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A Spectacular Three-Day Weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
October 31, 2017
Mississippi Gulf Coast Mature Sunset
Courtesy Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast
With peerless seafood, outdoor activities for every taste and level, and acres of gorgeous golf courses, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast offers a state of perfect relaxation.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a place where visitors can explore at a pace that encourages photography, relaxation, and reconnecting with friends and loved ones in a charming, welcoming environment. With 62 miles of beautiful coastline and 14 coastal communities, there’s plenty to discover. Here, a taste of the incredible food scene, craft breweries, natural wonders, casinos, art, history, and beautiful golf courses of the region.

EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE GULF COAST

For some travelers (including myself), eating is a major part of the fun of a weekend getaway. Options range from the kind of comfort food you might expect, such as the legendary Gulf shrimp; local BBQ joints serving pulled pork, chicken, and ribs; traditional gumbo; and classic red beans and rice to exciting recipes and approaches that may be new to some visitors - get ready to try pond-raised catfish at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish, in Ocean Springs, chargrilled oysters at Bayou Caddy Oyster Bar, in Bay St. Louis, and much more.

Just about anywhere you travel along the Mississippi coast, you’ll have an opportunity to indulge in the tradition of frying fresh-harvested shrimp and oysters and local BBQ recipes that evolved largely out of the Mississippi tradition of community barbecues in which huge amounts of succulent, smoky meat were cooked for hours for hungry party-goers. Perhaps most enticing of all is the fusion of the Gulf Coast’s unique culinary traditions to be found at eateries both small and large across the region: Some tasty examples you’ll want to try include shrimp and crab au gratin, at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, beautifully presented sushi dishes made with fresh Gulf seafood at Ichiban Sushi and Hibachi, in Ocean Springs, and crabmeat-stuffed redfish at Front Porch Cafe, in Pass Christian.

Ready to plan your eating itinerary? Learn more here.

RAISE A GLASS

Of course, with all that great food, visitors will want something to wash it all down. The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s craft brewery scene will reward thirsty travelers with carefully sourced grains, imaginative local brewing processes, and world-class brews on tap.

Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, in Kiln, is Mississippi’s oldest and offers a wide assortment of craft brews, including the lightly refreshing Lazy Saison Belgian-style pale ale, Jefferson Stout, and the adorably named Southern Hops’pitality India pale ale. Biloxi Brewing Company’s award-winning flagship brew is Black Gold, a traditional Irish stout with a super-rich texture and flavor; the company has also introduced a Black Gold Breakfast Blend that gets its eye-catching name from its use of coffee in its unique flavor; for a lighter quaff, try the golden Biloxi Blonde or the Salty Dog, which is flavored with sea salt and coriander. Chandeleur Island Brewing Company, in Gulfport, gets its inspiration from the coast’s warm weather and sunshine; its refreshing Surfside Wheat Ale and Freemason Golden Ale are perfect for waterfront sipping; its darker Curlew’s Toasted Coconut Porter delights the palate with notes of coffee, chocolate, and toffee.

Thirsty? Learn more about the Mississippi coast’s sipping options here.

GET OUT IN NATURE

While not all travelers are hardcore “adrenaline junkies,” there are many exciting yet totally manageable activities that get you out on the beautiful waterways of the Mississippi coast, including private boats, ferries, and kayaks, or, for enjoying the water from shore, bicycle rentals and easy walking tours.

On the Coast, you’ll enjoy the opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, boating, and fishing, and, of course, there is the Gulf Islands National Seashore with its six barrier islands, which offer varying degrees of adventure, each with its own special personality. Want to relax on warm sand beside gentle surf? The string of islands are home to several gorgeous beaches, and the islands serve as a literal barrier, keeping Mississippi’s 62 miles of coastline calm and inviting.

Immerse yourself in the natural history and wildlife of the Coast at the brand-new Pascagoula River Audubon Center, the “gateway” to the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. Here, visitors learn about the local environment and ecology and about the extraordinary river itself, which guides can help you explore on a two-hour boat tour. In fact, nature tours abound along the Coast, with miles of recreational trails that include hiking trails, blueways, nature parks, and boardwalks. To see more on your weekend, rent bicycles or book a boat cruise (options range from historic schooners to shrimp boats to sightseeing ferries). Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking the waterways with an outfitter such as Paddles Up that keeps it easy and fun.

Ready to get out there in nature? Learn more here.

CASINOS: GAMING AND SO MUCH MORE

Sure, the Gulf Coast’s 12 casinos offer 24-hour gaming and the fabulous entertainment you’d expect, but they also offer culinary creativity, shopping, and world-class spas. Centered mostly in the Gulfport-Biloxi area, with one in Bay St. Louis and one in D’Iberville, the Coast’s casinos are, for some visitors, the most convenient base of operations thanks to the range of services and attractions all under one roof. Learn more here.

EXPLORE LOCAL ART & HISTORY

Want to take a walking tour of a historic Coast town and drop by the folk and antique museum or the meticulously maintained classic train depot? Bay St. Louis offers that and more. Craving a vibrant art museum named for one of the Coast’s most influential artists? Head to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs for the art and the fun special events that make it a community anchor. Each one of the Gulf Coast’s 14 communities boasts an artistic legacy and heritage that will keep visitors engaged and send them home having learned something new. From the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum to the galleries lining the streets to history tours and the superb Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, the Coast has an alluring institution just waiting for you to discover. Learn more here.

HIT THE LINKS

When it comes to playing golf amidst gorgeous coastal vistas, in close proximity to first-rate watering holes, and in a relaxing environment for both the casual and the serious competitor, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers something for every taste.

It often comes as a surprise to golf enthusiasts who haven’t yet visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but many of the region’s courses were designed by some of the biggest names in the sport, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The area boasts well over a dozen courses with spectacular Gulf Coast views, including ample budget-minded options, with golf packages that include lodgings in local hotels, casinos, and condos starting at well under $100/night.

Ready to dive into the Mississippi Gulf Coast golf scene? Learn more here.

LUXE-FOR-LESS LODGING

Speaking of affordable lodging, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers lodgings that are ideal for couples, families, and groups, ranging from comfy bed-and-breakfasts and inns to luxury hotels, casinos, condo rentals, and golf and spa resorts. From charming small towns to bustling urban centers, learn more here.

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Inspiration

What Are the Weirdest Songs on Your Travel Playlist?

The Archies. There, I said it. Lately, my travel playlist has become more and more dominated by bubblegum pop. You probably all know the Archies’ biggest hit, “Sugar, Sugar,” and you may know that the “band” itself wasn't so much an actual band as a loose assortment of Los Angeles session players and singers, recording songs written by professional hitmakers. But what the Archies lacked in artistic merit and street cred, they more than made up for in infectiously, deliciously catchy musical confections like "Sugar, Sugar," "This Is Love," and "Jingle Jangle." Is it weird that the Archies, along with other bubblegum pop acts from the ‘60s to the present day, get me psyched to hit the road? Maybe. But I bet I'm not the only one... CLASSIC TRAVEL SONGS Everybody knows the tried-and-true travel songs. In rough chronological  order, we could cite just a few obvious examples: “No Particular Place to Go,” by Chuck Berry“Come Fly With Me,” by Frank Sinatra“Drive My Car,” by the Beatles“Born to Be Wild,” by Steppenwolf“On the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson“Fast Car,” by Tracy Chapman“Everyday Is a Winding Road,” by Sheryl Crow“Empire State of Mind,” by Jay Z & Alicia Keyes“Keep the Car Running,” by Arcade Fire“Home,” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Sure, there's nothing wrong with these and other classics that send travelers off with a spring in their step and a song in their heart. WEIRDEST TRAVEL SONGS But last weekend, I paid my first-ever visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland, and found that, despite being exposed to some of the finest music of the rock era for two straight days, it was pesky ‘70s ear worms like “Sugar, Sugar,” the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” and the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” that dominated my weekend travel playlist. Rather than hide my love of sweet, trashy bubblegum pop from my friends, family, and you, Budget Travel readers, I have decided to, as David Crosby sings, “let my freak flag fly.” No apologies. And it got me thinking: I’ll bet everybody has a secret stash of weirdly inspirational (or inspiringly weird) songs they love. TALK TO US! Your turn: What are the “weirdest” songs on your travel playlist? Post a comment here and we may include your favorites in an upcoming story at BudgetTravel.com.

Inspiration

Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2018” Will Surprise and Inspire You

Sure, the New Year doesn’t officially begin until the stroke of midnight on January 1. But when you’re part of the Lonely Planet family of guidebooks, videos, magazines, apps, and online resources, as Budget Travel is, late October feels like the time to pop the cork: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 list was just announced, and we’re already packing our bags. BEST CITIES TO VISIT IN 2018 As always, Lonely Planet’s best cities to visit in 2018 grabbed our attention, with Seville, Spain, topping the list for its vibrant artistic legacy, not to mention its scene-stealing role in Game of Thrones. We were psyched to see one of our favorite American comeback stories, Detroit, grab the no. 2 spot on the list of cities. (For a taste of what the Motor City has to offer, take a spin through the photo essay that Meredith Heuer shot for Budget Travel celebrating the creative residents and new arrivals who are transforming neighborhoods, “See the Incredible Detroit Renaissance!”) Perhaps Lonely Planet’s most noteworthy choice of city is San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is still in the throes of a challenging hurricane recovery effort. LP editors selected San Juan for the 2018 list before Hurricane Maria struck, but research and interviews with Puerto Rico’s tourism officials inspired them to keep the resilient city at no. 8 on the list of 2018 cities. The message to the world’s travelers: Puerto Rico will soon be back in business. BEST REGIONS TO VISIT IN 2018 Because Budget Travel focuses enthusiastically on U.S. domestic travel, we often get most inspired by Lonely Planet’s U.S. and North American recommendations. LP’s Best in Travel list recommends Alaska as one of the world’s top regions for its wild and unparalleled natural beauty, as well as the American South for its upcoming commemorations of the Civil Rights Movement and the 50th anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 300th anniversary of the city of New Orleans. Baja California, Mexico, also made the list of regions for its jaw-dropping beaches, welcoming towns, and great food. Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida, each got a nod as great travel destinations that offer exceptional value and affordability. Pay a visit to our colleagues over at Lonely Planet for the full Best in Travel 2018, and tell us where you’re going next.

Inspiration

Take a Day Trip to Historic Hudson Valley

As a little boy growing up in the Bronx, my first-ever class trip was to Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving. There, on the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, NY, my second-grade class toured the grounds of Irving's estate, learned how a 19th-century home operated, and, most inspiring for me, peeked into Irving's office and saw the writing desk that once belonged to the author of "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I remember being enchanted by Irving's funny-creepy stories and not wanting to leave the back porch, with its views of the river. These days, my family and I live just about a mile from Sunnyside and I'm still a regular visitor to the historic site, maintained by the nonprofit group Historic Hudson Valley. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to visit a number of other nearby sites—less than an hour's drive from Manhattan—that are worth a day trip. I can't promise that every site will inspire a career choice, but you'll immerse yourself and your little ones in colonial history, world-class art, and literature. Here are the standouts, all of them within a few miles of Tarrytown, NY, and the brand-new Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge across the river. For details about hours and admission prices and policies, visit hudsonvalley.org. Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, is a beautifully landscaped estate, much of which was designed by Washington Irving himself. The creator of the Headless Horseman and other iconic literary characters loved this spot enough to settle here after traveling the world and establishing a career as America's "first man of letters." You'll watch a video about Irving's life, tour the estate and home, and you should spend some time in the exceptional gift shop, where you'll find imaginative crafts and a great collection of books about local history. (After you visit Sunnyside, take a short walk up the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail to see another amazing estate—Lyndhurst, a castle-like mansion and 67-acre park maintained by the National Trust.) Kykuit, in Pocantico Hills, was home to John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and one of the richest people in history. Here, you'll tour the gorgeously furnished six-story house and see how the other .00005% lived. The highlight of the site is its gardens that feature a collection of 20th-century sculptures that once belonged to New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Philipsburg Manor, in Sleepy Hollow, transports you back to the year 1750 to see a working farm, mill, and center of local trade. (And, yes, it's in the village of Sleepy Hollow, where the Headless Horseman is still known to gallop by every year as Halloween approaches.) Visitors can participate in hands-on farming activities such as shelling beans or working flax into linen, tour the gristmill with its immense stone, and learn the little-known stories of the enslaved Africans who made the estate run. Across Route 9, you'll find Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Washington Irving is buried—and seasonal lantern-lit evening tours will test even the steeliest nerves. Union Church of Pocantico Hills is a humble little country church along a winding road near the Rockefeller estate. Oh, but turn into the parking lot and peek inside and you'll notice that this charming little stone building holds Henri Matisse's final work of art—a typically colorful rose window—and a series of stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall, including his massive Good Samaritan. TALK TO US! I feel lucky to live a short distance from these great historic sites. Tell us about your favorite tourist sites in your own backyard—we just might feature them in an upcoming story!

Inspiration

The Gourmet Oasis in the Arizona Desert You Have to Taste to Believe

The glorious disorientation of it all first struck me while listening to a young woman exuberantly explain to a room full of about 75 people the differences between late harvest and early harvest olive oils. She passed around samples in itty bitty paper cups and explained how to taste it. (“Pour it all on your tongue and smoosh it on the roof of your mouth.”) She explained then how to assess it with the attention sommeliers pay to every sensory detail of wine. (Is it balanced or robust? Bitter or more buttery?) Just your basic average February afternoon in the blazing sun of the Arizona desert. I was in Queen Creek, Arizona, about half hour southeast of Phoenix. It was only one stop on my two-day spree through the Mesa Fresh Foodie Trail, which, in addition to Mesa, Arizona’s second largest town, includes the neighboring small towns of Queen Creek and Gilbert. Established in 2016 to showcase the area’s culinary bounty, it’s a perfect model of the growing movement in agritourism. 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There are several dozen homes on the property. What started in 1927 as a farm run by homesteaders has grown into a metropolis that now houses Joe’s Farm Grill, a bustling eatery with indoor and outdoor seating that evokes the burger joints of the 1950s, a sleek yet cozy café with cement brick walls, overflowing pastry cases, and shelves of indulgent cupcakes, and an indoor market featuring a beer bar selling local brews, housewares shop, a paper store, and more. Date palms, citrus and olive groves, grapevines, peach orchards, community gardens and much more dot the landscape. Locals buy produce through the honor system in a small 24-hour market space and picking is a pastime that attracts visitors far and wide. “You don’t have to live here to pick, you just have to be excited about it,” says Joe Johnston, whose father bought the farm in 1960. Today Joe, a recovering engineer, oversees the varied operations. We caught him on the premises and he walked us through the property, explaining that the Grill’s dining room is located in a space once occupied by his family’s living room, the date palms are the legacy of Lebanese immigrants who settled here, and the widespread reach of the regional farming. (About 90% of the lettuce in New England comes from Arizona, he says.) Hayden Flour Mills makes crackers and other products with White Sonora, one of the many OG heritage grains. (@haydenflourmills/Instagram) HAYDEN FLOUR MILL  By 2019, Steve Sossaman and his family will celebrate a century of being on the 800 acres that make up Sossaman Farm. Little surprise, then, that he operates the farm using old-world techniques, like crop rotation, a natural method of keeping the ground fertile. The main attraction here is the mill, a business that’s been operating since 1870 (though originally it was located in Tempe.) They use an old-school stone mill to create flour with heritage grains. Steve, a farmer, oversees proceedings here. He waxed poetic (read: geeked out) to me about those ancient grains: Ethiopian Blue, Tibetan purple, Roman Farro. They can be traced back to the Fertile Crescent, so they thrive in Arizona because they don’t need much water. Their deep root systems, he explained, absorb more nutrients and minerals (code for “flavor.”) The intensely earthy flavors of the crackers that are made with theses flours are intriguing, to be sure, but the stories behind them are even more captivating. Roman Farro is referred to as “Jesus wheat” because it’s been around nearly that long; white Sonora was brought to the US around 1700 from Spain by a priest who used it to convert Indians because at the time it was that you could only take communion with a wheat wafer. His is one of the handful of mills to make crackers and other products. I was thrilled to find them in Whole Foods when I returned home to New York. The stone mill from Italy's Calabria region of Italy offers a glimpse of olive-making history at Queen Creek Olive Mill. (Courtesy Queen Creek Olive Mill) QUEEN CREEK OLIVE MILL  “We’re here today to learn about extra virgin olive oil,” announced the animated young woman standing in front of a flowchart mapping out olive oil production. “What’s the big deal? Why does Rachel Ray always rave about EVOO? For one thing, it’s full of good things: polyphenols, antioxidants, omega threes, vitamins. It’s the best fat you can put into your body. And it’s delicious.” She quickly launched into a salvo of astounding trivia: Olive oil dates back to before time of Christ. Ancient Romans have references to it in their writings. Olive trees can live to be up to 3000 years old.  At the Mill, everything you assume about EVOO’s European identity will be blown to smithereens. Founded by husband and wife team Perry and Brenda Rea, they presently grow 16 varietals of olives—Italian, Greek and Spanish—onsite. There’s a stone mill outside, a showpiece, that comes from Italy’s Calabria region. Inside, is the mill from Turkey that’s used to make the product. It’s referred to by the sleek name of Olive Max 33 and the Reas were the first to bring one to the US. At the mill, you learn that each tree can produce anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds of fruit and the Olive Max 33 can process 2.5 tons of olives per hour. Roughly speaking, for every ton (2000 pounds) of olives yields approximately 30 to 45 gallons of oil. In the desert.  It was the tail end of about an hour-long tour ($7) and after the tasting, the crowd was let loose into what can only be described as a gourmet bazaar and food court. At one end was an enclave selling olive oil body products and candles. Aisles of foodstuff include the farm’s products--tapenade, chocolate, vinegars, and, of course, olive oil—as well as goods from area producers, like pasta sauce, drink mixers, and picked vegetables. Along the periphery of the space, people lined up at food stalls for artisanal coffee, bruschetta, panini, and antipasti, most of which is made from local produce, hormone-free meat, and plenty of olive oil.  Schnepf Farm, a fourth-generation-owned family farm, counts peaches as one of its many specialty crops. (Courtesy Visit Mesa) SCHNEPF FARM The largest organic peach orchard in Arizona is on Schnepf Farm. They’ve been growing them on the property since 1960 and today they grow ten varieties. Little wonder, then, that crowds descend here for a weekend each May for the Annual Peach Festival. Actually, crowds appear at this fourth-generation-owned 600-acre farm at different points throughout the year for various reasons: the acres of flowering trees on display each February for the Peach Blossom Celebration; The Pumpkin and Chile Party, a multi-weekend jamboree throughout each October with hayrides, a petting zoo, races, and a ton of other games and rides. There have been years where visitors top 100,000 in October alone. But reasons to spend time here extend far beyond the seasonal occasions. The farm is owned by Mark Schnepf and his wife Carrie. Mark’s grandfather bought the 640 acres for $25/acre in 1941. Framed newspaper clippings and photos of the whole family, from his father showcasing the airplanes he once owned to Mark and Carrie's wedding day, line the wall of what was once the original farmhouse, which his parents built in the 1960s. The property is massive, but the room is a constant reminder of its wholesome soul.  Today, if there isn't a festival, visitors still come en mass for seasonal you-pick-it opportunities. Or you could just spend a quiet afternoon at the the country store-style bakery. Spend an afternoon lingering over a slice of fresh, warm peach pie and tea, then be sure to grab some homemade honeys and jams on your way out.

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