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Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:00

The Glorious Gulf Coast

Written by  Evelyn Kanter

 

USASand dunes, slot machines, shrimp served up in seemingly endless ways, and Southern hospitality. The Gulf Coast is much more than that, of course, including resiliency and history.

The Gulf Coast suffered mightily from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A storm surge as high as 38-feet in spots reached as far as 12 miles inland from New Orleans and across Mississippi, devastating everything in its path - from high-rise resorts to Antebellum homes and fishing boats. Tourism is as important to the Gulf Coast as shrimping, and the rebuilding began immediately. Today, the numbers for both tourism and fishing are equal, if not ahead, of pre-Katrina.

Biloxi, Geographical Heart of the Gulf Coast

Biloxi is a historical city with much to offer visitors beyond an endless stretch of soft sand beaches and casino hotels including the Beau Rivage (www.beaurivage.com), part of the MGM family, the Hard Rock (www.hardrockbiloxi.com), and the Palace Casino Resort (www.palacecasinoresort.com), which is the city’s largest smoke free casino accommodation. 

The new Mardi Gras Museum is housed in the historic Magnolia Hotel, which dates from 1848 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. There are glorious costumes on one floor, and Mardi Gras history on another, where you’ll learn that it started in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama, not in New Orleans.

The equally historic Biloxi Lighthouse is the city’s landmark, and one of the most photographed sites on the Gulf Coast. There are daily tours, weather permitting. A more modern Frank Gehry-designed museum of art focuses on local culture, including Afro-American art. Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, combines displays of period furnishings in the old house with a modern museum and library.

Gulfport 

Gulfport is a dozen miles east of Biloxi, easy enough to stay in one and have dinner in the other. There are several must-see destinations here.

Busted Wrench is the official repair and maintenance shop for the annual Cruisin’ the Coast, one of the largest gatherings of vintage vehicles anywhere in the United States, each October. Part of the facility is the owner’s collection of historic vehicles, motorcycles and boats, including one car which was featured in a Hollywood movie.

Triplett Day Drugs is equally famous for its $3.25 breakfasts, sugar-dusted beignets made to order, and the presence of Jim Day, the octogenarian pharmacist who has owned this slice of Americana since 1955. Your clients also will love the historic black-and-white photos on the divider separating the coffee shop and soda fountain from the pharmacy and gift shop.

The Center for Marine Education and Research is a combination aquarium, aquatic rescue center and retirement home, with sea lion and dolphin shows to entertain kids of all ages. One of the dolphins, named Apollo, arrived here after working for the U.S. Navy locating underwater mines.

Be sure to eat at Blowfish, a popular local fish  restaurant overlooking a postcard-perfect bayou, that was washed away by Katrina and rebuilt atop one-story stilts. The menu consists of all local favorites, including delicious fried green tomatoes, fried dill pickles, tasty shrimp and grits, crabcakes, and a memorable banana pudding dessert.

Bay St. Louis

There’s another Mardi Gras museum in Bay St. Louis, inside the town’s visitor center, featuring the costumes of local designer Carter Church. Some costumes contain as many as 10,000 Swarovski crystals, either sewn or glued in fanciful patterns resembling Tabasco sauce bottles, royal crowns or feathers. Some of Carter’s creations take 400 or more hours to make, can cost five figures, and are worn just once.

The 100 Men Hall in Bay St. Louis is an important stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail. It is named for the 100 African-American men who founded a local self-help group in 1922, to provide financial and social support, including burial services, for a community ignored by Jim Crow laws. 

The hall became a popular stop for musicians after they finished their gigs in nearby New Orleans, including Etta James, Fats Domino, James Brown and Big Joe Turner. Their music still fills the wooden floorboards during regular swing and blues concerts and dances. The owners are musicians transplanted here from Los Angeles, who rescued the historic building from being demolished after Katrina, and have restored it to its 1920s self.

There are more than 150 blue Blues Trail markers in Mississippi, designating where such music as Elvis Presley, Jelly Roll Morton and B. B. King were born, performed, or recorded. Many are along the Gulf Coast, which for more than a century has been - as one marker says - “a destination for pleasure seekers, tourists and gamblers”.

The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport is a modern facility less than 30 minutes from either city. The New Orleans airport is 90 minutes or more.

www.visitmississippi.org

 

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