Coastal Mississippi an immersive experience in art, nature, cuisine

Celebrated chefs, renowned artists make Ocean Springs, Biloxi a great getaway.

Facing the Gulf of Mexico in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, watching a blazing peach sun slide below the horizon while beards of Spanish moss sway in the sea breeze, it’s easy to see what moved local artist Walter Anderson to memorialize the area’s natural beauty in his drawings and paintings. Anderson spent much of his life exploring the landscapes of coastal Mississippi. He forged a deep connection with the nature he encountered and communicated this relationship with art that celebrated it, inspiring others to celebrate it, too.

Today, his hometown of Ocean Springs retains the same creative vibe and abundance of scenic splendor Anderson knew, boasting more than 300 artists in a city that hosts the annual Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival (named after Walter’s brother, a potter) in November. With the addition of its warm hospitality and family friendly, small-town charm, this relatively quiet waterfront community in the middle of Mississippi’s 62 miles of coastline provides an escape from big-city bustle without sacrificing culture.

Whether you fly or drive, coastal Mississippi makes a great weekend getaway filled with an array of art, fresh-air activities amid Mother Nature and a tasty culinary scene that ranges from casual good eats to nationally acclaimed fine dining. Here’s a recommended itinerary for enjoying some highlights of the area.

Friday

Get an early start and drive five hours southwest from Atlanta to Ocean Springs. But about a mile or so before you get there on I-10, take exit 57 to grab a late lunch at legendary ‘cue spot, The Shed. Don’t let the tin-topped, ramshackle wooden buildings deter you. Inside, greatness awaits in the form of succulent smoked meats and comfort-food sides. Dig into sliced beef brisket, pulled pork, bacon-studded potato salad and crunchy, salty fried pickles.

Credit: Randy L. Wilson

Credit: Randy L. Wilson

Then head to downtown Ocean Springs and work off some of your mid-day meal with a walk on Washington Avenue, lined with gnarled old oak trees, flower boxes abloom with a rainbow of tulips and storefronts as colorful as a box of crayons. Fill your shopping bags with local art and Mississippi-made jewelry like DeAna Autry’s statement necklaces adorned with freshwater pearls and Catholic saint medals at The Pink Rooster. Outfit your feet with sandals and boots at J Laurie Shoe Boutique. Don’t skip the opportunity to sift through a curated collection of vintage clothing, handbags and barware housed in a charming cottage at Buddyrow.

It should be time to check into your hip digs at The Beatnik. Half a mile from downtown, this boutique property is composed of four modern cabins big on mid-century style. Platform beds dressed with simple linens and sleek, low-slung furnishings in neutral hues and natural materials are enlivened with pops of orange and black, while moss-green velvet drapes add a touch of softness to otherwise sparse décor. The small wet bar is stocked with an electric kettle as well as coffee and tea, and the adjacent reading nook invites relaxation with a cup and a good book. Each cabin has a screened front porch facing a common green space and a shared plunge pool. To chill outside in privacy, enjoy the enclosed back patio with a hammock and outdoor shower.

If you time it right, you can watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico from Fort Maurepas CIty Park and Nature Preserve, just one mile away. From there, stroll along the paved path that runs parallel with the water and Beach Front Drive.

End your evening with dinner at Vestige. James Beard Award nominee Chef Alex Perry’s five-course tasting menu changes every day and combines Japanese influences with locally sourced ingredients. Recent offerings included wagyu beef accented with a variety of mushrooms and black-garlic butter and a twist on traditional carrot cake with black sesame miso and chai-spiced nuts. Reservations are required to dine in the restaurant’s intimate dining space located in a wood-sided cottage.

Credit: Christy Ryan

Credit: Christy Ryan

Saturday

Start the day with a fat, fluffy doughnut from The TatoNut Shop, open since 1960. In addition to classic favorites such as glazed and chocolate-iced, there are special seasonal flavors such as blueberries and cream and king cake. Potato flour in the dough mix provides the doughnut with its light texture — and the Tato half of the shop’s name.

Your sugar-saturated breakfast should provide enough fuel for a paddling exploration of area waterways. Rent a kayak from Paulou’s Beach and Kayak Rentals and set out on your own to skim the surface of serene Fort Bayou, a subtidal river that empties into the Gulf, and keep an eye out for osprey and other seabirds. Most of Paulou’s craft are single-occupant, but they do have one double, so if you’re after a tandem paddle, make sure you book ahead. There are no age restrictions, but everyone must wear a life jacket.

Back in downtown Ocean Springs, grab a table at The Lady May for lunch and start with bagel chips smeared with cream cheese and house-made blueberry jalapeño jelly. Follow that up with a juicy burger slathered in bacon jam or the house specialty, the Crawfish May, a flatbread topped with garlic mayo, red onion, goat cheese, tender crawfish tails and then toasted. Dishes are served on antique china in various patterns in the bright white, airy space. Patio seating beckons when the weather’s nice.

Credit: Picasa

Credit: Picasa

After lunch, prepare to immerse yourself in the imagination of Ocean Springs’ celebrated native artist at the Walter Anderson Museum. On view are hundreds of the American master’s watercolors, sketches and carvings highlighting the flora and fauna of the Mississippi coast, including an entire room where every wall, from floor to ceiling, is covered in his fanciful, vibrantly hued representations of nature. Guided tours with museum docents are available, and a well-stocked onsite gift shop tempts you to take some Anderson art home.

Make the five-minute drive to Shearwater Pottery Studio, established in 1928 by Walter’s brother Peter Anderson, who produced a variety of glazed earthenware vessels, tiles and figurines, many of them featuring designs by Walter. Today, Anderson family members and other staff still make and decorate pottery the Shearwater way. The property includes a showroom with pieces for perusal and sale, as well as a small museum.

If there’s time, drive 3.5 miles over the Biloxi Bay Bridge to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the buildings themselves are works of art. Inside, artists of all stripes are represented with one common thread: they embody the innovation of the museum’s namesake, Mississippi master potter George Ohr.

Come suppertime, take your seat at the Mississippi coast’s other James Beard Award nominee, White Pillars, and dine on Chef Austin Sumrall’s elevated dishes, including seafood towers highlighting Gulf oysters, wood-fired Gulf fish atop preserved lemon risotto and warm heirloom tomato pie with goat-cheese ice cream. Dine amid the historic, elegant environs of the circa 1905 white-columned house.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Sunday

Wake up and get your blood pumping with a morning hike through maritime forest on one of several relatively flat, short (2 miles or less) trails located at the Gulf Islands National Seashore William M. Comer Visitor Center. Then, fill your belly for the trip home at Fill-Up with Billups, a throw-back diner-style eatery serving hearty portions of breakfast standards and more creative fare like rum-soaked bananas foster waffles, bacon-laden bloody Mary’s and big bowls of scrambled eggs topped with your choices of cheese and meat.


If You Go

Ocean Springs, Mississippi, is 383 miles southwest from Atlanta via I-85 and I-65. Or fly direct from Atlanta to Mobile Regional Airport in Mobile, Alabama, pick up a rental car and drive 57 miles west on I-10.

Attractions

Fort Maurepas City Park and Nature Preserve. Free. Front Beach Dr., Ocean Springs.

Walter Anderson Museum of Art. $10. 510 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-872-3164, www.walterandersonmuseum.org

Paulou’s Kayak Rentals. 6717 Woodlake Lane, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-380-0256

Shearwater Pottery Studio. 102 Shearwater Drive, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-875-7320, www.shearwaterpottery.com

Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitor Center. Free. 3500 Park Road, Ocean Springs. 228-875-3962. www.nps.gov

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. $10. 386 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, Mississippi. 228-374-5547, www.georgeohr.org

Shopping

The Pink Rooster. 622 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-875-1218, www.pinkrooster.net

J Laurie Shoe Boutique. 628 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-243-5408, jlaurieshoes.com

Buddyrow. 619 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-369-9414

Restaurants

The Shed Barbecue & Blues Joint. Barbecue plates start at $14; sandwiches at $8. 7501 MS-57, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-875-9590, www.theshedbbq.com

The TatoNut Shop. Donuts. 1114 Government St., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-872-2076, www.tatonut.com

Vestige. Tasting menu starts at $85 per person. 715 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-818-9699, www.vestigerestaurant.com

The Lady May. Sandwiches and salads start at $12. 708 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-872-8478, www.theladymay.com

White Pillars. Entrees start at $26. 696 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, Mississippi 228-207-0885, www.biloxiwhitepillars.com

Fill-Up with Billups. Breakfast plates start at $11. 100 Caillavet St., Biloxi, Mississippi. 228-207-3345, www.fillupwithbillups.com

Hotels

The Beatnik. Weeknight rates from $187; weekends require two-night stay. 402 Porter Ave., Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 228-285-7424, www.thehotelbeatnik.com

Visitor Info

Coastal Mississippi. 2350 Beach Blvd., Suite A Biloxi, Mississippi. 228-896-6699, www.gulfcoast.org.