Since my daughter graduated from Ole Miss and ended up staying in Mississippi, I’ve spent much time there over the past 12 years. Mississippi is worth getting to know, but you need to include some cool places not in the most well-known towns to find them. Here are my 20 favorite Mississippi experiences that I tell visitors not to miss. How many have you done?
1. Touring William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak Home
American novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner, William Faulkner, purchased the home known as Rowan Oak in 1930. It served as inspiration for much of his work. The beautiful Greek Revival home is open for tours, where you can see Faulkner’s private residence, typewriter, household contents, and many awards.
You can see copies of his writing, manuscripts, and a considerable collection of his famous works in the Back Hall.
Rowan Oak is closed on Mondays.
2. Tailgating In The Grove
The University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, declares “We may not win every game, but we’ve never lost a party.” And this SEC school has the most elaborate and celebrated tailgating in the nation. Football fans should all experience one home game day to see the red carpet rolled out, fine china, chandeliers, high-end catered food, and a sea of red and blue fans decked out to the nines.
3. Buying Books At Square Books
Book lovers will relish in the selection and vibe of Square Books, with multiple locations (and even a rare book shop) around The Square in Oxford, Mississippi. This independent bookstore wins numerous awards, has a bunch of book signings and signed books, and is a treasure trove for bibliophiles.
4. Gambling In The Tunica Casinos
Tunica, near the Mississippi River and in the northwest corner of the state, is one of my two favorite cities to gamble in when visiting Mississippi. There are four casinos — all close to one another — where you can casino hop and check out the slot machines and table games.
Casinos include Horseshoe, Gold Strike, Sam’s Town, and Fitz. Horseshoe pays out best, in my experience.
5. Eating Southern Grub At Crystal Grill
The Crystal Grill in Greenwood offers some of the best Southern food you’ll ever taste in a long-running casual setting known for its delicious pies. Unfortunately, thanks to COVID, the menu was condensed on my visit, but nonetheless, my spaghetti and meatballs lunch was 10/10 fantastic.
Crystal Grill has been featured in Southern Living Magazine and on the Food Network.
6. Road Tripping Through The Mississippi Delta
Cleveland, Greenwood, Clarksdale, And Greenville
The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MDNHA) is one of the most unique regions in the nation. Plan a road trip to drive through and to the cities where the blues began, gorgeous cotton fields grow, and classic scenes from The Help come to life in this history-rich area.
Pro Tip: The towns I recommend seeing most are Cleveland (the Heart of the Delta), Greenwood, Clarksdale, and Greenville. Stay at the Cotton House Cleveland for a road trip overnight.
7. Touring The MAX
Learn about the incredibly famous people of Mississippi at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience (The MAX) in Meridian. The $50 million-dollar MAX is a sophisticated state-of-the-art discovery center showcasing Mississippians’ lives and careers, like Morgan Freeman, Oprah, Tennessee Williams, Tammy Wynette, Jimmy Buffet, Robert Johnson, and Elvis.
The iconic Hall of Fame exhibit, right inside the door, is mind-blowing.
8. Watch A Historical Reenactment At Beauvoir
Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, is a National Historic Landmark that offers Civil War reenactments. Costumed interpreters bring history to life for some events, and there is the laying of the wreaths, pilgrimage, and Christmas at Beauvoir worth seeing.
Don’t miss the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier, found in 1979.
9. Indulging In A Stay At The Beau Rivage
Relax, enjoy fine dining, gamble, hang out at the pool, see a show, enjoy spectacular sunsets, or have an exhilarating spa treatment at the beautiful Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, a Coastal Mississippi gem and MGM property. Upcoming shows include 38 Special, Dancing With The Stars: Live!, and Gladys Knight.
10. Wander Through Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras Museum
Mardi Gras is a big celebration in the South especially. For a mere $8 admission ($7 seniors), you can admire the intricate sequined and feathered fashions from the region’s Mardi Gras parades and events. The vibrant and interesting Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras Museum is in Biloxi’s District on Howard; it is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
11. Sampling Rainbow Cake From Sugaree’s Bakery
If you eat with your eyes, you will come unglued at the beauty of a Sugaree’s rainbow layered cake with five flavors (strawberry, orange, lemon-lime, grape), cream cheese icing, and sprinkles. And when you take your first bite, be prepared to add this beauty as one of the best desserts you’ve ever had.
I love this cake so much that I sometimes send it to close friends as a special celebratory gift. Sugaree’s also ships a fantastic assorted cake with eight different flavors.
12. Touring The GRAMMY Museum
Deemed “the most technologically-advanced music-themed museum in the South,” Cleveland, Mississippi’s GRAMMY Museum is the only GRAMMY museum outside Los Angeles. Learn about the history of recorded music through hands-on exhibits, state-of-the-art exhibits, and a host of entertaining items.
I could spend hours looking at the singers’ costumes and watching footage of the Grammy telecasts shown in the theater.
Fun Fact: Try your best dance moves with GRAMMY winner NE-YO on the ’70s-inspired light-up floor.
13. Driving Through Vicksburg National Military Park
Spend a few hours driving through the hallowed grounds of the Vicksburg National Military Park, an American Civil War battle site. You’ll see a bounty of sculptures, cannons, and over 1,300 monuments across the 12.5-mile property.
Vicksburg National Military Park is a preserved site of the American Civil War battle, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863. The park also commemorates the Greater Vicksburg Campaign, which led to the 47-day siege that ended in the surrender of Vicksburg. My three favorite points of interest are Grant’s Canal site, the USS Cairo, and the beautiful Illinois State Memorial.
Admission is $20 unless you have an NPS pass.
14. Eating The Best King Cake From Paul’s
Paul’s Pastry Shop, an unassuming spot in Picayune, Mississippi, is where you’ll find arguably the country’s best King Cakes. How do I know? I’m Southern, and I’ve sampled dozens. Try various flavors, with cream cheese being favored since it was created there — Paul’s ships all over the country, all year long.
You will thank me for this suggestion if you are a sweet eater.
15. Learning About The Birthplace Of Kermit The Frog
Leland, Mississippi, brings you to the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog. Master puppeteer Jim Henson lived and spent his boyhood years in this town. A free museum is filled with his works, toys, TV and movie memorabilia, a well-appointed gift shop, and information about the creator of the Muppets.
You can see Muppet displays along Deer Creek behind the museum at Christmastime.
16. Touring Longwood Antebellum Mansion
A highlight of visiting Natchez is touring the historic octagonal Longwood mansion circa 1860-61. Construction was halted during the Civil War and never finished. However, it is still a beautiful home and property with original tools and furnishings.
Enslaved people partly built Longwood, which is mentioned on the home tour. Tours are given daily for America’s largest octagonal house.
17. Driving The Natchez Trace
The nation’s first scenic road, the Natchez Trace Parkway, is a big part of Mississippi’s allure. Hop on at several points throughout the state and experience the 50 mph highway maintained by the National Park System. The 444-mile recreational road wanders from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, linking the Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers.
The Trace is also popular for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
18. Seeing The Hattiesburg Murals
Hattiesburg is my favorite place in Mississippi to admire eclectic and artistic murals. Download the brochure and follow the Hburg Public Art Trail to see and take selfies at the newest and coolest offerings around town. The murals keep getting bigger and better, but the Hub City, Smile will always be my favorite.
19. Discovering Eudora Welty’s House & Garden
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty lived 76 years in a lovely Tudor-style home in the Jackson area (Belhaven Heights historic district). She wrote her famous The Optimist’s Daughter at the residence, which can be toured, along with the botanical gardens, Tuesday through Saturday.
Reservations are recommended.
Fun Fact: This is one of only two botanical gardens in Mississippi.
20. Browsing The Walter Anderson Museum Of Art
Another famous and talented Mississippian is Walter Anderson, whose art treasures are showcased in the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs. Anderson was known as “the South’s Most Elusive Artist.” His masterpieces are beautifully displayed in the lovely art space with a $10 admission fee.
The Little Room and Community Center Murals, imaginative and amazingly intricate, are incredible — you must see them in person.