Photo tour: Experience the tastes and sights of the Mississippi Gulf Coast

There are plenty of beach destinations that present a slice of coastal living best experienced through a tourist’s lens. And, if afterward you feel only a little like a salty dog, well, that was by design.

Then there are destinations where the experience is more vital – seeking out fresh, local cuisine, diving into the region’s history and discovering everyday magic in the local towns.

Coastal Mississippi is one of those places.

The 62-mile stretch of coastline between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans is the real deal, a place where you can feel you’re part of something memorable, if only for a short time.

Sure, there are casinos here. The betting trade took off around the mid-1990s, survived Hurricane Katrina a decade later, and still draws bettors who plunk down well over $1 billion a year. But there’s much more to be found here, by seeking out local foodie haunts, taking in the coast’s history and culture and walking the white, sandy beaches.

Because Coastal Mississippi rests just off the Gulf of Mexico, seafood naturally dominates the food scene. However, your options are hardly limited to fried baskets of fish (they have those, too). In addition to Southern cooking, a variety of influences, including French, Cajun, Creole ­and Asian, pepper the flavorful cuisine.

Adventure awaits, often by boat. Slip onto a tour boat that will show you how shrimp are caught. Climb aboard a motorboat for a tour of the Pascagoula River, or hop aboard a charter boat for some fishing at one of the many marinas.

Mike Arguelles shucks a French Hermit oyster pulled from his oyster farm near Deer Island, off the coast of Biloxi. Arguelles and his wife, Anita, are among more than a dozen farmers practicing off-bottom aquaculture near Biloxi Harbor. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources provided initial seeding of the oysters that are raised in cages near the water's surface. "I like the challenges of working the farm," Arguelles says. "If we approach a local chef and he asks where the oysters came from, I can just point to the spot." (Photo: Wendy Pramik, for USA TODAY)

You can relive the storied coast’s past as a seafood production hub through a visit to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, or as a reminder of the Confederacy at Beauvoir, the post-Civil War home of Jefferson Davis. Coastal Mississippi’s culture is on display at impressive art museums that honor potter George Ohr and painter Walter Anderson.

The coast’s charm can be found in more than a dozen towns that dot the map. From Waveland in the west through Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Ocean Springs, Gautier, Pascagoula and Moss Point in the east, each town has something singular to offer.

In the photo gallery above, experience the food that has made the coast a modern attraction, whether it’s a fine cup of espresso, a pressed-crab po’ boy, a roast pork banh mi, or an exquisitely prepared torchon of lamb. At this beach destination, adventure abounds.

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