biloxi lighthouseMy South Coast Home by Ken MurphyBy B Ang

What do Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have in common? Apart from the obvious fact that these states face the Gulf of Mexico, have beautiful beaches and easy access to fresh seafood, many areas along the gulf coast are havens for those wanting to escape cold winters.

Here are some things to do while in the area:

henry fort estaLee County VCBFlorida
In Fort Myers, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates feature the neighbouring vacation homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Also, the grounds include the Botanic Research Laboratory where Edison looked at using goldenrod as a source of natural rubber; and a museum filled with Edison’s inventions, artifacts and special exhibits. The Ford Gallery includes a 1937 Ford Coupe, a 1940 V-8 engine and other paraphernalia reflecting the two men’s friendship.

On Estero Bay, the Mound Key Archaeological State Park was believed to be the ceremonial centre of the Calusa Indians who created the island’s complex of mounds using seashells, fish bones and pottery.  

Ten Thousand Islands is the coastal area in the Everglades National Park. The many islands form a transition from the freshwater marsh to the saltwater in the Gulf of Mexico. Ten Thousand Islands Refuge is used year round by manatees, sea turtles and a large number of endangered wading birds like wood storks, water and shore birds, and about 200 species of fish. Since the refuge is largely wetlands – made up of over 3,238 hectares of mangrove and 4,452 hectares freshwater marshland – a boat is the best way to get around.

mobilemardigrasAlabama Tourism DeptAlabama
Mobile is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. having been discovered in 1699 by the French. It is also the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the U.S., with its first recorded celebration in 1703. Learn about the history, pomp, pageantry and costumes of this event at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Mardi Gras in Mobile has been touted as the largest street party in the country.

Fort Conde is a reconstructed French fort dating back to the 1700s. Watch cannon and musket firing demonstrations while costumed guides relive a day in 1717.

Mobile Bay has the fourth largest estuary system in the U.S. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium is an educational facility highlighting the key habitats of coastal Alabama: Mobile Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Visual and interactive exhibits allow visitors to see plants, animals and natural resources found in the vicinity. This facility also has a marine laboratory dedicated to marine science education, research and coastal zone management policy.

The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa at Point Clear dates back to 1847. Facilities include two 18-hole golf courses as part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and a European Spa.

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast encompasses some 42 kilometres of white, sandy beaches, interspersed with world-class casinos and resorts.

Many historic homes exist in this region. Among them is Beauvoir in Biloxi, the plantation home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It was built in 1852 and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Located within the 21-hectare grounds is the Civil War Museum, the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier, an historic cemetery for former confederate soldiers and the Presidential library. For an example of a mix of French colonial and American architecture check out Old Brick house, circa 1784. Other historic homes that have been given new life as restaurants are: Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in Biloxi and in Gulfport, ConFusion, Half Shell Oyster House, and the 27th Ave Bistro.

The world’s only lighthouse located in the middle of a four-lane highway, Biloxi Lighthouse, circa 1848, earned the distinction of being operated by a succession of female keepers.

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Gulfport is listed among the top 50 children’s museums in the U.S. with its hands-on exhibits, and outdoor play area that includes a tree house village and a woodsy cabin on a stream.

There are seven natural beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Lying in the southwestern corner of the state is the 290-kilometre-long Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Running through Louisiana’s Outback, also known as one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses”, this area features wild and rugged terrain that is unique to Louisiana like bayous and marshland. It is home to 28 mammal species, 300 birds, monarch butterflies, 35 amphibians and reptiles, and 132 varieties of fish. Along the trail is the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, an area set up to preserve and protect migratory waterfowl and their habitat.

The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu in the Charpentier Historic District of Lake Charles is said to have the most Mardi Gras costumes anywhere in the world.

Contraband Days Festival is based on the legend of pirate Jean Lafitte. It is the second longest running festival after Mardi Gras in Louisiana. Buccaneers roam the festival grounds and stage a battle with the City of Lake Charles. There are about 100 events held during this carnival like a sailboat regatta and arm wrestling. The festival will be held from April 27 to May 9.

white birdTravel Texas/Clark KlinkenbergTexas
Texas has over 1,000 kilometres of coastline bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

One of Texas’ earliest prominent cities with notable historic buildings and homes, Bishop’s Palace is the only building in Texas that made it on the American Institute of Architects’ 100 outstanding buildings’ list. Also, The Strand, the former “Wall Street of the Southwest” is a 19th-century restored building now housing art galleries and studios, specialty shops and restaurants. Part of the National Historic Landmark District, it is often the venue of city festivals. At Moody Gardens, three glass pyramids are themed after an aquarium, the wonders of space and rainforests of the world.

Harlingen: Blessed with tropical weather, the city is a tropical birder’s paradise that has several sites included on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. The annual five-day Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival features guided field trips, seminars and workshops. Its historic downtown is known as “The Antiques Capital of the Valley” with shops and buildings restored to their 1930s-1940s splendour. It is minutes by boat to South Padre Island, the premiere beach resort on the Texas coast and over 16 kilometres from the Mexican border town, Nuevo Progreso.