Gulfport is the second-largest city is Mississippi, and touts a prime Gulf Coast location. The city attracts residents with its affordable cost of living, but it’s likewise an attractive vacation destination, particularly for families. While the city was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, aggressive clean-up has resulted in a bolstered tourism industry, as travelers once again flock to the Gulf region.
Situated on nearly seven miles of white sandy beaches, Gulfport offers fun things to do onshore and off. The subtropical climate allows for outdoor activities year-round, and the unspoiled environment gives nature lovers and sports enthusiasts plenty to explore.
Here, sport fishing is all about the thrill of deep-sea saltwater angling. Gulfport tourists can charter boats at harbors and marinas along the beach. Each July, thousands descend upon Gulfport to compete in the world’s largest fishing rodeo.
From March through October, visitors can ferry out to one of Mississippi's top attractions, Ship Island, an undeveloped barrier island a few miles offshore. USA Today ranks the beach there in the top 10 nationwide. Ship Island is home to historic Fort Massachusetts, a military outpost during the Civil War.
Golfers can tee up on any of nearly 20 courses designed by noteworthy pros like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Davis Love III, Mark McCumber, Jerry Pate and Tom Fazio.
A must-see family attraction is Gulfport's Lynn Meadows Discovery Center. Acclaimed as one of the top children’s museums in the U.S., the site features 15,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits. Outside on museum grounds, adults and kids can explore a 6-acre play area and charming Tree House Village.
Another top Gulf Coast spot is the INFINITY Science Center, a $30-million educational facility that opened in 2012. It doubles as the visitor center for NASA’s Stennis Space Center, America’s largest rocket test complex. Try the rocket test simulator, tour a full-size International Space Station module and check out the space suit worn by Fred Haise, an Apollo 13 astronaut and native of nearby Biloxi. Visitors also can glimpse a capsule developed for future missions into deep space.
Gulfport has more than a few restaurants worth visiting. The Chimneys restaurant serves fresh seafood specialties in an elegantly restored home. Exquisite views of the Mississippi Sound are on the house. Saluté, another popular restaurant with Gulf views, dishes up authentic Italian entrees at reasonable prices.
For fresh seafood and an oyster bar, try White Cap Seafood Restaurant overlooking the Gulfport Ship Channel. Legendary charbroiled oysters are on the menu at Half Shell Oyster House downtown. To the east is Ben’s Deli, with tempting takeout sandwiches and heaping fried-seafood plates. The Blow Fly Inn, a Gulf Coast landmark, serves fresh seafood, Creole favorites and steaks so Southern you might just say, “Thanks, y’all.”
Coastal Mississippians love a good party, and they host special events to keep up the fun all year long. In October, Cruisin’ the Coast attracts classic car enthusiasts for a week-long parade of hot rods, antique cars and custom vehicles. Carnival on the Coast arrives for Mardi Gras, attracting a half-million spectators. Grillin’ on the Green is a free St. Patrick’s Day family event with parades and music.