— OCEAN SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI — Rumors circulated that Al Capone spent time here. He ran rum from the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Then in 2005, a local fisherman, Michael Pluckett, fished Capone’s wallet out of Davis Bayou.
We know Elvis was here, too. He spent summers at the Gulf Hills Hotel while he went on tour in the South in the 50s. Judy Garland, Jayne Mansfield, and Marilyn Monroe visited Ocean Springs and stayed in the same hotel. Ocean Springs has been a destination for those in the know for quite some time.
Ocean Springs could be full of itself with all the famous and infamous visitors. Instead, you find a down-to-earth, wholesome town with oak tree-lined streets. Its thriving downtown has boutiques and art galleries – a sign of the townspeople’s commitment to supporting local artists, including Mississippi’s most famous, Walter Anderson.
As you motor along Front Beach Drive, pristine white sand beaches and the historic beachfront homes are on either side. You will meet local people who could have walked away after Hurricanes Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005. Instead, they chose to rebuild. You come to admire the character and resilience of Ocean Springs’ residents. It’s not just a cute place to visit but a treasure on Mississippi’s Secret Coast.
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Here are 11 excellent things to do in Ocean Springs, Mississippi
1. Visit the Historic L & N Depot
In the 1800s, Ocean Springs drew visitors because of its healing spring water. People escaping the crowded cities of New Orleans and Mobile and the growing tide of yellow fever made their way to Mississippi’s coast during the same time. When the railroad came to Ocean Springs in 1870, travel became much easier.
The restored L & N Depot still welcomes visitors to Ocean Springs with a visitor’s center that’s chock full of brochures on the best things to do in Ocean Springs. When I stopped by, the helpful woman in the center offered spot-on advice. No matter your interests, the visitor center will help you make the most of your Ocean Springs visit.
On the west side of the depot, a store called Realizations sells Walter Anderson’s silk-screened prints on clothing and textiles. Occasionally, Anderson’s original artwork is for sale here. Read on about this local artist.
2. Learn about Walter Anderson
Local artist, Walter Anderson (1903 – 1965), did little to promote his art during his lifetime. When his family unlocked his small studio, they were amazed to find his watercolors, journals, and the murals he had painted in the studio that he called “Eden.” Nature was his most common subject, and Eden showcases this with every inch of wall covered with flora and fauna. The only human represented is the unfinished “Mary- Mississippi,” whose face is either Anderson’s wife or daughter.
The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in downtown Ocean Springs displays his watercolors, sketches, woodblock prints, and furniture. The “Eden” studio was moved from its original location and is attached to the museum. Ocean Springs’ community center – with murals on all four walls painted by Anderson over 18 months – is also attached to the museum.
3. Tour the Charnley-Norwood House
This historic home was designed by Louis Sullivan, who came to Ocean Springs for a week-long vacation and stayed for years. Sullivan was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, so if you notice some similarities with Wright’s architecture, that’s why.
Hurricane Katrina pushed the home off its foundation. The docent will show photos of the massive restoration process that got the house back to its pre-Katrina state.
Email email@example.com to request a tour.
4. Visit Shearwater Pottery
The Anderson family is blessed with artists. Walter’s brother, Peter, was a master potter and founded Shearwater Pottery in 1928. His children continue the legacy. The Shearwater Pottery Showroom is in a secluded part of Ocean Springs. The showroom displays museum pieces and sells both pottery and paintings by Peter’s descendants. The pottery is considered collectible and is not sold elsewhere.
5. Check Out Ocean Springs Downtown
Boutiques and art galleries line Washington and Government Streets in downtown Ocean Springs. You’ll find clothing, handcrafted soaps, antiques, souvenirs, and work by local artists. Photography, watercolor, and oil painting, blown glass, and pottery are some of the media represented at Hillyer House and The Pink Rooster. Coastal Magpie is a good place to shop for souvenirs and antiques.
In case you need a snack while you’re shopping, visit The Candy Cottage for a sweet treat.
6. Ocean Springs Public Art
Tucked away at the southeastern base of the Biloxi Bay Bridge that links Biloxi and Ocean Springs, you’ll find Mississippi’s longest mosaic mural. The undulating work of art features local scenes – sailboats, the bay, and pelicans – on four panels. The easiest way to find it is to put “Ocean Springs Yacht Club” in your GPS.
While the mural and sculptures scattered around Ocean Springs are permanent, the town hosts the Peter Anderson Arts and Crafts Festival the first weekend of November. The juried show brings in several hundred artists, craftspeople, and vendors. Musicians are on tap to perform both days.
7. War Memorabilia in Ocean Springs
Doug and Cheryl Mansfield share their collection of war memorabilia with visitors to the GI Museum. Although most of the collection is from World War II, the museum includes artifacts from World War I and a tribute to a local fallen soldier in Desert Storm.
Military history buffs could spend hours here not only looking at the one-of-a-kind exhibits but also listening to Mansfield’s stories behind the collection. The Mansfields collect and share these war stories, so the sacrifice of those who died is never forgotten.
Mansfield is a natural storyteller and will relate the history behind the museum’s artifacts and talk about what local veterans have shared with him during interviews for a local television program.
Be sure to see the concentration camp dress, the parachute doll, and the WAC uniforms.
8. Remember the Fallen
Along the same lines as the GI Museum, the Mississippi Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial pays tribute to the 668 men and women from the state who died in or as a result of that war. Their portraits are etched on the black granite walls of the memorial.
The memorial is located on Highway 90, also called Bienville Boulevard.
9. Visit Davis Bayou
Davis Bayou is the only mainland-based part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The visitor center is currently closed, but trails, a fishing pier, and a boat launch are open. A local mentioned that pelicans prove God has a sense of humor, so I spent my time watching them from the fishing pier. I came to the same conclusion. They seem to be barely in control as they dive for fish and somehow never miss their mark.
For fishermen, you might want to try your luck at snagging something else that once belonged to Al Capone. You never know what lurks in the bayou.
An easily accessible barrier island, off the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and within Mississippi waters, is Ship Island. A ferry departs from Gulfport daily from spring to fall. The opening may be delayed because of hurricane damage. Check the website for a current schedule.
10. Eat Seafood, Eat Seafood, Eat Seafood
Along Washington and Government Streets, restaurants serve fresh seafood, farm-to-fork meat, and locally sourced veggies. Ocean Springs is a dining destination with a restaurant to suit every taste and every mood. Stroll along either street and take a look at their menus.
If you’re looking for French-inspired food, visit Maison De Lu. For a Japanese-inspired tasting menu that changes nightly, check out Vestige. For casual dining with live music, head to Mosaic Tapas Restaurant.
I recommend Greenhouse on Porter for breakfast. They serve melt-in-your-mouth biscuits as savory sandwiches or with jam.
In the mood for a nightcap? Head to The Wilbur Bar – a bar with a speakeasy feel that seems perfectly suited to Ocean Springs, given Al Capone’s ties to the town. The bar is part of The Roost – a delightful boutique hotel. I recommend it highly for its unique, well-appointed rooms, comfortable beds, and inviting veranda.
11. Stroll an Ocean Springs Beach
Ocean Springs has over three miles of beach between Front Beach and East Beach, both with a paved walking path and wide swaths of white sand. Front Beach is dog-friendly. The view of Biloxi’s skyline and the Biloxi Bay Bridge at sunset is stunning. The calm waters off Front Beach, which faces Biloxi Bay, are ideal for swimming.
Across the street from the beach, Fort Maurepas Park is a replica of the area’s first fort built in 1699. A statue of French explorer, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, stands in front. Here you’ll find restrooms and showers when the pavilion is open.
“There’s something for everyone” rings true in Ocean Springs. It is an ideal destination for art and architecture admirers, history buffs, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, and those searching for the restorative powers of a sandy beach and beautiful sunset.
**Opening photo ©Coastal Mississippi
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