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January 14, 2013

Explore the edges Mississippi Gulf Coast

Stick to the edges if you need a way to narrow your vacation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Biloxi’s in the middle, and plenty of fun, but consider Bay Saint Louis for science, the scenic byway to space and a dynamic, resilient little town.

Then head to Ocean Springs on the other side for art and artists, a family museum of many activities, boutiques and fine eating.

When you’re in Bay St. Louis, you’re 45 minutes from New Orleans but you might not notice.

Lingering on the balcony of Trapani’s Eatery on North Beach Boulevard in Old Town is one of many reasons why.

Food and drink quite fine―be sure to order the eggplant medallions and charbroiled oysters―but it’s the view of the Bay that will entice you.

Big view, broad expanse, mesmerizing water. By the time you go, and I return, four piers with 168 slips will be welcoming boaters who can simply traipse across the street to shops and restaurants.

Next year, the Bay-facing doors open to a remarkable overnight experience―Bay Town Inn has a story like none other.

Nikki Moon clung all night to a tree in her front yard when Hurricane Katrina broke the 1897 building apart in 2005.

She’s back, construction underway for a two-story Inn with five suites on each floor and a wide verandah.

I’m a believer in the energies and inspiration to absorb staying with such an innkeeper. Resilient I observed all over this cozy town.

Entertainment seems to matter to the people here; they’re building an amphitheater as part of the new marina so expect to be on the water for concerts.

Community theater has a strong history, and their early June festival of music, art and food called Bay Bridgefest was named one of the top 20 events in the southeast for 2013 by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tish Williams has lived in Bay St. Louis all her life, and she credits “300 years of cultural diversity with honing a community that thinks outside the box.”

Maybe that’s why they consider their 43 miles of scenic roads as a byway to space. Thirteen of those miles are in Bay St. Louis.

Neat little fits-in-your-pocket map for birding, fishing, relaxing, biking, camping, canoeing on the 8.5 mile Blueway Trail … and then, destination space.

NASA Stennis Space Center is the real title, with INFINITY Science Center around the corner.

Big corner here: 14,000 acres of research and testing land buffered by 125,000 more acres.

A 30-minute bus tour takes you by but not in the NASA and NOAA and NOAR centers. That last one’s new: National Oceans and Applications Research.

Get really close to space engine testings in documentary video showing in INFINITY. Maybe you’ll get lucky to be on the bus tour on engine testing day.

Get close, too, to “Curiosity,” the replica Mars rover; real one’s helping determine if life can be sustained at the Gale Crater.

Grand themes presented at INFINITY: 2090 and beyond is one. Another: What would change our perceptions of the universe and our place in it?

How about this one? What was, and what might be?

INFINITY is very new, still evolving.  It’s also full of depth, influenced by real scientists, researching in real time.

Fred Haise is one of them, Apollo 13 astronaut, Biloxi born. The soaring eagle sculpture at the science center entry honors him.

For me, this western edge of the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers solid reasons to linger and to return. Call it The Bay, and you’ll sound like a regular.

Ocean Springs is the other side of Biloxi, five minutes over the bridge, same bridge where you can anticipate the opening of the new Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.  

I went to Ocean Springs specifically for the Peter Anderson Festival―34th year of fine art, crafts and food.

What I also found was a community brimming with art and artists, chefs of many persuasions and a museum offering much more than stories about the family of artists focused here.

Thinking I’d like to return for summer camp at WAMA as the locals like to call the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

Walter is the family member who painted the walls of the Ocean Springs Community Center in 1950 for $1.00 – detailed scenes, murals with stories of history and of whimsy, the discovery of this coast and its flora and fauna.

This is art invites closer and deeper gazing.

The murals cover 3,000 square feet, valued I’m told at $30 million.

Plants, animals and people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast fill Anderson’s individual paintings, many of which can be seen in the Museum of Art attached to this Community Center.

His brother Peter was a potter, founder of the much-talked about Shearwater Pottery in this region, and brother James painted and created pottery.

I didn’t meet Walter’s grandson Christopher Inglis Stebly, but saw his paintings in WAMA.

“Wild things and places are essential to me,” he says, presumably reflecting his grandfather who took refuge on Horn Island, one of the Mississippi barrier islands, in the 1950s for freedom to envision and to paint.

Could be that the enduring legacy of the mother of these three artists, Annette McConnell Anderson, shapes Ocean Springs today as a community honoring and embracing all things artistic.

Invitational art festivals happen regularly, shop windows are graphic pleasures, contents boutique style and the bed and breakfast inn is in the midst of all the downtown activity.

If my oyster artichoke soup and green tomato tower with lump crab, crawfish tails and Tasso cream sauce at The Phoenicia is any indication of the restaurant scene, I’d recommend staying long enough for multiple meals.

Ocean Springs is a walking-around kind of community, plenty to peer at and in, abundance of friendly conversations.

Sure you could book some nights in the big casino hotels in next-door Biloxi and plenty of visitors do gleefully.

Might also consider a different kind of treat staying in Ocean Springs.

 

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