Tucked away in Mississippi’s northeastern corner, the small city of Tupelo is a gem. Of course, it’s best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. While tourists flock to the town to pay homage to the King, there’s much more to this special spot. Here’s how to spend a terrific day in Tupelo.
Things To Do In Tupelo
From enjoying the great outdoors to taking in art, battlefields, culture, and even classic cars, there’s something for every visitor to enjoy in this small Southern city. Here are a few things you might want to check out during your visit.
See Where The King Was Born
On January 8, 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley was born in a two-room frame home in Tupelo that was built by his father, grandfather, and uncle. That tiny shotgun-style home still stands and has been converted into a museum that’s become a pilgrimage site for rock-and-roll fans from around the world. The boy who would become the King lived here until he was three years old. After that, his family moved around Tupelo until they relocated north to Memphis when he was 13.
When you visit the home, you’ll get a feeling for just how tough life must have been for the small family. The Assembly of God church where Elvis and his family worshipped was later moved to the museum complex and is open to visitors as well. It was there that the King first heard the gospel tunes that would influence his music.
Beyond the birthplace museum and church, you’ll see plenty of reminders of the King in Tupelo, including statues, murals, and historic markers that all pay homage to the city’s favorite son.
Take In Civil War History
The Tupelo National Battlefield is a must-visit for Civil War buffs. In July of 1864, federal troops -- including black soldiers -- marched into the town in an effort to shore up and protect Union railroads in nearby Tennessee. All told, more than 20,000 troops fought in the two-day Battle of Tupelo, and 2,000 men died before the Confederates eventually retreated from the site. It’s tough to imagine that the battle took place in Tupelo’s now-bustling downtown streets. Today, there’s a 1-acre memorial to the fallen located right in town.
Step Back In Time
To get a better feel for Tupelo’s history and the people who helped shape it, head to the quirky Oren Dunn City Museum. This little gem is located in a converted dairy barn, and its exhibits tell the story of how Tupelo came to be, from the Chickasaw people who first lived in the area to the present day. Agriculture, industry, and local memorabilia feature prominently. You’ll learn about the town’s history of tornadoes, the railroad, and of course, rockabilly music. If you’re a curious sort, this is the perfect stop for you!
Meet Some Four-Legged Friends
To get up close and personal with animals including buffalo, zebras, yaks, and a giraffe, head to the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo. More than 260 critters now live on the grounds of the former cattle ranch, where you’ll find a reptile exhibit, primate house, petting zoo, and bus and trolley rides designed to give you great views of the park’s larger residents as they graze in the fields. VIP tours are also available.
Hike Through Tombigbee State Park
If your idea of a great day involves the great outdoors, head 6 miles south of Tupelo to Tombigbee State Park. Located on the shores of a 90-acre lake, this tranquil spot offers great fishing and boating opportunities as well as extensive hiking trails through the surrounding woods. Campers love this spot because it was among the first in the state built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Their stone cabins still stand and are available to rent. Tombigbee is a great place to enjoy nature, fresh air, and maybe even a picnic!
Admire The Art
Housed in a historic beaux-arts building that used to be a bank, the GumTree Museum of Art highlights local artists and features a permanent collection, exciting exhibits, and educational programs. First formed in the 1980s as an artists’ guild, the museum has grown into a place that welcomes artists and art supporters alike. Wandering through the downtown museum’s gallery and taking in the gorgeous work on display is the perfect break from a busy day in Tupelo. Three times a year, the museum features work by local high school students.
Explore The Natchez Trace
Tupelo sits in the middle of one our nation’s great treasures: the Natchez Trace Parkway. This historic travel corridor, administered by the National Park Service, stretches some 440 miles through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. The former forest trail was first used by Native Americans and early settlers including trappers, traders, and explorers. These Europeans founded inns along the trace, but as commerce shifted to the nation’s waterways, they gradually closed up shop.
Today, traveling the Natchez Trace is a bucket-list journey for many road warriors and bicyclists. The visitor center, where you can learn more about the trace’s history, is based in Tupelo. It’s the perfect place to embark on a longer adventure. Click here to learn more about the trace’s must-see sites!
Stroll The Downtown Area
Tupelo’s downtown area is a charming mix of old and new that’s bound to win over any visitor. It’s got the older brick buildings you’d expect from any historic downtown district, filled with shops, cafes, and galleries. But there’s something more to this downtown district: Fairpark. Built on former fairgrounds, the mixed-use development fans out seamlessly from the older portion of downtown and includes homes, picnic areas, and even free Wi-Fi! Plan to spend some time wandering through -- you won’t be disappointed!
While there are many places to shop in Tupelo, one downtown spot that’s absolutely worth your time is Reed’s. This store, well known and loved by locals, was founded as a dry-goods shop in 1905. Since then, it has expanded to nearly an entire city block and four different departments.
Best Restaurants In Tupelo
In Tupelo, you’ll want to fuel up with some traditional Southern comfort food. This town is blessed with great dining options!
Start your day off on a sweet note with Scarlet’s Donuts, which come in a whole host of styles and flavors. There are three locations in Tupelo, so make sure one is on your list.
Consider stopping by the popular Food Truck Friday in Fairpark featuring barbecue, brunch, hibachi, and more.
If you’d prefer to sit and take your time, consider Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen. This spot boasts its own butcher shop and market, and the menu is full of family-style meal options with traditional sides like red beans and rice -- plus outside-the-box offerings including coconut slaw and chickpeas served with honey and goat cheese.
The Grill at Fairpark serves up steaks, seafood, and a killer brunch complete with shrimp and grits in a casual chic atmosphere.
For fine dining, head to Park Heights Restaurant, also in Fairpark. Modern American cuisine shines here, and the grilled oysters, poached halibut, and lobster pot pie are standouts. There’s also an extensive wine list.
Speaking of wine, for a special treat featuring its honeyed cousin, book a tasting at the Queen’s Reward Meadery. Made from Mississippi honey, the meads run the gamut from traditionally sweet to dry, spiced, or fruity. A couple of bottles of Queen’s Reward make the perfect souvenir from Tupelo -- not to mention fabulous gifts for friends.
Where To Stay In Tupelo
After reading this article, you might decide to spend more than a day in Tupelo -- and we couldn’t blame you! No worries -- there are plenty of places to stay the night. Most of the big chains have mid-budget hotels here that will provide a comfortable spot for you to hang your hat at a reasonable price point. There are also numerous homesharing options, including adorable, cozy downtown cottages and larger homes for multigenerational groups.