Gulfport is one of the best beach resort towns in all of America. Many miles of coastline stretch out in both directions, and the nearby barrier islands like Cat Island and Horn Island add something very special to this stretch of shore. If you’re planning a trip to Gulfport, MS and want to enjoy the best beaches in the area, read on to learn all about them. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
4.Bay St. Louis Beach
4 Best Gulfport (MS) Beaches
- Gulfport Beach, Photo: Fotoluminate LLC/adobe.stock.com
- Biloxi Beach, Photo: pmstephens/adobe.stock.com
- Ship Island, Photo: Rado/adobe.stock.com
- Bay St. Louis Beach, Photo: Rado/adobe.stock.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
There are an astonishing array of breathtaking beaches to be found all around the United States, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is generally regarded as one of the very best spots. Gulfport, MS sits at the heart of this region, with lots of beautiful beaches to be found in and around the state’s second biggest city. Whether you're looking to simply relax and soak up the sunshine with friends and family or try something more active like kayaking, fishing, swimming, or surfing, Gulfport will have a lot of options for you to choose from, with plenty of additional attractions in the local area.
There's nothing quite as relaxing as heading out to the beach. It's one of the oldest pastimes in the world, but relaxing on the soft sands and admiring the ocean views is simply unbeatable, and beaches offer all kinds of additional activities and opportunities too, from surfing and kayaking to swimming, shelling, and engaging in fun games like volleyball. With the Pacific Coast on one side, the Atlantic Coast on the other, and the incredible Gulf of Mexico to the south, the United States of America is blessed with one of the longest and most beautiful coastlines of any country in the world.
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Attraction Spotlight: The Crosby Arboretum
Located in Picayune, Mississippi, the Crosby Arboretum is a facility of Mississippi State University, offering a variety of nature trails and landscaped plantings of trees, shrubs, and native plants of the Gulf Coast region and beyond as part of an outdoor natural recreation facility.
The Crosby Arboretum was created in honor of forestry advocate and civic leader L.O. Crosby, Jr., who was a major philanthropist throughout the southern Mississippi region. Following Crosby’s 1978 death, funds were dedicated by his family for the creation of an interpretive natural center to display native plants of the Pearl River Drainage Basin area. The Crosby Arboretum Foundation nonprofit organization was created to oversee the facility’s construction, which would be housed on a 64-acre parcel of land that had formerly been the site of a Depression-era strawberry farm Crosby had expressed interest in during his life. The arboretum’s interpretive center, known as Pinecote, was opened to the public in 1979 as a living memorial for Crosby and a natural educational resource for the Picayune community. The center was designed by architect E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and is today considered one of the greatest architectural achievements in the Pearl County region. Construction on the arboretum facility began in the early 1980s, with the facility officially opening to the public in 1986. The facility became a partner organization of Mississippi State University in 1997.
Permanent Attractions and Facilities
Today, the Crosby Arboretum is operated as a partner facility of the University of Mississippi, with operations jointly overseen by the Crosby Arboretum Foundation. As a public nature park and interpretive center, the 64-acre arboretum showcases a variety of native trees, shrubs, and plants and offers public nature educational programming. In addition to the arboretum site, the Foundation manages more than 700 acres of natural habitats within the southern Mississippi region, protecting more than 300 indigenous species of trees, wildflowers, and grasses. As the largest and most renowned native plant conservatory in the American Southeast, the arboretum oversees a variety of environment conservation and management programming, contributing to the ecosystem of the Pearl River Drainage Basin through its habitat.
The centerpiece of the facility is its Pinecote Pavilion interpretive center, which was the 1991 recipient of an American Institute of Architects Honor Award and was the primary piece responsible for earning Jones his AIA Gold Medal. Constructed on former disused farmland and pine plantation space, the center’s architecture is strongly inspired by the design principles of Frank Lloyd Wright and is noted as one of the crowning architectural achievements of the Mississippi region. The pavilion serves as a gathering point for nature programming throughout the arboretum and a venue for concerts, performances, and community social gatherings. The structure is entirely constructed of indigenous materials, including native pine and earth-toned brick. All design elements are incorporated as functional parts of the pavilion’s operation, using the natural shadows of its landscape as ever-changing design elements.
A number of planting exhibits are showcased throughout the arboretum, including a Savannah Exhibit, which presents trees and grasses native to the area’s original grassland habitat landscaped around a central theme of fire. A Woodland Exhibit showcases more than 12,000 native trees and shrubs, including oak, beech, and hickory trees, while an Aquatic Exhibit contains a 2 ½-acre freshwater pond and reconstructs a wetland environment. Many trails and nature walks are offered throughout the facility, including a Slough Trail bordering a deep-water slough area, a Pond Journey that passes between the Pinecote Pavilion and the aquatic wetland pond, a Woodland Trail through the facility’s pine and hardwood forest area, and an interactive Children’s Trail that provides educational information about the area’s flora and fauna. Several trails have been named for prominent area naturalist and historical figures, including the Ross Hutchins Trail, the Ed Blake Trail, the William Bartram Trail, and the Bill Cibula Trail. Other trails available include north and south end Savannah Loop Trails and a themed Ethnobotany Trail.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Self-guided tours of the facility are available weekly on Wednesdays through Sundays, with guided tour reservations available for large groups, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary student groups. A variety of nature programming is offered for community members and visitors, including nature walks and lectures embarking from the Pinecote Pavilion and the facility’s Visitor’s Center. Public special event programming throughout the year includes a Forge Day festival, a two-day Bugfest, a Piney Woods Heritage Festival, and a Native Plant field day event. Rotating quarterly art exhibitions are also presented at the facility’s art gallery within the Visitor’s Center building, showcasing works that depict and celebrate the natural world.
370 Ridge Rd, Picayune, MS 39466, Phone: 601-799-2311
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Attraction Spotlight: Gulf Islands Waterpark
Located in Gulfport, Mississippi, Gulf Islands Waterpark is the largest water park amusement attraction on the Gulf Coast, offering a wide variety of high and mild-thrill water rides and a zipline adventure park as part of the Gulfports Sportsplex complex.
The Gulfport Sportsplex complex was constructed in 2005 as part of a master plan designed by the Gulfport Department of Leisure Services to provide a multipurpose recreational center for the citizens of Gulfport. Once completed, the 250-acre recreational park offered nine terraced ball fields, four international-regulation soccer fields, and a variety of pavilion, concession, and meeting room amenities. As one of the leading hosts of regional and national sporting events in the American Southeast, including World Series baseball events, the complex has been rated as the number one sporting venue in the state of Mississippi by the United States Specialty Sports Association. Gulf Islands Waterpark was opened to the public in July of 2005 as part of the Gulfport Sportsplex, offering a variety of high and mild-thrill water attractions for Gulfport area residents and tourists to enjoy throughout the summer operating season. In 2011, the water park was expanded, adding several new attractions, including a six-lane racer slide, and in 2016, an adjacent zipline adventure park was added to the facility.
Rides and Attractions
Today, Gulf Islands Waterpark is overseen by the Gulfport Department of Leisure Services as a private water park amusement attraction, offering a variety of water rides for visitors of all ages. As a private attraction on the grounds of the Gulfport Sportsplex, the water park leases the 18-acre site from the City of Gulfport and shares a portion of its profits with the city’s government. The water park is themed to incorporate popular cultural attractions and landmarks within the South Mississippi coastal area and barrier islands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore into all of its attraction names.
Major water ride attractions include the Horn Island Blaster, the only water roller coaster offered in the Gulf Coast area. The Master Blaster® attraction features more than 500 feet of track twists and turns, offering 45-degree hill drops and anti-gravity uphill features. The Deer Island Express tunnel slide offers single and double tube experiences down a 38-foot incline for dark-ride thrills, while the Cat Island Catapult twisting waterway tube slide offers a drop of over 155 feet. Other high-thrill rides include the Riptide Racer dueling mat ride, with riders racing down a 45-foot drop to challenge each other for finish-line times, and the 400-foot-long Camille Cutter rafting ride, which allows up to three riders per boat to travel through its twists and turns. The new Zip’n Fun zipline adventure park course, located adjacent to the main water park facility, also offers more than 50 treetop obstacles and activities, including sky bridges, swinging logs, and a Tarzan jump.
Family fun is offered at the Lazy Pearl River, which travels the length of more than three football fields and offers stops all throughout the park’s attraction area. A 12,000-square-foot Waveland Wave Pool offers gentle rolling waves and inner tube experiences for riders of all ages, while a Spray St. Louis attractions provides opportunities for children and families to cool off under misting and soaking apparatuses. Three children’s play areas are offered, including the Padascagoula kids’ slippery-pad crossing area, the Li’l Pelican’s Bay water playground, offering water cannons, squirt guns, and miniature open-flume body slides, and the Ship Island Wreck play area for visitors ages 24 months and younger and their families.
Concessions offered throughout the park include the Petit Bois Island Cafe, which serves standard American fare such as grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. Fresh-baked pizza is served at Dockside Pizza, while Polly’s Sweet Spot offers desserts such as funnel cakes, cotton candy, and shaved ice. Amenities offered at the park include rental cabanas and pavilion areas, which may be rented at an additional cost to standard visitor admission by the hour or day.
Ongoing Programs and Events
In addition to standard visitor admission, group ticket sales may be coordinated through the Gulf Islands Waterpark Group Sales Department, including group admission for school field trips, church groups, or corporate outings. Covered picnic pavilions and onsite catering may be added to group ticket packages for an additional fee. Birthday party packages are also available for young visitors wishing to celebrate their birthdays at the park, with catering and party favors provided for guests. A number of daily and special event performances are offered at the park throughout its operating season, including performances by the Extreme Raptors birds of prey show and the High-Diving Pirates action show and meet-and-greets with Nickelodeon and Disney Channel celebrities. Annual special events include a Halloween Night Lights event in October and a yearly Mississippi Gulf Coast Youth for Christ lock-in event at the park, featuring live bands and entertainment.
17200 16th St, Gulfport, MS 39503, Phone: 228-328-1266
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