The sleepy towns of Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs have long served as bookends to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but today they’re thriving with quaint shops, innovative new restaurants and fun festivals.
Bay St. Louis took quite a hit from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but has rebounded in a big way. The renewed historic town now bustles with shops and eateries and faces the Bay St. Louis Harbor, a new full-service, 160-slip marina with day pier, fishing platforms and restrooms and showers.
Located right on the Gulf, Bay Town Inn was also wiped out in the storm but the brand new bed-and-breakfast offers 10 king suites and two larger accommodations perfect for family reunions. All open on to a Southern-style porch with rocking chairs and overlooking the salt-water pool. Owner Nikki Moon greets visitors in the main house office, where her two adorable dogs rest at her feet. Bay Town is dog-friendly, Moon insists, as long as the canines meet certain requirements.
New to town is the innovative Starfish Café, an outreach program of the PNEUMA-Winds of Hope organization dedicated to training adults in the culinary arts and life skills. The café serves up menu items and daily specials – such as spicy spring rolls and a savory andouille bread pudding – without prices; visitors contribute what they can. Co-owner Di Fillhart, who came to town to help with recovery efforts, said the café is hoping to purchase the building they operate in, and all proceeds from their $45 Friday Night Dinners will be applied to capital fundraising.
Alice Moseley is another example of second careers and relocation. Moseley taught school by day in Batesville, Mississippi and cared for her mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, at night. She taught herself to paint to relieve her depression. Moseley began traveling with artists and selling her work, settling in Bay St. Louis at age 79 after attending a festival there.
Moseley passed away in 2004 at the age of 94, but visitors can view her life and artwork at the Alice Moseley Folk Art & Antique Museum located in the 1876 train depot. One block away is Moseley’s century-old “Blue House” – she was not known for white designs – now a bed-and-breakfast.
Other unique and historic places to visit are the St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church and the 100 Men D.B.A. Hall. Built in 1926, the church features an uplifting “Christ in the Oak” mural, two pulpits built from oak trees and the nationally known St. Rose Gospel Choir. The 100 Men D.B.A. Hall is part of the Mississippi Blues Trail, the performance hall once the center of African America social life and today offering special events such as Wayne Thibodeaux’s “Cajun Dance Party.”
Over in Ocean Springs, Kait Sukiennik serves up crusty Southern biscuits, beer and pour-over coffees from Reve coffee roasters of Lafayette at the Greenhouse on Porter. The new restaurant includes an actual greenhouse, one that existed on the spot for years and has now been lovingly renovated, although the rustic ambiance continues. Sukiennik, along with co-owner Jessie Zenor, created the space with only $10,000, utilizing recycled architecturals and carpentry help from friends to pull together the unique eatery where walls are filled with local art and poetry and special events include meditation classes, cat bingo and live music.
Summer festivals include the Second Saturday Artwalk in Bay St. Louis with its changing themes – July is Frida Fest in honor of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo – and the Sept. 5 Artwalk in Ocean Springs. Waveland received a massive fireworks display last year after winning a small-town contest by USA Today and Destination America and continues the fun with an “Independence Day Blowout!” on July 2 at the town’s memorial pier.
If baseball’s your passion, the new MGM Stadium has opened in Biloxi, across from Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. Home to the minor team Biloxi Shuckers, the stadium offers promotional nights, party decks and group discounts. The Mercedes Room, for instance, offers food, drinks and tickets for $50 each or $45 with a private room for groups of 12 or more.
The history of Mississippi Coast baseball makes up the current exhibit at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, located a few blocks away. Friday visitors will be able to hear some of baseball’s finest speak – and enjoy lunch for $10 – at the Sal & Mookie’s All-Star Luncheon. Darryl Strawberry and Ron Swoboda, for instance, are among the lineup.
For more information on what’s happening along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, visit gulfcoast.org.