One of Mississippi’s nicknames is “The Hospitality State,” and Jackson, the capital city, lives up to that name. Jackson is a city with small-town warmth. Throughout the city, you’ll find beautiful historic buildings alongside important landmarks and modern attractions.
Jackson has been home to a variety of artists including musicians, authors, and dancers over the years, and this artistic influence is on display throughout the city. Those familiar with Southern cuisine will also not be surprised to find that Jackson has excellent restaurants. Any time you eat, you know it’s going to be good because that’s just how people do things here.
As a native Mississippian, I’ve spent years visiting the capital city. I even lived in Jackson for a while after graduating college. Each year, I come back for a few of my favorite events like the Mississippi Book Festival. Jackson sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to Southern cities, but I love sharing the best of this city with others.
If you’re planning a trip, and you’re looking for the best things to do in Jackson, here are my suggestions!
Visit the Eudora Welty House
For lovers of literature, the Eudora Welty House is a must-visit while in Jackson. Mississippi author Eudora Welty lived and wrote in the 1925 Tudor Revival house for 75 years. The house is staged with Welty’s possession as it would have been during 1986 while Welty was still actively writing. The tour of the house gives a lot of insight into the life of one of the most distinctive American writers of the 20th century. You feel as if she’s just stepped out as you walk through the rooms.
Besides the house itself, the garden is one of the highlights of a visit there. I didn’t know until I took a tour that Welty was an avid gardener. The garden has been restored according to the details from photographs and journals. Rather than being a show garden, it has a lovely, personal atmosphere.
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Eudora Welty, a visit to the home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is a special experience.
Get Milkshakes at Brent’s Drugs
Located in the Fondren neighborhood, Brent’s Drugs first opened as a pharmacy and soda fountain in 1946. While there have been some renovations and updates over the years, the diner retains its original charming feel. It’s nostalgic without the kitschy feel that retro diners sometimes have.
The menu is basic, but everything is good. Even the fries taste better than what you’ll find at most other places. Make sure to get a milkshake while you’re there. While the nutella milkshake may not be authentic to the time period, it’s my favorite thing to get at Brent’s.
And Hit Up the Apothecary For a Drink
In the evenings, a hidden bar called The Apothecary opens in what used to be a pharmacy storage room. It’s a fun place to enjoy cocktails while out at night. The Apothecary was named one of the best bars in America in 2020 by Esquire.
If you only go to one restaurant in Jackson, I’d recommend going to Brent’s because it has such a unique atmosphere. I’ve visited a lot of restaurants all around the South, and I’ve never been to a retro restaurant that felt quite like Brent’s.
Take the Train to Brookhaven
Get out of the city and enjoy one of Mississippi’s charming small towns. Amtrack’s City of New Orleans route will take you from Jackson to Brookhaven in about an hour. The Brookhaven station is located just a couple blocks from the downtown area.
Stop by Betty’s Eat Shop for lunch. The restaurant serves classic Southern dishes. The menu changes daily, but if you’re there on a Friday, definitely get the fried catfish. After eating, you can spend some time wandering around downtown and stopping in whatever shops catch your eye. I’d recommend going by Janie’s Pastry Shop to pick up a few delicious treats.
You’ll only have a few hours to browse before catching the train back to Jackson, but there’s plenty of time to enjoy this small town’s welcoming atmosphere!
Shop for Books at Lemuria
Jackson’s independent bookstore is by far one of the best bookstores in the area. The store, which is named after a mythical continent that was supposed to have existed before the lost city of Atlantis, has been a literary destination in Jackson since 1975.
The store is full of first and limited editions of books you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else. There’s also a charming children’s book section called Oz. The children’s section is the perfect place to visit with kids or to pick up gifts for little ones.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up leaving Lemuria with a much larger stack of books than you intended to buy when you first walked in.
Attend the Mississippi Book Festival
Every year in August thousands of people gather at the Mississippi State Capitol and nearby grounds for the Mississippi Book Festival. For book lovers, this is a dream event. Hundreds of authors are on-site participating in panel discussions and book signings. The Mississippi Book Festival started in 2018. Each year, the festival somehow manages to be even better than the previous year.
The event is referred to as a “literary lawn party,” and it lives up to this label. The vibe is laid-back, and the panels are incredibly interesting. Even when I’ve attended panels where I don’t know any of the authors, it’s always been a good experience. Probably because all the people speaking tell stories for a living.
The Mississippi Book Festival is a free event, so there’s no excuse to miss seeing what’s going on. Even though August is the hottest month in Mississippi, it’s worth visiting Jackson during the festival weekend.
Play at the Mississippi Children’s Museum
As a former employee, I’m a little biased, but I think the Mississippi Children’s Museum is one of the most magical places to go with children in Jackson. The Exploring Mississippi exhibit with a huge map of the state dotted with interactive elements including a fishing station is just one of the awesome educational and fun exhibits. If you are visiting the city with family, definitely make this hands-on interactive museum one of your stops.
Visit the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is arguably one of the best civil rights museums in the country. The museum has 8 galleries each devoted to a different period of history. The subjects portrayed are blunt and serious, but the museum does a good job of showing the United States’ struggle toward racial equality. Although the history is difficult to grabble with, there are moments of celebration throughout the museum. It’s a museum everyone should visit at least once.
Admission to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is free on Sundays. You can also visit the state history museum that’s next door for free on Sundays as well.
See the Alligators at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is the largest museum in the state. The museum, which was founded in the 1930s, consists of a 73,000-square-foot building and 300 acres of land highlighting the state’s natural heritage. The collection has everything from giant dinosaur fossils to aquariums housing a variety of marine life.
Besides visiting the inside portion of the museum, one of my favorite things to do is take a walk along the nature trails. A new outdoor exhibit with large 3-D dinosaurs was just added. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but I will definitely be taking that trail during my next visit.
The Museum is run by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. For visitors who have an interest in ecology, this is a fascinating museum to visit. If you have time, head to LeFleurs Bluff State Park afterward. This 305-acre park is located near the Museum of Natural History and is the perfect place to spend more time enjoying the area’s natural features.
Tour the Mississippi State Capitol Building
Mississippi’s “new” State Capitol Building was built in 1903 and is actually the third capitol to be built in Jackson. The inside of the building is beautifully constructed. Over 10 different types of marble are used throughout the building, and the capitol has stained glass and leaded glass windows that further enhance the Beaux-Art style. The ornate rotunda in the center of the building is especially impressive.
Today, the Legislative branch of the state government is the only branch that operates full-time inside the capitol building. Guided tours are available for free on weekdays. Visiting the Capitol doesn’t take long, but the stunning Beaux-Arts features make it worth taking 15-30 minutes to look around the building.
Browse the Galleries at the Mississippi Museum of Art
If you’re interested in finding out more about Mississippi’s art and culture scene, head downtown to the Mississippi Museum of Art. This is the state’s largest art museum. The collection includes over 4000 works mostly by Mississippi artists and reflects the state’s diverse heritage. Works by American painters including Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe are in the collection.
There is always one exhibition that is open to the public for free. The museum also has rotating national and international exhibitions on display as well. Admission to these galleries is $15 for adults. While at the museum, you can also visit the Art Garden, a 1.2 acre park with beautiful gardens, art installations, and water features.
Check the art museum’s calendar to see what events are taking place during your visit. One of the popular special events in Wine Down, where guests enjoy a glass of wine while participating in an art activity. Throughout the year, a variety of festivals, performances, and other cultural events are hosted at the museum, so it’s a good idea to see what’s going on during your visit.
Visit the State’s Oldest Distillery at Cathead Distillery
Mississippi was the last US state to repeal prohibition in 1966. The first legal distillery in the state, Cathead, was founded by two friends in 2010. The distillery produces seven different spirits and was named a 2020 James Beard semi-finalist for Outstanding Spirits Producer.
The distillery is committed to being part of the community in Jackson. Cathead donates part of its proceeds to nonprofits supporting the arts and culture of the region. Tours and tasting are on pause at the moment. Until they resume, you can still visit the distillery’s bottle shop on the weekends. Pick up a bottle or two as the perfect souvenir to take home.
Indulge in Local Food at Cultivation Food Hall
Cultivation Food Hall is an upscale food court housing boutique restaurants, a coffee shop, and a bar. This is the perfect place to eat if you’re visiting with a group of friends or family because everyone can get exactly what they want.
Options at the food hall include sushi, acai bowls and salads, sliders and small plates, tacos, ramen, and wraps. If you’re in the mood for a treat, get a macaron from La Brioche. Actually, get several macarons because you’ll want more after you finish eating the first one. You can also visit Cultivation Food Hall in the evening to enjoy a cocktail or two.
The decor at the food hall is light and fun. It’s a great place to take a few cute photos before or after eating. There are lots of great places to eat in Jackson, but this is by far one of the trendiest options in the city.
Take a Drive along the Natchez Trace
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile scenic drive that roughly follows the original Natchez Trace trail used by Native Americans. While you probably won’t want to drive the entire Trace during your visit, you can enjoy a short drive through the portions of the parkway near Jackson. From Jackson, you can follow the route south toward Natchez or north toward Tupelo.
Depending on how far you drive, you’ll see old-growth forests and farmlands while driving. There are multiple scenic stops and trails with clear exit markers along the way. The drive is especially beautiful when the leaves are changing in the fall.
Take a stop by the Bill Waller Mississippi Crafts Center located just off the Natchez Trace in Ridgeland. You’ll find lovely handcrafted items like quilts, baskets, and jewelry made by local artisans.
Take a Daytrip to Roosevelt State Park
If you’re ready to spend some time in nature, make the short trip to Roosevelt State Park. Just a 30-minute drive from Jackson, Roosevelt State Park is located in Morton, MS. The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s and first opened in 1940.
Today, you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities at the park including water activities like boating, waterskiing, and fishing. If you’d rather avoid the water, you can play disc golf or use the tennis courts. There are also nearly 5 miles of beautiful nature trails to hike.
If you want to stay overnight, you can choose from campsites, cabins, or the park’s motel. During the winter months, it’s fun to stay at one of the cabins with a fireplace and cozy up by the fire in the evenings. The park is also beautiful during the fall as the leaves change colors.
Have Cocktails at the Library Lounge
The Library Lounge is located in the original library of the 1908 Fairview Mansion. The library has been transformed into a cozy space where diners can enjoy delicious cocktails named after literary icons. The kitchen also serves appetizers as well as dinner plates.
The food and drinks are excellent, but the atmosphere is by far the best part of the Library Lounge. The oak-paneled walls are lined with books and photos of well-known authors. You’ll find yourself wanting to linger as long as possible at this charmingly intimate venue.
The Library Lounge is open to the public as well as guests at the Fairview Inn. If you haven’t already picked out a hotel to stay at, consider getting a room at the Fairview Inn. The historic mansion is one of my favorite B&Bs in Jackson. Each room in the Colonial Revival mansion is unique, and the formal gardens are absolutely gorgeous. It’s the perfect place to stay during a romantic weekend or for a relaxing getaway.
Listen to the Blues at Hal and Mal’s
Opened by brothers Hal and Malcolm White in 1986, Hal and Mal’s has been a Jackson staple for years. The restaurant and bar has a Gulf Coast-inspired menu serving seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, and po-boys.
Besides excellent food and drinks, the restaurant is a hot spot for music in Jackson. Hal and Mal’s has hosted all kinds of acts over the years. Right now, the restaurant does Blue Monday every week in partnership with the Central Mississippi Blues Society. For a $5 cover, you can enjoy listening to local and regional musicians on Monday nights.
Blue Monday is just one of the weekly events happening at Hal and Mal’s. Check the schedule to see what else is going on during your visit. The restaurant has recently been taken over by new owners Mary Sanders and Damien Cavicchi, but they are committed to honoring the legacy and traditions of the restaurant. Hal and Mal’s is still one of the liveliest spots to visit in the city.
Enjoy a Sweet Treat from Campbell’s Bakery
Located in the Fondren neighborhood, Campbell’s Bakery was started by Army veteran Louis Campbell in 1962. The bakery has had multiple owners over the years, but it continues to offer the same signature tea cakes that customers have loved for years. Besides the popular tea cakes, Campbell’s also makes brownies, cakes, pies, and cookies from scratch each day.
As soon as you walk through the door, the delicious smell lets you know you’ve come to the right place. It’s hard to pick just one or two treats. Obviously, you have to get tea cakes made with Mr. Campbell’s original recipe. Plus, you have to get at least one of the perfectly iced petit fours. No matter what you choose, it’s going to be good.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion while visiting Jackson, Campbell’s is the best place to call to order a custom cake or other baked goods.
Eat catfish at Cock of the Walk
You can’t visit Mississippi without eating fried catfish at least once. While there are multiple places to get catfish in Jackson, one of my favorite places is located in nearby Ridgeland, MS. Cock of the Walk is a casual, rustic-style restaurant serving amazing meals.
There are two locations near Jackson, but I’d suggest going to the one on the Reservoir in Ridgeland because you’ll get the best views during your meal. Order the Keelboat Special and you’ll get a plate of the best fried catfish with fries, hushpuppies, pickled onions, cornbread, and two sides. I’d recommend getting an order of fried dill pickles as well. Just know that you probably won’t be able to finish everything. I have never left without a to-go box.
Cock of the Walk has been in business in Ridgeland for over 35 years. While they have expanded to add fried shrimp and chicken to the menu as well, stick to the catfish. The shrimp and chicken are good, but the catfish is outstanding. It’s a fun experience and a great meal.
See the Ballet
Ballet might not be the first thing you associate with Jackson, but the city has a surprising relationship with the art form. Each year, Ballet Magnificat puts on a Christmas ballet at Thalia Mara Hall. If you’re in town during one of the performances, it’s a beautiful event to see. I try to go every year that I can.
Ballet Magnificat is not the only ballet organization in Jackson. There’s also Ballet Mississippi whose professionally trained dancers perform The Nutcracker each year. The company also does a spring performance as well.
Besides the ballet companies located in the city, Jackson is the official home of the USA International Ballet Competition. This event rotates annually in different major cities across the world and is held in Jackson once every four years. This Olympic-style competition draws young dancers from around the world to compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals. For many dancers, this is a chance to be seen and hired by company directors. The next competition takes place June 10 – 24, 2023.
Go to a Jackson State Football Game
Southern cities are passionate about football, and Jackson is no exception. Jackson State University’s football program is making waves after signing former NLF pro Deion Sanders (winner of two Super Bowl titles) as the head coach. I’m not an expert on football, but Sanders is clearly doing something right with the program. In 2021, the team had its first championship in 14 years. ESPN’s College GameDay recently made its first visit to Jackson for one of the Tigers’ games.
Besides the football team itself, there’s another reason to catch a game in Jackson. The school’s legendary marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South, is always worth watching. The HBCU’s marching band has recently received national attention after performing in a Pepsi commercial and playing at the 2021 Presidential inauguration.
After seeing the band perform at different events in Jackson for years, I’m excited that others are being introduced to them as well. Even if you aren’t a huge football fan, going to a Jackson State game is an exciting event.
Remember that the Veterans Memorial Stadium has a clear bag policy if you need to bring items with you.
Do Dinner and a Movie at the Capri Theatre
For an elevated dinner and a movie experience head to the renovated Capri Theatre. The historic theater was constructed in 1939, and the venue has been restored and renovated while retaining aspects of its original character. The gold-toned hardware and aqua decor make you feel transported to a previous era.
Updates have been made to the theater’s technology, and the seats are now reclining lounge seats. The theater shows both first-run and classic films. The venue also hosts live music events on some nights.
While enjoying a movie, you can order from the dine-in menu that includes staples like movie nachos along with more unconventional options like the shrimp bowl. There’s also a full bar where you can order your drink of choice.
The Capri Theatre is fun for a date night, but it’s also just a great place to go with friends. Once you watch a movie here, no regular theater will seem quite as magical.
Bowl at Highball Lanes
Located right next to the Capri Theatre, Highball Lanes is both a bowling alley and a restaurant. The atmosphere at Highball is completely different than the typical bowling alley. The area in front of the lanes is covered with tasteful rugs and you sit on comfy couches between bowls instead of the traditional plastic seats at normal bowling alleys. With only 10 lanes, you’ll likely need to reserve a lane in advance if you want to bowl here.
Since the venue is a creation of Robert St. John, a Mississippi restaurateur and chef, it’s no surprise that the restaurant portion of Highball is excellent. I’ve never been disappointed by any of his venues. The high-end restaurant at Highball Lanes serves updated Southern cuisine. You’ll be able to sample dishes like Zydeco chicken, shrimp and grits, Cajun cobb salad, and Mardi Gras pasta. The desserts here are also delicious, particularly the white chocolate bread pudding.
If you’re just interested in drinks, you can head to the bar at Highball Lanes. Here you can try classic cocktails or original house creations. Draft beers from Southern Prohibition and Parish are also on tap. Between the restaurant, the bar, and the bowling lanes, you could easily spend an entire evening hanging out at Highball Lanes.
Have Lunch at Lou’s Full Serv
For more delicious Southern cuisine, head to Lou’s Full Serv Neighborhood Kitchen in the heart of Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood. As soon as you walk into this industrial-style restaurant with plush booths and checkerboard tile, you’ll instantly feel at home.
The menu changes seasonally, but it typically features slight twists on classic southern staples. Owner/Chef Louis LaRose is a Jackson native, and you can tell that the restaurant is committed to using ingredients from local farmers as much as possible.
Start off your meal with an order of the crawfish fondue. Then, pick out whatever else on the menu makes you hungry. Make sure to leave room to try out one of the desserts. You can never go wrong with the pecan pie.
Relax at the Westin’s Soul Spa
If you want to unwind on your getaway to Jackson, the Soul Spa located in the downtown Westin Hotel is the perfect place. The spa offers everything from pedicures and manicures to a variety of massages and facials.
You’ll feel more relaxed as soon as you go inside. The atmosphere is calm and tranquil, and you’ll sip on cucumber water while you wait for your appointment. Guests are able to use the jacuzzi and sauna as part of their spa service, so you get an indulgent morning or afternoon in addition to your appointment.
You can also make a reservation for lunch or dinner at Estelle Wine Bar & Bistro at the Westin. The decor is elegant, but the vibe is warm and welcoming. I think the small plates are the best. I’ve heard good things about the charcuterie board, but I haven’t tried it yet. The cocktails are worth trying out as well, especially the Elvis Cocktail.
Enjoy your visit to Jackson!
Jackson is one of the South’s most underrated cities. There’s a lot more to do there than most people expect. It has a unique combination of artistic influences, delicious cuisine, and historic sites. There’s nowhere else quite like Jackson.