This Gulf Coast Town Is A Great Addition To Your Fall Bucket List

Correction 10/16/2023: A previous version of this article misstated the number of vehicles registered in 2022. The 2022 event saw 9,618 cars, not 10,000.

A glorious patchwork of changing foliage invariably springs to mind when we think about fall vacations. As a result, many lists of the best destinations for an autumnal jaunt are often crammed with places in more northern regions of the United States. That's all well and good, but if you're looking for something a little different, a trip to Bay St. Louis on the Gulf Coast makes a quirky alternative to the usual leaf spotting.

Tucked between the Gulf shores of Louisiana and Florida with just 62 miles of shoreline, southern Mississippi has earned a nickname as the "Secret Coast" of the United States. With its distinctive culture and miles of undeveloped sandy beaches, it is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the most underrated destinations in the nation for a summer getaway. But while the sand and sea may be the primary allure for beach bums and sun worshippers, Bay St. Louis also has plenty to offer visitors in the fall.

Situated on Mississippi Sound, around an hour's drive from the tourist crowds of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis regularly makes lists of the best small coastal towns in the United States. In 2020, it was voted the best place to live in the state, and it's not hard to see why. With its pleasantly walkable tree-lined streets and long stretch of uncrowded sandy beach, it's a great place to cool down after the heat of the summer months.

Why fall is a great time to visit Bay St. Louis

The seaside community of Bay St. Louis has bounced back strongly since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now, it pitches itself as a destination for creatives and people looking to get a little off the beaten track, and what the town lacks in size, it makes up for with fun events all year round. 

One of the biggest events in the region around fall time is Cruisin' the Coast, a festival on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that bills itself as "America's Largest Block Party." Founded in 1996, the event celebrates classic hotrods and vintage automobiles that attract gearheads from all over North America and further afield to show off their pride and joys or bask in the atmosphere of the week-long festivities. 

2022 saw record-breaking figures for the event, with nearly 10,000 vehicles registered, and the highlight each year is an en masse cruise along the beach highway between the festival's designated stops from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula. The Bay St. Louis leg of the event is a great opportunity to stroll around Downtown and check out the astonishing array of vintage Cadillacs, gleaming hotrods, and classic muscle cars lining the streets. The atmosphere is convivial, and plenty of live music, snacks, and beverages are available as you drool over all the automobile artwork on display.

Other reasons to visit Bay St. Louis

Bay St. Louis has become well-known in the region as a haven for artists, and this aspect of the town's culture is celebrated monthly with the Second Saturday Monthly Art Walk. Three hotspots are picked out monthly for special attention, ranging from boutique shops and indie bookstores to notable local eateries. The walk happens every month, but fall is a great time to participate when the temperatures are cooler. 

The October 2023 edition highlighted Fly Boutique, a new location for the popular family-run Mississippi fashion outlet; Shannon Mullen Art and Katie's Jewelry & Gifts, showcasing the duo's custom art and handmade jewelry; and The Blind Tiger, a colorful bar serving tacos, burgers, and cocktails that was the first new building on the waterfront after the hurricane. The event also features gallery openings and live music.

Downtown Bay St. Louis is a great place for strolling all year round. There are many boutiques and art galleries to browse for your latest impulse purchase and lots of lively local bars, cafés, and restaurants to grab a bite or a drink. Mockingbird Café is an ideal location for breakfast, while the elegant Thorny Oyster restaurant is renowned for its fresh seafood. In the evening, you can grab a table at Beachside at Buoys or a frozen cocktail from Daiquiri Shak and take in the bay views. It's not a wrong way to end a fall day!