Story by Amanda Wells
William Faulkner was famously quoted as saying you could only understand the world if you understood a place like Mississippi. She’s a many-layered, complex, living, breathing being – this place we call home. While we may never understand her fully – her history, her future – the journey truly is more than the reaching of a destination. From Delta flatlands to a reemerging Capitol city to breathtaking views of the Gulf, she has quite a lot to offer when it comes to discovery. Every region has its own unique flair and a lot to offer in the way of Magnolia State culture. So come along with us as we delve into exploring this jewel of the South.
The Delta is a place unlike any other. Its smooth, sprawling landscape lends itself to soaking in fresh air. There’s nothing quite as good for the soul like a drive through the Delta with the windows down. But that’s not all. The Delta has lots more to offer than just great scenery.
Greenwood is a Delta gem. Stay at The Alluvian, of course. Cooking classes at the Viking Cooking school are always a must as is a meal at Greenwood classics Lusco’s and Giardina’s (get the fish!). An afternoon at The Alluvian Spa is almost as good for the soul as that windows-down drive through the Delta.
Take a weekend for Clarksdale, home to Mississippi son Morgan Freeman. A stay at the Shack Up Inn will bring Delta authenticity to your visit as you reside in a sharecropper shack. Go a little south for a piece of Mississippi nostalgia and hear the blues at Po’ Monkey’s, one of the lone surviving juke joints of the state.
While in Clarksdale, you can’t miss a chance to stop by the Crossroads, where old Highway 61 intersects Highway 49 and where the blues was born. Legend has it that this notorious spot is where bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talent.
The town of Merigold and McCarty’s pottery go hand in hand. The well-known earth tone pottery is a mainstay in homes throughout the state. Stop by what started as a mule barn and soon became where McCarty’s award-winning and nationally recognized pottery was born. Grab a piece of Mississippi history, meet the McCarty family and take a leisurely stroll through the gardens.
It’s true what they say – the hills are alive. Spend some time in the northeastern part of the state for a taste of Mississippi hill country. In Corinth, feast on Dilworth’s Tamales, a Mississippi staple since 1962. Get your tamales hot or mild for only $3 a dozen and get a true taste of Mississippi. While in Corinth, lay your head at The Generals’ Quarters Inn, a bed and breakfast built in 1872 and featuring a bona fide Southern breakfast and lush gardens.
Oxford offers a true picture of quintessential Mississippi regalia. Grab a humble pie at Bottletree Bakery and stop in at Amelia, a beautifully curated shop by Erin Kirkpatrick featuring paper goods, gifts and children’s clothing. Tour Rowan Oak, the home of Mississippi son William Faulkner and grab a couple of his works at Square Books. Enjoy the culinary masterpieces of James Beard award-winning chef John Currence at City Grocery or Snack Bar.
You can’t “do” Mississippi without a little Elvis lesson and Tupelo is the town for just that. Tour Elvis’ birthplace, an unassuming little shotgun house to get a feel for The King’s humble roots. Also visit the Gumtree Museum of Art. For over 25 years, this museum has given visitors and residents alike a flair for the creative through workshops, exhibitions and lectures focusing on the art of Tupelo and Mississippi.
In booming DeSoto County, take a detour through Nesbit, where you can drive by the home of Jerry Lee Lewis for a glimpse of the piano gates. Also, don’t miss the Nesbit Blueberry Plantation, where you can pick your own blueberries mid-June through the end of blueberry season, a nod to the state’s booming agricultural industry and heritage.
Meridian offers a lot, particularly a taste of the great outdoors. The city-owned Bonita Lakes give visitors a chance to enjoy a bevy of nature trails, walking tracks, fishing, and even a spot for horseback riding. Plus, free and open year round has a nice ring to it. Step back in time at the Causeyville General Store & Mill, where you can sip Coca-Cola out of a nostalgic glass bottle, enjoy hot roasted peanuts and old-fashioned hoop cheese. The Highland Park Dentzel Carousel will be the perfect end to a fun-filled day. Here, for only two quarters, you can ride the National Landmark, a hard-to-find, two-row Dentzel menagerie carousel.
In Starkville, you can grab some blocks of Mississippi State University’s famous student-made cheese and even a cup of fresh, Mississippi-made ice cream. Tour Aspen Bay Candle Factory, a nationally recognized, environmentally friendly maker of top-notch scents. At their Starkville factory, you can see how these favorite scents are poured and come to life.
In West Point, you’ll find the Waverley Plantation, established in 1852 by Colonel George Young. The property was once the site of a 2,000 acre cotton plantation and is rumored to be one of the state’s most haunted spots. It was occupied by the Youngs until 1913 when it was closed up after the death of their son. Left vacant for nearly 50 years, the home has been beautifully restored by Donna and Robert Snow.
The Gulf Coast holds a dear place in the hearts of many Mississippians. A true story of perseverance and revitalization, the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast showed their true colors during the days, weeks, and years that followed Hurricane Katrina and those colors proved vibrant, much like the place itself.
Ocean Springs is a picture of an ideal Southern Coastal town. Sprawling tree-lined streets speckled with friendly shops and owners create an inviting atmosphere. In Ocean Springs, art reigns supreme. Walter Anderson was one of the town’s most famous residents and the Walter Anderson Museum of art celebrates his life, his work and gives a glimpse into the intriguing mind of Anderson. Just down the road sits Shearwater pottery, nestled on the Anderson Mississippi Sound settled family land. Stop by for beautiful scenery and unique pottery. Dine at Chef Scott, where the sushi is the freshest around.
The last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Beauvoir sits on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. The site of his retirement, he fell in love with the place while spending time writing there before purchasing the home in 1879. Visit Beauvoir for a tour of the estate and presidential library.
For a sampling of the perseverance of the Coast, stop by the Hurricane Katrina Memorial on Highway 90, dedicated to Gulf Coast victims of the infamous storm. Also visit the Hurricane Katrina Tree Sculptures by artists Dayton Scoggins and Marlin Miller, where lingering tree trunks were transformed into sculpted works of art.
Go a little north to the hub city, Hattiesburg to delve into the history of Civil Rights and Mississippi. The Freedom Summer Trail exhibit at the Hattiesburg Visitors Center is a compilation of various historic sites highlighting the Freedom Summer 1964 and the Civil Rights Movement. While in Hattiesburg, grab a craft cocktail and a small plate at Branch, Chef Robert St. John’s newest establishment.
Capital River Region
Mississippi’s Capital City is reemerging, particularly for its culinary boom. Tried and true favorites like Walker’s Drive In, Keifer’s and Two Sisters Kitchen mix with a new crop of foodie favorites like 1908 Provisions and The Manship. Take the kids to Lefleur’s Bluff, where they can romp and run the outdoor park, the Mississippi Children’s Museum or the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Tour the home and gardens of lifelong Jacksonian Eudora Welty in Belhaven, for more of a taste of Mississippi’s rich literary history.
Have a stay at the Old Capitol Inn, located downtown, Jackson’s boutique hotel. Here you can have a great city view and a lush place to lay your head and can take part in a very Southern lunch.
Natchez truly is the belle of the Mississippi River. A true picture of the Old South, Natchez is the oldest settlement on the entire Mississippi River, beating out New Orleans by two years. In 1798, Natchez became the first capital of the Mississippi Territory and the state’s first official capital in 1817. History abounds and you can feast your eyes on the abundance of antebellum homes. Home to history’s cotton kings, Natchez boasts more antebellum structures than any other city of its size with 13 National Landmarks and over 1,000 buildings on the National Register. Some of these properties have even been owned and occupied by the same families for over 150 years. How very Southern.
Canton, or the City of Lights, lends a unique look into the state’s Blues heritage. Visit Hickory Street, or “the Hollow,” which was once a hub of commerce, entertainment and pure socializing for the area’s African American community. Bluesman Elmore James was a regular in the cafes and clubs on Hickory Street and learned the electronics trade during his time working at Robert’s Radio Repair. James later developed a groundbreaking electric blues style. Club Desire was renowned for providing the African American community with entertainment in an elegant atmosphere. One of Mississippi’s premier blues and R&B nightclubs, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Little Junior Parker, James Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter, Big Joe Turner, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, and the Platters were among those that performed at Club Desire. Visit the area for a look back in time.