Weekend Getaway

The Gulf Coast - Cruising Louisiana to Mississippi

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January 2014
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By
Ellen
Honey

1 Day

New Orleans, Louisiana

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.

2 Days

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

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.

3 Days

Gulfport, Mississippi

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.

4 Days

Biloxi, Mississippi

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.

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Our nation's smallest state has big boating opportunities. Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay is prime for cruising picturesque and protected with many beautiful harbors. While not on everyone's chart plan, Wickford is an historic hamlet with delightfully walkable shady streets lined with beautiful colonial homes. From quiet Wickford, you're set for a straightforward passage out to The Bay, then poised to cross the broad blue expanse of Rhode Island Sound to the fun, boat- and bike-friendly Block Island. This Narragansett tour will have you feeling like a bold explorer while landing at easy modern marinas.

Day 1: Wickford Cove

Wickford Cove is the smallest town in the smallest county of littlest Rhode Island. That's not to minimize its quaint downtown full of waterfront gardens, charming architecture and tremendous yachting heritage. Stroll Wickford's self-guided marker tour of historic seaside homes, then pop into some darling boutiques around the harbor like Serendipity and Pink Parasol.Conclude your walk at Wickford on the Waterfront with a salty cocktail, local oysters or stuffed clams (stuffies in Rhode Island lingo). Tate's Italian Kitchen serves hearty classics across the village's main Brown Street. Moorings can be reserved at Wickford Yacht Club or go to Safe Harbor Wickford Cove for a full-service marina with dock space.

Day 2: Block Island

Wickford to Block Island 29 NMCruising down the western shores of Narragansett Bay under the Jamestown Bridge, passing magnificent mansions then Point Judith Light, you are soon on your way across the open expanse of Rhode Island Sound to Block Island. The farthest island from land on the entire Eastern seaboard, Block Island is even more remote than Monhegan in Maine (10 miles out by comparison).

Block Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
Block Island, RI | Greg Burke

Block Island has a vacation vibe, and everything is relaxed, truly on island-time with their moniker of Bermuda of the North. The 1,500 happy humble Block Island residents claim they've been social distancing since 1661, so they've got humor to carry them through the long off-season. Block's pear-shaped 7 x 3-mile island is cool, casual and fun to explore for a few days, yet not so stuffy-chic or celebrity-crushed as Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.Getting around by bike or moped is the best way to explore Block's entire 16 miles of perimeter roads. Along the undulating country lanes, you may feel transported to Ireland with the lush rolling fields, stone walls, dramatic Mohegan Bluffs and the contrasting blue sea. Passing dozens of unique beaches, you may plan to return later. Highlight sights are Block Island's two impressive lighthouses – North and South East – with the busier main village of Old Harbor in between.Block Island has two boating harbors: the more protected New Harbor in Great Salt Pond, which is preferred by pleasure boaters, and Old Harbor with its primary ferry landing and bustling downtown of shops and grand seaside hotels. Staying at Great Salt Pond overlooking your mooring or dock slip, you should enjoy sunsets, pub fare and a boaters' block party atmosphere at The Oar or Dead Eye Dick's (opens in May). While in the Old Harbor after browsing boutiques, find a perfect chair and cocktail at either grand seaside hotel: Spring House or Atlantic House.For a delicious local dinner, Kimberly's serves littlenecks or calamari followed by lobster mac n' cheese as a beautiful ending to a day of exploring. Live music may be piping out from next door Poor People's Pub to lure you over for a nightcap.Block Island's public moorings in New Harbor are assigned daily by the Harbormaster. Private slips can be reserved at Champlin's Marina, the Boat Basin and Oar House. They book up quickly in prime summer season, which results in boats rafting-up with strangers (friends you haven't yet met!).

Day 3: Newport

Block Island to Newport 25 NMDeparting Block Island, perhaps after fresh coffee and pastries delivered to your boat by enterprising locals, you will be in the company of power boaters and sailing vessels, plus the occasional charging ferry heading to Newport. It's a direct course northeast to the Sailing Capital of Newport.

Bannisters Wharf - weekened warrior - marinalife
Bannisters Wharf, Newport | Greg Burke

No boater worth his Sperry's can miss out on the yachty harbor of Newport, established in 1639. As a visiting boater, contact the Harbormaster or Newport Yachting Center for an affordable mooring or a much pricier dock space in this prime harbor. Water taxis ply the harbor frequently to take you to the town docks.Newport is full of magnificent vessels, lively waterfront pubs lining Bowens and Bannisters Wharfs, and scads of inviting seaside shops on cobblestone streets. Getting off your boat, stretch your sea legs with a scenic 3.5-mile cliff walk by the Gilded Age mansions of our fine affluent families (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Dupont, Astor and Morgan). Before sunset, head for Newport rooftop drinks overlooking the harbor at The Vanderbilt or the Hotel Viking to toast your good fortunate in this big little state.

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The Florida Keys
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MAGICAL ASPECTS OF FLORIDA lie beyond the gates of Disney's Magic Kingdom. In fact, a wealth of nature's enchantment unfolds in the 110 miles stretching from Key Largo to Key West, and an abundance of fascinating creatures thrive on the 1,700 islands of the coral cay archipelago.The beginning of the island chain, Key Largo, made famous by the movie starring Bogart and Bacall, is known as the Dive Capital of the World. Wreck divers head for the sunken 510-foot USS Spiegel Grove, while reef lovers choose John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Molasses Reef in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has shallow sections perfect for snorkeling. For a unique day excursion or an overnight stay, dive 20 feet below to the only entrance of the Jules Verne Undersea Lodge at Emerald Lagoon.The world-class and private Ocean Reef Club marina on the northernmost tip of the island has slips to accommodate vessels up to 175 feet.

Day 1: IslamoradaKey Largo to Islamorada 15 NM

It's a short leg from the diving hub to the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, which boasts the largest charter fishing fleet per square mile on Earth. At dawn, captains head out on deep-sea excursions or idle through mangrove islands and shallow seagrass flats of the backcountry. The silver flashes in the sunlight at Robbie's Marina dock are enormous tarpon, 50 to 100 feet long, doing daily water acrobatics for snacks thrown by visitors into the clear, shallow water.

Islamorada - weekend warrior - marinalife
Islamorada | romrodinka on Canvas

The Keys have a motley past: shipwrecks, pirates, buried treasure, movie stars and especially luscious Key Lime pie. History reaching back to Native American life is outlined at the Keys History & Discovery Center at the Islander Resort.Downtown Islamorada's patchwork of boutiques and galleries is overflowing with original creations of artists, sculptors and jewelers inspired by life on the islands. The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District is a bustling six-block corridor of shops, restaurants and studio spaces. Thirsty shoppers can duck into the welcoming back garden of Florida Keys Brewing Company. Beside the seasonal beer on tap, they serve a Key Lime cocktail so delectable that it could be counted as dessert.Transient dockage to 100 feet is available at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina, a premier facility with 15 sprawling acres of white sand beach. Plantation Yacht Harbor Marina, located in the fabulous Founders Park, is ranked among the top marinas in the world and is a designated Clean Marina.

Day 2: Duck KeyIslamorada to Duck Key 21 NM

Tucked into the secluded and intimate isle of Duck Key, Hawks Cay Resort is a 60-acre destination often named the top family resort in the country. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, a $50 million renovation revitalized the entire property. It's the perfect backdrop for Discovery Channel's popular Saltwater Experience, which is filmed on site.Hawk's Cay guests can do everything or do nothing. Interact and swim with dolphins in their natural environment at the Dolphin Connection or rise early for oceanside yoga before wandering to the spa for a Key Lime Mojito scrub followed by a warm body butter wrap with Key Lime essential oils. Come evening, multiple resort dining choices include the new Sixty-One Prime, a Key-style chop house, and the island casual Angler & Ale.Hawks Cay Marina can accommodate boats up to 110 feet with beams to 20 feet in the resort's back basin.

Day 3: Key WestDuck Key to Key West 52 NM

Before adventuring out in the heat to pet the famous six-toed cats at Hemingway House or view the spartan simplicity of the Truman Little White House, grab a Cuban Café con Leche and wander around town absorbing the laid-back, culturally diverse life of island time.Nightly pub crawls guide visitors along Duval Street's legion of barrooms. Much like the revelers doing the Duval Crawl, the Key West chickens strut the streets and crow at all hours. Colorful roosters and mother hens with tiny chicks weave in and out of traffic and through open cafés around town.

ocean reef club - weekend warrior - marinalife
Buccaneer Island, Ocean Reef Club | Ocean Reef Club

Much quieter winged creatures reside in the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, a tropical paradise home to hundreds of species of magical butterflies and birds. More of nature's birding and fishing wonders lie just off the western shore. Accessible only by boat, Key West National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 208,308 acres with only 2,019 acres above sea level. Wading birds, pelicans, shorebirds, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins all live within or visit the refuge.There's an eatery on nearly every corner from the quirky Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe to the beautiful Seaside Café at the Southernmost Mansion and Louie's Backyard for fine dining. It's best to experience Key West on a bike or a golf cart so you can catch the quirkiness of the island including the popular drag show at 801 Bourbon Bar and the famous cemetery. And at the end of the day, join the locals for live music at the Green Parrot Bar.Several marinas welcome boaters with a range of pleasant amenities and convenient locations: Conch Harbor Marina in historic Old Town, Stock Island Yacht Club and The Perry Hotel & Marina.

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Enjoy a Southern Maryland Getaway
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Ready to go beyond the places in Maryland that grab the tourists, the headlines, the buzz? Spend a weekend in the quiet southwest corner of the state and explore the earliest beginnings of Maryland from the first colony on St. Clement's Island to the site of its first capital, St. Mary's City. Along with fascinating history, you'll discover friendly folks, serene landscapes and fresh bay-to-table dining.

Day 1: Solomons Island

Just a sliver of land measuring a mile and a half long, and in some spots it's just the width of a single road, yet Solomons is alive with eateries, shops, a tiki bar, marinas, a scenic sculpture garden and a world-class museum.

Drum Point Lighthouse - weekend warrior - marinalife
Drum Point Lighthouse at Calvert Marine Museum | Wikimedia Commons

Local residents seeking to preserve the maritime heritage of the area began the Calvert Marine Museum as a community project in 1970. It has evolved into a research museum, renowned for local history exploration while actively looking toward challenges of the future, especially environmental issues. Maritime history, estuarine biology and paleontology are brought to life through hands-on experiences. More than 500 artifacts include a 28-foot three-log canoe, a tobacco press and boats from Solomons' long-gone shipyards and oyster industry.

On the surrounding grounds, stroll the marsh walk home of great blue heron, osprey, hermit crabs and more. Nearby is the River Otter Habitat where residents Bubbles and Squeak frolic between naps.

A short distance away, the synergy of art and nature on the grounds of Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Art Center encourages creativity and reflection. Along the walking paths, tiny fairy gardens are dwarfed by rotating artworks on loan from the Smithsonian.

If all the walking makes you hungry, an abundance of dining choices is at hand, from the generous seafood starters at Lighthouse Restaurant & Dock Bar and the savory cheesecake appetizer at CD Cafe to Sunday piano brunch at Charles Street Brasserie. The rooms of Lotus Kitchen, formerly a private home, are decorated with original artwork, and the fresh, elegant food is in itself a work of art. It's a favorite breakfast and lunch stop, and according to locals, it serves Key lime pie rivaling those in the Florida Keys.

Several marinas on Back Creek include the resort-style Solomons Harbor Marina close to the town's center, and the larger, 246-slip Spring Cove Marina that offers a courtesy shuttle to restaurants and shops.

Day 2: St. Mary's City

Solomons Island to St. Mary's City 36 NM

"Where's the city?" is a frequent question from arriving tourists who haven't yet realized they are standing on the archaeological site of Maryland's first capital. Tours of replica buildings bring that era back to life. Trails along this historic exhibit on the St. Mary's River wind past a replica of the Dove (one of the ships that carried Catholic settlers), the Godiah Spray Plantation and a fully excavated 17th century building at St. John's Site.

St. Clements Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
St. Clements Island | Susan Elnicki Wade

After a 90-year search, a fort-like formation the size of a football field was recently uncovered. Ground-penetrating radar scans revealed a brick cellar guardhouse and dwellings -- possibly Native American -- within the walls. Native communities in the area can be traced back 10,000 years, and a quartzite arrow dating back 4,500 years was unearthed.

Eating options are limited but tasty. Tiny Enso Kitchen has amazing breakfast sandwiches and lunch salads, but its fame comes from scrumptious bread and pastries. Although it's located in a gas station, St. James Deli & Spirits is known for excellent take-out pizza and subs.

Boats can dock for the day on site, and the closest full-service facility, Dennis Point Marina in Drayden, offers gas and diesel.

Day 3: Coltons Point

St. Mary's City to Coltons Point 26 NM

Off-season, the pace of life in this peaceful little community on the Potomac is lower than the speed limit. That all changes as warm weather tourists arrive at St. Clement's Island Museum to learn about the 1634 arrival of two ships, the Ark and Dove, whose English passengers sought to establish a new colony based on religious tolerance.

Bald eagle in flight - weekend warrior - marinalife
Bald Eagle in Flight | Frank Cone

A half-mile offshore is the 62-acre St. Clement's Island state park and federal nature preserve. A towering white cross marks where the first Catholic mass was held in the new colony. The park includes a hiking trail, beach, picnic pavilion, and fishing and hunting grounds.

In 1967, local preservation groups organized the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a time-honored traditional benediction for the boats and the St. Mary's County watermen. The event also raises awareness about the island's future, currently one-tenth its original size due to rising sea levels.

Visiting boaters can tie up to the piers for the day or take a weekend water shuttle from Coltons Point. Guest piers are on the north and south shores of St. Clement's Island. Overnight slips are available at Coltons Point Marina and Cather Marine just a few miles from the mouth of St. Patrick's Creek.

Before returning to the usual faster pace, mosey up to Morris Point Seafood on Canoe Neck Creek for just-off-the-boat homemade seafood (start with crab dip Florentine) or Sunday brunch featuring Chesapeake eggs and smoked trout platter.

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