4 minute read

Coastal Mississippi—A Treasure Trove of Natural Beauty Culture, and Fun

Written by Lisa Evans

Coastal Mississippi sometimes lives in the shadow of her neighboring larger cities of New Orleans and Mobile. We are lovingly known as The Secret Coast. More and more people are discovering our mystique, and I'd like to give you a few reasons why. Understand there are multitudes of other places here to enjoy. We have something for everyone! But here is a brief list of why Coastal Mississippi is a place that I love.

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Ship Island and Fort Massachusetts

Ship Island is one of the six barrier islands found off the coast of Mississippi. It is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is home to the historic Fort Massachusetts. You can reach the island by boat, either the ferry service from the coast or private boat.

Fort Massachusetts was built after the War of 1812 and had a prominent role in the Civil War, surprisingly for both sides. The granite spiral staircases are hauntingly beautiful and take you up to the top of the fort. Here, you can see a vast, intact canon from the bygone era.

As for Ship Island itself, it is simply stunning. Visitors swim in the crystal blue warm water of the Gulf of Mexico and sun themselves on a white sand beach. The marine and wildlife you see are delightful, from many water and shorebirds to swimming with the rays, blue crabs, minnows, and perhaps even a small shark. Here is nature's beauty at its finest.

Mississippi Blues Trail—100 Men Hall

Mississippi and blues music are intertwined. Coastal Mississippi has several markers along the Mississippi Blues Trail, one of which is 100 Men Hall. It is one of my favorites. History vibrates from the walls of this small, unassuming building— African American history as well as iconic music history.

During a bleak time in our history, African Americans were not allowed to congregate with others. 100 Men Hall was their gathering place for meetings, social events, and other significant life events. Sadly, black musicians kept to a narrow window of performance opportunities known as 'The Chitlin Circuit,’ and 100 Men Hall became a stop along the way.

Musical greats such as BB King, Etta James, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, and James Booker—to name a few—played on the stage that remains in the house today. A visit here is a step back in time and is truly fascinating.

Ohr O’Keefe Museum Art & Walter Anderson Museum of Art

Have you ever heard of the ‘Mad Potter of Biloxi’? Or perhaps the incomparable genius of Walter Anderson? As natives of Coastal Mississippi, you will find museums dedicated to and highlighting the works of both compelling artists.

Ohr O’Keefe Museum is dedicated to the beautiful ceramic art of George Ohr and showcases much of his work. In addition, there are exhibitions of kindred artists from all over the world. The museum buildings, designed by renowned artist and architect Frank Gehry, are set among majestic live oaks with the backdrop of the Mississippi Sound. A ceramic studio also makes its home here, offering studio space to artists and classes on the craft.

While alive, Walter Anderson dodged the spotlight. He did not paint for fame but rather for himself. The story of his life and work is riveting, and visitors can experience this during a visit to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. His genius is evident in the exquisite paintings, murals, drawings, sculptures, and other works of art housed within. The intensity of Mr. Anderson’s focus on coastal plants, animals, landscapes, and people makes his art much sought after.

Mississippi Aquarium

As one of the newest attractions on the coast, the Mississippi Aquarium brings to life many local marine creatures while still focusing on the importance of education and conservation.

You have the thrill of starting on the top floor with an open display where you can touch crabs, stingrays, and an albino shark. From there, walk down a spiral walkway encircling the spectacular aquarium holding tank containing over one million gallons of water and countless varieties of sea creatures. You will experience dolphins, alligators, otters, and even an outdoor aviary. You will learn about conservation. You will discover the bounty of the water and the area's ecosystem.

Coastal Mississippi has remarkable experiences throughout the area; noted here are only a handful. Visit this place that I love and make some memories.

Photos, opposite page: Biloxi Lighthouse + Beach Blvd, Credit Coastal Mississippi; Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Credit danstefoutdoors.com; This page: Mural,100MenHall, Credit Coastal Mississippi; Ohr-O_Keefe Steve Shepard Exhibit, Credit Coastal Mississippi; Ohr-Okeefe Museum pottery, Credit Coastal Mississippi; Mississippi Aquarium, Credit Mississippi Aquarium