Mississippi, the 32nd-largest and 35th-most populous state in the American Southeast, is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Alabama to the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Arkansas and Louisiana across the mighty Mississippi River to the west. With a picturesque Gulf Coast and luxuriant forests, Mississippi is one of the United States’ most gorgeous and alluring destinations. Although the state capital, Jackson, and other big metropolises like Gulfport and Southaven draw thousands of vacationers with their distinctive auras, the small towns that dot the Magnolia State also entice tourists with their mind-boggling natural surroundings, exciting histories, ample outdoor recreations, and the quintessential Southern charm.
Bounded by the Mississippi Sound in the south and Biloxi Bay in the northeast, Biloxi is placed on the beautiful Gulf Coast peninsula in the southeastern portion of Harrison County, approximately 13 miles east of Gulfport. This “playground of the South” offers a blend of natural beauty, cultural attractions, diverse cuisines, and glittering casinos lining Beach Boulevard. Biloxi allures water lovers to spend a day riding waves and jet skiing in the Gulf of Mexico, taking a shrimping trip on a Biloxi Schooner, or relaxing on the impeccably clean white sandy beaches. Cultural enthusiasts can head to the various interesting sites like the Beauvoir - the final home of the former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, Old Biloxi Cemetery, the historic Biloxi Lighthouse, the Biloxi Visitors Center, and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. In addition to the water sports, vacationers can participate in the town’s annual festivals like Biloxi Mardi Gras and Blessing of the Fleet; or spend quality time at the local mini-golf courses and amusement parks.
One of the oldest and principal European settlements in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, Natchez, the administrative center of Adams County, is approximately 105 miles southwest of Jackson and 90 miles north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Christened after the Natchez tribe of Native Americans, this town captivates visitors with its meticulously preserved antebellum mansions and iconic museums like Longwood, Auburn Museum & Historic Home, Stanton Hall, Rosalie Mansion, St. Mary Basilica, First Presbyterian Church of Natchez, Natchez Museum of African American History & Culture, Monmouth Historic Inn & Gardens, etc., some of which remains open to the public year-round or during the annual spring and fall pilgrimages. Explore the town’s numerous retail stores, boutiques, microbrews, and diners currently occupying the site of Natchez Under-the-Hill, or take a walking tour or bike ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway that commemorates the historic Natchez Trace Trail, which extends for 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee. Besides the spring and fall pilgrimages, some other annual events include a pow-wow hosted by the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians at the Emerald Burial Mounds and the Mississippi Bluff Blues Heritage Festival.
Claiborne County’s seat, Port Gibson, is Mississippi’s third-oldest European-American settlement, located on a curve of the Bayou Pierre close to the Mississippi River, about 28 miles south of Vicksburg. Affectionately called the “Town too beautiful to burn,” Port Gibson is known for its elegant antebellum buildings, stately churches, and thriving commercial center, which were spared destruction during the Battle of Port Gibson. History fanatics can discover Windsor Ruins, Grand Gulf Military State Park, A.K. Shaifer House, Claiborne County Courthouse, First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson, Old Natchez Trace, Mississippi Blues Trail, Wintergreen Cemetery, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Collina Plantation Inn, and the Old Country Store Restaurant. Every year, the town celebrates its rich heritage and culture through the Port Gibson Main Street Heritage Festival, where special guided tours to Port Gibson’s important sites are offered, besides arts, music, and the Mississippi Venison Cook-off.
An attractive coastal town, Ocean Springs forms a part of the Pascagoula, Mississippi Metropolitan Statistical Area in Jackson County, about 2 miles east of Biloxi. The live oak tree-lined streets of Ocean Springs's walkable downtown area are packed with over 200 independent shops, galleries, fashion boutiques, and ethnic restaurants serving delectable seafood. This quaint community is especially celebrated for its colorful art scene and festivals, including the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center, Shearwater Pottery, and the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival, the state’s biggest fine arts festival attracting more than 120,000 merrymakers. Spend some time digging your toes in the white sands at the Front Beach, stop by the Ocean Springs Welcome Center housed in the L&N Depot Plaza, and participate in various recreational activities at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Bay St. Louis
One of the Gulf Coast’s most charming destinations, Bay St. Louis, is in the southeastern part of Hancock County, on the western side of Bay of St. Louis (that empties into the Mississippi Sound), about 58 miles northeast of New Orleans, Louisiana. This tiny seaside town lures vacationers with its stunning waterfront, spotless white sand beaches, diverse cultures, and welcoming ambiance. Stroll through the Old Town area and browse the local outlets, beach boutiques, vintage shops, and independently-owned eateries serving fresh Gulf seafood, in addition to experiencing a giant art walk with family-friendly live music and special events on the second Saturday of every month. The Bay St. Louis Creative Arts Center, Alice Moseley Folk Art Museum, 100 Men Hall, Saint Rose de Lima Catholic Church, Bay St. Louis Little Theater, and the Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast are some of Bay St. Louis’s other exciting attractions. For outdoorsy types, the neighboring Buccaneer State Park offers ample activities like fishing, hiking, and camping.
Cleveland, one of the two administrative seats of Bolivar County, occupies the heart of the Mississippi Delta region, halfway between Memphis and Vicksburg. Home to the principal campus of Delta State University, Cleveland is acclaimed for its rich musical heritage, primarily for its connection to several leading Blues musicians, and for being the location of four Mississippi Blues Trail markers. Tour the town’s noteworthy attractions like the Grammy Museum Mississippi, Bologna Performing Arts Center, Railroad Heritage Museum, Ellis Theater, Dockery Farms, Boo Ferriss Baseball Museum, Maring & Sue King Railroad Museum, Amzie Moore House, and the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum. Every year from mid-November to the New Year, this small Delta town’s lovely downtown transforms into a Christmas wonderland by displaying countless Christmas lights during its 50 Nights of Lights celebration.
Named after the university city of Oxford in England, this vibrant Southern college town serving as Lafayette County’s seat is about 75 miles southeast of Memphis in Mississippi’s North Central Hills region. Being partially home to the main campus of the University of Mississippi, Oxford is acclaimed for the iconic Lafayette County Courthouse, in addition to its bustling Downtown Square that features specialty boutiques like Cicada, old departmental stores like the J. E. Neilson Co., art galleries like the Southside Gallery, independent bookstores like Square Books, antique malls like the Depot and Mustard Seed, and an assortment of upscale restaurants. Discover the hamlet’s various landmarks like Rowan Oak Mansion, Ammadelle House, Barnard Observatory, University of Mississippi Museum, Lyric Theater, Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Burns-Belfry Museum, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The town’s proximity to several large music cities, such as Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans, has led to the development of a varied music scene in Oxford over many years.
Often called the “Crossroads of the South,” Corinth, Alcorn County’s seat, is in Northeastern Mississippi close to the state line with Tennessee, at the meeting point of U.S. Route 45 and U.S. Route 72 highways. Antiquity fans touring Corinth love to see the town’s enthralling attractions like the Siege & Battle of Corinth Sites, Corinth National Cemetery, Veranda House, Fort Williams, and the Downtown and Midtown historic districts. Several museums, like the Black History Museum, Northeast Mississippi Museum, Museum of Southern Culture, and Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, also provide an interesting insight into the town’s glorious past. For outdoor fans, the Pickwick Landing State Park, situated 20 miles northeast of Corinth, offers opportunities for camping, picnicking, and hiking around the Pickwick Lake reservoir.
Initially settled around a grist and saw mill site on the Tallahatchie River in 1840, this small town in Northern Mississippi’s Union County served as a bustling river port and a regional commercial and agricultural center. Lovingly called “the fair and friendly city,” the hometown of the celebrated American author William Faulkner is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway. Vacationers from far and wide come to New Albany’s colorful downtown area, brimming with specialty shops, independent clothiers, exhibition venues, and eclectic eateries where you can get everything from pimento cheese sandwiches to fried chickens and mouthwatering burgers. Traverse the 44-mile-long Tanglefoot Trail - a paved biking and hiking trail that forms a part of the Mississippi Hills Natural Heritage Area, browse the various exhibits at the Union County Heritage Museum, Ingomar Indian Mounds, Magnolia Civic Center & Cine Theatre, and enjoy a scenic walk along the Tallahatchie River at the Park Along the River and Mississippi Arboretum.
Placed atop a high bluff overlooking the joining of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, Vicksburg, Warren County’s seat, is about 45 miles west of Jackson. Christened in honor of Newitt Vick, travelers visiting this historical town must spend time at the Vicksburg National Military Park (including the Pemberton’s Headquarters and the U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat & Museum), Old Court House Museum, Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum & Interpretive Center, Old Depot Museum, Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum, and the Gray & Blue Naval Museum. Some landmark properties, like the McRaven House, Anchuca Mansion, and Balfour House, can be toured during the annual spring and fall pilgrimages. However, no trip to the town is complete without visiting the many casinos, artifact emporiums, souvenir shops, the Riverfront Murals on Levee Street, art galleries like the H.C. Porter Gallery, Linden Plantation Gardens, and locally-owned diners.
North Mississippi’s cultural, commercial, and industrial hub, Tupelo, the administrative center of Lee County, is approximately 62 miles northeast of Columbus, halfway between Birmingham, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee. Named for the countless tupelo trees (locally called “black gum”), the town intimately connects with Mississippi’s music history and is best known for being the birthplace of the famous American performer Elvis Presley – the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Tourists from all over the globe flock to Tupelo to visit the Elvis Presley Birthplace, which includes the very two-room house where he was born, a museum chronicling his life, the “Becoming” Statue, and the Assembly of God Church, where gospel music profoundly influenced Elvis during his growing years. The town hosts the Elvis Presley Festival with live music, parades, and an Elvis Tribute Artist Competition every June.
Apart from being the headquarters of the 444-mile-long scenic Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo’s other interesting sites include the Cadence Bank Arena, Oren Dunn City Museum, Lee County Library, Tupelo National Battlefield, Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo, Pharr Mounds, Tupelo Automobile Museum, Chickasaw Village Site, and Tupelo Veterans Museum at Ballard Park. After a hectic day of exploration, savor lip-smacking Southern cuisines at some of the town’s outstanding eateries like Johnnie’s Drive-In, Neon Pig Cafe, Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, Fairpark Grill, and Sweet Tea & Biscuits Café.
The Essence of Mississippi
From the impeccably preserved antebellum gems of Natchez to the literary richness of Oxford, Mississippi boasts a vast array of captivating towns that truly embody its essence. These towns, rich in history, beckon visitors with their breathtaking landscapes, delectable Southern dishes, vibrant festivals, and an unmistakable Southern allure. Whether you're seeking a serene getaway, an immersion into deep cultural roots, or a culinary exploration, Mississippi's diverse towns await with a promise of unforgettable experiences. Dive into the heart of the Magnolia State and let its charm envelop you.