Many people who travel to Biloxi and the Gulf Coast do so for one reason: Gambling. There are 11 casinos on the coast now, and counting—but like in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, staying indoors all day would be a shame with all there is to see and do in the area. When trying to figure things out, it’s best to look at the Gulf Coast towns and cities as parts of a whole, each contributing to the pot in their own important way.
Bay St. Louis / Waveland
One of the most tragic Katrina stories was the total obliteration of the waterfront in this charming weekenders paradise. With each passing year, the town heals a little bit more; there are now plenty of shops, galleries, restaurants and watering holes to justify a visit. Just up the road that runs along the Jourdan River is Kiln, a town that feels more like Mississippi than any other close to the coast; this is the hometown of none other than Brett Favre.
Pass Christian / Long Beach
Gulfport works, but Long Beach and its beachy neighbor, Pass Christian, prefer to relax. This is second home territory for generations of Louisiana families; before air conditioning, everyone who could decamped from New Orleans for the coast, in hopes of escaping various diseases and breathing a little fresh air. Long Beach, while battered, retained much of its downtown; smaller, quieter Pass Christian wasn’t so lucky—first-time visitor might wonder where exactly the downtown is supposed to be. Never mind—some great bars, cafes and one of the state’s best restaurants (Darwell’s) can be found down this way.
Neither man nor nature have been terribly kind to Biloxi. An elevated freeway was rammed through the downtown area so sun seekers might shave a couple minutes off the trip to the beach. Hurricanes like Katrina put the hurt on the city’s historic center (now sadly ghostlike) and the Point Cadet residential area (nearly all but wiped out). Biloxi just can’t seem to catch a break. Apart from some excellent bars and restaurants, along with the all-day, all-night scene inside the casino resorts, the city itself is currently a little light on things to see. A 12 foot-high memorial on the town green commemorates both Katrina and the height of the storm surge that inundated the coastline here.
Eat a banana lately? It probably came into the United States via the docks in this city of 70,000-plus. Gulfport takes its name from the expansive industrial waterfront that serves as an important cargo link to Latin America and beyond. The architecturally appealing but business-like downtown was hammered mercilessly in the 2005 storm; there’s been plenty of redevelopment, but the city is best visited for the outlet shops on the north end of town, as well as a handful of worthy restaurants.
Just across the sweeping new Highway 90 bridge from the Biloxi casinos lies this postcard-perfect Southern town, an artistically-inclined coastal cousin to bookish Oxford in the northern part of the state. Ocean Springs sustained wounds from Katrina, but hides them well; the downtown here is one of Mississippi’s most pleasant walkways—everything from surf shops to art galleries to high-end restaurants and casual cafes which draw in adoring fans. Who wouldn’t dream of coming to the Coast without putting in some time here? Follow their lead.