Gulfport, Mississippi.... I have such fond memories of the place.
It's the spot where I started to feel like an "adult".
When I was in high school I lived about an hour North of Gulfport. To date myself a little, at this time there was not a casino in the area.
In fact, years later when my husband and I drove there on the way to somewhere else, I thought I had lost my mind. I couldn't find the beach where I knew it was. My husband started giving me "The look" and finally I realized that these giant floating casinos were all pulled up to what used to be the spot I'd turn into a crispy critter every summer.
When I used to visit, it was all beach, and tacky strip centers and one big mall. This mall was 4 times as big as the one I had to drive to Hattiesburg for so I loved going to it. Gulfport did have some beautiful antibellum homes quite close to the beach, most turned into hotels and a few as tourist walk-thrus. In the 80s it still had a bit of old world charm to it. It was a small town that happened to be near a navel base and the beach.
The beach was not the best in the world, in fact it tended to have cinder blocks underneath the water and that made it a little tricky. The water was always just a bit murky so you couldn't see what you were banging into - or what was banging into you.
But it was there I felt so terribly independant and grown-up. The reason was that it was the one place that was "away" from home, but that I could drive to without my parents. I could go there and spend the day as my own person, not a teen-ager asking to go places with Mom and Dad. You'll remember from my memory of Dauphin Island, Mom and Dad hated sand.
I felt, at the ripe old age of 16, so dern "mature" as I piled my friends in my car and proceeded to drive for an hour South. Then we'd get to the beach, pile out onto the sand, slather with tanning oil and watch the Navy Men (!) on leave as we crisped up on the beach.
Afterword we'd all pile back into the car, head for pizza hut and onward to the mall to spend whatever pittance we had leftover from gas and lunch.
Finally, we'd pile one last time into my un-airconditioned car and head onward - home to the woods. Until the next weekend.
I hear that Gulfport is nearly destroyed now by the hurricane and I mourn this as it was a place with such great memories of the transition from being a child to becoming adult.