There’s waterfront charm, beautiful art and abundant history waiting in the cities, towns and villages on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
That’s what 10 tour operator and travel planner readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered during a four-day familiarization trip to the area in April. Hosted by Coastal Mississippi, the destination marketing organization that represents the state’s coastal counties, the trip introduced participants to signature attractions, exciting experiences and beautiful waterfront communities.
During the tour, participants spent time in the cities, towns and villages of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Pascagoula. They learned about the area’s sea life at attractions such as the Mississippi Aquarium and the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, as well as on the popular Biloxi Shrimping Trip. They spent free time exploring the charming towns of Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs and toured attractions including the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Along the way, they enjoyed abundant fresh seafood and beautiful views at restaurants and cafes.
Follow along on this itinerary to begin planning a Coastal Mississippi vacation for your travelers.
• Arrival in Coastal Mississippi
• Free time in Bay St. Louis
• Dinner at 200 North Beach Restaurant & Bar
• Overnight at Hollywood Casino and Resort Gulf Coast
Travel planners from across the country came to Coastal Mississippi on a warm and sunny mid-April Sunday to begin their exploration. Some who arrived early enjoyed lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Bay St. Louis, a charming village on the west end of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. After lunch, they had time to explore the shops, galleries, cafes and other businesses in the scenic village.
After lunch and free time downtown, they gathered with the remaining group members at Bay St. Louis’ Hollywood Casino and Resort, which would serve as the accommodations for the night. The entire delegation then went to 200 North Beach Restaurant and Bar, a Bay St. Louis institution, where they were joined by members of the Coastal Mississippi team for a welcome dinner featuring fresh gulf seafood.
• Breakfast at Mockingbird Cafe
• Bay St. Louis Historic L&N Train Depot
• Lunch at Shaggy’s
• Biloxi Shrimping Trip
• Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
• Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home
• Dinner at Patio 44
• Overnight at Courtyard Marriott Gulfport Beachfront
After a good night’s sleep, FAM participants left the Hollywood Casino Resort and headed back to downtown Bay St. Louis, where they enjoyed a delicious scratch-made breakfast at Mockingbird Café. Next, they visited the Bay St. Louis Historic L&N Train Depot for an overview of the area’s history and distinctive culture.
Upon leaving Bay St. Louis, the group headed east to Long Beach, where they enjoyed some free time exploring the waterfront before having lunch at Shaggy’s, a Coastal Mississippi favorite casual seafood restaurant. They continued east to Biloxi to join an afternoon departure of the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, a cruise that introduces visitors to gulf shrimp and the workers who harvest them. The theme continued at the next stop: the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
After leaving the museum, the group made the short drive west to Gulfport, where they took some time to tour Beauvoir, the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. After the tour, they checked in at the Courtyard Marriott Gulfport Beachfront to freshen up before dinner in the wine room at Patio 44.
Bay St. Louis Historic L&N Train Depot
Built in 1863 and later reconstructed after a fire, the Bay St. Louis Historic L&N Train Depot was the primary railroad station for the community. Passenger trains don’t currently serve the area, so the depot is now a local history and culture museum. The FAM group enjoyed learning about local Mardi Gras culture and seeing some of the impressive carnival regalia on display. Other exhibits cover Mississippi blues, the area’s history of hurricanes and an art gallery showcasing the work of nationally acclaimed folk artist Alice Latimer Moseley.
Biloxi Shrimping Trip
About two-thirds of all the shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico are processed in Biloxi, and the Biloxi Shrimping Trip gives travelers a firsthand look at shrimp and the shrimping industry. During this 70-minute cruise into the gulf, the crew demonstrated how shrimping boats work and lowered a net to pull shrimp and other marine life onto the vessel. The FAM group enjoyed holding and taking pictures with the live shrimp, crab and other sea life the nets brought up, as well as learning about how shrimp are sized and graded.
Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
Seagoing and the seafood industry are essential to life on the Mississippi Coast, and the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum gives visitors a look inside this part of local culture and history. Highlights include the Nydia, a sailboat built in a local shipyard in 1898. A gallery about the Biloxi Seafood Factory showcases machinery used to prepare and process seafood caught in the gulf. There’s also a hurricane exhibit that shows news clips and items from Hurricane Katrina and other storms that have impacted the area.
• Breakfast and Tour at Pascagoula River Audubon Center
• Lunch at Mosaics
• Walter Anderson Museum of Art
• Shopping in downtown Ocean Springs
• Dinner and live music at Ground Zero Blues Club
• Overnight at Courtyard Marriott Gulfport Beachfront
The third day of the FAM began with a trip to Pascagoula, one of the easternmost towns on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, for a catered breakfast and tour of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. The group spent some time in the exhibit and then toured the center’s beautiful riverfront grounds.
From there, they made a half-hour trip west to Ocean Springs, the lively downtown of which is a favorite destination for Gulf Coast visitors. They enjoyed a tapas-style lunch at Mosaics, then walked a few blocks to tour the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, which pays homage to an Ocean Springs man who became a celebrated painter. After the museum tour, the group enjoyed some free time in the many shops, cafes and other establishments in the pedestrian friendly downtown area.
Upon leaving Ocean Springs, the group returned to Gulfport for some downtime at the hotel. From there, they made their way back to Biloxi for a memorable evening at the newly opened Biloxi location of Ground Zero Blues Club, a food and live music venue owned by actor Morgan Freeman.
Pascagoula River Audubon Center
Opened in 2016, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center educates locals and visitors about the flora and fauna of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Pascagoula River. The FAM group enjoyed a catered breakfast in the center’s art gallery, which displays the work of local artists, then toured the exhibits in the education center. The real appeal, however, is outdoors, where a boardwalk through grasses and marsh area provides great vantage points for seeing the waterfront, wildlife and native plants. The center has kayaks and paddleboats that visitors can rent.
Walter Anderson Museum of Art
Walter Anderson was a muralist who was born in New Orleans in the early 20th century and spent most of his life working in the coastal Mississippi town of Ocean Springs. At his namesake museum, the FAM group got a guided tour through exhibits that detailed his life and showcased his work, much of which depicted nature, history and Native American culture. The museum has several murals dealing with the town’s past, as well as a room from Anderson’s painting cottage where the interior walls are covered with murals.
Ground Zero Blues Club
Actor Morgan Freeman and some associates opened the first Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 2001. The venue became so popular that they opened a second location in Biloxi early this year. The FAM group was treated to a private event at the club, complete with live music from a local duo, as well as delicious barbecue and other dinner favorites. Participants enjoyed touring the club, taking photos and signing a wall designed to look like the front porch of a juke joint.
• Mississippi Aquarium
• Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum
• Institute for Marine Mammal Studies
• Depart for home
On the final day of the tour, participants enjoyed breakfast at the Courtyard Marriott Gulfport Beachfront. Then they took a before-hours private tour of the Mississippi Aquarium, which opened in Gulfport in 2020 and features an innovative combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits.
After the aquarium tour, some participants departed to begin their journey home. Those with afternoon flexibility were treated to a few more site visits. They stopped at the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum, an up-and-coming institution in Gulfport that offers many hands-on opportunities to learn about airplanes and the science of air travel. They also paid a visit to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, where they enjoyed a live dolphin show and learned about the variety of sea life cared for there.
At the end of their time in Gulfport, the travel planners departed for home to begin planning their return visits to Coastal Mississippi.
Opened in August 2020, the Mississippi Aquarium is the crown jewel of tourist development in Gulfport. The FAM group got an exclusive before-hours tour of the facility, beginning with unique outdoor habitats populated with animals from the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf of Mexico, including alligators, crocodiles and bottlenose dolphins. They also took a spin through the outdoor aviary to marvel at the exotic birds before heading to the aquarium’s indoor area, which features a 360-degree ocean exhibit with stingrays, sharks and other sea creatures.
Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum
Planners who were able to extend their stays into Wednesday afternoon got an unexpected treat at the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum, a community-supported museum dedicated to teaching visitors about the area’s military and commercial aviation history. The group enjoyed learning to take off and land in full-motion flight simulators at the museum and watching a real-time virtual display of air traffic at a busy U.S. airport. They also checked out historic aircraft on display, watched a video on the Tuskegee Airmen and learned about the museum’s expansion plans.
Institute for Marine Mammal Studies
The final stop on the tour was the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, an attraction where visitors can enjoy a number of live animal shows and opportunities to interact with sea life. FAM participants attended a dolphin show where animals and their trainers performed for the audience. They also visited a very large touch-pool area populated with stingrays and other fish. In another area of the center, they visited a room filled with newborn animals and learned about how the institute’s staff cares for them.
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