Sunday, May 29, 2016

Maybe the secret to happiness ISN'T at the beach. But shouldn't we at least check?

During the past several years, I've fallen back in love with the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Yes, Alabama's Orange Beach is still lovely, and Florida is gorgeous. But there's something appealing about the convenient, sleepy beaches of Biloxi and Ocean Springs.

Last summer, Clay, hubs and I went down for a long weekend. We checked into a condo at Ocean Club Villas in Biloxi (which we scored for a great price on FlipKey). We had two lovely bedrooms, two baths, a full kitchen, sitting room, balcony and washer/dryer. We also had access to the pool, which we used several times during our weekend!

After unpacking and settling in, we met up with my sister-in-law and her family for dinner at McElroy's, a local favorite. You can get delicious seafood here, as well as stick-to-your-ribs breakfasts, and all with a view!

In the morning, we headed to Ocean Springs for a MS Gulf Coast tradition - breakfast at Tat-O-Nut. A sweet little shop in the downtown area sells a variety of confections made with potato flour, and they are delicious! We always have fun picking out our favorites and trying new varieties! On the weekends, a line can definitely form here. I recommend visiting early for shorter wait times and the best selection.

After breakfast, we headed for the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, which I hadn't been to in ages. It's so lovely! The murals in the community room are striking, as is the "secret room," where Anderson covered the walls with fantastical creatures. They also have Anderson's boat and bicycle on display, as well as furniture he made and many, many lovely paintings. We racked up in the gift shop, buying our own art supplies and some gorgeous jewelry for friends. Admission to the museum was only $10 per adult, and Clay was free!

We spent the rest of the day noshing and lazing at the pool. We had dinner at the White Cap restaurant in Gulfport on the beachside patio. The seafood is delicious there, but service can be slow on busy weekends.

The next morning, we started with breakfast on the beach: pastries from Le Bakery in Biloxi. I have had many, many pastries in many, many of the great cities of the world, and I'd put these right up there with any of them. I particularly love the almond paste confection, topped with sliced almonds. Hubs and Clay gravitate toward the chocolate varieties! You are going to want to go ahead and buy a whole box of pastries. You will eat them the whole weekend. And, if you're like me, you may also pick up a second box on your way out of town, when you leave. Just sayin'.

After breakfast, we headed to catch the Ship Island ferry. A quick education - Mississippi's beaches don't feature the big, rolling waves of the beaches in Florida. That's because our coast is dotted with barrier islands. Those islands break large waves. They also tend to hold sediment closer to our shores, making the water on our beaches less vivid blue/green than other beaches. BUT, if you want the Florida experience without leaving Mississippi, you can catch a ferry out to the barrier islands and beach to your heart's content!

I hadn't been to Ship Island since college, and I was eager to show Clay! We packed our towels, some bottled water, a little cash and plenty of sunscreen. The ferry takes about an hour. You can sit inside or outside, and there are bathrooms and a snack bar available on the ship. When the ship docks, you follow a boardwalk across the narrow island to the beach! (Don't pack too much. Whatever you're toting gets heavier the further you go!)

We rented an umbrella on a gorgeous stretch of sand and spent the afternoon swimming, sunning, people-watching and snacking. Clay was completely jazzed that he was out swimming in the ocean with me! The weather was gorgeous. When we got hungry for lunch, we went by the island's beach food joint for burgers and hot dogs. That afternoon, we caught the return ferry. (You can take one in the early afternoon, with another offered in the late afternoon.)

After a rest back at the condo, we headed for The Reef. This multi-level Biloxi eatery features back decks with gorgeous views, a roof top bar and delicious fish and seafood. We started with drinks in the bar, keeping an eye on the kids as they played on the beach below. When our table was ready, we rounded up our assorted, damp small people and tucked in. The fish here is soooo good! We topped it off with dessert and happy birthdays (We were celebrating some family birthdays.), then straggled back to the condo, spent, for a good night's sleep!

In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and headed for the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi. What a gem! We learned so much about sailing and the fishing industry here and saw tons of cool boats and gadgets! Many of the boats are beautifully restored antiques. Some of them are small, personal crafts, just right to spark the imagination of a small boy. Clay loved the idea of setting off alone in one of these little boats for his own adventure! They also have a lighthouse lamp in the foyer, a really cool shrimp peeler on the second floor and amazing depictions of the history of the MS Gulf Coast. We loved this place!

For lunch, we played it safe. Jackson-area restaurateur Jeff Good opened Sal and Mookie's, a branch of his popular pizza and ice cream joint, on the Gulf! We stopped in there for pizza and ice cream sundaes! Then, it was back to the condo for more swimming and lazing around before the evening's activities.

That night, we had dinner reservations and tickets to a show! We started at Stalla, a beautiful Italian restaurant in the Beau Rivage hotel and casino. I've been here on several occasions, and I always enjoy it. Service is quick and friendly, and the food's always good. We filled our bellies with pasta (I'll admit to having a glass of wine AND splitting a dessert.), and we were on our way to the show!

There are frequently shows playing in and around the MS Gulf Coast that are appropriate for families. On this occasion, we were going to see Yaye, a Cirque-style show with music, acrobatics and amazing costumes! We enjoyed it (and the audience interaction) very much! If you're after more adults fare, there are all sorts of concerts that play, either at the coliseum or at one of the many casinos. And then, there are tons of bars featuring live music. Plenty to do.

On the way back to Jackson the next day, we couldn't resist stopping in at Crescent City Grill for lunch! It's part of a clutch of restaurants in Hattiesburg owned/operated by Robert St. John, a well-known local chef. (I think I've eaten in all of them, and I can't remember EVER having a bad meal in any of them.)

Then, it was home to unpack and remember the waves and sand fondly. Until next time!

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