With the exception of its capital city, Mississippi is mostly made up of small towns, but there’s still plenty to do in the state. If you love music, food, or literature you’ll find lots of reasons to visit. Mississippi is the home state of many well-known artists and writers, including Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and William Faulkner.
Mississippi is known as “The Hospitality State, and it lives up to that name. From the coastal towns on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the charming small towns in North Mississippi, the warmth of community is evident almost everywhere you go.
I grew up in central Mississippi, went to college in north Mississippi, and lived in south Mississippi for several years. So, I’m pretty familiar with many of the cool things going on across the state, and I love getting to bring attention to hidden gems in my home state that most people don’t know about.
If you’re planning a trip, and you’re looking for the best things to do in Mississippi according to someone who’s spent most of her life there.
Learn about Music at the GRAMMY Museum
Most people associate the GRAMMYs with LA, but outside of California, the only other location of a GRAMMY Museum is in Cleveland, Mississippi. The Mississippi Delta was chosen as the site for the second museum because the area has such a rich legacy in American music.
For anyone interested in music, the GRAMMY Museum is a must-visit. You’ll find everything from recordings of legendary musical moments during GRAMMY broadcasts to an interactive colorful dance floor to instruments used by world-renowned artists. It’s an immersive, hands-on experience while also being informative and educational.
Besides the permanent exhibits, there are also special exhibits. I was able to visit the Taylor Swift Experience while it was at the museum. There have also been special exhibits dedicated to artists like Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks. Right now one of the special exhibits is based around Southern rock which sounds awesome, but check the museum’s website to see which exhibits will be there during your visit.
Visit the B.B. King Museum
Another amazing gem in the Mississippi Delta is the BB King Museum. Fans from all over the world make their way to Indianola to see the museum dedicated to one of the men who played a huge role in creating the sound of American music. The museum’s exhibits guide you through different stages of B.B. King’s career from his childhood through his 15 GRAMMY wins and international fame.
The museum first opened in 2008 and additional exhibits have been added since then. The most recent extension added two of B.B. King’s automobiles, a Rolls Royce and a custom Chevy El Camino along with his tour bus. You’re also able to see the last two Gibson Lucille guitars that the performer signed.
Fans of the legendary musician can pay their respects at his resting site on the grounds. For anyone interested in music, the B.B. King Museum is another place you should absolutely visit.
See Kermit the Frog in Leland
Tucked away in the Delta, you’ll find the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog museum. Muppet creator, Jim Henson, was born in nearby Greenville and made childhood friends with Kermit Scott who is supposed to be the inspiration for Kermit the Frog.
The museum is small, but it houses an original Kermit muppet donated to the museum by Jim Henson’s wife along with an assortment of other muppet memorabilia. The museum takes about 30 minutes to an hour to see. If you’re a fan of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and friends, it’s well worth the time to make the stop in Leland.
The museum is less than 30 minutes from the GRAMMY Museum and just over 20 minutes from the B.B. King Museum, so add a stop to the museum if you’re in the area for one of those attractions.
Visit Elvis Presley’s Birthplace
The King of Rock’ n’ Roll may be most associated with his Graceland home in Memphis, Tennessee, but the beginning of his life took place in a much different setting. In Tupelo, you can see the little two-room house where Elvis Presley was born. Elvis and his family lived in Tupelo until they moved to Memphis when Elvis was 13.
The church the Presley family attended while living in Tupelo has also been moved to the grounds at the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Fans can see the place where Elvis first heard the gospel sound that characterized the beginning of his career. There is a museum on-site, too. Inside, you’ll find different artifacts related to Elvis’s early years.
You can walk around the grounds for free, and see Becoming a structure with two statues, one of Elvis as a boy and one of Elvis as a performer. To see inside the Birthplace House, the Museum, or the Church, you’ll have to buy a ticket that lets you into the different places.
Take the Ferry to Ship Island
One of the best things to do when the weather is nice is take the ferry to Ship Island. This barrier island is located in the Gulf of Mexico just 11 miles off the Mississippi Coast. The boat ride takes around 1 hour, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot dolphins during the ride. It doesn’t happen every single time, but it’s definitely not uncommon.
I usually try to catch one of the morning rides out of Gulfport to Ship Island, so that I have as much time to spend there as possible. Once you get there, you’ll have lots of options for activities. The island is surrounded by beautiful water where you can swim, snorkel, or boogie board.
If you’re not interested in getting in the water, you can explore Fort Massachusetts, which was built to defend New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Hiking and picnicking are also popular activities while on the island. Of course, you can always spend your time watching the waves and sitting under a beach umbrella. There’s a snack bar, restrooms, and other visitor amenities, so you can easily spend the entire day here.
The ferry operates from March to October, and the schedule changes depending on the season, so make sure you check the times in advance.
Hot Air Balloon Festival
Every October, you’ll find one of the most picturesque sights in Mississippi in Natchez during the annual Natchez Balloon Festival. This festival has been taking place in Southwest Mississippi since 1986.
Hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky during the festival. Besides the graceful balloon flights, you’ll get to enjoy live music from local bands at the festival. The festival also has arts and crafts vendors selling handmade items, and there are food vendors on-site throughout the day. Natchez is already a charming small town to visit any time of the year, but for one weekend a year, the balloon festival transforms the town into one of the most magical places in the state.
Spend Time Outdoors at Tishomingo State Park
If you’re looking for outdoor adventures, head to Tishomingo State Park in North Mississippi. While the state has many great state parks, Tishomingo has particularly unique scenery. The park is located at the beginning of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains which gives the park’s landscape a distinct look.
You can hike the park’s 12 miles of trails. The 7 different trails are all rated easy to moderate and take you through a variety of terrain. One of the best parts of hiking here is that you get a chance to see unusual rock formations you won’t see anywhere else in the state. Visitors are also able to apply for rock-climbing permits. Besides hiking and rock climbing, you can also enjoy disc golf, volleyball, canoeing, and fishing while at the park.
I typically book one of the park’s cabins when I visit Tishomingo State Park. The cabins have basic amenities including a kitchen. The cabins were built around the 1970s and have a rustic feel. Their look isn’t particularly trendy, but that hasn’t stopped me from going back multiple times. It’s fairly common for visitors to return over and over after visiting the park once.
The state park has also more recently partnered with a company that provides safari-style canvas tents for visitors to rent. While I haven’t had a chance to stay in one of these tents yet, it seems like a lot of fun! Camping is great, but camping while sleeping in a real bed is even better.
See One of Mississippi’s Cutest Small Towns
If you’re a fan of the HGTV show Home Town, you already know that Laurel, Mississippi is in the midst of a revitalization moment. Before my first visit to Laurel, I thought there was no way that this small town could be nearly as cute as it looks on tv, but I was delighted to be wrong. Downtown Laurel is everything you hope it will be.
There are several streets filled with cute boutique shops, welcoming coffee shops, and tasty restaurants. If you’re interested in antique shopping, the Southern Antique Mall, The Rusty Chandelier, and Peddlers’ Junktion are just a few of the options. Somehow small towns in the south seem to have the most interesting things to browse in their antique stores. As you explore the downtown, you’ll definitely want to stop by Shug’s Cookie Dough & Candy Bar. You’ll walk out with more goodies than you intended to get, but the indulgence is worth it.
While in Laurel, make sure to stop by the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. Although the museum is small, it’s set up incredibly well. The collections are just large enough for you to enjoy them without being overwhelmed, and you feel like you’re able to appreciate each piece. The exhibits also do a good job of explaining what you’re looking at. You can really tell that part of the museum’s purpose is education, and the museum’s exhibits make fine arts feel accessible to everyone.
Shop at the Canton Flea Market
For those who enjoy the hunt for one-of-a-kind finds, the Canton Flea Market is a must-visit. Two Thursdays each year, one in May and one in October, the market takes place outside the Madison County Courthouse in Canton. Hundreds of vendors sell items, including lots of handmade items. You’ll find artists from around the country selling their pottery, jewelry, and other beautiful goods.
The market, which has been held for more than 50 years, is the perfect excuse to visit Canton. The town has a classic small southern town feel. It’s also been the filming location for lots of different movies including O Brother, Where Art Thou and My Dog Skip.
See Your Favorite Authors at the Mississippi Book Festival
Book lovers should mark their calendars for the annual Mississippi Book Festival that takes place in Jackson. Each year this “Literary Lawn Party” showcases writers from the state as well as from the rest of the country.
The festival takes place on the grounds of the Mississippi State Capitol with panels happening in the capitol building and at Galloway church nearby. Thousands of people attend the event to listen to their favorite authors talk about a variety of topics. I always try to go to as many panels as possible because I’ve never been to one at the festival that wasn’t interesting. The event is free to the public, which is incredible given the quality of the different panels.
Besides listening to different authors, you can enjoy live music and food outdoors on the grounds. It’s going to be hot (because it’s August in Mississippi), but the atmosphere is a lot of fun. There’s also an Authors Alley with booths by self-published authors that’s the perfect place to discover books you aren’t likely to hear about otherwise.
As someone who loves books and reading, the Mississippi Book Festival is one of my favorite events that happens in Mississippi. It’s definitely worth the trip to Jackson!
Unplug at Hugh White State Park
If you’re looking to unwind and unplug, head to Hugh White State Park. The park located in Grenada, Mississippi is a tranquil way to spend a weekend. Grenada Lake typically draws fishermen, but the lake is also big enough for boating and waterskiing. You can relax lakeside if you’d like or go hiking through the surrounding forest.
The park has a large campground with room for over 100 RV spots. If you want to get a spot, book it well in advance because this popular campsite reaches capacity quickly. The park also has several cabins available for reservations. Hugh White State Park was nominated as one of Mississippi Magazine’s Best of Mississippi list in 2022.
Take a Roadtrip on the Natchez Trace Parkway
Mississippi has beautiful scenery and one of the best ways to enjoy it is with a road trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway. This 444-mile road goes from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee roughly following the original Natchez Trace used by nomadic Native Americans.
The two-lane road winds along a beautiful route full of scenic stops. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour, so the Natchez Trace is not the road to use if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re more interested in the journey than the destination, it’s a great choice. The Natchez Trace makes its way near hundreds of towns and several cities that all make great stops along the way.
There are also plenty of cool things to see on the Natchez Trace itself. Over 100 trails begin on the Trace, and you can take a short walk or even hike a trail as long as 27 miles. While driving, you can stop a the picnic areas or even spend the night at one of the three campgrounds. If you take time to really explore while on the Natchez Trace, the drive from Natchez to Nashville takes around 5 days.
Of course, you can just drive a shorter portion if you only want to spend a morning or an afternoon admiring the route. One of my favorite areas is the Cypress Swamp at milepost 122. If you look carefully, you might find an alligator or two peeking out at you from the murky water.
Spend the Weekend in Ocean Springs
For art lovers, Ocean Springs is the perfect weekend trip. This charming coastal town is home to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Here you’ll find the unique work of the museum’s namesake artist and naturalist inspired by the natural features of the Gulf Coast. The town also has art galleries you can visit like The Pink Rooster which has glass, jewelry, pottery, and paintings.
Each year, the town hosts the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival which is the largest art festival in Mississippi. Vendors from all over the United States come with artwork and handmade items. The most recent festival had more than 400 vendors and was attended by 150,000 people.
Ocean Springs is worth visiting year-round. The downtown is full of cute boutiques, antique shops, and restaurants. It’s also the home to the Tato-Nut Donut Shop which sells donuts made with potato flour. There’s usually a line out the door, but you’ll be glad you waited once you get your donut. I have been here a few more times than I’m willing to admit.
The town also has great outdoor activities. You can enjoy lounging on the manmade beach and watching the waves. If you’re interested in hiking, you can explore the Fontainebleu Nature Trail. You can hike, fish, boat, and even camp at the Davis Bayous Area.
Explore the Grounds of Rowan Oak
As a graduate of the University of Mississippi, there are lots of things I think you should check out in Oxford, Mississippi. One of the most interesting things to do there is to visit Rowan Oak, the home of celebrated author William Faulkner. While Faulkner is not an author I would read for fun, he is considered one of the greatest writers from the 20th century.
The grounds at Rowan Oak are beautiful to explore even if you don’t know much about Faulkner. The cedar trees lining the walkway to the front of the house are incredibly picturesque. Inside the house, you can see all the rooms recreated as they would have been while Faulkner lived there. You can even see where Faulkner wrote the outline for A Fable on the wall in his office. Jill Faulkner Summers sold her father’s house to the University of Mississippi 10 years after her father’s death.
You can park at the parking lot in front of the property to visit or you can park at the University of Mississippi Museum. The Bailey Woods Trail connects the museum to Rowan Oak, and I like to walk the trail when the weather is nice. This also makes it easy to add a visit to the museum to your visit to Rowan Oak.
Eat Fried Catfish
No visit to Mississippi would be complete without eating catfish. The state is the largest producer of catfish, and you’ll find it on the menu at many restaurants. Catfish is typically served battered and fried, which is definitely the way you’ll want to enjoy it.
I’ve never had bad catfish anywhere I’ve ordered it (at least not yet), but there are a few restaurants that do a particularly good job at preparing this popular dish. Taylor Grocery, right outside Oxford, does amazing catfish and also has deep-fried oysters on the menu. Mr. Whisker’s Family Catfish Restaurant in McComb serves delicious food, and they do all-you-can-eat on Thursdays. Around the Jackson area, Cock of the Walk is a great choice. Despite sounding like they should be a chicken restaurant, they serve great fried catfish. I absolutely love their sides, and I always get the fried pickles.
Get a Milkshake and Fries at Brent’s Drugs
In 1946, Brent’s Drugs opened as a pharmacy and soda fountain. While the pharmacy has since been removed to make room for a kitchen, this restaurant in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood retains elements of its original charm. Today, the location is a retro dinner that even people who normally find retro dinners a bit over-the-top will love.
Brent’s Drugs isn’t just resting on its appearance. The food is delicious. The fries are exactly the right level of crispiness and seasoned just the right amount. Of course, you have to get a milkshake while you’re there. I normally go with the Nutella milkshake, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
Brent’s is also one of the coolest places in Jackson to visit in the evenings. A hidden bar called the apothecary is housed in one of the former storage rooms in the back of the building. Go in through the front door, walk to the back where the hallway to the restrooms are, and you’ll find a cool bar serving cocktails tucked away back there.
Check Out the Museums in Jackson
Mississippi’s capital city is packed with fascinating museums. No matter what you’re interested in, you’ll probably find something to enjoy among the city’s museums.
Jackson is home to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which is one of the best civil rights museums in the United States. At the Mississippi Museum of Art, you can see works by Mississippi artists as well as well-known American artists like Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe. You can visit the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science where you can learn about the state’s natural history including the dinosaur fossils from the prehistoric era. For those visiting with family, the Mississippi Children’s Museum is both a fun and educational stop.
Learn Some New Skills with a Cooking Class
Try out one of the cooking classes at the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood. The school offers a wide range of classes including everything from basic cooking techniques to specialty cuisines. The school offers two different formats of classes: demo and hands-on. During the demo classes, you’ll get to enjoy a relaxed time watching an expert, tasting, and asking questions. You’ll also take home recipes. During the hands-on classes, you’ll work in a team to prepare different recipes under the guidance of a teacher, and you’ll get to eat everything you prepare.
The classes are a lot of fun for anyone who loves to cook or just wants to learn more about cooking in general. You’ll need to make reservations well in advance because the most popular classes fill up quickly. It’s generally easier to get a spot at a weekday class rather than a weekend class.
This is the perfect activity to do on a date night or with a group of friends, but if you want to take a class solo, you’ll still enjoy your time as well. The hardest part is picking out which class to register for. Once you start looking at the recipes taught in each class, you’ll want to sign up for every single one.
Go to a Mardi Gras Parade in Bay St. Louis
Most people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, but the towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast celebrate the holiday as well. The coastal vibes mixed with Mardi Gras make the event even more unique. The parades in Bay St. Louis are some of my favorites. There are crowds at the family-friendly parades, but you’ll be able to get reasonably close to the parade route without having to show up super early.
The atmosphere is laid-back, and it’s clear that everyone from the people on the floats to the people in the crowds is having a good time. Plus, once you’ve caught you’re beads, you can head to the beach in Bay St. Louis and get drinks at the Blind Tiger afterward. I’d advise doing those two things even if you aren’t in Bay St. Louis during the Mardi Gras season.
Listen to Music and Enjoy Great Food at the Crawfish Jam Music Festival
Head to Hattiesburg in the spring for the Downtown Crawfish Jam Music Festival. As the name implies, this festival combines two of Mississippi’s favorite things: crawfish and music. With your ticket, you get all-you-can-eat boiled crawfish along with burgers, hot dogs, soft drinks, and beer. There’s also live music throughout the day.
The proceeds from the festival go back into the community and provide funding for projects and events that take place in downtown Hattiesburg throughout the year. I’ll take any excuse to eat lots of crawfish, so the fact that the tickets support a good cause makes this event even better.
Visit the Congress of Country Music
While you might expect to have to go to Nashville to fully experience country music, you’d be surprised to learn that you’ll soon be able to see a world-class country music museum in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Country music singer Marty Stuart has one of the largest private collections of country music artifacts and many of these artifacts will be on display at the Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music in his hometown.
The first phase of the project has already launched, and the historic Ellis Theater has already reopened with shows put on by artists from a variety of genres. I’ve been able to see several artists who are on the roster at shows in Nashville, so it’s exciting to see that they have shows booked in Philadelphia, Mississippi as well. The Ellis Theater first opened as a silent movie theater in 1926 and is the perfect intimate venue to get to experience performances by talented musicians.
Enjoy your time in Mississippi
Mississippi has a little something for everyone-–beautiful natural scenery, attractive small towns, and an interesting capital city. It’s full of unique things to do. It’s definitely not possible to do everything in just one trip, and you’ll be looking forward to visiting again once your trip ends.