Experience the Culture
Natchez celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2016. Visit historical sites and landmarks—including some of the South’s best preserved antebellum homes—to learn how Native American, African, French, British, and Spanish cultures shaped the city. Natchez Pilgrimage Tours offers historic home tours every day of the year. In Laurel, see one of the most representative collections of North American Native basketry in the southeast at the free Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the state’s oldest art museum. Other must-visit museums include the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi.
Best Bets: Tour houses from the late colonial to the antebellum period during the Natchez Fall (September 23 to October 10, 2016) or Spring (March 18 to April 18, 2017) Pilgrimage. Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is home to several exceptional arts and culture centers.
Insider Tip: Save money and time by purchasing the $35 Gulf Coast Attractions Pass (on sale at both museums). The pass includes onetime admission to eight area attractions, including Biloxi’s world-class Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
See the Cities
The Magnolia State may be primarily rural, but the capital city, Jackson, has plenty of urban territory to discover. Billed as Jackson’s hippest neighborhood, Fondren is the place to shop and eat local at locations like Sneaky Beans coffeehouse and Walker’s Drive-In. Learn about Mississippi state history at the Old Capitol Museum and the Beaux arts-style Mississippi State Capitol. See Jackson’s notable Mississippi Freedom Trail landmarks, such as the 1963 Woolworth’s sit-in site and Medgar Evers’s house. Shop specialty retailers including Mississippi’s own Buffalo Peak Outfitters at Highland Village.
Insider Tips: The climb-on “Exploring Mississippi” gallery map at the Mississippi Children’s Museum helps kids learn about state geography, natural science, history, and culture while they play. Monday nights at Hal and Mal’s restaurant, the kitchen is closed but the doors are open (tickets five dollars) for the Blue Monday blues jam session.
Don’t Miss: The Saturday (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Mississippi Farmers Market, an all-weather marketplace featuring homegrown produce and items crafted by Mississippi artisans, is the largest of its kind in the state.
Explore the Parks
Hit the beach, take a scenic drive, and explore Civil War battlefields all within the confines of one of Mississippi’s eight national parks. Running through the center of the state is the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a scenic highway covering 444 miles (715 kilometers) from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee. In the southernmost part of the state and stretching into Florida are the white sands of Gulf Islands National Seashore, a playground for sunning, swimming, boating, and bird-watching.
Best Bet: When driving the Natchez Trace, get off the road and hike the more than 60 miles (97 kilometers) of five trails that make up the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.
Insider Tip: In Natchez, explore the Natchez National Historical Park, consisting of historic sites around the city. Two must-see landmarks are the ornate Melrose estate and William Johnson's town house, the home of a freed slave who launched a successful business career.
Don’t Miss: Vicksburg National Military Park is the place to learn about one of the most important battles in which the Union triumphed over the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Hear the Music
Discover the roots of the Delta blues by rambling the back roads and byways of the Mississippi Blues Trail. Designed to inspire exploration rather than dictate a specific route, the trail is a collection of hundreds of blues landmarks—such as the Hopson Plantation Commissary and the Blue Front Café, the legendary juke joint owned by veteran bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. One of the greatest concentrations of purple Blues Trail markers is found near the Clarksdale-to-Vicksburg stretch of U.S. 61, known as the Blues Highway. In Clarksdale—widely considered the epicenter of the blues—visit the Delta Blues Museum. Next door at Ground Zero Blues Club (co-owned by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman) listen to live music Wednesday to Saturday nights.
Best Bet: Learn dance moves from R&B artist Ne-Yo and write, record, and produce an original song with blues musician Keb’ Mo’ at the Grammy Museum in Cleveland.
Insider Tips: Continue to Jackson, where one of the coolest live music venues is Duling Hall, housed in a 1928 elementary school. Follow I-55 south to the Hazlehurst Train Depot, home of the compact, yet surprisingly comprehensive, Mississippi Music Museum.
Don’t Miss: Stop at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.
Mississippi loves down-home cooking. The state is the largest producer of farm-raised catfish; the favorite way to prepare it is fried, coated in yellow cornmeal and seasonings. Try it at a true catfish place, Taylor Grocery and Restaurant (open Thursday to Sunday) in Taylor, served with hush puppies and fried okra, plus sweet tea, of course. Aptly named Mississippi mud pie or cake, because it resembles the mud of the Delta, the dessert can be found at the Crown in Indianola (where they serve two versions, Mississippi Delta Fudge Pie and Mississippi Mud Cake) and Roux 61 Seafood & Grill in Natchez.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Best Bets: Cheese straws are another Mississippi favorite, made with cheddar cheese and dough twisted and cooked into a strawlike or crinkle-cut shape. For a taste, head to Indianola Pecan House in Indianola, or order online from the Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory in Yazoo City.
Insider Tip: The slugburger is not made of slugs, but of ground beef with cornmeal, deep-fried and served with mustard, pickles, and a pile of onions on a bun.Eat a slugburger hot and fresh, as cold ones congeal quickly. Try one at July’s Slugburger Festival in Corinth, tucked in the northeastern part of the state.
Don’t Miss: Follow the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail, a project of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Agritourism is blooming across Mississippi. Cedar Hill Farm in Hernando and Mitchell Farms in Collins are two of the state’s many family farms welcoming visitors to pick pumpkins and navigate corn mazes in the fall. To find other places to play on the farm or out in nature, download the Mississippi Agritourism app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Friday to Sunday, saddle up for a guided horseback riding tour of Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo. The park in Tupelo is home to 260 animals including bison, giraffes, zebras, Watusi cattle, and Capuchin monkeys.
Best Bets: Cycle part of the Longleaf Trace (40 miles, or 64 kilometers, from Prentiss to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, one of the country’s original rails-to-trails developments. The Tanglefoot Trail running from New Albany to Houston is the longest rails-to-trails project in the state at 43.6 miles (70.2 kilometers), encompassing historic sites, small towns, and wilderness areas.
Insider Tip: Paddle the mighty Mississippi River with an outfitter such as Quapaw Canoe Company, which in addition to more standard water adventures offers special events like yoga and artist retreats.
Don’t Miss: Enjoy camping, swimming, disc golf, and a summer-only waterpark at beachfront Buccaneer State Park, located on the Gulf of Mexico in Waveland.