Living in Gulfport/Biloxi Mississippi
February 25, 2018 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I am about to accept a job offer in Gulfport, Mississippi. I have never lived there, or spent any significant time in the region. What should I know about the area, where should I live? Any other tips/warnings?

I never would have considered living in Mississippi, but this is an excellent job opportunity and pays more than I've ever made, and will give me the opportunity to move on to an even better position in 1-3 years. My wife works remotely, so she'll be able to keep her job, and we have two kids who will be preschool age while we are there. Unless we end up falling in love with the area, we will leave before our oldest starts kindergarten. This is a 9-5ish type job, and it's right in Gulfport's downtown area. Some things I'm concerned about:

- where to live? I've heard Ocean Springs is very nice, but it looks like about a 40 minute commute during rush hour. Our budget would be around $1600-1800 for a rental.
- what to do? We live in a large city now, we go to parks and museums a lot on the weekends, and try to get outdoors as much as possible. The beach looks lovely, but I've been told that no one really swims in it because of the water quality. What other good recreational activities are available, especially kid-friendly ones?
- politics. I've lived in blue to purple areas my whole life. Trump won this region by 30+ points. I don't know what, if anything, that would mean to me on a daily basis, but it concerns me. Finding people to hang out with would be difficult for us, I fear. But we mostly are so busy with kids and work that we just hang out as a family anyway.

Anyway, if you all have any advice, warnings, encouragement or experiences to share, it'd make me feel better. Thanks!
posted by skewed to Travel & Transportation around Gulfport, MS (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi, there. I live a little under an hour and a half directly north of there in Hattiesburg, I went to school on the Coast, and I just moved my mom from Ocean Springs to be closer to me. What follows are some jumbled thoughts about the area, please feel free to MeMail me if you want to follow up.

My mom adores Ocean Springs, and hated to leave. It has a "quaint' downtown area and considers itself pretty cosmopolitan. There's a focus on the arts and there are a few small (underwhelming, in my opinion) museums in OS and neighboring Biloxi. There's an ok grocery store--Rouses--and downtown has lots of little clothes and arts shops, but there's a lot of Walmart living going on, too. And Ocean Springs is white, hoo boy, is it white. Public schools in OS are better than many others in the area, for the typical frustrating reasons.

The Coast is a little less conservative than other parts of Mississippi, but still probably a lot more conservative than any place you've lived before. It's an area driven by several military bases; retired military; and tourism that focuses on gambling. I love Hattiesburg, and it's pretty conservative for a college town, but I am absolutely surrounded by really progressive thinkers in my large social circle. Progressive Mississippians are here! I promise.

Don't forget that Gulfport is about two hours from New Orleans, and about the same distance from Mobile. These are easy day trips with lots of history and museums to explore. Taking a trip out to one of the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico can be nice. Make sure you are prepared with lots of sunblock, bug spray and liquids, but that goes for just about anytime you step outside. It is crazy humid here and it can be just oppressive (she says, dripping sweat onto her keyboard).

Mississippi as a whole is....complex. I chose to stay here and try to be a force for good, but it isn't an especially pretty state, people are not very politically or even physically active, and it can be a frustrating place to call home. It is a fecund, humid, olio that has produced some of the best that America has to offer in the arts, and you don't do that without being, well, complex. Please feel free to memail me, and holler if you come to the area, and I would be glad to show you around Hattiesburg.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:23 PM on February 25, 2018 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I have family in the area. It's changed over the last 40 years, the casino legalization in the 80s being a big milestone, Katrina being the other.

Not going to comment on politics or race much -- you'll figure it out. There are fewer Confederate flags (other than the one on the MS flag) than there are north of I-10. People are pretty polite to each other in person.

You can live like a friggin' king for $1600. Hurricane season is a thing though. Remember that Katrina's storm surge was 22 feet. Since the place is greying and emptying out a bit you could probably get a good deal on a place with a Gulf view. Whether you want to front the risk and insurance, though ... :)

People like to go to church, go out to eat, and fish. You can find people with other interests, with some effort.

The Gulf gets hot-tub warm at times. It takes about 30 minutes to wade out far enough to get your knees wet. People go flounder gigging at night. You can buy fresh never-frozen shrimp for $3/lb in season. You can take a ferry to Ship Island.

I'm glad thebrokedown commented and did a better job than I could.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:51 PM on February 25, 2018

Best answer: I've traveled a lot through this area and stayed in a little town near Gulfport called Bay St. Louis. It's a charmer! I was told that a lot of people who worked on Katrina cleanup ("hippies" is how said storyteller put it) decided to stay in the area (in particular, that town) after their service and started businesses and non-profits, the like, making the town feel like somewhat of a progressive enclave. That might be overselling it; I don't live there myself, so it might be less cool than that description. But I really liked it when I've traveled through! I do think they have a good amount of musicians stopping by on their way into or out of New Orleans.
posted by orangesky4 at 3:54 PM on February 25, 2018

Best answer: I agree about Bay St Louis. It is on the opposite end of the Coast from Ocean Springs and similar in flavor, even before Katrina. Katrina, however, absolutely leveled Bay St Louis, down to slabs as far as the eye could see, and it has been built back up pretty much from scratch. The new building is very beachy and attractive. It would be worth a look; I wonder how well the school system has come back.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:26 PM on February 25, 2018

Best answer: Spent huge portions of my life in various Gulf Coast places, though never Biloxi/Gulfport specifically. I can tell you that the towns along the coast -- New Orleans all the way over to the beach towns of the Florida panhandle -- have much more in common with each other than they do with their "upstates" (or their "downstate" in the case of Florida). Mobile is much more like New Orleans than it is like Montgomery or Birmingham.

That doesn't mean you're not going to see cracker rednecks with Confederate flags around and about, but less so than you'd see in, say, the areas around Jackson.

I do hope you'll love it ... that part of the South is very special to me and I'm always happy when new folks arrive and find themselves happy there.
posted by mccxxiii at 4:43 PM on February 25, 2018

I lived there when I was about 18 months old. I have one overriding memory of the place - it was miserably hot and sticky. So miserably hot and sticky that I remember it still, at age 57.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:27 PM on February 25, 2018

It is a deep red state in the old slave south. Your kids are going to get a good dose of that everyday. It is going to permeate your social connections and work conversations. It helps to be a tall white male. Hopefully your family can pull that off.

The humidity is amazing. Make sure that you have an AC system and you are ready to pay the electric bills.

I remember it being really hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists. Mostly because nobody walks or bikes due to the heat.
posted by pdoege at 6:32 PM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

All your museum needs met by the magical Abita Mystery House!

Seriously though, I've only visited this area once but was really charmed by it, even though I was visiting in the extreme heat of summer. There were lots of cute small towns to explore.

I can't really reassure you about the conservative politics and bigotry, but at worst it will be a cultural education.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:40 PM on February 25, 2018

Best answer: I lived in the St. Martin/Ocean Springs area for a little while when I was growing up. Obviously, I didn't experience the area as a grown-up, so I'm probably missing some of the cultural nuance, but here are some of my impressions of the place.

mccxxiii nailed it--the Gulf Coast area is much more similar culturally to New Orleans than it is to cities farther north. I have heard it said by friends from the region that it's basically impossible to find a good king cake for Mardi Gras farther north than Hattiesburg and I believe them. I still have friends from middle school who are from or even continue to live in the area and while, yes, the area as a whole skews conservative, you'll definitely find folks who aren't around the place just by doing the things you like to do.

Also: Mardi Gras is a BIG DEAL. Mardi Gras isn't a day so much as a season in this area. I remember getting close to a week off of school for Mardi Gras, but I'm not sure what the situation is as far as getting that time off of work? I guess what I'm saying is if your office doesn't give you time off for Mardi Gras, you might just want to make it a point to take that time off anyway because the parades will probably wreck your commute.

The area is incredibly scenic which, frankly, I didn't expect before I got there. But if you're going over the bridge to Biloxi or Ocean Springs at sunset, you're going to see some colors you've never seen before. It's GORGEOUS. And like thebrokedown said, going out to some of the barrier islands is well worth it. I don't remember the actual coast in Biloxi being all that breathtaking (water looked a little mucky), but barrier islands are like everything you'd ever want in a beach. Also: dolphins.

On the kid-friendly front: I have fond mini-golf memories from this time. I think Biloxi in particular has a lot for kids to do because they have so many casinos and touristy things. Some of the casinos even have stuff for kids to do: Boomtown Casino has (had? it's been awhile) an amazing arcade and Imperial Palace has a movie theater. There's some museums around there as well, I think.

Climate: SO HUMID. But the winter doesn't dip much below the upper 30s. BUT there is a season in which approximately a billion little bugs I heard called june bugs will be out. They're not especially scary or gross (unlike the roaches--SPRAY YOUR HOUSE) but there are so many of them that the front of your car will just be plastered with their sad buggy bodies for like a month towards the end of summer.

Also: when it's magnolia blooming season, everything smells SO GOOD OMG. SO GOOD. Hope this helps!
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:37 AM on February 26, 2018

Best answer: I grew up in Hattiesburg -- though I left 30 years ago -- so I can offer some comments.

Mississippi is very, very red. This is unlikely to change. Even in relatively urban areas (Jackson, the Coast, Hattiesburg) it's astoundingly conservative and, frankly, backward in the aggregate. You'll find pockets of progressive folks, but they're islands in a sea of reactionary, pro-Trump, nativist, rebel-flag waving dumbfuckery.

This is reflected in the school systems, so absolutely do not move there with school-age kids unless you can afford to send them to one of a very few genuinely good private schools there (there's at least one good one in Jackson, but I'm not sure there's an option on the Coast).

That said, the Coast is traditionally more welcoming than the rest of the state. Ocean Springs is mostly a bedroomy community that has retained much more off a sense of place; it took less damage from Katrina, and (more importantly) is in a distinct county that didn't legalize gambling. If I had to live on the Coast, I'd look there. My assumption is that $1800 would buy a castle there, but I don't really know.

No, do not get in the Gulf.

I'm assuming you're both white and straight. If neither of those are true, rethink this plan.
posted by uberchet at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2018

helloimjennsco: I have mini-golf memories too! There was a 60s-era Goofy Golf on the beach, and a place with classic arcade games and a giant pinball machine. Unfortunately Katrina took away both of those.

Now there's Big Fun in Biloxi which has bumper cars and ticket games, and the Margaritaville casino which has a big Dave-and-Busters type of thing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:57 AM on February 26, 2018

(Oh, "love bug" season! There are two some years--spring and end of summer. The name is a thin euphemism, as these hapless little bugs are mating non-stop and dumb and get into everything and their little paired bodies will completely cover the grill of your car and need to be cleared immediately or will strip off paint.)
posted by thebrokedown at 10:06 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

So - my opinion, based on living in Mississippi until I was 17:

Walking around in Gulfport and Biloxi on the average summer day is like walking around encased in a warm, wet blanket. Just looking at the average temperature and humidity in no way prepares you for the utter oppressiveness of summers in that area. It is... not particularly picturesque, either. The beaches are not

Also, aside from the aforementioned love bugs, there are palmetto bugs by the billions in summer. ("Palmetto bug" is a polite euphemism for "flying roach"). And the mosquitoes, ugh - don't even get me started. My dad used to say they were so big they would "hover at the foot of your bed, discussing whether to eat you there, or carry you outside."

If you're not from the deep south, be prepared to step back in time. There are some nice areas, but they are oases in a sea of rust. And there are progressive people, but they are likewise oases in a sea of red. You will find casual homophobia and racism in schools and churches and workplaces. Even in pre-school there is a chance your children will hear terms you will not want them exposed to. It does, to some extent, depend on where you live - but even the most progressive areas in Mississippi are pretty conservative by liberal standards. If it matters to you, Trump took Mississippi with 57.9% of the vote; his approval/disapproval rating there is 48/46%.

I grew up in various cities and towns in Mississippi - Cleveland, Greenville, Leland, Jackson, Gulfport, Hattiesburg - so, been there, done that, got the accent. Some places in MS are definitely better than others, and I don't want to tell you what's best for your family! But honestly, I started moving north as soon as I was old enough to drive, and have never regretted it. Now I live in Massachusetts, and for what it's worth, there is no amount of money anyone could pay me that would make me move back.
posted by invincible summer at 11:29 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Aaaand I just noticed that unfinished sentence. It was going to be "The beaches feel more like sandy lake shores, which isn't bad unless you really want a beach."
posted by invincible summer at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone. I accepted the offer, so we'll be moving in a couple of months. Excited and nervous, will be scanning craigslist for rental places.
posted by skewed at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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