After visiting Gulf Shores, Alabama, we continued west toward Texas, albeit slowly. We made a stop at the Mississippi Visitors Center. I asked the lady working at the counter, who was a hoot, to name her favorite small towns. Oceans Springs was the first she mentioned, and she raved about it. So, after Annie and I took our token state sign picture (dressed for a lobster boil), we made Oceans Springs our next stop.
History of Ocean Springs
Ocean Springs began as the settlement of Fort Maurepas in colonial French Louisiana in 1699. It was established to prevent the Spanish from encroaching on France’s colonial claims. The name was changed to Ocean Springs in 1854 by Dr. William Glover Austin who believed the local springs had healing waters.
Today the town of 17,700 is known for its arts, seafood, festivals and historic downtown. It’s a perfect place for a weekend getaway. Some things to do in Ocean Springs include the following.
Go to the Beach
Front Beach is the popular beach in Ocean Springs. Its sandy, dog-friendly shores stretch 1.2 miles between the Ocean Springs Yacht Club and the Ocean Springs Marine Mart. There are strategically placed port-a-potties, a fishing pier and a sidewalk that runs along the edge of the beach. The beach sits on Biloxi Bay.
Back Bay, as the locals like to call it, is to the east. East Beach stretches 1.3 miles from Ocean Springs Marine Mart to the University of Mississippi Research Laboratory. Enormous homes on spacious lots stand guard over this stretch of sand. It was very quiet on the Friday afternoon when we visited. It was busier in town.
Stroll Ocean Spring’s Historic Downtown
Speaking of town, Ocean Spring’s downtown is dotted with art galleries, shops, and restaurants. For anyone who enjoys a patio, this is the place to be. Clearly, folks were starting the weekend early as they filled the outdoor areas on this lovely spring day. Check out The Lady May on Washington St. or one of the many options on Government St.
Visit the WAMA Museum
While on Washington St., stop in WAMA. As the name suggests the Walter Anderson Museum of Art champions the works of Walter Anderson who spent the majority of his life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The museum which was founded in 1991 is nationally-accredited. Even so, I likely wouldn’t have popped in if it weren’t for the lady I met at the Mississippi Visitor Center.
She explained that Walter Anderson was crazy. He escaped many mental institutions, rowed his wooden boat 12 miles to Horn Island, and painted whimsical nature scenes. He also painted an entire room in his house, and such room is displayed at the museum. But that’s not all…the stories continue!
Be sure to READ the timeline of his life as you walk down the main hallway. At 16, he was presumed dead, but found clinging on to a beacon 28 hours later after a nasty storm. In 1927 he won a scholarship to travel to France and Spain which influenced some of his work. In 1937, he suffered a mental breakdown. In 1948, the Brooklyn Museum held an exhibition featuring his art, but instead of going to the opening, he left a note for his family, “Gone to China!” And the list goes on!
Anyway, the museum features many types of his work, his bicycle, his rowboat, and the room from his house. It is also connected to the community center which he volunteered to paint in 1951 for $1. The people in the community didn’t like it because it wasn’t the classic art they were accustomed to seeing. Fortunately, the floor to ceiling murals remain. Even if you prefer being outdoors like I do, this place is worth a visit.
Take a Hike
As my readers, with my dog Annie in tow, I generally start my day with a hike so she can burn some energy and tolerate VANgo most the day. There are plenty of hiking options in and around Ocean Springs. We found a few places.
First, we visited the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Gautier, just east of Ocean Springs. The refuge is spread out but has two short trails which are dog-friendly.
CL Dees Nature Trail is ¾ of a mile and located across from the Visitors Center. It is mostly a mowed path through a wet pine savannah.
The Fountainbleau Trail is longer (1.7 miles) and more interesting. The undulating path weaves through the pine forest with intermittent views of the Davis Bayou. It is located off Hanshaw Road. For specific directions, go to AllTrails.
I only saw one other person on both trails.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Another place to hike is at Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Gulf Islands National Seashore is in both Mississippi and Florida and includes many barrier islands. In Ocean Springs, along with hiking trails, the National Park includes picnic areas, a campground, a fishing pier, and a boat launch.
While I’d like to say the hike Annie and I took to the CCC Dining Hall Ruins was awesome, part of the way followed a road, which I detest! But you can get a 4.2 mile walk in if you follow all the paths.
Take a Side Trip
If hiking isn’t for you, then take a side trip to Biloxi for some gambling, blues, and a tour of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. While we drove across the bridge for a quick recon, we didn’t make time for any activities. Upon my return, however, I will definitely take the Visitor Center lady’s advice to visit the library. It is located in Beauvoir, a National Historic Landmark, and the last home of Jefferson Davis.
I think I will also take an excursion to Ship Island. The ferry service to the island is offered from nearby Gulfport and operates from March to October. The one-hour boat ride where you will likely see dolphins costs $44 and arrives at Fort Massachusetts.
Not only does Ship Island feature a Civil War era fort, but also it includes Mississippi’s best beaches. Shade is limited, so rent a beach umbrella or take advantage of the picnic pavilion provided by the National Parks Service. For more details, contact Ship Island Excursions.
Overall, Oceans Springs is a nice place to visit, and for the limited time I spent in the surrounding area, I found it more charming than Biloxi or Gulfport. ETB