Things to do this summer along the Gulf Coast
There are plenty of activities to be had on the Gulf Coast this summer, and events are varied, from visiting historic museums and watching the Blue Angels to kayaking among the dunes.
Opening in July will be the permanent home for the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Gulfport, Mississippi, which will showcase Gulf Coast maritime history. Beauvoir in Biloxi, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis spent his last years, has been restored and is now open, along with a new visitor’s center and library. Just down the beach highway from both is the eclectic campus of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, celebrating both the artwork of George Edgar Ohr – known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi” – and others.
One of the most exciting events to experience along the coast every summer is the practice sessions of the Blue Angels, officially known as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, at their home in Pensacola, Florida. The Blue Angels perform free for the public typically at 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. After watching the Angels in action, head to the National Naval Aviation Museum to enjoy a Blue Angel simulation ride.
There is plenty of natural beauty along Mississippi Coast. Visitors may enjoy the Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, the Crosby Arboretum and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. In the Florida Panhandle, there are numerous state parks to enjoy along the beach and just north of Interstate 10, such as the cool waters of Ponce de Leon Springs State Park.
Dauphin Island, a 14-mile-long barrier island southwest of Mobile, Alabama, offers varied ecosystems from dunes and beach to swampland and features a national recreational trail on the eastern end. Birders will especially love the island, where 95 percent of the birds documented in Alabama have been spotted here. Shell Mound Park contains several plant species that may have been relocated by Native Americans from the Appalachian Mountains and Mexico, plus there’s the award-winning and fascinating Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the pre-Civil War Fort Gaines.
In Alabama, Gulf State Park has been revamped and is now bigger and better than ever, says Jojo Terry of the Alabama State Tourism Department. In addition to the beachfront, nature center, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course and camping, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails stretch through the park all the way to Orange Beach.
“There are miles and miles and miles of trails, and they are all paved so they are handicap-accessible,” she says.
The park also offers the largest fishing pier on the Gulf Coast. New to the park is the Gulf Adventure Center, which offers Hummingbird Ziplines, kayak rentals and paddleboards on Lake Shelby, one of the world’s closest fresh water lakes next to a salt-water source.
For the kids, activities are endless. The Foley Railroad Museum in Alabama opens its massive model train exhibit from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, moving 100 train cars through the 1/4-mile of track. Water parks abound and include the Gulf Islands Waterpark in Gulfport, Mississippi, Shipwreck Island in Panama City, Florida and Sam’s Surf City in Pensacola, Florida.
There are many opportunities to play a golf. One course that’s attracted presidents and celebrities is the Lakewood Golf Club at The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Fairhope, Alabama. Lakewood’s two 18-hole courses are lined with 200-year-old oaks, water features and a challenging signature hole, the 14th on Azalea. Newly renovated, Lakewood Golf Club has several times been named to Golf Magazine’s “Best Golf Resorts in America.”
Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi, plus the Historic Pensacola Village in Florida offer day trips for shopping, galleries, boutiques and history. In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, visitors can view Walter Anderson’s masterpieces at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and visit Shearwater Pottery, where ceramics begun by the late Peter Anderson and his brothers, Walter and James, are still handcrafted. If you arrive before 4:30 p.m., you can watch the potters in action. Every Saturday in the Historic Pensacola Village, costumed living history interpreters offer glimpses into early 19th-century life and guided tours of historic homes are offered daily.