Jackson, Mississippi, is located in the heart of the Magnolia State and is its capital city. While many drive past it on Interstate 55 on the way to New Orleans, Jackson is well worth a visit on its own. It’s a fascinating city that’s got a complicated past and an eye focused on the future.
Here are nine fantastic things to see and do while visiting.
1. Follow The Freedom Trail
The Mississippi Freedom Trail, part of the United States Civil Rights Trail, passes through Jackson. A variety of markers designate places that were pivotal in the fight for civil rights and racial equity in Jackson and throughout the country.
A good place to start your trek on the trail is the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The museum is filled with interactive exhibits covering the period from the end of the Civil War to the 1970s; they explain the sacrifice and struggles of those who were central to the state’s civil rights movement.
Another trail stop worth considering is the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument. This is the place where civil rights activists lived at the time of Medgar’s assassination, and the home was designated a national monument in 2019. If you do stop by, keep in mind that the Evers home is located in a subdivision, so be mindful of the neighbors currently living there while paying your respects.
2. Visit Both State Capitols
Mississippi’s first state capitol was constructed in 1839 and is the state’s most significant historic building. The handsome Greek revival structure, with its grand interior and copper dome, houses a free museum that illustrates the many historic moments that took place within its limestone walls. Also at the museum is the Mississippi Hall of Fame, with portraits honoring the state’s notable citizens.
Lawmakers started meeting at the new state capitol in 1903, and the beaux arts building is still in use today. This place is also open to the public, and there’s plenty to explore. Ten different types of marble, splendid stained glass, and beautiful frescoes make the building another must-see in Jackson.
3. Get In Steps -- And Fun -- At LeFleur’s Bluff State Park
If you’re looking for a true urban oasis where you can experience nature without leaving the city, head to LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. This incredible 300-acre state park sits along the Pearl River and truly has something for everyone. It boasts well-maintained hiking trails as well as fishing and camping spots. Golf enthusiasts can hit the greens at the park’s nine-hole course and driving range. The park’s Mayes Lake is a good spot for a swim. What’s more, the Mississippi Children’s Museum and Museum of Natural Science also call LeFleur’s Bluff State Park home. With all of its amenities, it’s easy to spend a full day of fun at LeFleur’s Bluff.
4. Explore A Petrified Forest
Just outside Jackson is a true natural marvel: the Mississippi Petrified Forest. Its easy hiking trails will take you into a 36-million-year-old forest past massive fallen trees turned to stone. But there’s no Medusa here -- thanks to trail signs and the on-site museum, you’ll learn how Mother Nature gradually petrified these giants over many years with the help of floods, glaciers, and erosion. This geological wonder is worth a stop for those interested in science. Don’t forget to grab a selfie at Caveman’s Bench! The forest is also a great spot for a picnic.
Word to the wise: Look, but don’t touch, and don’t take anything from this special site. If you want a souvenir, purchase one from the gift shop!
5. Take In Inspiring Art
The mission of the Mississippi Museum of Art is to connect the power of art to the power of community. A walk through its galleries brings this mission into full focus: Work from Mississippi artists is prominently displayed and often takes on difficult themes and topics related to the state’s history. These thought-provoking pieces pair with exhibits featuring everything from pre-Columbian art to works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas. The adjacent garden features lush landscapes, water features, and outdoor dining. Don’t skip the museum’s shop, which is stocked with exhibit-related home goods and curiosities.
6. Visit The Home Of A Literary Giant
One of the most famous and successful writers of the Southern Gothic tradition, Eudora Welty, was born in Jackson and called the city home for most of her life. Welty made a name for herself in literary circles beginning in the 1930s, after living for a time in New York. She returned to Jackson during the Great Depression and began to immerse herself in her writing. Her short stories won numerous awards, but it was her novel The Optimist’s Daughter that won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973.
Today, fans of her work can visit the Tudor revival home where she grew up, wrote, and entertained. The Eudora Welty House & Garden is open for guided tours, and visitors can view her letters, awards, and even a typewriter she used.
7. Listen To Live Music
Mississippi has long been known for its legendary musicians and the new genres they created. Blues, jazz, and rock and roll all have deep roots in the state; greats including Robert Johnson, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters all came from Mississippi. Taking in a bit of live music during your visit to the state’s capital will be time well spent!
F. Jones Corner is no-fuss music room serving up cold beer, pub grub, and great blues. There’s even an open-mic night if you’re feeling especially courageous. And of course, there’s nowhere in Jackson quite like Duling Hall. This former elementary school is now one of the city’s most renowned music venues. It’s a larger spot that tends to bring in big names from across musical styles and genres.
8. Wander The Fondren District
Jackson’s funky art scene is on full display in the Fondren District. This hip, diverse slice of the city 3 miles from downtown Jackson has an interesting past -- it was founded and built up near what was once the state’s psychiatric hospital. Today, this lively historic district features coffee shops, bars, boutiques, and galleries. It’s the perfect spot for a day shopping trip or an evening cocktail/foodie adventure. A bonus? The neighborhood routinely hosts special events. From food tastings and art exhibits to concerts and book signings, there’s always something going on in Fondren!
9. Sample Southern Cuisine
Last but not least, while you’re in Jackson, you’ll want to make sure to save lots of room for some terrific (but gut-busting) deep Southern cuisine.
Downtown, the legendary Mayflower Cafe is a familiar sight. It’s served as a backdrop for big Hollywood movies, including The Help. It’s also been serving up Greek-inspired cuisine since 1935. Don’t skip its redfish entree or legendary Comeback Sauce. Similar to thousand island dressing, it goes great with anything fried, including shrimp or the cafe’s onion rings. For classic down-home barbecue, head to the no-frills E & L Barbeque for rib tips and smoked wings.
Be sure to save room for dessert at Brent’s Drugs. This soda fountain has been in operation since 1946 and serves up fantastic ice cream sundaes, hand-dipped milkshakes, and homemade pie. If you’re looking for something a bit stronger, you don’t have to go far. The pharmacy’s former storeroom now houses The Apothecary, one of Jackson’s most-lauded cocktail bars.
What To Know Before You Go
Keep in mind that summers in Mississippi tend to be on the steamy side. If you can hack Jackson’s heat, be sure to pack light-colored clothes, plenty of sunscreen, and a refillable water bottle. If the hot sun isn’t your thing, consider a fall or springtime visit.