Words by Jennifer Kornegay
Photos by The Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Ocean Springs Chamber-Main Street
Packed with an array of art—from folk to funky to fine—Ocean Springs, Mississippi rests alongside the glimmering Gulf of Mexico and is brimming with creativity, including the spirit of its native son, renowned naturalist painter Walter Anderson.
But this colorful coastal community has more to offer too. The beach breezes and natural scenery are soothing and a perfect setting for outdoor adventures; the culinary selections (championship ‘cue and award-winning fine dining) are satisfying; shopping options in the walkable downtown are many and varied; and the quaint waterside city is flooded with a leisurely vibe. Ocean Springs is always inviting, but schedule your visit for spring before summer’s sizzle sets in, to fully appreciate every aspect of its appeal.
Arts Alive: Total art immersion is easy in Ocean Springs. At the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, surround yourself with this American master’s view of nature in a room that features his fanciful, vibrantly hued take on his home’s plants and animals adorning every wall, floor to ceiling. Other spaces display the museum’s large collection that includes hundreds of Anderson’s watercolors, sketches, and carvings.
Just a few blocks away, see and then shop at Hillyer House. Be wowed by the wall of radiant rainbow-swirled glass sculptures inside this combo gallery and store that were designed and mouth-blown by local artist Jerry Spehr. Then peruse the paintings, pottery, jewelry, and multiple other expressions from area creatives. If you see something you like, buy it; most of the art is for sale.
You’ll have to get in your car to visit Shearwater Pottery, but the short drive is worth the gas. At this small, humble studio and showroom, artisans stay hard at work envisioning and molding clay into bowls, vases, animal shapes, and more, before hand-painting and hand-decorating them. Shearwater’s nature-inspired glazes, their colors evoking earth, sea, and sky, are the pottery’s hallmarks. The current potters are following the lead of Shearwater founder and Walter’s brother Peter Anderson, as well as the techniques of Walter and their younger brother Mac, who both also made pottery at Shearwater. Today, Peter’s children own and run Shearwater, and three are actively creating pieces there.
Downtown Delights: Ocean Springs’ city center streets are tree-shaded and bordered with flower boxes and crayon-box colorful storefronts. You’ll find Mississippi-made jewelry at The Pink Rooster; an eclectic mix of antiques plus an array of products created by Ocean Springs residents at Coastal Magpie; scent-sational soaps hand-crafted with natural, clean ingredients at Buff City Soap Company; and a thoughtfully collected and sometimes kitschy selection of vintage goods—from clothing, purses, and costume jewelry to barware—packed into a cute cottage at Buddyrow.
Beachfront Bliss: As it lacks the high-rise condos and surf-style shops that soak many Southern escapes along the Gulf, you might momentarily forget that Ocean Springs is a beach town. Jog your memory with a visit to Front Beach Drive and Fort Maurepas Park. Time your visit for late afternoon and enjoy a serene sunset stroll along the paved path at the sea’s edge. For some more secluded sand and surf, visit the Davis Bayous Area Gulf Islands National Seashore.
And don’t forego the chance to get out on the city’s abundant liquid assets. Rent a kayak from Paulou’s Beach & Kayak Rentals to paddle through the backwaters. Or save your energy and take a ride around the area’s bays and inlets aboard a charter boat, where you can fish (try for redfish, cobia, and snapper) or, with Eco-tours of South Mississippi, relax and keep your eyes open for alligators, dolphins, and eagles.
Eat & Drink
Morning: Don’t sleep in or you might miss out on a fat, fluffy donut from The Tato-Nut Donut Shop. Potato flour in the dough provides the treats’ hallmark lift (and the Tato half of the name) and has kept this spot crowded since it opened in 1960. Or cross the bay bridge to Biloxi to get to The Greenhouse, where breakfast is served all day—and that’s good news since this joint’s biscuits are some of the South’s best. Consider the sweet potato biscuit stacked with ham, pimento cheese, and a fried egg. And there are several coffee stops downtown, but at Bright Eyed Brew Co., indulge in a jolt of flavor alongside your caffeine in a latte laced with one of their small-batch, house-made syrups such as lavender or bananas foster.
Noon: Don’t let the tin-topped, ramshackle wooden buildings that make up The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint deter you. Inside this bastion of barbecue, succulent smoked meats and comfort-food sides await. Dig into sliced beef brisket, pulled pork, bacon-studded potato salad, and crunchy and salty fried pickles. Or grab a table on the patio at The Government Street Grocery and fill up on sandwiches and po boys stuffed with jerk shrimp, country-fried steak, and meatballs with a side of hearty “loaded” chili or cheesy potato soup.
Night: Try to arrive at Vestige with an empty stomach to take full advantage of chef and owner Alex Perry’s daily-changing, five-course tasting menu. Each innovative dish is built on Japanese influences married with locally sourced ingredients. The results recently earned the attention of the James Beard Foundation Awards; Perry was a semifinalist for Best Chef South. Plan this meal ahead, as reservations are a must. If you’ve got any room left, finish the evening with some cold suds at local brewery, Craft Advisory Brewing. Fans of deep, dark stout should order a mug of Yep!—it’s the first beer ever brewed by the two friends who own this joint and was an accident, but a tasty one.
Beatnik: This hotel packs a lot of style in a tiny footprint, thanks to mid-century modern design that dominates its four individual cabin rooms, each with a private back patio—complete with an outdoor shower—and on the other end, a deep screened porch facing a slim soaking pool. Interiors include reading nooks and a kitchenette, in addition to the spacious bathroom and sleeping space. It’s all decked out in natural materials and neutral hues with a few pops of color for just a dash of drama.
The Roost: This boutique hotel nestled inside a carefully restored historic building is light, bright, and welcoming with its wide front porch. Its individually decorated rooms boast character and space. Plus, the property is walking distance to Front Beach Drive and downtown.