Memories from a trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast linger long after you return home. The Gulf Coast region is a showcase for Southern hospitality, coastal culinary delights, and family-friendly outdoor fun.
It is worth noting that this region of Mississippi – located about an hour from New Orleans – was decimated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Flooding and storms destroyed businesses, homes, historic buildings and the coast’s former way of life. However, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is rising above and beyond the destruction with a fervent passion and conscientious plan to recover the area’s rich history and its potential as a Gulf Coast tourism escape.
Memories from our family trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast still linger – and we can’t wait to go back. Here are some of our recommendations for your family visit.
Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center
The Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center in Ocean Springs, Miss., is a relaxing home base for family excursions along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Accommodations at this historic boutique hotel, which dates back to 1927, are luxurious and harken back to the days when American legends such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland graced the hotel grounds.
Located along the Old Fort Bayou, this 52-room hotel (a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence hotel) includes an 18-hole championship golf course. We were treated to a stay in the Love Me Tender, Love Me Suite, a 2,000 square-foot suite designed as a special tribute to the King of Rock and Roll, who frequented the facility during the summers of 1951 to 1957. Our stay was a home-away-from-home treat for our family as we launched out to explore the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
While in Ocean Springs, enjoy a dining experience at The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint, a wooden maze of a structure that serves up some of the best barbecue on the bayou. This casual and eclectic joint offers up good food in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Pascagoula River Boat Excursion
The Pascagoula River is one of the largest free-flowing rivers in the United States. Surrounded by 70,000 acres of preserved land, this waterway is an authentic escape to the wild. You can access the Pascagoula River from the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Miss. There, you can take a boat tour with McCoy’s River & Marsh Tours. Owner and tour guide Capt. Benny McCoy grew up boating and fishing on the Pascagoula River with his brother and talks about it like an old friend.
Our boat trip felt like a Disney tour as we were able to see so many of the birds, fish, turtles, plants and trees that make this waterway unique. A true naturalist, Capt. Benny knew where to find a bee tree in the middle of the river, with bees hovering at the entrance to their hive. He pointed out a bald eagle in a snag, a raccoon swimming near the boat to shore, and numerous American coots, tricolored herons and egrets hunting for fish.
After a brisk morning on the water, we were hungry for lunch. We struck gold with a stop at Bozo’s Seafood Market & Deli, one of Mississippi’s best stops for po’boys and seafood. We placed our order with an elderly gentleman who scribbled our culinary desires on his notepad. Within minutes we were served up po’boys and platters piled high with friend shrimp.
After lunch, we stopped to see the historic Round Island Lighthouse, which dates back to 1859. This small lighthouse was relocated from its original location on Round Island in 2010 and now stands in the heart of downtown Pascagoula. You can take a guided tour on Fridays and Saturdays (call 228-938-6639 for tour information).
INFIINTY Science Center & Stennis Space Center
A trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast must include a trip to the INFIINTY Science Center in Pearlington, Miss. This science center features more than 50 years of NASA history ondisplay. Fred Haise, retired Apollo 13 astronaut and a native of Biloxi, Miss., serves on the Board of Directors and frequents the museum. We left with a deep appreciation for the Apollo 13 experience – and wishing we could have bumped into Mr. Haise while we were there (call the museum about his upcoming lectures or appearances).
The museum also offers bus tours of one of NASA’s premier rocket engine test complexes, the John C. Stennis Space Center. We felt like secret agents as we launched out to tour the field center, one of only 10 in the United States. (By the way, you must show a valid driver’s license or passport to take this tour.)
We peered out the windows of the bus in awe as we passed monstrous towers where engines for all manned Apollo and space shuttle flights have been tested and where next-generation engines and rocket stages are tested. Current testing at the facility includes the RS-25 rocket engines that will help power NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle at launch and the core stage that will be used on SLS Exploration Mission-1 to Mars.
Institute for Marine Mammal Studies
The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., is the premier stranding organization in the Mississippi-Louisiana-Alabama region of the Gulf Coast caring for sick and injured marine mammals. The institute includes an educational museum, auditorium, veterinary hospital and facilities to provide care for dolphins in every stage of rehabilitation.
Visitors can explore an interactive museum and encounter sea creatures such as stingrays, sharks, horseshoe crabs, fish, blue crabs, sea stars and sea urchins. Our family was excited to take part in a dolphin encounter, which we had never experienced before. We were up-close and personal with two of the center’s Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, Bo and Apollo, and learned training techniques as we interacted with the dolphins.
Note: the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is open to the public on a limited basis – reservations are required.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
A section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Davis Bayou Area is the only portion of the National Seashore in Mississippi that is accessible by automobile. Petit Bois, Horn, East Ship, West Ship, and Cat islands are accessible only by boat. A passenger ferry to West Ship Island operates spring through fall and leaves from the Gulfport Yacht Harbor. For more information, visit Ship Island Excursions or call 228-864-1014.
A campground at Davis Bayou offers water and electrical hookups for RVs and tents. Roads are paved throughout the campground, as well as each campsite.
To make your plans to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, check out the Mississippi Gulf Coast website.