Words that describe the cuisine of New Orleans can also be used to define the flavor of the city: The people are a roux of French, Spanish, African, English and Native American heritage, and their cultures combine to create a rich gumbo of experiences to satisfy every taste.
Since it's impossible to "see" the city in a short time, it's best to concentrate on a geographic section or a specific interest. History, culture, cuisine, voodoo, churches, cemeteries, Civil War sites, ghosts, vampires, music, art, plantations, swamps, and more can be explored via tour bus, bicycle, foot, Segway or paddleboard. To get the lay of the land in a relatively short amount of time, take a tour on one of the City Sightseeing New Orleans's opentop double-decker buses. The hop-on, hop-off plan offers maximum flexibility, and stops include the St. Louis Cemetery, Mardi Gras World, the French Market and the National World War II Museum (tip: the museum features a Tom Hanks-produced film and has an on-site restaurant that serves excellent vintage cocktails).
Tie up at Orleans Marina (504-288-2351, marinasinneworleans.com), a quick stroll from downtown, or save 10 percent on transient dockage as a Marinalife member at Seabrook Marine (504-283-9801, seabrookmarine.com). With all there is to see and do in the city, it might be hard to tear yourself away, but weekend adventures await along the 62 miles of Mississippi's Gulf Coast to the northeast. Rich in charm and personality -- as well as a fascinating history that includes French and Spanish settlements, the Civil War, oil exploration and several devastating hurricanes -- the region's people and environment possess a spirit of survival that cannot be eroded.
Bay St. Louis, a 300-year-old town loaded with charm and a general sense of wellbeing, is an easy cruise from New Orleans. In 2013, Budget Travel magazine designated it one of the top three "Coolest Small Towns in America." Anchored by the century-old Hancock County Courthouse, the burg has a vibrant arts colony andplenty of restaurants and shops. Pick up a walking/biking tour map and follow it to places including the 1928 train depot, which houses the Mardi Gras Museum and the Alice Moseley Folk Art and Antiques Museum.
A cannot-miss for music fanatics is historic 100 Men Hall (303 Union St., 228-342-5770), a 2011 recipient of a Blues Trail marker from the Mississippi Blues Commission. The Hall, a major stop on the Chitlin' Circuit of the 1930s through 1960s, is once again a live-music venue hosting well-known performers. Dock your vessel for the night at Diamondhead Marina (228-255-2918, diamondheadms.org), set on the bay.
Next stop is Gulfport, which has six times the population of leisurely Bay St. Louis. Like many gulf cities, Gulfport was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but is steadily being rebuilt and restored.
The very highly rated children's museum, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center (246 Dolan Ave., 228-897-6039), occupies a renovated 1915 elementary school. Kids of all ages enjoy the diverse interactive exhibits on the six-acre grounds. Lovers of classic vehicles should drop by the Busted Wrench Garage Museum (2311 29th St., 228-617-6660), where vintage cars, motorcycles, boats, posters and other memorabilia fill a 6,000 - square-foot space. One of the top local restaurants is the Flyin' Jalapeno (1101 Broad Ave., 228-222-3216), where the crowds devour fresh, flavorful burritos, nachos and salads.
Gulfport marks the beginning of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches 160 miles to Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Most of the nearly 140,000 acres of park are under water. There are five wildlife-packed barrier islands that define the Mississippi portion, and many spots on them are accessible to boaters. Tie up at Gulfport Yacht Club (228-863-6796, gulfportyachtclub.org) for a relaxing stay.
There are great stretches of open land between Gulfport and Biloxi. Beaches are the main natural attraction here, while casinos top the list of man-made attractions. Biloxi has long been the place to party and play along the coast. The area has been hit by two major hurricanes -- Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005 -- and both times the casino industry has played a major role in the city's return to glitz and glamour after the storms. Gaming houses range from backwater barges to deluxe resort-entertainment complexes. Nine major casinos lure excitement seekers to their shows, dining venues and the chance to "beat the house" at the tables or slots.
The Casino Hopper trolley doesn't just run between the beaches and the blackjack games. Ride it to many of the city's attractions, including the stunning Ohr-O'Keefe Museum (386 Beach Blvd., 228-374-5547), which has excellent art exhibitions and Frank Gehry-designed buildings. Other sites worth checking out include the 1848 Biloxi Lighthouse (corner of U.S. 90 and Porter Ave.) and the Maritime & Seafood Museum (115 1st St., 228-435-6320), which preserves the heritage of two of the area's most important commercial pursuits.
For a fun island ambiance, drop by Shaggy's Bar & Grill (1763 Beach Blvd., 228-432-5005) the fresh seafood, cold margaritas and matchless water views make it a favorite destination for locals and vacationers. The cuisine and atmosphere at Mary Mahoney's Old French House (110 Rue Magnolia, 228-374-0163) are beyond legendary. Great care was taken to preserve much of the building's original character when the home, dating back to 1737, was turned into a restaurant in 1962. The elegant New Orleans-style courtyard, shaded by a centuries-old live oak, is a knockout.
Dock your boat in the middle of town at Biloxi Small Craft Harbor (228-436-4062, biloxi.ms.us) or Biloxi Boardwalk Marina (228-432-2628, biloxiboardwalkmarina.com), which has an on-site waterfront restaurant called the Hook Up. To be within walking distance of some of the casinos, head instead to the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum's Schooner pier, which has 22 slips and 200 feet of floating dockage. Win or lose, you'll be just a short jaunt from your vessel.