Like a string of pearls, the 12 communities along Coastal Mississippi’s 62 miles of shoreline can cast a spell. Its nickname “The Secret Coast” is well-deserved not only for its storied history, but also because it offers a low-key and more relaxing visit to the Gulf of Mexico than beaches along Florida’s Panhandle.

Oysters on the half shell on a plate

Off-bottom oysters are featured at White Pillars Restaurant in Biloxi

On a recent trip, I found out first-hand about off-bottom oysters, world-class museums, boutique lodging, natural wonders, farm-to-table dining, famous artists, community spirit and all the beauty that can be found throughout Coastal Mississippi.

It’s a short flight, but if you want to drive, the trip will take about 6 to 7 hours. If you’re driving, I-10 is not far inland and offers easy access to the seaside communities of Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis. Each community offers its own personality.

String of destinations

One of the greatest features of Coastal Mississippi is the wonderful shoreline that runs parallel to the beach along the waterfront 4-lane US 90 with amazing views of the water. The area is branded “The Secret Coast” because of its string of undiscovered destinations that range from the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Mississippi barrier islands to authentic coastal cultural experiences and a wide variety of beach environments.

Pass Christian – pronounced pass KRIS tee ann – and Long Beach offer relaxed and quieter beaches for sunbathing or a romantic walk. If you want to paddleboard or kayak, check out the water trails in the area’s rivers, including Wolf River or the Upper Pascagoula.

Biloxi, MS sunset view with water and bridge

Stunning coastal sunsets are an evening highlight

Sunsets along Coastal Mississippi are spectacular. The beaches run east to west with clear views of the western skies. Various piers, some with flocks of pelicans, gulls and other seabirds, plus palm trees and other coastal foliage offer silhouettes to photograph against the expansive views of pink, orange, purple and burgundy skies.

Consider chartering a boat for a fishing trip or to explore the coast. You can also bring your own boat. Or book a nature-based eco-tour for an afternoon.

Biloxi is a blast

Biloxi is the area’s hub for entertainment, art and culture. Plan a visit to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art that showcases not only the works of Mississippi master potter George Ohr, who lived from 1857 to 1918, but also an array of traveling exhibitions and special installations. The museum is an architectural wonder with its four two-story pod galleries built of metal that look like large space-aged structures. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, these distinctive waterfront galleries exhibit Ohr’s works.

Biloxi is known for its casinos and resorts, including Palace Casino and Island View Casino that offer smoke-free gaming. And for those who want a taste of home with a view of the Gulf, check out Biloxi’s very own Margaritaville Resort and Family Entertainment Center. Opened in June 2016, the family-friendly resort has a 55,000-square-foot family entertainment center, with games and restaurants. The rooftop water playground for resort guests features a 450-foot Lazy River, waterslides and lounge pool.

The personality and atmosphere in Ocean Springs to the east of Biloxi is a high point with a walkable downtown, several boutique hotels and revitalization projects that capitalize on the heydays of the mid-20th century while creating an active and vibrant sense of community.

Distinct accommodations

The Beatnik Hotel and The Roost, both developed Ted and Roxy Condrey, owners of Rain Residential, offer distinct accommodations. Part of The Collective along Porter Avenue, The Beatnik recreates the feeling of the ’50s motel with a new twist. Four floating cabins feature modern amenities and furnishings plus some surprises, including individual unit private outdoor showers. The Collective is a revitalization project along Ocean Springs’ Porter Avenue, a former hot spot for motor courts.

The Roost Boutique Hotel has modern suites in the restored Porter House. Nestled among the tall, moss-draped oaks, it’s a luxurious way to relax that’s centrally located.

There’s no shortage of dining, from informal to fine dining choices. The area has attracted innovative chefs who have earned national recognition for their cuisine. Casual dining at places like Biloxi’s The Blind Tiger featuring its signature Royal Reds, and Ocean Spring’s Mosaic Tapas Bar are complemented by fine dining at the well-known White Pillars in Biloxi and Vestige and Charred in downtown Ocean Springs. These are local favorites that cook up Gulf-fresh seafood, steaks, oysters, and much more.

No matter why or when you head to Coastal Mississippi, be sure to expand your horizons by taking the drive along the coast and spending time in each of the seaside communities there. And be sure to speak to the locals, who are friendly and more than happy to share their stories of The Secret Coast.

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Photos: by Pamela A. Keene