Our hosted girl’s getaway began in New Orleans with a stay in the French Quarter, then we dipped over to Louisiana Northshore before arriving in Coastal Mississippi. Our final two stops were Mobile, Alabama and Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Today we woke in Northshore Louisiana, had breakfast and when we finished up there, we hopped into the car again and headed towards Mississippi, which was a short 50 minutes away.
So What is the Big Secret to the Secret Coast?
A completely new destination for me, Coastal Mississippi sounded charming, but was it family friendly? Would it be romantic? Expensive? What exactly was the secret anyways?
Three Coastal Counties
Coastal Mississippi is made up of three coastal counties including Jackson, Harrison and Hancock. Twelve cities make up these three coastal counties. A brilliant 62 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, Coastal Mississippi is lit with burning orange gold sunrises and sunsets overlooking the Mississippi Sound.
History of the Area
An unassuming, quiet place with a bit of a hidden sordid history, Coastal Mississippi has a curious past. For a time, in the 1920s, Al Capone had a home in Coastal Mississippi’s Ocean Springs area. It was sort of his hideout. This area was also Elvis’s playground in the 1950s.
People often came to the area for the gambling, but it was not yet legal so they were shipped out to Isle of Caprice Island which was a barrier island built into a resort that was once known as the Monte Carlo of the South. Jane Mansfield, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe were just a couple of celebrities who frequently came to the coast. The island itself no longer exists, first hit hard by the Depression and then destroyed by a hurricane, now sunken beneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Several hurricanes over the years have devastated the Coastal Mississippi area and yet the communities along the coast are also filled with stories of resilience.
What to Do in Coastal Mississippi
The Angel Tree
Not far from the downtown Bay St Louis shops, is the Angel Tree right on the beach. This powerful sculpture is a symbol of survival, and while many trees and lives were lost during Hurricane Katrina, this oak tree saved three humans and one dog. In 2005, the eye of Katrina passed over Bay St. Louis. Nearby, three people and a dog were inside an inn when the hurricane hit. When the building was washed out, they climbed an oak tree and clung to it for hours.
Museums, Sunsets and Southern Food
More complex than many realize, Coastal Mississippi keeps its secrets close to its chest. There are many reasons to visit. For instance, did you know that Coastal Mississippi is home to the Infinity Science Centre and boasts numerous art and science museums?
My Secret Coast Museums
Interestingly, madness is a theme reflected in area art and throughout the museums of the secret coast.
Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi (OOMA) is well worth visiting when in Coastal Mississippi. George Ohr was known as the mad potter of Biloxi defying aesthetic traditions of the medium during the 19th century. His body of work was ceramic art and it was rediscovered and celebrated during the 1960s. Ohr lived until 1918.
Head up to the third floor balcony of the museum and take some photos of the campus, which by the way is fully accessible, and was designed by renowned artist and architect Frank Gehry in tribute to Ohr. This museum itself is small, volunteers are friendly and exhibits are contained, so it won’t take too much time to explore.
The Two African American Exhibits at OOMA
Don’t miss the reconstructed home of Pleasant Reed, an emancipated craftsman. The exhibit inside is powerful and moving. Inside the Beau Rivage Gallery of African American Art, the exhibit Passing by Adrienne Brown-David tells the story of childhood and growth as a series of works featuring young African American women. The installation ended in late November.
Walter Anderson Museum of Art
In walking distance of The Roost, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art is guaranteed to surprise you. The quirky artist struggled with mental illness for much of his life and his pieces chronicle stages throughout a life where mental illness and art battled for control.
Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
Our final museum during our two day visit, was the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, which was well done, spanning three floors of exhibits and also touching on famous weather related tragedies and the impact on the area and industry in Coastal Mississippi.
Looking for a family friendly and educational excursion? Try a shrimp boat excursion. I was shocked at how much we learned on our shrimp boat tour. When I heard we were going shrimping I was pretty excited to see what that looked like. The Biloxi Shrimping Trip was educational and fun. As a diehard shrimp lover, I was all about learning more.
Pascagoula River Audubon Center
Explore nature and bayou habitats at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. In 1974, more than 35,000 acres of land was preserved for the public. This landmark purchase has now grown to 70,000 acres.
Where to Eat in Coastal Mississippi
All along the secret coast, southern foods continue to make a dramatic impression. Fresh biscuits, seafood and colourful combinations of ingredients are eclectic often leaving a lingering spicy finish you simply can’t shake.
Creative, Fresh, Fare
Culinary influence from around the globe can be found here, inspired by a rich almost endless bounty of seafood and fresh, local ingredients. Southern tradition, coupled with a willingness to experiment, breeds new creative takes on food and flavours. In fact, if you love fresh crab there are several places where you can basically buy all you can eat crab legs.
Lunch at Mockingbird Café
Where can you find breakfast burritos, great sandwiches and chicken and waffles in Coastal Mississippi? The Mockingbird Café had some of the prettiest coffees and lattes we found on our hosted multi-state media tour through the Gulf Coast, along with specialty sandwiches, the kind that fill you up for the entire day. Try the Scout or the BLT. With creative aiolis and fresh ingredients, these sandwiches are a fun southern twist on lunch and brunch fare.
Dinner in Biloxi
On our first full night in Coastal Mississippi we had dinner at Patio 44 Biloxi. After sampling savoury appetizers like pea sauté, crab cakes and blue crab fondue, we tucked into some scrumptious entrees before retiring for the night.
Travel Tip: Try the pea sauté appetizer. It was a shocking surprise dish that I couldn’t stop eating.
In keeping with the shrimping and seafood theme, I stuck to sampling all the seafood at every single restaurant in the Gulf Coast and particularly along my secret coast.
Shrimp and crab cakes in Coastal Mississippi were consistently good at all of the restaurants. Dinner at Vestige was a highlight for me and their crab cakes were sublime. Open Tuesday through Saturday, this is one restaurant you should make reservations at now. It would be the perfect romantic dinner if traveling as a couple.
What could be better than a quirky breakfast in a greenhouse turned restaurant, dubbed The Greenhouse, where a biscuit contest was underway for the entire month prior. Those biscuits were revolutionary. If ever in the area, head straight to The Greenhouse one morning for breakfast.
Where to Stay in Coastal Mississippi
Unexpected. Romantic. Quietly charming. Ocean Springs has all the makings for a spectacular romantic getaway. From the moment we arrived at The Roost Ocean Springs, we were charmed. There’s simply no other way to describe experiencing Ocean Springs and The Roost too.
Rule at The Roost
The boutique Ocean Springs Hotel is exquisitely decorated featuring shiplap accents, distressed wood that pulls fiercely from the natural beach surroundings and shades fond outside along the coastline. The Roost Ocean Springs sits tucked away just around a bend beyond the causeway and the bright, busy, strip of casinos.
With king sized beds, kitchenettes and walk in glass showers, the rooms at The Roost are well appointed. I stayed in the Fern suite for two nights which opened out onto the back courtyard.
The Wilbur Bar at The Roost was named most beautifully designed bar in Mississippi by Architectural Digest. There’s a sweet little speak easy style bar behind a wall. Try the appetizer charcuterie board and some wine. Looking for lunch, tuck in at Eat Drink Love. Even The Roost gift shop in the lobby is on trend with the right mix of needs and wants. Pick up a new set of sunglasses or some quirky hanging air plants – wish that I could have brought those home, but I’d never get them across the border.
The Roost has spectacular TV options to unwind with in the evening. With HBO, a Roku, and more channels than I’ve ever had at home, it was luxurious and, coupled with the quiet location, just enough to make me want to return for more.
Fanning Out From The Roost
Walk to the beach every morning for a stroll on the pier. Leave your car at The Roost if you are staying there and saunter through Ocean Springs for the shopping and the food.
Miles of Peaceful Coastline
Here in Ocean Springs you will find miles of exquisite coastline, the kind that’s not crowded by tourists, but quietly boasts peaceful joggers at sunrise and the occasional tourist strolling along a pier snapping photos. It’s no wonder they call in My Secret Coast.
No Wonder It’s the Secret Coast
The pace, the food, remarkable sunsets and the quiet charm of the shops and restaurants all along the coast are all gorgeous reasons to vacation here.
I thoroughly enjoyed Coastal Mississippi as a stop on our girl’s getaway, and adored The Roost. Make the Secret Coast the setting of a fun family adventure, or the perfect romantic interlude. Another time, I’d take my husband for a few days to stay at a casino resort nearby and then a further 3-4 days at The Roost and Ocean Springs.