Bay St. Louis, MS
You might call Bay St. Louis the little town that could. Hurricane Katrina made final landfall near this Mississippi Gulf hamlet in 2005, lifting homes off foundations, crumbling bridges, leveling businesses, and killing 12 people in its wake. But the storm didn’t crush the spirit of Bay St. Louis. This year, the town received the highest number of votes, close to 10,000, of all 924 Coolest Small Town nominees. It’s that sort of love that’s helped them rebuild, literally from the ground up. Evidence of renewal can be found at every turn, like at the Mockingbird Cafe. First opened to serve Katrina volunteers and locals, it’s now a neighborhood mainstay in Historic Old Town, serving up both frothy lattes and their belly-filling signature Mockingburger. Also calling the 300-year-old neighborhood home: a quirky mix of restaurants, galleries and Creole cottages and inns. Once a month, the district opens its doors for Second Saturday Artwalk, a day filled with art shows, live music and regional food specialties. Beach Boulevard’s restored 19th-century waterfront homes are just a few blocks away, and the historic Bay Town Inn bed and breakfast is being rebuilt. Also underway: a $21.1 million harbor project that includes a 1,100-ft pier and a recreational beach, due for completion in 2014.