I’ve written before about how complaining that there’s nothing to do in your home town is merely a manifestation of laziness for all to see. And if that’s the case, then the same concept can be applied to the state in which you live.
That being said, the Chapman crew took advantage of a high school football free weekend and headed to a coastal town in Mississippi that I’ve been to many times before—Gulfport.
Hit the Road
I’ve visited this place many, many (many) times before. My aunt has lived here for decades, and we’ve had plenty of family gatherings down here.
But I’ve never officially visited as a run-of-the-mill traveler.
The easy drive down Hwy-49 offered a steady two-lane trip with some undulating hills once we got south of Hattiesburg.
Travel Tip: It’s not a secret to those in Central or South Mississippi, but if you’re going south of Hattiesburg, don’t go *through* Hattiesburg (unless you maybe want to drive directly by the University of Southern Mississippi). Take the I-59 exit, then take to Exit 59 to US-98 East. Follow it until you see the “Mississippi Gulf Coast” signs. You’ll hop back on 49, and you’re home free.
The three-hour drive had us arriving in Gulfport right around 6:30, but that was arriving in Gulfport. We still had to drive through Gulfport to get to Beach Blvd. A 15-minute drive got us to the coast line right at 6:45.
The Chapman crew was definitely hungry since we made the drive without stopping, so we scoured the local eateries to see what would suit our fancy. The light drizzle halted our original plan of parking downtown and strolling to a restaurant, so we drove straight to the hotel.
Shaggy’s Gulfport Beach
I knew that Shaggy’s Gulfport Beach was right close by, so we showed up, got our name on the list for a 30 minute wait. We took advantage of our hotel being next door and checked in, making the most of our wait time. We took our bags to the room, had a quick restroom visit, and made our way back to Shaggy’s with maybe 5 minutes to spare.
The wife had the Seafood Pasta and I had the Red Fish Special of the Day. The kids had grilled shrimp and chicken strips. (Note: One child will always have chicken and fries. For the sake of privacy, I’m not going to reveal which child this is, but it’s my daughter Charlotte. John will eat anything). We ate outside in the drizzle, but we were under an umbrella. A solid dinner on the deck overlooking the Mississippi Coast wasn’t a bad way to end a Friday.
Fill Up with Billups—Pass Christian, MS
I have two kids. They’re both wonderful. But they’re as opposite as night and day (not an oddity, I know). As previously noted, my daughter doesn’t have a large food pallet (or a pallet at all), but my son is adventurous when it comes to food (or pretty much anything). He also wakes up very early.
When my wife and I first became parents, we worked out a great system where my wife was Parent-A on weeknights if (and when) the kids woke up, and I woke up with them on Saturday morning while she got to sleep in. Now that the kids are older, we’ve continued this system, and my son and I try to make the most of our Saturday mornings together.
Usually, John wakes up really early on a daily basis, and Saturday mornings allow us to merge our two favorite Saturday morning hobbies into a perfect storm of father-son time. Our two favorite things to do on Saturday mornings are find a good breakfast and watch a good EPL soccer game. So when we go on trips, John jumps at the chance to be my out-of-town breakfast buddy.
This particular Saturday morning took us to Pass Christian to enjoy one of the best breakfasts around—Fill Up with Billups.
Travel Tip: Locals and natives take for granted that they know how to properly pronounce the names of towns (and then we get perturbed with outsiders when they say them wrong). The town of Pass Christian is not as it appears. It’s Pass Chris-T’Anne. If you visit and you pronounce it correctly, you automatically earn bonus points (but if you mispronounce it, they’ll let you know, without being ugly about it).
It’s hard to do breakfast wrong, but there’s just something wholesome when you do it right.
At Billups, we went with the classics. John ordered a Belgian Waffle with a side of bacon, and I ordered the Bananas Foster Waffle.
The aesthetics of the place payed tribute to Billups’ real history of being a service station during the mid-20th Century. The coffee was good, the food was great, and the morning was easy.
Murky Waters BBQ—Gulfport, MS
Probably one of the most assumed places to get a meal is the local BBQ joint. It boarders cliche, but a good rack of ribs is something I can’t turn down. And, as noted, my son is a fan of truly participating in the culinary quest. The kid can clean a half-rack of ribs on his own, so we ventured to Murky Waters BBQ in search of some good food.
We found good food, yes, but so much more. We walked in right as the doors were being unlocked. The place smelled like the perfect mixture of brisket and air conditioning. The atmosphere was great, and the service was even better—and during this COVID craziness, it was nice to share a true time of thankfulness. We were thankful to be out, and they were thankful we were there.
Our order at any BBQ place is pretty simple:
- Dad: Ribs or Brisket
- Mom: Pulled Pork Sandwich
- Charlotte: Chicken and Fries (shocker)
- John: Ribs of his own
Simply put, the ribs were fantastic. Charlotte enjoyed her chicken and fries, and John ordered the kids ribs, which is a serving of 3 ribs and fries. However, as is the joyous fashion that makes BBQ so great, they gave him 4.
The wife and I split a pulled pork sandwich, opting to pay the 50 cents for slaw on it (much recommended) and ordered a kids ribs of our own. And for our side, if a place has fried okra, the wife is going to opt for it. So we did.
From atmosphere to food to BBQ sauce (sweet as well as vinegar-based), Murky Waters is truly worth the hype. We later learned that showing up early was the smart thing to do. The place filled up quickly, which is just how it should be.
We exited out the back which led to Fishbone Alley. One of the many places around town that has been intentionally used, Fishbone Alley feels like a section of the French Quarter was sliced out of New Orleans like a piece of King Cake (baby not included) and placed in Downtown Gulfport.
According to it’s Facebook Page, it’s always open, and with the string lights hanging between the two sides of the alley, you can tell it’s got real life. We were there right at noon, and even though we had consistent drizzles the whole time, it almost seemed to add to Fishbone Alley’s aura.
Chandeleur Brewery—Gulfport, MS
We walked a block and a half west to visit one Mississippi’s best known craft beer breweries, Chandeleur Brewery.
Whether you’re a beer person or not, it’s a really neat place to visit. In proper anecdotal fashion, two brothers—Cam and Cain Roberds—fell in love with the craft process of brewing beer, purchased a historic building in their hometown, infused the local flavor into its branding, and have continued to develop unique craft beers of all kinds since day one.
The brewery isn’t a seedy roadhouse where outsiders are treated like scum. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of all of that. It’s pet and kid friendly. They don’t have a kitchen, but they encourage you to be a patron to one of the many restaurants in downtown Gulfport and enjoy your takeout on their patio or in their tap room.
You can buy a pint of your favorite flavor or purchase a flight in order to test some unique brews. And while you’re at a table with friends or family, you’re not allowed to be overwhelmed by life.
As noted earlier, the place is family friendly. My wife doesn’t drink beer, and of course my kids don’t either, but I wanted to see the place I’ve heard of so many times. While we were in there, my daughter and son interjected themselves into a game of Hook and Ring with a few guys from North Carolina.
I didn’t want my two to get in their way, but we were informed that they were having zero luck getting the ring on the hook. Four tries in, my 9-year-old daughter gets the ring on the hook, and the place went wild. My 6-year-old had a few extra tries, but he eventually made it too. It was pretty funny watching my kids beat a group of 20somethings at a bar game.
In normal times Chandeleur offers tours of the brewery, but that has been halted due to COVID. When the pieces get put back together, I encourage a visit to the tour. Might have to revisit so I can get one myself.
Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria
If you’re looking for laid back Italian place that offers a vast array of Italian favorites and hand crafted brick oven pizza, you’re going to find that at Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria.
Another great restaurant that has inserted itself into a historic downtown location, the windows across the front allow for a great amount of natural light to mix with the soft lighting and the fire from the real brick oven. The menu was more than sufficient for my group of 4.
My picky child will eat mozzarella sticks, and theirs are pretty good. They fry them up and serve them hot.
We ordered the Perfect Cheese Pizza for my daughter and a Downtown Supreme for the rest of us. My son ordered the Kids Alfredo and was more than happy with it.
This dinner trip was a chance to meet up with my aunt who lives in Gulfport. The atmosphere at Tony’s allowed us all to have a great time catching up. We weren’t rushed, and my kids were even allowed to stand at the pizza bar to watch the pizza chefs toss dough, spread sauce and put pizza pies in a real brick oven.
Perk’s Downtown Coffee Shop & Cafe
We hoped to meet up with a good friend of mine, but schedules being what they are (and the weather being what it was—wet) we had to take a rain check on meeting up Sunday. With that being the case, we originally planned to pull the lazy morning breakfast escape, planning to stop at Krispy Kreme was we traveled north on Hwy-49, but I wanted to get some coffee from Perk’s Downtown Coffee Shop & Cafe.
I can truly say that if I were a local, you’d be able to find me perched at a table in Perk’s quite often. My sidekick went with me while the girls stayed at the hotel. As we walked in, I picked him up to look in the pastry case to see what he wanted, and his eyes went straight to a solid cinnamon roll.
Without wavering, he said he knew exactly what he wanted and said that mom probably wanted that too. So, as any good husband will tell you, I called her to see if she’d rather have a cinnamon roll or a donut. We landed on a quality local choice.
I ordered a coffee, which was their basic medium roast, morning coffee. But it had flavor. Great flavor. Sidekick John ordered his coffee house usual, a cup of milk in a to-go-coffee cup, and enjoyed his cinnamon roll while I enjoyed a fresh blueberry scone.
Unlike some of the dry, baked through scones I’ve had (which are good), this one was soft, almost as if it were a muffin. I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and took my time with it.
The Mississippi Aquarium—Gulfport, MS
There’s a distant strand of a memory in my brain of an aquarium that was previously located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I vaguely remember driving by it and even walking on the pier next to it when I was just a wee lad. But that memory is very fleeting. I can’t pull out many vivid details from that strand, but it still simmers.
We’ve visited large aquariums, like the ones in Atlanta and in New Orleans, and though they may have a head start on Gulfport’s aquarium, there’s plenty to see in the newly installed home of fish, penguins, alligators, crocodiles and, soon, bottle nosed dolphins.
The layout of the aquarium is brilliant. It maximizes the opportunities the public has to see the animals cared for. Patrons are able to see crocodiles and alligators right when they enter the gates.
Freshwater fish that live in Mississippi’s own waters are available for viewing. You can see them swim from the top, as if you were in a boat, or you can walk to a lower level and see them submersed in their world.
We saw exceptionally large catfish, alligator gar, paddlefish and probably the largest snapping turtle I’ve seen in quite a while.
The otters did not disappoint. We arrived just in time to see the staff work with the two otters, offering positive reinforcement for target training. Again, this is not a unique thing to see at an aquarium, but seeing it at Mississippi’s own aquarium made me feel proud of what they are doing and how well the animals are cared for.
There’s an aviary next to where the dolphins will be. Getting to walk inside the aviary and be with the birds was fun. The care given to maintain the safety of the birds was noted and appreciated.
We visited the indoor portion of the aquarium, which was nice because it was lightly raining. Inside we saw penguins and experienced the large walkthrough tunnel where sharks, grouper fish, sting rays and a plethora of other saltwater fish swam around us.
And, of course, the kids enjoyed the touch aquarium. Having stingrays swim right up to them and under their very own fingers allowed them to complete the total sensory experience.
The layout allows for patrons to see the habitats multiple times. It also was very apparent that the campus was build to expand. I cannot wait to visit again, and I’m excited to see how this facility will evolve.
If you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth the trip, I’m here to confirm your wonderings. Yes, it’s worth the trip.
An Easy Weekend Trip
Three hours south for a chance to see an aquatic menagerie, eat some great food, and experience a place I’ve experienced many times before but in a new way isn’t the worst way to spend a weekend. In fact, it was beyond “quite nice.”
The Chapman Crew will certainly venture back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and will take advantage of the hard work the people of Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach, Pascagoula, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and other towns have contributed to rebuild their communities post-Katrina.
We experienced a good bid, but there’s also much we didn’t get to do. That’s the beauty of it—there’s always a reason to come back to the 228.