AOL PICK from our Editors
You don’t so much come here to do things, as you come to not do things. To call Biloxi and the Gulf Coast sleepy is an understatement. Outside the all-day, all-night casino resorts, this place often feels as if it’s in a coma. Slow down, relax, enjoy.
The #1 thing to do here is go to the beach, and while the white sands along Highway 90 are certainly impressive, things are even better out in the gorgeous Gulf Islands National Seashore barrier islands, just a few miles offshore. The most popular spot—Ship Island—is accessed via regular ferry service from the Gulfport waterfront. Here you’ll find lovely beaches (think white sands, aquamarine waters) and the ruins of Fort Massachusetts, which was built in 1858 and used in the invasion of New Orleans during the Civil War. The cruise takes about an hour each way; look for dolphins as you go.
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Neighborhood: Ocean Springs
Golfing is big business along the coast, with much of it reserved exclusively for members or guests of top resorts. The Preserve, a challenging 18-holer just a few minutes north of Ocean Springs, was rated one of Golf Week’s best courses open to the public last year. Set among the pines and designed to be eco-sensitive, it makes for a good day trip. There’s a beautifully designed clubhouse, containing an all-day restaurant, Sweetbay. They serve cinnamon rolls the size of your head at breakfast and solid choices like a Texas brisket sandwich at lunch. Rates are reasonable, particularly in summer.
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Neighborhood: Bay St. Louis / Waveland
As the closest actual coastal town to New Orleans, sleepy Bay St. Louis has a shared history with the city that goes back centuries. Broken but not unbowed by Hurricane Katrina, which literally wiped out the town’s waterfront, the slowly rebuilding downtown is the best place to be on the second Saturday of each month, when galleries, shops and restaurants stay open until 8PM (hey, that’s late for around here), drawing in crowds of locals and weekenders for art, food, music and plenty of drink.
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Biloxi may appear to be all about gaming these days, but what it’s really about is fishing- Lots and lots of commercial fishing. Biloxi’s Maritime and Seafood Museum, located along Beach Boulevard, was, like so many things, destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Today, it operates a temporary facility and gift shop in the Edgewater Mall, here in town. Want to get out on the water and actually see how shrimping is done? The captain and crew of the Sailfish run 70 minute tours that take you through the process. You’ll also get plenty of local history and lore, along with a chance to get out on the water, all for a reasonable $15 for adults and $10 for kids. The tour leaves from the foot of Main Street in Biloxi, near the Beau Rivage. Call ahead for times.
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Learn about the city’s rich history—and see the damage wrought by Katrina—on this 90-minute ride (via a small, open-air “train”) through the slowly rebuilding town center. Highlights include the historic Saenger Theater which opened in 1930. Tours depart from the Biloxi Lighthouse. Fair warning—the downtown is not currently a terrifically dynamic place; this is more a way to gain a sense of your surroundings (and a sense of Biloxi’s past and future potential) than an exciting city tour.
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Neighborhood: Bay St. Louis / Waveland
Things may appear busy along the coast, but drive up into the pine forests north of Interstate 10 and you’ll see Southern Mississippi’s pretty quiet. Hidden among the trees not far from Bay St. Louis is this gigantic NASA-run rocket propulsion test lab; kids absolutely love visiting StennisSphere, the center’s visitors center, where you can practice landing the space shuttle. The center also operates summer camps ranging from one-day immersions to week-long sessions.
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Just north of Gulfport, this popular 18-acre park features a 12,000 wave pool, a lazy river ride, a 500-foot water coaster and plenty of slides to suit all levels. Day tickets aren’t expensive, but a season pass—currently sold for $39.99—is a far better value; two visits and it has already paid for itself. Parking is free; late-day tickets are sold.
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The Coast is considered a hub of creative life in the state of Mississippi; you can’t speak of its artistic heritage without talking about ceramics, and you can’t talk ceramics without talking about George E. Ohr, otherwise known as The Mad Potter of Biloxi. His wild creations, which went against the grain back in the late 19th century, are now celebrated throughout the art world, and can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, among other places. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum itself has had quite a history—most recently, construction on a new, Frank Gehry-designed home along US Highway 90 which was halted after a casino barge landed on it during Hurricane Katrina. All that’s fixed now; the new museum opens in late 2010. It will be part of an ambitious project that includes a ceramics school and a regional welcome center. Currently, only an information center is open to visitors. The museum campus is a pleasant, short walk from the majority of the Biloxi casinos.
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The simply elegant retirement home and presidential library of Confederate President Jefferson Davis wasn’t his, originally; Davis was a one-time guest at this peaceful estate on the western edge of Biloxi. He liked it so much, he bought it in 1879 for just a few thousand dollars. The National Historic Site has been open to the public as a museum for years; the arrival in Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 nearly put an end to all that. The home was badly damaged; the collections are about 40 percent smaller than they were. (The presidential library was destroyed, and later torn down.) Good news, though; renovations on the home were successful, and it was able to reopen in 2008 on Davis’ 200th birthday. A new presidential library follows next year.
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Neighborhood: Ocean Springs
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If George Ohr was the Mad Potter, Walter Inglis Anderson, a New Orleans native, was the Coast’s Mad Artist. A fascinating character, Anderson studied at the Parsons Institute of Design in New York and Philadelphia’s Academy of Fine Arts before settling in Mississippi, where his brother Peter had founded Ocean Springs’ famous Shearwater Pottery. Depression plagued Anderson, and mental illness eventually overwhelmed him; the latter part of his life was spent primitively and in utter isolation on Horn Island, a 12 mile boat ride from his cottage on the Shearwater campus. Get a glimpse into Anderson’s amazing mind—he’s one of the South’s most impressive 20th century painters—at this fascinating museum.
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