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Live Like a Local on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
October 31, 2017
Mississippi Gulf Coast Millennial Oyster
Courtesy Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast
Ready to get wild, eat great, and hear the best live music? Our network of Gulf Coast locals serve up their best tips.

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.

CRAFT BEER

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.

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Inspiration

What Are the Weirdest Songs on Your Travel Playlist?

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Inspiration

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

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Inspiration

Take a Day Trip to Historic Hudson Valley

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Inspiration

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

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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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