Live Like a Local on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
From the incredible natural beauty of the Gulf Islands National Seashore to fun water sports on the Pascagoula River, from Gulf-fresh seafood to BBQ and craft beer, from fine art to the hottest live music, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers a getaway for every type of traveler. We spoke with some of the locals who make the Coast tick for their favorite hotspots.
WHICH ISLAND IS BEST FOR YOUR TRAVEL PERSONALITY?
Each of the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s barrier islands offers opportunities for casual-to-adventurous travelers who want an authentic, wild experience (before they head back to shore to grab some gourmet seafood and world-class craft beer at sundown, that is!).
Chandler Borries, a travel photographer who hails from Biloxi, says “I’m a big outdoors enthusiast, and I love a boat excursion to one of the islands and taking a nature walk through Gulf Islands National Seashore.”
Each of the six barrier islands offers something unique to adventure-minded visitors. Ship Island, Borries’s favorite, is home to the historic 19th-century Fort Massachusetts, and a beach that’s perfect for swimming, hiking, or fishing. Cat Island boasts bayous and marshland that serious birders will love. Deer Island’s beach is just a short boat ride from Biloxi. Horn Island is a magnet for vacationers seeking peace, sand dunes, and pelicans. Round Island and Petit Bois Island are the smallest islands but offer glimpses of migratory birds and much more. Learn more about outdoor adventures on the Mississippi Gulf Coast here.
PADDLE, CYCLE, OR HIKE THE GULF COAST
Borries says, “I also love that the Gulf Coast has plenty of places to kayak and paddleboard.” From gentle paddling to downright wet & wild water adventures, the Gulf’s open Coast waters, scenic bayous, and beautiful “blueways,” make the region one of America’s best places to hit the water. You can charter a deep-sea fishing boat, sail on a historic schooner, or even try paddleboard yoga. And be sure to check out the Pascagoula River Blueway (the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states) for great kayaking, fishing, and wildlife-watching. Learn more about paddling the Mississippi Gulf Coast here.
If you want to stay on dry land, the Coast is packed with recreational trails and walking or biking tours. Borries suggests, “One of my favorite morning activities is a bike ride down Front Beach in Ocean Springs followed by a savory biscuit and coffee from The Greenhouse on Porter.” Learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s recreational trails here.
OYSTERS, SHRIMP & MORE
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is justly renowned for its fresh seafood. That’s one reason why Foursquare named Darwell’s Cafe, in Long Beach, one of America’s greatest diners, citing its crawfish étouffée with seasoned shrimp on top. We asked our locals to take travelers off the beaten path to find the tastiest joints serving up seafood, BBQ, and more.
Alex Perry, chef and owner of Vestige, a modern American restaurant in Ocean Springs specializing in seasonal, market-inspired dishes, including a Gulf-fresh catch of the day and jumbo lump crab croquettes, suggests, “Pop over to Eat Drink Love, in Ocean Springs, for their lunchtime salads, fresh cheeses, cured meats, and crostini. Some of my favorite hidden gems are La Nortena in Biloxi for excellent Mexican cuisine and Kien Giang in D'Iberville for Vietnamese.”
Corey Christy, communications director of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, in Ocean Springs, and bassist for the 10-piece jam-funk band Blackwater Brass, says “My favorite place for lunch is Le Bakery, on Oak St. in Biloxi, where everything is extra-fresh and the prices are unbelievably affordable. My current favorite dinner spot is Patio 44, in Biloxi, with great bar service and a very diverse menu, including seafood gumbo with shrimp, oysters, and crab meat.”
Borries says, “Woody’s Roadside, in Biloxi, is definitely at the top of my list. Every time I’m home I make sure to stop by and grab one of their signature burgers. Phoenicia Gourmet Restaurant, in Ocean Springs, is another good option if you’re in the mood for local seafood like blackened shrimp, red snapper, and crab cakes.”
Learn more about eating like a local on the Mississippi Gulf Coast here.
From the beer snob to the party animal, the Gulf Coast has some sipping opportunities to satisfy all tastes. And Christy reminds us that his place of work, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA), in Ocean Springs, throws an annual craft beer tasting. Popular local Gulf Coast breweries include Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, in Kiln, with its refreshing Lazy Saison Belgian-style pale ale, Jefferson Stout, and hoppy Southern Hops’pitality India pale ale; Biloxi Brewing Company’s award-winning flagship Black Gold; and Chandeleur Island Brewing Company, in Gulfport, with its Surfside Wheat Ale and Freemason Golden Ale, perfect for waterfront sipping. Learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s craft breweries here.
LIVE MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE
No day on the Coast is complete without music, and Mississippi boasts a musical history like no other state. If you want to enjoy cool street art with your live entertainment, you can’t go wrong on Fishbone Alley, a new pedestrian walkway in Gulfport that links several music venues, bars, and eateries, allowing travelers to carry beer and cocktails in go-cups from joint to joint.
Our locals chime in on their other favorite night spots. Christy says, “The Government Street Grocery, in Ocean Springs, is my fave for drinks and live music.”
Borries agrees that Government Street Grocery is a must-stop. “Some of my other favorite venues are Mosaics and Murky Waters. They are all within walking distance of each other and have a relaxed laid back atmosphere.”
You must also experience the Mississippi Blues Trail’s coastal sites, where historic theaters, blues joints, and other important structures help visitors trace the history of blues and jazz in communities such as Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, and Pass Christian.
Learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s music and nightlife here.
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.
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.
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!
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. And it’s delicious at every turn. BBQ Pulled Pork from Pheonix Public Market Café. (courtesy Phoenix Public Market Café) PHOENIX PUBLIC MARKET Before we embarked on the trail, we fueled up at the Phoenix Public Market Café, a spacious, rustic-chic eatery and bar that opened in May 2013 and offers a wealth of options for carnivores and vegans and vegetarians alike. (See: mesquite-roasted BBQ pulled pork. Also: Superfood Salad) The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, much of which is purchased at the year-round farmers’ market that operates on Saturdays in the neighboring lot, and the emphasis on local fare extends beyond the kitchen to the bar, where local beers rule, the coffee station, and the cute market section. We picked up some fresh locally roasted Cartel Coffee and hit the road. People come together over true food at Agritopia (@agritopia/Instagram) AGRITOPIA Agritopia is exactly what its name implies: a 160-acres urban farm, 11 of which are devoted to an organic farming. 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.