Last Updated on March 30, 2023
When you hear the phrase ‘quaint, cottage coastal community,’ what images does that evoke? Beaches with fabulous ocean views? Stunning sunrises and sunsets? Great food and cocktails? Boutique shopping and small-town charm? On Coastal Mississippi in Ocean Springs, you’ll find it all.
Recently mentioned in Southern Living Magazine as a ‘town you’ve been missing,’ Ocean Springs has received numerous accolades. Coastal Mississippi’s Ocean Springs was also named the ‘Best Small-Town Shopping Destination’ by USA Today in March, 2023.
Downtown Ocean Springs
The 1.6-mile-long Biloxi Bay Bridge carries six lanes of Highway 90 over the water from Biloxi to Ocean Springs. The bridge provides a perfect walking path between the two destinations. If you are speaking to a local and told, ‘go over the bridge,’ you know they’re directing you into Ocean Springs.
I enjoy going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings near the historic train depot. Here, I can wander about the booths at leisure, finding fresh fruits and produce, pastries and baked goods, and handcrafted items from area entrepreneurs. My personal favorite is getting some local honey along with jams and jellies.
Once finished at the market, a few more steps takes you into the heart of downtown highlighted by its live oak trees, some hundreds of years old.
I suggest a stop at Tato Nut Donut Shop. Once you’ve had one of their creations, it will forever alter your expectation of a good donut. I know that statement sounds dramatic, but it’s true!
They don’t last long. I generally grab one early, before my favorite selection is gone.
Shopping in Downtown Ocean Springs
Many of the shops and boutiques within Ocean Springs showcase the artistry that permeates the city. In many places, you’ll find beautifully handcrafted pieces of pottery, glassworks, paintings, and prints.
One of my favorite places to shop and browse is Hillyer House. For over half a century, they have offered exceptional art pieces to locals and the visitors coming through the area. You will undoubtedly find a perfect gift for someone you love, or a treat for yourself.
At Hillyer House, you can choose from handmade pottery pieces, jewelry, glasswork, and wearables. The shop owner is present almost daily, greeting customers by name, and is heavily involved in the community.
A number of the downtown shops are very similar, lending to the close-knit feel of the city.
Miner’s Doll and Toy Store is another fantastic store downtown. This locally owned and operated establishment is a place to find all sorts of educational and fun things for the children in your life. Although they have other dolls for sale, they are one of the largest dealers of Madame Alexander dolls. Check out the room filled with a variety of games, puzzles and all manner of things encouraging kids’ natural creativity.
Give yourself plenty of time to meander throughout the blocks on, in, and around Government Street.
Ocean Springs’ Thriving Arts Community
While there are many attributes of Ocean Springs to enjoy, my favorite is the abundance of art and creativity here.
I love exploring historic buildings such as the Charnley-Norwood House. Designed by famed architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, the home has weathered many storms, including being nearly washed away during Hurricane Katrina. Through community spirit and love for the home, the Charnley-Norwood House was restored and is now the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Mississippi open to the public.
Finding your inner artist is as simple as heading over to the Mary C, or more formally, the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Art Center. Here you can find any number of instructional classes, from ceramics to music, dance, or photography within a stunning historical building.
While there, check out the mural tiles from the locally renowned Anderson family and other talented, budding local artists.
What is Ocean Springs, Mississippi Famous For?
The Anderson name has become synonymous with Coastal Mississippi’s Ocean Springs. This family of artists made Ocean Springs their home, and to this day, extended members still live at the family homestead continuing the legacy of their ancestors.
James “Mac” Anderson kept a lower profile than his brothers. While his career took a more traditional architecture route, he is also known for his décor and designs. These design touches can be found on many of his brother’s art pieces.
Peter Anderson is famed for his hand-thrown pottery and unique glazes. In 1928, he built Shearwater Pottery as a workshop. Within a few years, his brothers joined him, added some space, and created molds for his pottery.
Still operated by Peter’s children using techniques learned from their father and brothers, their product line has evolved into a fantastic array of unique pieces of pottery featuring marvelous colorful designs and glazes.
Each time I raise my coffee in a mug I purchased from Shearwater, I’m amazed at the talent that has thrived within those walls.
Ocean Springs, MS Arts Festival
In November of each year, the streets of Ocean Springs are closed inviting thousands of people to the city for a weekend paying homage to the legacy of the Andersons and other area artists.
The Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival is a street festival celebrating the local arts community. Attending the festival leaves one in awe of the talent and hard work of these artisans.
And guaranteed you’ll find something unique to take back with you.
Walter Anderson Art Museum
Aristotle once said, “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.”
To immerse yourself in genius, you must set aside a few hours and tour the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and the Ocean Spring Community Center. Here you’ll learn about another of the famous Andersons.
It was well-known that Walter Anderson struggled with personal demons, yet no one can doubt his pure genius. As I strolled through the museum, I learned about his troubled life and was awe-struck by his marvelous works.
Walter used many mediums to express his art: oil and watercolors, painted wood carvings, sculptures, graphite on paper. The list goes on. At one point, he used whatever mediums he could find when the mood struck him, be it linoleum scraps or the back of wallpaper.
Ocean Springs Community Center
Connected to the museum is the Ocean Springs Community Center. I was astonished to see the floor-to-ceiling murals covering all the walls.
Painted by Walter between 1951 and 1952, the north side wall depicts the moon progressing through the planets, concluding with an astonishing sunrise on the eastern wall of the building. The southern and western walls illustrate the founding of Ocean Springs, from the Biloxi Native American tribe to the arrival of the French explorers in 1699.
After Walter’s death, his widow discovered a locked room attached to the cabin where he lived on the family compound. Here she found a fantastic treasure trove. It remains a mystery when the artist accomplished this.
Nowhere are his internal battles more evident than in The Little Room. This room consists of a floor-to-ceiling artwork illustrating the progression of a 24-hour day along the Gulf Coast, with a colossal zinnia painted on the ceiling and paint splatters on the floor.
No photo can possibly grasp the feeling one gets when entering this room. It is both beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Later, Mrs. Anderson graciously donated the room to the museum so everyone could enjoy this artwork.
I was also lucky enough to visit Walter’s cabin, where he spent his later years. Although still married, he lived apart from his wife and children who resided in another homestead building.
His immense talent was once again evident from the artwork inside the building, on the walls, doors and on hundreds of canvases discovered here after his death.
I visited on a fabulous spring day, with Azalea blooming, their brilliant pinks in full color surrounding the cabin. It was easy to see why Walter secluded himself here, out of the public eye – which he never truly sought – to create such magnificence.
As I was leaving, strolling along the paths found throughout the compound, I met and spoke with one of his daughters. It was a poignant moment, realizing that the legacy Anderson and his brothers created continues on today.
Other Ocean Springs, Mississippi attractions
While everything I’ve mentioned makes the city of Ocean Springs a true gem along Coastal Mississippi, the city offers even more.
As part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Davis Bayou presents a paradise for bird watching. Here you can hike along paths spotting ospreys, eagles, cormorants, herons, egrets and more rare species. Visit the gator pond and find the elusive resident that inspires the name. Turtles lounge in the sun.
The city’s front beach provides stunning views with gentle breezes coming off the water. There are boutique hotels along with restaurants, bars and nightlife. Ocean Springs even has its very own speakeasy.
I encourage you to visit and enjoy my hometown, our Mississippi City of Discovery.arthistory