Saturday, June 22, 2024
Travel

Coastal Mississippi boasts unexpected LGBTQ+ charm

Every now and then I visit a destination I know absolutely nothing about. That happened a few years ago when I visited Oklahoma City and I fell in love with OKC. This time around, that destination was Coastal Mississippi, more specifically Biloxi, Gulfport, and Ocean Springs.

In fact, the only thing I knew about the Biloxi was the hotel I stayed at, Beau Rivage. I knew it was owned by MGM Resorts, but that was about it. The rest of the trip was going to be a surprise.

For this particular trip, I wanted to focus on health and wellness and luckily, Beau Rivage’s most recent renovation included two floors full of Stay Well rooms as well as an updated spa. My gulf view room came complete with an aromatherapy machine, ultra high-end linens, a memory foam mattress, and pillows as well as a vitamin C dispenser hooked up to my shower. I had never seen one of those before, so I had to ask what it was.

After an early check in, I departed for Ocean Springs, a quaint town just east of Beau Rivage. My first stop was a place called Shearwater Pottery. Apparently, it is very well known to everyone but me. After posting pictures on social media, I received numerous comments from friends wanting to visit. Shearwater Pottery was founded in 1928 by Peter Anderson and from the 1920s through the present day, Shearwater Pottery has produced art pottery, utilitarian ware, figurines, decorative tiles, and other pottery pieces.

I had the opportunity to meet with Margie Ashley, the daughter of Peter Anderson who told me about her family’s legacy in Ocean Springs. At that time, Coastal Mississippi was known for fishing and not so much for the arts, so her family was viewed as outcasts but the community. Margie told me people used to called them the “crazy Andersons.” But they eventually had the last laugh as the family name has become as much of Coastal Mississippi culture as seafood gumbo.

A few minutes up the road from Shearwater Pottery is the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Walter was the brother of Peter Anderson and equally as talented, creating thousands of works throughout his lifetime. Many of Walter Anderson’s paintings, drawings, murals, block prints, sculpture, carvings, and writings are on display at the museum.

Joey at Mississippi Aquarium

The pièce de résistance is the Community Center, which is the site of Walter Anderson’s monumental 3,000 square foot mural, which depicts the historic discovery of the Mississippi Coast and its diverse climates. The city commissioned Walter Anderson in 1950 for a fee of $1.00 and the project took 16 months to complete.

For dinner, head to Vestige, a farm-to-table restaurant in Ocean Springs helmed by head chefs Alex Perry and his wife, Kumi Omori who were recently nominated for a James Beard Award. Vestige offers a pre-fixed menu which changes on a regular basis and contains only the freshest local ingredients. And if it’s not local, they fly it in from its land of origin to insure its freshness. We began our meal with sashimi of Hamachi complete with a foie gras emulsion, rose, purple sweet potato and magnolia flower kombucha veil. Yes, that was one dish and just an appetizer, but probably my favorite item on the menu.

After 3 more courses which consisted of a piece of perfectly cooked fish to charcoal grilled wagyu beef, the meal comes to an end with a delectable strawberry Bavarian with cacao mint genoise, whipped match, grapefruit lemon curd and pecan ginger shortbread. This wasn’t just a meal; it was an experience worthy of a James Beard nomination and definitely the award for Best Chef: South.

You’ll need the rest of the night to recover from a food coma, so head back to Beau Rivage for some much-needed rest or hit the casino if your heart desires.

Head out the next morning to the recently opened Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport, about 15 minutes west of Biloxi. The state-of-the-art facility is home to a variety of sea life and is one of the crown jewels of the area.

I can never see enough animals, so next on the agenda was the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies located at Ocean Adventures Marine Park. Guests can come up close and personal with stingrays, sea lions and dolphins. I had the opportunity to interact with a beautiful male dolphin, getting to rub his belly, give him commands and feed him some delicious fish. For my, I mean his hard work, I got a kiss from one of my favorite animals.

On the way back to your hotel, stop by Coastal Roast Coffee for an afternoon pick me up before dinner. I wasn’t sure what to expect at White Pillars. The bar was set really high at Vestige the night before, but I was in for another treat. We began our meal with a bowl of Oyster & Artichoke soup. I was a bit hesitant to order this at first as I didn’t want to begin my meal with something heavy, but when it arrived, it turned out to be one of the best soups I’ve had in a long time. It was light and fragrant, consisting of Gulf oysters, fennel, and oyster mushrooms in a coconut milk broth. When dining near the coast, why not try the Gulf Seafood Tower, two tiers of fresh oysters, mahi crudo, smoked fish dip and amberjack ceviche.

And those were just the starters. For my main course, I ordered the Duck Ramen prepared with a confit duck leg, collards, togarashi, duck cracklins, and the traditional soft-boiled egg. In fact, the egg was the only thing traditional about the dish, which was rich and delicious. The duck was cooked to perfection and the broth was fantastic.

The area is home to two LGBTQ bars, Sipp’s in Gulfport, and Just Us Lounge, located within walking distance of Beau Rivage. The crowd at Just Us was a melting pot of the area’s LGBTQ community, extremely diverse and welcoming. One thing to note is that smoking is still legal inside bars, so if that bothers you, there is a large outdoor space available.

I know I said I wanted to focus on health and wellness during this trip, but I seemed to have detoured from my mission somewhere in Ocean Springs. One can’t resist the food in Coastal Mississippi, so screw the diet for one more day and head to The Roasted Bean located in the lobby of Beau Rivage and ask for an order of beignets. These are not listed anywhere in plain site and are the best kept secret of the hotel. I received a tip from the captain of the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, which I went on the morning prior. The powdered sugar pastries where the best I’ve ever had. Light, airy, and simply delicious. They couldn’t have been that many calories, right?

End your stay in Coastal Mississippi with a relaxing CBD massage at the The Spa at Beau Rivage. The 80-minute massage uses CBD body oils as well as a Moor Mud treatment to soothe tired muscles and back pain. Playing with dolphins, eating oysters, and savoring beignets all weekend was quite stressful.

If you are looking for a relaxed seaside vacation, put Coastal Mississippi on your radar. There are many unique experiences that will make your stay truly memorable.

Visit coastalmississippi.com for more information about the destination.

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Joey Amato

Joey Amato is a seasoned LGBTQ journalist with over 10 years of experience in LGBTQ publishing and marketing. Joey is the founder of Pride Journeys, an LGBTQ travel website and syndicated column. He is the former owner of UNITE Magazine and served as the founding editor of South Florida Gay News. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @thatprideguy

Joey Amato has 11 posts and counting. See all posts by Joey Amato

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