These three fun itineraries for idyllic days in "The Bay" are tailored for fitness buffs, families with children and BFFs who want to explore Old Town's shops. You won't go hungry either, with our local eatery suggestions. Feel free to mix and match at will - you really can't go wrong.
- itineraries and photos by Ellis Anderson
Start the morning with breakfast at Lulu’s on Main (126 Main Street, inside Maggie May’s). Fuel up with one of her specialties like fried chicken beignets or a BLT with a scrumptious bacon remoulade sauce.
Pick up your copy of the historic walking/biking tour at Lulu’s or click here for the digital version. The Old Town Biking/Walking Tour winds 1 1/4 miles through the town’s lovely historic district, and the guide recounts colorful snippets of the past.
The tour winds up near the Starfish Café (211 Main Street) with its garden-to-table menu – literally. Many of the creative and delicious dishes are made with ingredients harvested from the front garden. The menu changes seasonally – but look for local favorites, like grass-fed beef burgers, fish tacos with mango slaw and veggie spring rolls.
After lunch, check out Green Canyon Outfitters (108 S. Beach Blvd). Perched in the top floor of the French Settlement building, it's the only retail shop on the beach and a must-see for new residents who lead an active lifestyle. Green Canyon proves one can find big-city brands on the coast. More pluses? One of the best views of the harbor and beachfront scene - and it's dog-friendly.
Rev up again by biking or walking the serene beach path (start at the Washington Street pier). This five-mile paved trail runs between the peaceful beach and an old-fashioned two-lane coast road that hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years. Along the way, keep an eye out for skimmers, osprey, pelicans, and even bald eagles.
Don't have a bike? You can rent them at Bodega (just off Beach Boulevard at 111 Court Street). Feeling more adventurous? You can also ply the local waters with kayaks and paddle boards, also available for rent there. If you want to explore the Jourdan River Blueway, a few miles north of the Bay, click here for the map.
Afterward, you won’t have to dress up to enjoy dinner at Trapani’s Eatery (116 N. Beach). It’s one of Jimmy Buffet’s favorite watering holes on the Gulf Coast. Reward yourself with the fried green tomatoes with crabmeat or feast on the low-calorie raw Tuna Poke.
The family-friendly Buttercup Café (112 N. Second Street) is located in the heart of Old Town and offers dining both inside and out. The younger set will crave the fluffy pancakes that smell like birthday cake when they’re served. Adults will want to sample local favorites like the crawfish étoufée omelets.
Then pile into the car and head out to INFINITY Science Center in the western part of the county. The museum exhibits and a free bus tour of the adjacent (and restricted access) Stennis Space Center complex give a glimpse into the science behind space travel. Interactive exhibits like the Carnivorous Plants Conservatory and seasonal tram rides through the surrounding wetlands give lessons in natural habitats.
During summer months, drive to your next stop, Buccaneer State Park (1150 South Beach Boulevard, Waveland). The extraordinary wave pool and water park are open seven days a week all summer (closes after Labor Day). The Sea Dog Galley offers hamburger/hot dog basics.
During the rest of the year, grab lunch at the INFINITY Café and set out for the Louisiana/Mississippi border for a swamp tour. Cajun Encounters is only 15 minute drive from the science center. They offer two-hour boat tours - even off season – with three early afternoon tour times (see the schedule at www.cajunencounters.com). Expect to see all types of wildlife in the majestic Honey Island Swamp. Get your cameras ready during warm weather, the alligators will be basking. The tours last about two hours and everyone will be sad when it’s over.
Finish your day back in Bay St. Louis at Cuz’s Oyster Bar and Grill (108 S. Beach Blvd.). it has both patio and indoor seating. The younger set can devour fried shrimp and catfish while the adults will dig into specialties like raw and grilled oysters and boiled seasonal seafood.
Breakfast at the Mockingbird Café (110 S. Second Street) gives any day a special start. They offer some of the best biscuits in the south (homemade jams available!), specialty coffee drinks and if you’re feeling especially celebratory, order up a strawberry-lemonade mimosa or Bloody Mary to go with the pulled pork and grits or chicken with waffles.
The commercial district of Old Town BSL isn’t large at all, but it’s evolved as two sections, clustered around the first and second blocks of Main Street. Each “block” has its own distinct personality. The Mockingbird is a touchstone for the “Second Block.” It’s right next door to the vast Century Hall (112 S. Second Street), a renovated historic gem that contains more than a dozen shops.
Check out Bay Life Gifts for beachy décor and gifts and Gallery Edge for contemporary art. Also on Second Street you’ll find Smith & Lens Gallery (106 S. Second Street), Magnolia Antiques (200 Main St) and Social Chair (131 Main Street) and Antique Maison (111 N Second). A bit off the beaten track (only a few blocks), is Antique Maison Ulman (317 Ulman Ave.). This enormous building is stuffed with finds and treasures. You can rest your feet in their tearoom and garden - you may need to!
On the actual second block of Main Street, the three “must visits” are the anchors. French Potager (213 Main Street) is known for florals and exciting finds. Gallery 220 (220 Main) is one of the oldest artists co-ops in the state, while next door is California Drawstrings (216 Main Street), a boutique specializing in chic, artsy natural fiber clothing.
It’s a quick half block stroll past churches and the historic courthouse to get to the “First Block” area. The focus is on lifestyle and fashion here. The enormous building at 126 Main serves as home to several shops, brimming with art, stylish boutiques and home décor. Check out bijoubel Boutique and Joan Vaas (next door) for high-end clothing and jewelry without the sticker shock.
End the day at a restaurant that’s been featured in national publications like “Vogue.” The motto at Sycamore House Restaurant (210 Main St.) is “come casual, we supply the elegance.” The menu offers classic coast fare with inventive twists. Local favorites include the “flautas of the day,” the tenderloin and the fish of the day. Save room for divine homemade ice creams (the salted caramel will make you swoon) or one of the best crème brulees in South.
A Newcomer's Reconciliation
Learning to see the invisible net of community - woven from both past and place - enriches the life of one suburban transplant.
- by Ellis Anderson
I was baffled. After being a part-time Bay resident for years, I’d just moved over full-time from “the city.” In New Orleans, one attended the grand opening of a business expecting to receive, not to give.
But since I’d blown my party budget by hiring a great band, there wasn’t much left to spend on refreshments. So my answer was, how about bringing a little snack, like potato chips or pretzels?
On the designated night, hundreds of people – or at least it seemed like hundreds to me – streamed down the sidewalks toward the gallery, plates of food held before them. Friends had to fetch more folding tables to hold the feast. Soon every available surface on the gallery’s porch was filled with casseroles and cakes, shrimp pastas and sandwiches, salads and brownies.
At one point in the party, an astonished friend who’d driven over from the city asked who my caterer was.
“They are!” I said, gesturing toward the crowd gathered on the gallery’s front yard and dancing in the driveway.
Tears sprang to my eyes several times that night. I’d never imaged such a generous a community could exist. I felt embraced, like the new member of an extraordinary tribe.
But I didn’t know enough local history then to understand that I’d always be the new kid on the block. Being a real local is an accident of birth. While newcomers may live here for decades, if someone in Bay St. Louis or Waveland says that they’re a native, it’s likely their ancestors settled here two centuries ago. Or longer.
A short time after my gallery opening, one local startled me by saying his family had been residing in Hancock County for nearly 300 years.
That’s a good example of hyperbole, I thought.
Then he explained that his direct ancestor had been one of D’Iberville’s crew members when the explorer claimed the territory for France.
Later, I’d see censuses from the early 1800s, filled with names of my neighbors. Like Dubuisson and Dedeaux, Morain and Ladnier, Labat and Socier. Necaise, Quaves, Garcia, Lafontaine, Baribino and Seal. While the spelling and pronunciation of the names may have changed a bit over the centuries, for the most part, the families’ attachment to this place has not.
I try not to be jealous. My own heritage is more free-floating, although I did trace one ancestor back to the 1700s. My multiple-great grandfather, Isaac Anderson, fought in the Revolutionary war. Then the Scotch-Irish immigrant homesteaded as far from civilization as he could, settling in a remote corner of North Carolina’s Appalachia.
But the Great Depression scattered his descendants from that Blue Ridge cove. By the 1960s, only one of my mother’s six siblings still lived in Ashe County. My parents landed in Charlotte, where I grew up. In just a few hours we could drive to my mom’s hometown of Crumpler (which boasted one general store/gas station/post office) – but it was light-years from the city.
Charlotte’s population was exploding at the time. To further entice developers, the city sold its birthright: thousands of irreplaceable historic buildings were razed, ones that graced its streets and served as emotional anchors to its citizens.
Residents swung in and out of Charlotte's teeming ranch-house neighborhoods so fast the Welcome Wagon had to chase them. I graduated from a newish high school 100 times the size of Crumpler. Its 1,500 students were pulled from a 10-mile radius. Our most popular community gathering spot on the weekends? The mall.
I moved away for good in 1976. While I missed my parents, I never once felt homesick. That particular malaise requires connection to a place. While Charlotte’s got a lot going for it, endearing it’s not.
Many millions of suburbanites like myself have been raised without a stabilizing core of long-term residents in their neighborhoods. In cloned and characterless landscapes jammed with strip malls and billboards, gas stations and fast food joints, we find nothing to cherish.
Then, there’s life on the Mississippi coast.
It seems everyone who grew up in Bay St. Louis has their favorite childhood fishing spot, or tree, or place on the shore where they have watched sunrises. They experienced their first kisses on the porch swing of their aunt’s house, or the steps of the old city hall.
They can point to just about any cottage in town and reel off the names of those who grew up within those walls, who was born in the back bedroom or married in the yard. They might transport you with a story about camping in that very attic with other rambunctious kids, determined to catch a ghost.
Longtime locals can stand before an empty lot and perhaps see a three-story house that no longer exists – and its roofline their grandmother walked across as a girl, just to satisfy a dare. Or they can gesture to the spot on the beach where their daddy launched a sailboat he and his brothers built over an idyllic summer.
Coast natives see threads of continuity running everywhere through the landscape. They can pick up an end anytime they choose and follow it back generations.
These ties are invisible to newcomers at first, but I can see more every year I live here. Each story told by a local reveals another strand that’s woven into an astonishing, yet invisible net of fellowship.
While it may not be my family's net, simply knowing it exists imparts a certain kind of peace.
Animated Vs. Animals
The Pokémon GO craze may have more people walking around outdoors, but they're oblivious to local flora and fauna, in pursuit of tiny cartoons.
- story by Ellis Anderson
The Company of Trees
It turns out the trees are social beings that have feelings and can communicate. Some folks aren't surprised.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Bye Ward, Hello Shoofly!
Ward and June are going into retirement, as the Fourth Ward Cleaver web-zine changes its name to "The Shoofly" in July! Read on for why.
- story by Ellis Anderson
Way Back When
Most people know Nan Parati as one of the creative forces of Jazz Fest and owner of Elmer's, an iconic New England restaurant. Here's the little-known backstory of her first creative enterprise.
- by Ellis Anderson
Going back to college as an older adult can be challenging and rewarding. Here are seven tips to help you make the grade.
- story by Ellis Anderson
The Last Straw
How a group of BSL residents are teaming up to just "say no" to drinking straws. Why does it matter? You might be surprised!
- story by Ellis Anderson
A Keeper Kind of Resolution
Letters of gratitude can work magic, even if they're never even mailed. It's a scientific fact.
- by Ellis Anderson
A Very Special Anniversary
The "hyper-local webzine" with the goofy name is celebrating its first year as a full-scale publication - with some pretty surprising, and far-flung, fans. It's been a fantastic year, Thanks Y'all!
-story and photos by Ellis Anderson