BEACH TOWN COMEBACK
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
For lovers with a penchant for old architecture, affordable renovation spaces, and a mix of Southern grace, mystery, and heat, Bay St. Louis is like a blank canvas at the junction of march, river, and Gulf of Mexico beach. Five years ago this town (population 7,538) was put to the test when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the heart of the city. But the community rallied, rebuilt, and has regained its artsy, quirky independence.
On a given morning in Mockingbird Cafe-the town's gathering place/coffee shop/yoga studio-conversations range from local author Ellis Anderson's new book, Under Surge, Under Siege, her firsthand account of the hurricane, to plans for a new downtown marina and renovations at the Depot District.
Outside the cafe, quiet streets lined with century-old Craftsman bungalows make a grid and lead toward the long beach (called The Beach) on the town's southeast corner. And although the Gulf oil spill has residents concerned, the town is taking it day by day.
Your view is: St. Louis Bay-marshland to the north and open bay to the south, east, and west.
Your Main Street has: a new library, an artist co-op (Artists at 220 Main), Maggie May's art gallery, a fine-dining seafood and steak restaurant, The Buttercup on Second Street for breakfast and lunch, Earth Path Yoga, and the recently remodeled Central Hall for art, antiques, and retail shops.
Your best beach is: right at the end of Main Street. Take the bike/walk path along the wide, sandy beach for three miles from Washington Avenue American Legion Pier in town to the Garfield Ladner Pier in Waveland.
On the weekend you might: drive the empty Highway 90 across the Rigolets wetlands into New Orleans for a jazz show and a night at the House on Bayou Road.
Your favorite bar/restaurant could be: The Mockingbird Cafe, a coffee house and restaurant-think burgers, paninis, and salads-with a pub at night.
Your neighbors are: a mix of retirees, vacation-home owners from New Orleans, and families who bike or walk across the new Bay St. Louis Bridge to Pass Christian to fish from the pier.
Visiting Bay St. Louis: Stay a week; Ellis Anderson's The Webb School has a 1,200-square foot rental with high ceilings, a kitchen, back deck, and front porch. Rates start at $600 a week; 228/493-2107 or vrbo.com/218850. Stay a month; Historic downtown cottage with two bedrooms, one bath, $2,750 a month; 228/466-4405 or vrbo.com/262370.