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Mississippi Gulf Coast with Kids, A Surprising Beach Destination

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Mississippi makes a surprising beach destination for families. It’s affordable, fun, and beautiful. So why is this destination often overlooked? Because travelers just don’t think of Mississippi when planning their beach vacations. That means less crowds and better deals for those in the know! Biloxi, Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Pass Christian and other Mississippi beach towns provide plenty of attractions and charm. Take a look at these 17 things to do along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids.

Mississippi Gulf Coast beach

Beach view in Pass Christian, Mississippi (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

This story is brought to you in partnership with Coastal Mississippi, the official regional tourism entity representing Mississippi’s three coastal counties: Jackson, Harrison and Hancock.

1. Visit the beach.

Let’s start on the sandy shores of the Mississippi Gulf Coast! This southern state offers 62 miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, overlooking the Mississippi Sound. That includes 26 miles of white sand beaches. What’s more, the waters are typically warm and shallow, making Mississippi an especially alluring beach destination for families with young children. You’ll often find playgrounds close to the shore, too. Meanwhile bigger kids and teens will love renting jet skis to tool around the Gulf. Mom and dad can cool off with a tropical cocktail or craft beer at one of four Shaggy’s locations (three along the coast), served up alongside fresh seafood for all.

Banana Daiquiri at Shaggy's Pass Christian Harbor

Banana Daiquiri at Shaggy’s Pass Christian Harbor (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Meet alligators at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours.

Families love to feed alligators, go on an airboat ride and even cuddle a baby gator at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours in Moss Point. This was my 11-year-old son, Leo’s absolute favorite thing that we did during our mother-son Mississippi Gulf Coast vacation.

Feed alligators at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

Feed alligators at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

What kid wouldn’t want to toss treats to a bunch of snapping gators?! (From behind the safety of a secured fence, of course.) For a fun photo op, brave children and parents can take a turn holding a baby alligator, whose jaws are securely shut.

Baby alligator at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours

Leo holding a baby alligator at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

We saw a couple of wild alligators during our airboat tour. Meanwhile, Captain Frog (our airboat guide) explained a bit to us about local wildlife and plants. The most thrilling part, though, was our speedy tour around the bayou. Hold on to your children for zippy 180 and 360 turns! Children must be at least 4 to embark on a swamp boat tour, but I might hold off until at least 6 or so. Note: pregnant women are not permitted to ride for safety reasons.

Bayou view at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours

A serene end to our wild airboat tour at the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Catch shellfish on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip.

Get out on the Gulf during a Biloxi Shrimping Trip. Not only can you take in gorgeous water views, but also your kids can see how shrimp are caught using a net dragged behind the boat. Then get a chance to hold the fresh catch, whether it’s a pile of shrimp or a blue crab snared in the net.

A freshly caught blue crab on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

A freshly caught blue crab on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Best of all may be T.J. the beer and soda delivery dog! If the heat isn’t too bad, head up to the roof of the boat and wait for T.J. to climb the stairs, loaded up with cans of cold beverages to dole out to passengers.

T.J. the beverage delivery dog on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip

T.J. the beverage delivery dog on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

4. Eat fresh Mississippi Gulf Coast fish and seafood.

For seafood lovers, Mississippi Gulf Coast is heaven! Here you’ll find truly JUMBO shrimp at extremely reasonable prices. During shrimping season in summer, you can buy fresh shrimp directly off boats in harbor for just a few dollars per pound. Crab legs are bountiful and affordably priced, too.

Fresh Blue Crab Claws at Shaggy's Gulfport

Fresh Blue Crab Claws at Shaggy’s Gulfport (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

If you don’t have cooking facilities or prefer to dine out, seafood restaurants are easy to find. McElroy’s is a local favorite, particularly for weekend brunches. This local chain has two locations, one in Ocean Springs and another in Biloxi. McElroy’s Harbor House offers great views of the Gulf and makes a good choice before or after your Biloxi Shrimping Trip since they share a parking lot.

Harbor Snapper Special at McElroy's in Mississippi Gulf Coast

Harbor Snapper Special at McElroy’s, topped with Cajun cream sauce and fresh crab (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

My son and I absolutely loved Half Shell Oyster House in downtown Gulfport. (There are three other Mississippi locations.) Expect southern and Cajun specialties like shrimp and grits, blackened red fish, and poor boy sandwiches. Of course, there are lots of oyster options as well, including on the half shell, charbroiled, fried and more. Steaks here are also delicious, especially when topped with lump crab meat or jumbo shrimp!

Big Easy Surf and Turf at Half Shell Oyster House

Big Easy Surf and Turf at Half Shell Oyster House with broccoli and sweet potato soufflé (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Cool Off at Gulf Islands Waterpark.

If your family enjoys waterparks as much as mine does, you’re in for a treat at Gulf Islands Waterpark in Gulfport. A wave pool, lazy river, net pool crossing, splash play areas, and plenty of waterslides will keep all ages content and cool for hours. For thrill seekers, the Horn Island Blaster water roller coaster is the star attraction with more than 500 feet of twists and turns plus 45-degree drops.

Gulf Islands Waterpark in Mississippi Gulf Coast with children

Gulf Islands Waterpark wave pool with just a few of the waterslides in the distance (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Enjoy the small-town feel in Ocean Springs.

Ocean Springs charms visitors with its southern hospitality and walkable small-town USA feel. On Sunday mornings, wander through the town’s wee farmer’s market to peruse homegrown and handmade goodies. The beachfront Fort Maurepas City Park features a ship playground and splash pad to please the kids.

Miner's Doll & Toy Store in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Miner’s Doll & Toy Store in Ocean Springs (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

You’ll find all sorts of boutique stores and local restaurants in downtown Ocean Springs. Most notable for families are the Lovelace Drug Store with its old school soda fountain, The Candy Cottage sweets shop, and Miner’s Doll & Toy Store. Be sure to stop by Pop Brothers for a gourmet popsicle — choose from such flavors as Cherry Coke Float or Oreo Cheesecake.

Handmade popsicles at Pop Brothers in Ocean Springs, Mississippi with kids

Handmade Cherry Coke Float and Oreo Cheesecake popsicles at Pop Brothers (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Eat BBQ and listen to the blues at The Shed.

Barbecue is a must in the South, even along the coast. You’ll have to drive to reach The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint, but you’ll be glad you did. Not sure what to order? Get the ShedHed Sampler for a bit of everything! It features all seven of their slow-cooked meats, plus a choice of three sides like MommaMia’s Mac Salad or Collard Greens with smoked pork renderings.

ShedHed barbecue sampler platter at The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Coastal Mississippi with kids

ShedHed barbecue sampler platter at The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

On weekend nights, enjoy free live blues music at this joint. While you’re waiting for your grub, play a round or two of cornhole or take a walk along the bayou. Just be sure to keep watch of young children and your eyes open for gators!

Beautiful sunset at The Shed in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

Beautiful sunset at The Shed (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Take the kids to Big Play Entertainment Center.

Kids will thank you after an excursion to Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi. Amusements abound with miniature golf, go-carts, bowling, laser tag, bumper cars, and video games with prize tickets. A full-service restaurant (complete with grown-up drinkies) is available. Go on Sunday, when kids eat free!

Miniature golf course at Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi with kids

Miniature golf course at Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Get a biscuit and set a spell at Greenhouse on Porter Ave.

What could be more Southern than a flakey, freshly baked biscuit? Get your biscuit fix at Greenhouse on Porter Ave. Located in Ocean Springs, this unique eatery is a fun experience for families. Choose from their daily biscuit offerings, including a gluten-free version for sensitive eaters like me. If you’re looking for something more substantial, then you can order yours topped with such additions as cold ham and cheese or warm tomatoes and melted cheese. They also serve a wide variety of tasty beverages including coffees, teas, craft sodas, and hot chocolate.

Biscuits and hot chocolate with Marigold the cat at Greenhouse on Porter Ave

Biscuits and hot chocolate with Marigold the cat at Greenhouse on Porter Ave (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

This place is named Greenhouse for a reason — you’ll literally eat your biscuits inside a greenhouse shed. Alternatively, you can pull up a chair at a table outside and make friends with resident extra-toed cat, Marigold. Board games and bug spray are free to borrow.

Inside Greenhouse on Porter Ave in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Inside Greenhouse on Porter Ave (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Hike, fish or picnic at Gulf Islands National Seashore at Davis Bayou.

According to the National Park Service, “Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches for 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Mississippi and Florida, and includes barrier islands, maritime forests, historic forts, bayous, and marine habitat.”

Great Blue Heron at Gulf Islands National Seashore

A Great Blue Heron at Gulf Islands National Seashore (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Head to the stretch of this seashore at Davis Bayou in Mississippi to satisfy your nature cravings. Enjoy hiking trails, picnic areas, and the William M. Colmer Visitor Center with indoor exhibits about the shore and islands. Anglers can purchase a license to go fishing and there’s a boat launch here for seafarers. Be sure to keep little ones close when exploring the marsh area because alligators do inhabit the waters.

Looking for wild alligators at Gulf Islands National Seashore at Davis Bayou with kids

Looking for wild alligators at Gulf Islands National Seashore at Davis Bayou (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. Play and learn at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center.

Not sure what to do on a rainy day when visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids? Head to Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport! Here, families learn about science, history, nature through play in 15,000-square-feet of hands-on exhibits. Children will enjoy indoor educational art projects, a kid-sized grocery store, and a make-believe veterinarian center with stuffed animal “patients.” Outdoor exhibits provide opportunities to learn about solar power, music and more. The museum is designed for children aged 10 and younger, with the Bear Camp Bayou exhibit specifically for newborns through age 4. Entry is free 5 to 8 pm on the last Friday of every month.

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center (Photo credit: Kristal Beachy Photography)

12. Drink a Barq’s Root Beer.

Barq’s Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer was created by Edward Barq in Biloxi in 1871. Sales of this sweet drink went through the roof during the prohibition era. Now bottled by the Coca-Cola company, Barq’s is still a local favorite. Look for the original blue and white glass bottles in eateries and shops. Keep in mind that unlike most root beers, Barq’s root beer does contain some caffeine.

Drink a Barq's root beer when visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

Drink a Barq’s root beer when visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

13. Count Waffle Houses.

One of the first things we noticed while driving through Mississippi was the abundance of Waffle Houses. It’s hard to miss them. It seems there’s a Waffle House on every corner! This state is home to 88 of this southern chain restaurant’s 2,100+ locations. Waffles are one of my son’s all-time favorite foods, so for sure we had to come here for breakfast a couple of times during our visit.

Waffle House in Mississippi Gulf Coast

One of the many Waffle Houses we spotted during our Mississippi Gulf Coast vacation (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

These restaurants are open 24 hours a day, serving up comfort foods like grits, eggs, burgers, and, of course, waffles. Service is fast, prices are low, and the food is good and greasy. Make a game of counting waffle houses when visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids. It just might help keep your kids’ eyes focused on the scenery rather than on their smart phones. We spotted 12 Waffle Houses in one day alone!

Waffle House waffle

Have you ever eaten a Waffle House waffle? (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

14. Splurge on a meal at White Pillars Restaurant.

For a more refined dining experience, make reservations at White Pillars Restaurant. Splurge on date night here or take the kids to a special weekend lunch or Sunday jazz brunch. Eleven-year-old Leo, a hamburger enthusiast, declared White Pillar’s Bone Marrow & Steak Burger the best he’s ever tasted!

The restaurant is located within an impressive Neoclassical mansion, which was the home of a wealthy doctor and his family in the early 1900s. It later became a popular fine dining restaurant in the 1970s and 80s before it sat empty for nearly 30 years. Chef Owner Austin Sumrall and his wife have restored the building to its former Gone with the Wind-esque glory.

White Pillars fine dining restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi

The refurbished elegant interior at White Pillars Restaurant (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

15. Visit the Biloxi Visitors Center.

Free to the public, the Biloxi Visitors Center is worth a brief visit. Wander through displays that provide insight to Biloxi’s past. Of course, you can also ask staff for recommendations for exploring the area and pick up attraction brochures at the center. The best part is the theater upstairs, which shows a 10-minute movie called “We Are Biloxi” on a loop. Another brief film, specifically about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the area, is shown at select posted times.

Biloxi Visitors Center

Gain a better understanding of Mississippi Gulf Coast history and culture at the Biloxi Visitors Center (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

16. Climb aboard the Biloxi Tour Train.

If traveling with older kids or teens, your family might enjoy the Biloxi Train Tour. This 90-minute tour chugs through Biloxi’s streets and the area’s history. Take in the sights from the seat of the “train,” including Main Street Biloxi, the Biloxi Lighthouse, and the building where Barq’s root beer was initially made and sold. The tour makes just one stop — at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, which commemorates the 170 Mississippi Gulf Coast victims who lost their lives during the 2006 storm.

Biloxi Tour Train

Biloxi Tour Train in downtown Biloxi (Photo credit: Biloxi Tour Train)

17. Attend the Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair.

If visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with children during the summer, plan to attend the Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair. This seaside fair takes place during the first two weeks of June at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi. Expect carnival rides and games, fun houses, a petting zoo, pig races, fair food, and live entertainment.

Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair roller coaster

Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Where to Stay on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with Kids

Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport Beachfront

My son and I stayed at Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport during our mother-son vacation. Located right across the street from the beach and within walking distance of a few family-friendly restaurants, this midrange hotel makes a good base for exploring the Mississippi Gulf Coast with children. A large palm tree-lined pool is the perfect place to cool off after a day on the go. Although there’s no full-service restaurant in the hotel, you can grab breakfast items and lite bites in the lounge. A convenient 24-hour on-site market carries snacks, drinks and necessities. Tip: grab free bottled waters in the onsite fitness center.

Courtyard by Marriott - Gulfport Beachfront pool

Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport Beachfront pool (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Margaritaville Resort & Family Entertainment Center

A 450-foot lazy river, swim-up pool bar, and rooftop waterpark lure families to Margaritaville Resort. Kids can even swim with “mermaids” here! A huge game arcade will keep children content, too. Even if you’re not staying here, stop by Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for their famous Cheeseburger in Paradise, live music and tropical frozen drinks (with or without alcohol).

Margaritaville's rooftop waterpark in Biloxi, Mississippi

Margaritaville’s rooftop waterpark (Photo credit: Margaritaville)

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino

If glitz and glam are what you seek, then reserve a room at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Located right on the water in Biloxi, families love this MGM resort’s stunning pool and on-site video game arcade. A spa, five on-site restaurants, a Haagen Dazs ice cream shop, and round-the-clock room service add to the allure of a stay here.

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino

(Photo courtesy of Coastal Mississippi)

The Inn at Ocean Springs and The Roost

If I ever come back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a romantic getaway (and I hope I do!), I’ll book a stay at The Inn at Ocean Springs. It’s got just two sumptuously decorated rooms, located in the heart of Ocean Springs’ quaint downtown. Families could book out both rooms for extra space.

Sister property, The Roost, would make a fabulous choice as well. Also in Ocean Springs, this house has been transformed into a boutique hotel featuring 11 suites. Some offer separate living/sleeping spaces plus kitchenettes — perfect for families!

The Inn at Ocean Springs

The Inn at Ocean Springs (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Mississippi Beach Vacation Tips

Are you surprised by all there is to do in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids? I know I was. If you’re seeking a fun and affordable family beach vacation, then you’ll love exploring America’s secret coast!

Get more tips from CoastalMississippi.com or call Coastal Mississippi toll-free at 1.888.467.4853.

MIssissippi Gulf Coast with Kids

Save these Things to Do in Mississippi Gulf Coast with Kids

Be sure to save this list of Mississippi Gulf Coast family activities. Just pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

If you liked this story, I bet you’ll love this round-up of the 10 best beach hotels for kids and these tips for exploring Alabama Gulf Shores with kids.

Have you ever visited Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids or without? Share your tips or questions in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My son and I were hosted by Coastal Mississippi, Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport Beachfront, and some of the restaurants and attractions listed in this story. I will receive monetary compensation related to this blog post as well. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Tom Lanin says

    Terrific post! Now I want to see the Mississippi gulf coast!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      As well you should! Have you visited Mississippi yet? The scenery was so pretty. Plus, there’s lots of bird-watching, which I know you love!

  2. This is so awesome! I have to be honest, I’ve never thought of Mississippi for a beach vacation. I really want to take the family there now. It’s so pretty there!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Confession: I hadn’t really either! I’m so glad we explored Coastal Mississippi, though. I hope you can visit there soon!

  3. Emman Damian says

    i haven’t been in Mississippi Gulf Coast yet. I would like to hang out with my friends here and just relax. I would like to have a smoothie by the beach side too.

  4. Amy-Lynn Denham says

    Wow… certainly looks like you had a good time. I love when other people visit places and I get to see the choices they make of what to see and do. Thank you for sharing this. It’s inspired me to be a little more creative in what I choose to do on vacation.

  5. I haven’t been there but your post just gave me a virtual tour and it looks amazing to go to with family. That sea food looks delicious.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Viv – Coastal Mississippi really is such a great destination for families! And the seafood…soooo gooood!

  6. Foodie Finds Home says

    I’m down here in So Florida, but this post makes me want to take a road trip right on up to Mississippi. I’m originally from Panama City, and I can be honest with you when I say we definitely slept on Mississippi, like get through it as fast as possible to get to Louisiana. However, after seeing your pictures, especially of the food, I’ll certainly be giving Mississippi a try. 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin says

      That’s wonderful to hear that my story is opening your eyes to the wonders of Mississippi! Since you’re a foodie, I bet you’d love Coastal Mississippi!

  7. I have to admit: when I think of Mississippi, the first thing I don’t think about is beaches. This would be an awesome family vacation spot!

  8. I’ve never been, but I see a lot of reasons to visit! You had me at beach, though I’d love to eat some BBQ too!

  9. Myrah Duque says

    This is great to know! I would need to visit Mississippi for longer periods and get to know it. When I go, its a quick trip.

  10. I love the variety of the destinations here! There are places where you can relax and unwind, go on a food trip, and do some outdoor adventures! Thanks for this!

  11. Kristine Nicole Alessandra says

    I would love to be there for the seafood! Oh my, those crab claws look really delicious! Thank you for listing all these wonderful places and activities you can do when in Mississippi.

  12. Lavern Moore says

    I have never been to the Mississippi gulf coast but would surely like to visit based on this description. It seems so fun and exciting.

  13. Ntensibe Edgar Michael says

    62 miles of shoreline? Wow, I definitely can’t fail to meet my activity of my time there, surely.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Surprising, right?! It really was so pretty to drive along the shoreline every day when we were in Coastal Mississippi!

  14. Terri Steffes says

    We took our daughter when she was young, in the early 90s and it was a ball. We loved how natural it was. I want one of those banana daquiris, though. Whoa.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I bet things have changed quite a bit since your last visit, especially after Hurricane Katrina. Maybe it’s time to plan another trip…and get one of those daiquiris, too! 🙂

  15. Tiffany La Forge-Grau says

    It’s such a fun place to visit. So much to do and the people are so nice!

  16. I studied Mississippi in geography I never thought is beautiful place with a lot nature and I love seafood. I need to budget for this place.

  17. Jessica Hughes says

    Wow looks like you had a great time! I always wanted to go to Mississippi, didnt realize there was so much to do for families!

  18. Looks like a great list of things to do! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Danielle Rice says

    It’s so funny to hear/see people write about the area I live in. Lol. I live and work in Gulfport. I used to live and work in Biloxi. We frequent all the areas that you mentioned.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Too funny! I love hearing what other people recommend in places that I know really well, too!

  20. I had no idea this was there! I’ll have to check this area out!

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