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By Keith Marshall, September 2018
When our grandparents were young, daily trains transported New Orleans families to the balmy breezes, breaking waves and entertainment venues on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
These days, it’s just an hour’s drive from Uptown New Orleans to Bay St. Louis, where a 12-hour day can begin with a coffee shop and browsing in Bay St. Louis, and end with BBQ and country music near the historic town of Gautier. There’s plenty of new intermingled with the old, creating a hip vibe, cheek-by-jowl with historic charm.
8:30 — Depart New Orleans.
(Roundtrip: 200-225 miles. Duration: 12 hours) Take I-10 East and exit to Bay St. Louis.
9:30 — Bay St. Louis
This city has largely recovered from Katrina, with new houses in traditional style lining Beach Blvd. Visitors with memories of the area will be surprised to find two-story Flora-bama-like buildings, bustling with shops, restaurants and watering holes, blocking the view across the bay on North Beach Blvd. But visual relief is just a block away on the largely untouched streets of the town center.
The Mockingbird Cafe (110 S. Second St.) offers pastries, breakfast bites, coffee and tea in an historic cottage. (The Buttercup, 112 N. Second St., offers a full breakfast menu all day.) Stroll the compact town center for art galleries, antique stores and trendy clothing shops, such as Art Collectible & Antiques, Bay Books, Clay Creations, Social Chair and Twin Light Creations. Most shops offer copies of a brochure, “Old Town Bay St. Louis,” that has information on shops and activities to visit.
11:30 — Pass Christian
Return to Hwy. 90 and cross the new Bay Bridge, which leads you to Scenic Drive in Pass Christian. Katrina destroyed many historic buildings, but sensitive infill has made the town seem pristine once again. If you arrive on Friday or Saturday between 11 and 1, stop by the Pass Christian Historical Society’s new building (201 E. Scenic Drive), with its library, displays, tourist information and, if volunteers like Jena Shepherd are on duty, complimentary coffee and doughnut holes.
Just down the street is the new Cat Island Coffeehouse & Pass Christian Books. This modernist interpretation of a wooden beachfront cottage is perched on a cliff overlooking the Gulf., with covered outdoor tables and armchairs offering the best view.
Browse the extensive selection of books on artist Walter Anderson, whimsical views of dogs and cats, and fishing guides. The small second floor, mimicking the traditional coast lighthouses, features Mississippi authors.
By now, it’s lunchtime. The Book Club sandwich (turkey, cucumber, lettuce and tomato, with cilantro-lime cream sauce on ciabatta), paired with Cat Island Cold Brew (coffee and chicory, brown sugar syrup and milk), will prepare you for the short walk to Sweet Magnolia Gelato Co. (116 Davis Ave.) for dessert. Steps away is Parkers, Inc., transplanted New Orleanian Mimi Parker Thomas’s fanciful gift shop that features children’s clothing adorned with local scenes, creations of area artisans and Parker’s “Silver Rabbit Jewelry”, inspired by her pet rabbits in Diamond Head.
Leave Pass Christian on Scenic Drive, and admire the half-dozen historic houses that miraculously survived Katrina — as well as new mansions that rival New Orleans’s Garden District for splendor.
1:30 — Biloxi
It’s time to make a choice, as Scenic Drive returns to Hwy. 90 along the water: Casino or Culture.
Biloxi’s Beau Rivage still holds pride of place among elegant casinos, but the beachside extension of Biloxi’s Island View Casino offers a smoke-free environment and gambling-with-a-view through plate-glass windows overlooking the Gulf.
A high-brow option is Biloxi’s Frank-Gehry-designed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (386 Beach Blvd.). The complex of five pavilions under undulating roofs, designed “to dance among the live oaks,” features the ceramics of George E. Ohr (1857-1918) the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi.” Even if you don’t go inside, the view of this small masterpiece is worth a stop.
3:00 — Ocean Springs
The spirit of Walter Anderson, the early 20th-century artistic chronicler of Gulf Coast flora and fauna and founder of the iconic Shearwater Pottery, pervades the historic downtown of Ocean Springs. Just across the railroad tracks from Highway 90 is the historic L&N Railroad Depot, where Anderson’s son, John, often can be found in Realizations, the family store that features silkscreens of Walter Anderson blockprints, as well as textiles and clothing items with the artist’s designs.
The name Realizations, John says, reflects his father’s belief that “in order to realize the beauty of man, we must realize our relationship to nature. He looked from nature, not at it, to help others realize that they are a part of nature, not apart from nature.
“His love of nature,” John continued, “has been a unifying force in our community and encouraged a love of art.”
The Ocean Springs Walking Map, available everywhere, lists more than 100 shops, restaurants and sites to visit, but musts are the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (510 Washington Ave.) and Shearwater Pottery (102 Shearwater Dr., just a five-minute drive from the museum), where Shearwater Pottery, still produced by the family, is for sale in the showroom.
At Twisted Anchor Tattoo (1101 Government St.), Matt Stebly, Walter Anderson’s great grandson, can emblazon your back with one of the artist’s immediately-recognizable images of coast flora and fauna – but there’s often a six-month wait.
5:30 — Gautier
Return to Hwy. 90 and continue for approximately 15 miles, turning right at the stoplight at Oak St.
Aimee Gautier Dugger, a descendant of Fernando Upton Gautier, says that her ancestor “learned from earlier French settlers and natives of the area that houses must be built at least 300 feet from water and at an elevation of 30 feet above the shoreline.”
Fernando’s 1867 impressive West Indies-style house, “The Old Place,” (on the banks of the Singing River (2800 Oak St.), survives unscathed.
6:00 — Gautier/Vancleave
Return to Hwy. 90 and backtrack, turning right at Hwy. 57 and continuing under I-10.
The Shed, a ramshackle affair that burned to the ground and was rebuilt in the same haphazard manner, offers an array of BBQ and what could be the world’s best potato salad.
Return to I-10 East around 7:00, satiated and happy, with a day’s worth of culture, history and cuisine under your belt.
8:30 — Arrive in New Orleans.