Ocean Springs, Mississippi
If you’ve ever been to this quaint little Gulf Coast town tucked along the eastern shore of Biloxi Bay then you know it has a lot to offer. Visitors come from far and wide, and many will either decide to stay and never return back home, relocate there, or decide to make it their retirement place. Every town has its own personality, and this one lives and breathes a unique atmosphere, perhaps because of its nearness to New Orleans or its eccentric arts past.
A city that is increasingly growing in diversity, nestled within its space are lots of quirky boutiques, little shops, and great food places (more than 100!). A new favorite spot can be found around every corner. Ancient oak trees line many of the streets, stretching across the road and whispering tales of long ago. It’s a town with its own character, and a love for the arts. Numerous art festivals draw people from all over the US and Canada throughout the year, the most well-known being the Peter Anderson Festival.
Here is a baker’s dozen of popular favorites that you should not miss when you visit The City of Discovery:
Tato-Nuts Donuts: The Mohler family has been making the world’s BEST donuts here since 1960. Donuts are made fresh every day, and you can also get a great cup of java (a.k.a coffee) and other pastries. These donuts are special because they’re made from potato flour- which kind of makes them healthier…at least that’s what I tell myself! Go early because there’s usually a line out the door! And if you go during the Mardi Gras season (Feb/March), be sure to try the King Cake donut. But the classic chocolate glazed is a popular favorite, especially because they make their chocolate glaze from scratch.
Government Street Grocery: The best hamburger that you will seriously ever eat can be found at this restaurant. It’s not fancy, and it’s small but you can’t go wrong with any of the menu selections. Get the home-made fries and see if you can guess the secret ingredient. Be sure to look for their famous wall sign that reads, “Keep OS weird!” If you go in the evening, you can catch some great local bands (Texas Pete & Rooster Blues are just two examples). Local craft beers, like Blue Moon, are here, too.
The new indie book shop, Southern Bound Book Shop: Finally, OS has an indie book shop! Bring on the 21st century! In its early stages before becoming a full-fledged butterfly, it’s currently tucked inside a cozy corner of the Adele & Grace Consignment Boutique…which is just mere footsteps from Gov’t Street Grocery. Events like Story Time for kids and a Book Club are encouraging folks to read more. They have a second location in Biloxi, and are great supporters of the local writers in the area. Many books written by local authors can be found here, as well as lots of new releases. Be sure to sign up for the rewards program to earn points for purchases toward future books. Go indies! Shop local!
The Mary C. – officially the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education: If you want to catch a small theatre production or music venue, this is the place. Their annual calendar is filled each year with great artists and all good things for art lovers. This place is a nerve center for local arts. There’s a revolving art gallery that always features thought-provoking artwork or photography that very much pertains to local history and all things Southern. If you go, be sure to visit the gift shop for local designs and artwork. Don’t miss the Ocean Springs History Museum upstairs; if you can catch the Curator, he will tell you some very interesting things about the history of this place and how it developed, as well as the people who played roles in its development. The Mary C. always has a great many things going on. Besides all of these things already mentioned, it offers a wide variety of art classes for all ages… everything from calligraphy, sewing, painting, sculpture, and stained glass to drawing, jewelry making to culinary arts. Once a month they also offer a Saturday market on their lawn; local arts and crafts vendors set up stands and sell their wares.
Walter Anderson Museum of Art: Ah, Walter Anderson…the eccentric man for which this town is famously known. His artwork is famously unique with flowing lines, ink drawings, wood carvings, and jewel-like watercolors. Most of his art relates heavily to the local area and its forms found in nature, such as the sea and local birds or fish. He was known for his 14-mile rowboat trips to Horn Island where he would spend weeks painting and becoming one with the sea and its creatures. If you visit the museum, you will find a unique collection of pieces that will inspire you to enter a magical world of imagination. And best of all, there is a huge room at the museum, tucked in the corner and used for meetings or gatherings; in this room you will find every inch of space filled with nature scenes and whimsical creatures or designs. There is also a Little Room, as it is known. It was discovered at his cottage after his death, and is a giant mural inspired by Psalm 104. The Little Room has been added as an extension to the museum, and stepping inside of it womb is like stepping into a magical and whimsical world filled with dreamlike imagination.
Lovelace Drugstore & Soda Fountain: Nostalgia owns this place. It was originally the medical practice of Dr. O.L. Bailey, but was burned in 1915. It was rebuilt as Ocean Springs Drugs in 1926, and became Lovelace Drugs in the 1950’s. Still dressed in its retro-ish 50’s décor, Lovelace Drugs will take you back to yesteryear. It’s a must on your list of sites to see. They even still have the original soda fountain counter with bar stools. They still sell a small selection of typical drugstore items, but grilled Reuben’s are their specialty, along with milkshakes and root beer floats. A visit here is especially nostalgic during Cruzin’ on the Coast, when vintage vehicles take over the town.
THE BEACH! – No stop to O.S. would be sufficient without a jaunt to the beach. There are a couple of popular spots. If you have a boat, you may want to check out the marina. Front Beach is conveniently located across from Fort Maurepas, which has playing areas for the kids and picnic tables, grills, and restrooms for the whole family. If you have your walking shoes, you can walk along a nicely paved sidewalk along the shore, and can even walk all the way to the Biloxi Bay Bridge which connects O.S. and Biloxi via highway 90. But East Beach is a personal favorite because it’s much quieter, and also allows dogs. This is also the best spot to watch fireworks on the 4th of July. No matter which spot in the sand you choose, watch for shrimp boats heading toward deeper waters, crabs along the beach, and pelicans diving for fish. If you linger to watch the sunsets, you’ll see a glorious show of colors and may catch fish jumping in the water. Breathe in the salt air, wiggle your toes, and relax…then write your name in the sand and get in touch with your inner child!
Shearwater Pottery: Every town must have an off-the-beaten path place to check out. The first time that I went here, I seriously thought that I was headed to the boonies and would surely get lost in the woods and trampled by wild beavers or would end up driving headfirst into the ocean. Just past the marina, there’s a tiny, narrow dirt road- if you blink then you’ll miss it. There is a sign, but it blends in with the camouflage of the green bushes and clay road. Once you find this road, which is very narrow and curvy I might add, you pass several artist cabins before reaching a final cabin. You’ll know this is the place because of all the cars parked outside. Only in the South do we have driving directions like this! On any account, once inside you’ll be transported into another world…the world of marvelous pottery. Originally founded by Peter Anderson (brother of Walter) in 1928, it is still family-owned today. Needless to say, this is considered local hallowed ground. All three Anderson brothers- Peter, Walter, and James- are its most well-known pottery designers. Today they have a variety of potters who design and sell ceramics, decorative and utilitarian pieces as well as figurines. Truly unique in design and reasonably-priced, their pottery is magnificent. If you are into pottery and collections, this is one place you can’t miss. (Even if you’re not, just go!)
French Kiss Pastries: Welcome to Paris! That’s exactly how you will feel upon entering this special little place. Take some time to ooh and aah over the beautiful and delectably inviting pastries, cakes, cookies and pies while you try to decide what to get. Personally, I always love their blueberry scones. The berries are so fresh that they explode in your mouth, bursting with flavor. But there’s also cute little gourmet cakes- get one and you can proudly claim that you ate a whole entire cake!
Greenhouse on Porter: You will love this great little coffee shop that walks to the beat of its own drum. Jess & Katie, the owners, make the best gourmet biscuits this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Housed in an actual former greenhouse, colorful artwork adorns the front entrance area, and the table seating area greets patrons with a small organic garden. There’s a special spot for parking your bicycle, and you’ll get treated like an old friend from the moment you step foot inside. They also host Opp Shop events for local artists, movie nights, musical afternoons, yoga, and writer’s table events. This is really a place that has quickly become embedded into the local community, and its positive vibe will infect you. Mondays are usually Free Coffee days, and be sure to visit the Little Free Library…it’s co-sponsored by Southern Bound Book Shop!
Quakes Ice Creamery: From the outside, you would never know what a treasure can be found within the walls of this place! If you are a true adventurer, then you will take a chance and soon discover. Once inside, you can sit down and eat a great hamburger or hot dog and grab a homemade malt, ice cream or sundae specialty. The food is great, and the ice cream is the best and creamiest in town- and features daily flavor specials. But the best part of all is that you can write your name on the wall! Grab a sharpie, and find a spot if you can, and leave your mark. Folks have been doing this for years. Literally every inch is almost filled- walls, ceilings, tabletops, chairs and benches…even most of the bathroom spaces!
Historic L & N Train Depot, and Fresh Market Saturdays: During the bustling train days of long ago, this station ran a line from Mobile to New Orleans, and it made stops in Ocean Springs. It was built in 1870, and has been lovingly renovated. Today it houses the Chamber of Commerce and a Visitor’s Center, as well as a small gift shop that features local artwork- particularly that of Walter Anderson. This is a great place to stop and get brochures and loot to plan your itinerary. On most Saturdays, depending on the season, you can check out the Fresh Market from 9am-noon. Local farmers bring their fresh crops, and you can also get local honey, fresh organic milk and eggs, cheese, beef jerky, handmade soaps, hand-spun yarn and a menagerie of other items.
Belgicans Fries: Last but not least, this is really the BEST place to get fries. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch, or supper! The name is a blending of play on words, Belgium and America…it’s the Belgian and American way of eating fries. They have a second location a stone’s throw away in D’Iberville. Fresh-peeled potatoes are fried twice to a crispy golden and crunchy texture. When you order, you get to decide topping choices. The menu is diversely unique, and they really do make a meal.
As you can see from this list, Ocean Springs has a lot to offer visitors.
This list is just a short example. In a town with over 100 restaurants and loads of other great places, you will have no trouble finding great spots to shop, eat, or play. Plan your visit today!
The City of Discovery, Part I by Kristina Mullenix