A Family Vacation in Coastal Mississippi
Did you know that there is a Mississippi coast? Not many people do. That’s why it is known as the Secret Coast. But if you are looking for a great family vacation destination, that has lots of fun (and even educational) activities for the entire family at a great price, then I recommend checking out Coastal Mississippi.
I visited Coastal Mississippi for the first time ever last month and had a great time doing a variety of outdoor activities, spending time on the water, exploring their miles of shoreline and grabbing great eats at waterfront restaurants that had amazing views of the miles of scenic shoreline. In Mississippi, I was able to have unique experiences that I have never had anywhere else.
Dare I say that this is definitely one of the best places to go on an affordable family vacation and because of the secret coast’s temperate climate, it is a great year-round destination.
Things to do in Coastal Mississippi on a Family Vacation
Are you intrigued, but want to find out more about what there is to do in Coastal Mississippi and whether it’s right for your family vacation? Don’t worry, we have got you covered. Check out below for fun family activities that you can do while visiting the Secret Coast.
Big Play Entertainment Center
When on vacation with kids, you have to mix in some fun activities where kids can just run around with the more organized activities. Big Play Entertainment Center is definitely a place where kids can run around and have a good time. That said, there is so much to do that adults will probably want to get in on the action too.
Big Play has laser tag, go-karts, bowling, mini golf, bumper cars, a laser maze and gem mining. There is so much to do, you can definitely spend a good half day here. Even better, you don’t have to leave to grab lunch or dinner, as Big Play serves up burgers, pizza and more and there are even offer adult beverages for the parents.
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Damaged, but not destroyed, battered, but not beaten, the Biloxi Lighthouse served as a symbol of the resilience of Biloxi and its people during Hurricane Katrina. While many properties were damaged, some beyond repair, Biloxi emerged stronger than ever after the Hurricane. The Biloxi Lighthouse has stood erect since 1848 and was one of three original lighthouses built on the Mississippi Sound. The structure is made of cast -iron and that is what probably kept it safe. The Biloxi Lighthouse is a great spot to stop and walk around and take some photos. If you would like to go inside, you have to get there pretty early as they only run tours from 9 am to 10 am. The lighthouse is right by the visitor center, so you can stop in to pick up some info on the area.
Biloxi Shrimping Trip
If you have ever wanted to learn more about shrimping, then I highly recommend the Biloxi Shrimping Trip on the Sail Fish. As you head out from the Marina, the boat drops a 16-foot trawl in the water to catch shrimp. The captain explains how the trawl works and tells you about the history of the shrimping industry in Biloxi. He also showed us what the different-sized shrimp look like before they hit the supermarket and what makes small, medium, large and jumbo shrimp.
After the discussion, he pulled up the net and deposited the catch onto the boat. There were crabs, fish and shrimp caught in the net. He told us about the different sea life he had caught. He kept most of the shrimp on board and then threw the crabs and fish back into the ocean. This is where kids might get a little freaked out. So many birds were circling overhead just waiting for the fish to be thrown back into the ocean and it was literally a feast for the birds. I would probably recommend taking the kids back inside at this point.
That said, if you have an inquisitive child that loves asking questions, and loves Animal Planet and/or nature shows, then the shrimping trip is great for them.
Good to know: You can purchase tickets online, but they are more expensive. You can just walk up the day of and pay in cash. Parking is in the parking lot by the Hard Rock Hotel, but the parking lot is difficult to navigate. If you are staying nearby, I would recommend that you walk.
Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras Museum
Stop in at the Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras Museum to learn more about Mississippi Mardi Gras. You will be able to see costumes up close, learn about the history of Mardi Gras, the kings and queens, and the Mardi Gras krewes.
Good to know: included at a part of the Coastal Mississippi Attractions Pass
If you are looking to take the kids to the beach while visiting, then you will definitely want to take them to Front Beach in Ocean Springs. Besides being a great beach, Front Beach has a playground for the kiddos and a fishing pier if you are so inclined. Front Beach also has a great view of the Gulf Islands. If you have Fido with you, you are in luck as dogs are allowed on the beach, but must be leashed. Front Beach runs from the Biloxi Bay Bridge to Ocean Springs Harbor.
Good to know: The water at Front Beach is brownish due to dredging, but it is perfectly safe for swimming.
Gulf Coast Gator Ranch
I know, I know, I went all the way to Mississippi to see gators, when we have lots of them at home in Florida. That said, I have never been this up close and personal to the Florida gators even when walking around a wildlife preserve. At Gulf Coast Gator Ranch, the alligators are behind fences, but you can walk right up the fence to look at them and to feed them. But there was a sign on the fence that says the alligators jump, so I made sure to back up a little when feeding them as I didn’t want to find out how high they could jump. You are also able to take a picture with a gator if you would like, a baby one of course.
After feeding the alligators, I went on an airboat ride. Yet another thing we have in Florida, but I had never been on one before. The captain of the airboat gave us a lot of information on the plants that we were seeing, animals in the area and of course alligators. While that was interesting to learn about, the best part, and what kids will probably enjoy most, was zipping around on the water in the airboat.
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center
If you have younger kids, you will definitely want to add Lynn Meadows Discovery Center to your list of activities to do while visiting Coastal Mississippi. The Center has 15,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits where kids can play and learn.
Some of their exhibits are a super colossal climbing structure, a train exhibit, a veterinarian’s office, a Mississippi port exhibit where one can “go shrimping” or “load goods” onto a boat via a crane, a historic hotel exhibit, a NASA exhibit where kids can design, build and test their own spacecraft and more.
Plan to spend the good part of the day here if you visit with the kids.
Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum
Visit the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum to learn more about one of the largest industries on the coast. Learn about commercial fishing, how seafood goes from sea to table and see how fish is canned inside a seafood factory. Visit the Wooden Boat Gallery to see examples of different types of boats that were built in Mississippi. Most impressive of all the wooden boats is the Nydia, which was built around 1898 and was used as a racing boat.
The museum also has two replicas of Biloxi oyster schooners that sailed the gulf waters in the 1800s to 1900s. You are able to charter the entire boat for a 2.5-hour sail or do a walk-on sail if there is space available.
You should definitely stop in and see the aquatic animals at the Mississippi Aquarium. You will see animals that are native to the Gulf, including alligators, crocodiles, bottle-nosed dolphins, river otters, turtles and more. You can also visit the onsite aviary or attend one of the many daily programs including Otter Chat, Croc Talk or Narrated Dolphin Training Session. Make sure not to miss the Underwater Tunnel. Kids will be excited to see fish swimming all around them.
Pascagoula River Audubon Center
Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point is a great place to take kids to see birds, explore nature and see native plants. At the Center, you can see a variety of birds including Bald Eagles, Brown Pelicans, Hooded Warblers, Swallow-Tailed Kites, Little Blue Herons and more. They also have a hummingbird garden, where you are able to lie in wait ad watch the numerous hummingbirds that come down to grab some nectar. There are binoculars on offer to watch the hummingbirds, but I found them easier to spot with the naked eye.
For younger kids, the Center offers the Kids Play and Children’s Nature Discover Garden where kids can explore the natural world and see plants from the gulf coast region. For older kids and adults, the Center has kayak and paddle boat rentals.
Ship Island Excursions Dolphin Watching Cruise
Taking a dolphin-watching cruise is always a fun family activity. I saw more dolphins on Ship Island Excursions Dolphin Watching Cruise than I have seen on the Florida dolphin-watching cruises that I have taken. What is great about this cruise is that you are not on your own to scan for dolphins. The crew is on top of the boat scanning for dolphins and makes an announcement each time they are spotted and tells you where to see them. That said, I do recommend that you scan for dolphins yourself, as many dolphins appeared above water for a few seconds only, so if you waited for the announcement you might miss them. Scanning will also make the cruise more enjoyable for kids as it gives them something to do instead of just waiting around, because if your kids are like mine waiting eventually translates to boredom and that is the kiss of death for any activity.
Ship Island Excursions also offers a ferry across the Mississippi Sound to Ship Island. Ship Island is a natural barrier island and a national protected seashore that is only accessible by boat. On Ship Island, you can enjoy a day of playing in the sand and surf. While a snack bar is available on the island, I would recommend bringing your own food and drinks for the day. Please note that glass bottles are not allowed and coolers must be 42 quarts or less.
Top Golf Suite at Beau Rivage
I was staying at the Beau Rivage, and so one night I went down to the Top Golf Suite to play some games. While I have been to a Top Golf, I have never been to a Top Golf Suite. In the Top Golf Suite, you are playing on a simulator. It has a variety of sports games that you can play including golf, hockey, football, zombie dodgeball and soccer. I played every game except for golf. While I was there by myself, this activity would be a lot of fun with a group. You get a semi-private suite for an hour and can order drinks and snacks to your suite.
Places to Eat in Coastal Mississippi
At one point, Biloxi was dubbed the Seafood Capital of the World and you can definitely see why when you visit the area. Every restaurant that I visited served up great seafood options. Here are some of the restaurants that I tried on my trip and would highly recommend.
Fill-up with Billups
If you are looking for the perfect place to go for breakfast, then head over to Fill-up with Billups. It is located right across the street from the Beau Rivage. They are an old-school diner, where you can sit at the counter or in one of the booths. We recommend Hangover I, II or III. The plates are definitely big enough to share.
Ground Zero Blues Club
While Ground Zero Blues Club is not a restaurant per se, it does offer food and the food is pretty good. As the name says, Ground Zero is a blues club with live music multiple nights of the week. Show up early (around 7 pm or so) get a good seat for the show and order some supper. The menu features traditional southern favorites like catfish, hushpuppies, fried green tomatoes, cracker salad dip, sweet potato casserole, chicken biscuit, collards and more. And you can’t beat having live entertainment while you eat. Note that kids are welcome at Ground Zero, but I would advise going for dinner and watching the first set and leaving after that’s done.
McElroy’s Harbor House
McElroy’s Harbor House serves up seafood favorites and is the perfect place to go for lunch if you want unbeatable views of the Gulf of Mexico. Make sure to get a table outside, so you can enjoy the view.
If you are looking for something cool on a hot day, then stop into Pop Brothers. They offer homemade pops that come in a huge variety of flavors. I was seriously torn on what to order when I visited. They do offer dairy and non-dairy options so everyone is able to get a pop.
Shaggy’s is a local spot that serves fast-casual cuisine. They serve nachos, wings, flatbreads, salads, wraps and tacos and of course, they serve seafood. Shaggy’s also has a great drink menu for adults. Opt for the Biloxi location of Shaggy’s as that location is beachfront and you will have a nice view while you eat.
Woody’s Roadside is known for its burgers and you should definitely stop in to grab a burger with some onion rings or fries. Try the cruisin burger with chipotle mayo, bacon, jalapenos and cheese bombs on top or maybe the honky tonk burger with BBQ sauce, Havarti cheese and pulled pork is more your speed. If you want a regular burger or cheeseburger, they have that as well. You’ll also want to try out the cheese bombs which are a local specialty. They are Monterey Jack cheese deep fried and served with marinara sauce; they are basically an improvement on the mozzarella stick. Woody’s Roadside has locations in Biloxi, Gulfport and Ocean Springs, so no matter where you are staying on the coast there will be a location nearby.
Places to Stay in the Mississippi Coastal Region
There are lots of great places to stay in Coastal Mississippi. You’ll definitely want to compare hotels on hotels on Trivago prior to booking to ensure you get the best price. Here are some places that I checked out during my visit that are great for families.
Margaritaville Resort Biloxi
The Margaritaville Resort Biloxi is a great location for families. It offers family rooms, waterfront rooms with balconies, a 60,000 sq. foot arcade with a ropes course and rock climbing wall, water slides and a lazy river. Even better, they are building an outdoor fun area, called Paradise Pier which will open in 2023. Of course, what would a Margaritaville Resort be without a 5’Oclock Somewhere Bar? Paging, Jimmy Buffett! While this location is famous because of the name, the best location to grab a drink is actually the Lost Key Bar located in the lobby of the hotel. This bar has a perfect view of the miles of the coastline. There is so much to do here for adults and kids that families will absolutely love this hotel.
The Beau Rivage is the grande dame of Biloxi. The hotel was built in 1999 and was the most expensive property built in Mississippi at that time; the investment has paid off in spades. The Beau, as it is affectionately called, has nice spacious rooms just perfect for families. The waterfront rooms have a large picture window with a seating area so that you can enjoy the view. The Beau has a fabulous pool deck with tons of seating. The hotel also has a coffee shop, garden restaurant, buffet restaurant and other dining options. Yes, the hotel does have a casino, but it is still a great property for families.
The Oasis Resort is located in Centennial Plaza in buildings that formerly housed a Veterans Hospital. During Hurricane Katrina, the property was destroyed and then it sat vacant and in disrepair until the owners of the Centennial Plaza decided to bring it back to life. There are two hotels on the property, the Oasis Resort which is larger and better for families and Grand Centennial Hotel which is a boutique hotel that is more suited to adults. Oasis Resort while not right on the beach is right across from the beach. So if you happen to drive to the coast, make sure to pack your beach toys. Oasis Resort is also located in Gulfport while the other locations are in Biloxi. The hotel has a brand new water park that is open to guests as well as immaculate grounds great for strolling, and multiple restaurants for dining.
Good to Know
Coastal Mississippi is only a 1.5-hour’s drive from New Orleans so you can definitely combine a vacation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with a vacation in New Orleans. Flights can sometimes be easier to get into New Orleans than into the Gulfport airport.
A car is highly recommended for this vacation as you are going to be driving back and forth between Biloxi and Gulfport and places like Pascagoula River Audubon Center and Gulf Coast Gator Ranch are about 30 minutes outside of these main areas.
I was hosted by the Coastal Mississippi cvb in order to facilitate this post.