May 26, 2022

When the beach sirens call, the sun worshipers answer. It’s an annual pilgrimage that no world event can halter.

“Last year was extremely successful,” said Lacee Rudd, public relations manager of Visit Panama City Beach. “Our drive markets were hot because people were so ready to get out and go on vacation. It’s super easy to get in the car and get here.” 

The Gulf Coast, with its crystal blue waters and quartz sandy beaches is only a few hours away and remains an ideal vacation destination for those who still prefer social distancing and wide open spaces provided by the great outdoors. 

But even better — many of the coastal communities have been hard at work creating new attractions, opening hotels and restaurants and bringing back festivals and special events. 

We’re compiled a collection of what’s new on the Coast. Time to get packing.


Restaurants

Ground Zero, Biloxi

You know the famous Ground Zero Blues Club of Clarksdale, co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman and the late Bill Luckett. Now, Biloxi is fortunate to acquire its second location. 

Coastal developers Jeff and Lee Young have refurnished the old Kress building in downtown Biloxi for their new venture, which follows much of the same format as the Clarksdale blues club. But the majority of the menu items will be unique to Biloxi, said Allison Borders, food and beverage manager.

“We call it Gulf Coast eats with a Delta edge,” she said.

The club opened mid-February and will offer live music nightly Wednesdays through Saturdays, with musicians visiting from the Clarksdale club. Larger acts are in the planning stages, Borders explained, but every evening, regardless, will include a blues performer. 

Future phases include a second-floor VIP section with its own bar, wait staff and menu, and the third floor may be transformed into short term rental, Borders added. groundzerobiloxi.com

And there’s more…

Jesse’s Restaurant, a landmark of Magnolia Springs, Ala., will open its second location at Fort Morgan, said Kay Maghan, public relations manager of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. It will be a fine dining experience to the peninsula west of Gulf Shores, she said.

Debris Po Boys & Drinks opened in downtown Mobile, serving up the classic New Orleans icon as well as muffulettas and other specialty sandwiches. Patrons may also enjoy the brew from the city’s newly opened Oyster City Brewing Company. 

Pensacola has several new culinary experiences to enjoy, including Pearl & Horn, a combination of land and sea, and Boarders with its curated charcuterie boards.

Over in Panama City Beach, Hunt & Gather Raw Bar and Pub specializes in Gulf seafood, such as local and regional oysters, plus unique “wild-game meals,” such as elk burgers, bison ribeye and wild boar Bolognese.

 

Hotels

The Hemingway, Ocean Springs

American novelist Ernest Hemingway was an avid sportsman who dabbled in many life experiences.

“He was also a bit of a reprobate,” said Joe Cloyd. 

Cloyd and his wife, Jessica, have renovated a 1910 bank building in the heart of Ocean Springs with an homage to the author and journalist. The Hemingway opened April 1, 2021.

“It was natural to embrace him and his life experiences in the development,” Cloyd said of the mixed-used space with retail on the first floor and the hotel above. “Hemingway had four wives and we have four rooms, each named for each wife.”

Cloyd insists that the boutique hotel “fits into the fabric of Ocean Springs,” marrying original brick walls and wooden floors with calming artwork and furnishings. 

“It’s a place to wrap a guest around a natural experience but also a calming experience with art,” he said, adding a pun, “It’s relaxing but guests can write their own story.”

The Hemingway is within walking distance to Ocean Springs’ restaurants and bars, locally owned shops and galleries and beaches. oceanspringsinn.com/the-hemingway

And there’s more…

A resort-style Embassy Suites by Hilton will open near Pier Park this year, offering the first rooftop bar in Panama City Beach. The Kukla RV Resort is another first for the city, an RV park to be built between Hutchinson Boulevard and Front Beach Road that features a walking trail, clubhouse, pool and concierge. 

 

Attractions

OWA, Foley

OWA Parks and Resorts in Foley keeps expanding every year. In addition to the amusement rides, Downtown OWA with its shops and restaurants, Marriott TownPlace Suites and yearly special events will be an 80,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, perfect for those rainy days that keep folks off the beach. The waterpark will feature two slide towers, a lazy river, cabanas, restaurant and arcade. A retractable roof and wall (only one of its kind in the U.S.) will open to outdoor tropical features such as the wave pool and tiki bar.

The indoor waterpark is set to open soon and be attached to the existing theme park with multiple ticket options available for purchase starting this month. 

In addition, OWA is constructing the new luxury RV Resort located in a wooded area on the north side of the property, set in open in the fall. The RV Resort will feature 120-plus camping spaces, clubhouse and pool. visitowa.com

And there’s more…

Clotilda, the last known ship to carry enslaved people into the United States, sunk in the Mobile River. The ship was discovered at the bottom of the river in 2019 and will be part of a major exhibition at the Africatown Heritage House Museum outside Mobile. Plans are for the museum to open in June, telling the story of the ship and the descendants of the enslaved people who founded Africatown, Ala.

 

Outdoors

Ship Island, Gulfport, Mississippi

Hurricanes take their toll on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as we all know, and Ship Island off the coast of Gulfport has seen some of the worst. Hurricane Camille took a bite out of the barrier island in 1969, followed by a host of nasty storms, Katrina topping them all in 2005. 

Here’s the good news. The “Camille Gap” created in 1969 has been filled in and the concession stand and dock repaired from the brunt of the most recent storms. Ferry rides to the island through Ship Island Excursions are now sailing again, beginning this month.  

According to Ronnie Wentzell, who runs the ferry business with his family, the dredging used to fill the Camille Gap, along with lack of tourists in 2021, created a bounty of seashells waiting to be discovered. Time to grab those pails! msshipisland.com

And there’s more…

Sea View Tours in Orange Beach wants you to see things clearly — even at night. They rent clear kayaks for use during the day or with their Night Glow Party Tours.

A great horned owl nesting at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Miss., is having babies and spring visitors can watch their growth. The center’s River Room exhibit space changes every eight weeks and this month showcases the work of the Coastal Bird Stewardship Team.

Panama City Beach will open an artificial reef off the coast this year, creating an ideal ecosystem for divers and fishermen.

 

Spirits

Duplin Winery

The oldest winery in North Carolina and the South’s largest is opening a tasting room and event space in Panama City Beach. Duplin Winery is building a 35,000-square-foot complex on 70 acres at the previous Hombre Golf Club to serve up its sweet wines, specialty drinks, food and live entertainment. 

Duplin is known for “sweet and easy” sipping wines made from muscadine grapes, with names such as Cotton Candy and Sweet Rosé. Guests will be able to sample the wines while learning more about the South’s wine-making industry and Duplin family history. Families are welcome, since Duplin’s Sweetzer frozen drinks can be made in non-alcoholic versions. duplinwinery.com

And there’s more…

So many new breweries to report. Think it may be time for a Deep South Coastal Beer Trail! Oyster City Brewing Company opened its Alabama location in December in downtown Mobile with beers brewed on site. Other locations are in Apalachicola and Tallahassee, Florida. Lost Spring Brewing Co. opened in November in Ocean Springs and serves up craft cocktails as well. Pensacola welcomes Alga Beer Co., named for the owners’ home locations of Alabama and Georgia. 

And what’s a trip to the Gulf Coast without a bushwacker, that frozen combination resembling a milk shake but with a fun boozy kick. Doc’s Seafood in Orange Beach is now serving up a salted caramel bushwacker. 

 

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