Just a stone's throw from the Beau is one of our favorite small towns, Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Destination: Good Health

With its cottagey storefronts, streets lined with live oaks, and an eclectic mix of galleries, restaurants, and shops, it is a great place to stroll, chill, and chat up the locals. This old coastal community attracts lots of artsy types, making it both charming and hip at the same time.

It's also a pedestrian traveler's dream because many of its best offerings line two main drags, Washington Avenue and Government Street, which intersect in the heart of town. Among our favorites are Two Dogs Dancing, jam-packed with gifts for pets and the people who adore them; On the Menu: A Kitchen Gallery, a mix of fun and function with great kitchen tools, colorful tableware, and more; the famed Walter Anderson Museum of Art; and The Art House on Cash Alley, a gallery for a local artists' consortium. Many more shops and restaurants are sprinkled about the heart of Ocean Springs.

Our delicious, down-home breakfast at McElroy's on the Bayou fueled us for a day's shopping. For dinner, we tried the ultracasual Government Street Grocery, which has patio dining. Dave discovered the wonders of the muffuletta, an Italian-inspired, native New Orleans sandwich made with salami, ham, provolone cheese, and olive salad. The Grocery can attract a young crowd, so we over-40 types felt a little like the hall monitors, but we got over it when we tasted the food and saw the low prices.

Why We Love It: Local Spirit

Ocean Springs draws vacationers with a year-round string of art, music, and food festivals. It’s also home to the Anderson family, whose Shearwater Pottery lures collectors to its rustic studios on the water, and whose creative legacy is honored by the gemlike Walter Anderson Museum of Art, right in the heart of town.

But perhaps the spirit of Ocean Springs is most obvious at is beach, where a new playground features a large, whimsical ship that celebrates the town’s founding by those maritime explorers. As the day winds down, kids continue to play on the playground while a shrimp boat passes by on its way to local chefs, and two brown pelicans, wild and wheeling, dive for their own dinner.

Why We Love It: The Art and Music

From galleries like Hillyer House, which features more than 50 local artists, to the funky Art House cooperative housed in a ramshackle red cottage, Ocean Springs puts art at the center of its economy.

And when it comes to music, yes, Elvis hung out here, and the live music continues to rock and roll, with Government Street as its epicenter. There’s live music nearly every night, with top spots including Mosaic Tapas Restaurant, the courtyard at Leo’s Wood Fired Pizza, and Government Street Grocery.

Why We Love It: Gulf Islands National Seashore

America’s largest national seashore practically surrounds Ocean Springs. On the mainland, the Davis Bayou Area is great for birding and spotting armadillos. Offshore, a seasonal ferry runs from nearby Gulfport to West Ship Island, which offers quiet, bone-white beaches.

For more exploration, South Coast Paddling Company offers trips along the Pascagoula River (pictured left) and through Davis and Old Fort bayous.

The Essentials: Beaches

A 20-minute stroll front downtown, Front Beach gently arcs from Biloxi Bridge to the Ocean Springs harbor. With a fishing pier, a playground, and views of the Gulf Islands, this beach is a true community destination.

The Essentials: Main Street

Lined with live oaks, Washington Avenue hums with busy shops and restaurants. Realizations is devoted to the work of local artist Walter Anderson and his family, and The Pink Rooster carries some of the best locally made jewelry. Grab a sweet energy boost at the charming French Kiss Pastries (pictured left).