Bay St. Louis’ treasures are the perfect escape from reality
By Kara Kimbrough
Before extolling the delights of Hancock County in the second installment of “Top reasons to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast," I’d be remiss if I left out the charming cities of Long Beach and Pass Christian. They’re worth a stop on U.S. 90 as you make your way to the Bay Bridge to enter Bay St. Louis.
I’m probably going to receive irate emails from the other cities about this next statement, but here goes: in my opinion, the two neighboring cities of Long Beach and “The Pass,” as locals calls it, offer some of the best beach views on the Gulf Coast. Sweeping vistas of sand, sky and water along this scenic stretch of highway are mesmerizing, especially when a vibrant blue sky transforms the gulf to a similar hue.
Stopping in for a Coast-inspired meal on the patio of Long Beach’s Harbor View Café is the perfect way to enjoy the view. Or, drive a little further to The Pass and relax on Shaggy’s open-air deck with panoramic water views and the guarantee of a delicious meal.
Ready for more sight-seeing and dining? Travel over the mammoth Bay Bridge and your blood pressure is sure to plummet as you view the shimmering bay on either side. The bridge was rebuilt post-Katrina at 85 feet above the bay at its highest point, so the view is absolutely stunning. If you’re feeling adventuresome, park your car at either end and journey across the bridge in the enclosed walking/cycling trail.
Once on dry land, take a left onto scenic Beach Boulevard. On one side of the quaint street is the bay fronted with a new harbor. On the other are family-owned restaurants serving fresh seafood and other creative dishes. Here are just a few of my favorite restaurants and things to see and do in the Bay:
1. One of my favorite restaurants is Trapani’s. A local favorite for decades, everything on the menu is delicious, but my favorite menu item is the overflowing shrimp po’boy.
2. Next door is 200 North Beach. It’s a cozy, family-oriented space offering pasta dishes, steaks and seafood.
3. Holding court on the corner of The Pearl, a new boutique hotel at the corner of Main Street and Beach Boulevard is The Thorny Oyster. It’s a spacious, well-appointed restaurant offering fresh, local, coastal fare, creative seafood and classic dishes and desserts prepared with a modern twist.
It’s rare that I dream about a dessert item, but that’s exactly what happened last summer after I dined here. I ended my meal with one of the best berry crisps I’ve ever tasted. Fresh peach and blueberry fruit filling was topped with a delicious crunchy, buttery rolled oats and toasted nuts topping that nearly outshone the filling. A scoop of homemade vanilla bean ice cream took it to new heights. I'm long overdue for a repeat of this sublime experience.
4. Don't leave town without a visit to charming Old Town. Located a few blocks from the bay, the tree-lined streets are filled with the historic Depot museum, locally-owned shops and restaurants and a scenic park with a duck pond.
5. No trip to The Bay would be complete without a stop by the Angel Tree. It’s located on the beach side near the new harbor. I've witnessed emotional responses from tourists from around the world to the oak tree carved into the likeness of angels, complete with hovering wings and piercing eyes. When Katrina’s eye passed over Bay St. Louis, three people and a small dog were riding out the storm in a nearby building. As the storm surge increased, they fled from the building and climbed an oak tree. The centuries-old oak served as the group's lifeline for four hours. Thanks to the tree’s sturdy branches, they were unharmed when the water subsided.
The remains of the oak were moved to the beachfront and secured in concrete just a few hundred feet from where it saved the lives of three people and a dog. A chainsaw artist created beauty from ashes, expertly carving an angel and large birds keeping watch on the limbs. Stop by the Angel Tree for a photo, prayer or a glimpse of a life-saving tree. Like a visit to The Bay, it's an experience you’ll never forget.