Mississippi is a melting pot for culture, history, food, and the environment. From the foothills of the Appalachians in the North to the sizzling coastline along the Gulf of Mexico to the South, variety is the spice of life in this Southeastern state. As with any adventure, big cities and small towns present a crossroads for the type of experiences one wishes to have. For a more chilled-out time, take a slow-paced tour of these seven communities (either towns or notably small cities) across The Magnolia State. You will be sure to uncover gluttonous grub, endless live music, historical places/popular icons, and gorgeous natural settings in which to retreat.
Ocean Springs is a small city in the Southeastern leg of the state. This chill Jackson County community sits on the shore of Biloxi Bay, which opens into the vast Gulf of Mexico. Like any beach town worth its weight in sand, Ocean Springs has a cool downtown with loads of mom n' pop shops and a broad spectrum of dining (from careless summer eats to classy establishments). For a bit of that satisfying salty sea breeze, make for the Davis Bayous Area Gulf Islands National Seashore – a go-to spot for camping, hiking, launching a boat, or simply cruising the scenic boardwalks on the Eastern outskirts of town. If you find yourself here in the thick of winter, check out the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival – the largest of its kind in Mississippi and the whole of the Gulf Coast.
Bay St. Louis
Another artsy beach town well-suited for a string of listless afternoons rests just 33 miles West of Ocean Springs in Hancock County. The majority of Bay St. Louis's perimeter is encompassed by water. The North and East sides meet the titular bay, while the South side of this small city looks out into the Gulf of Mexico. The charming Southern spirit of the Old Town will quickly become addicting, especially if you time your visit for the second Saturday of any month when the regular community Art Walk takes over the streets. This resilient community has long since bounced back from the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with an obvious boost in appreciation for the delights that life has to offer. So take a load off, indulge your sweet tooth, and enjoy the sunny coastline.
Switch it up and head North to the college town of Oxford. Home to the University of Mississippi, this Lafayette County community is known as the "Cultural Mecca of the South." The youthful, learned spirit is in the air, and has created a stimulating layout of bookstores to sift through, coffee shops to sip at, and art galleries and live music venues to absorb. Just a pinch Northwest of this small eclectic city, Sardis Lake offers both sandy beaches and a well-stocked fish population for anglers looking to pass a classic Mississippi afternoon. For deeper explorations into the surrounding landscape, the Holly Springs National Forest begins immediately East of town and sprawls all the way up to the Tennessee border.
While in the North end of the state, be sure to make a few more stops on your leisure-seeking road trip. 50 miles East of Oxford sits an undeniably cool place, Tupelo, the birthplace of the king himself, Elvis Presley. That's right, die-hard rock and roll fans and amateur cultural historians alike will appreciate the imprint that the iconic musician left behind in his hometown. Visit the 14 sites that the city has highlighted as being formative in Elvis' early years, marked by such features as the Elvis Homecoming Statue and his childhood home, which has now been converted into a museum. Families wishing to switch it up will be sure to enjoy themselves at the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo – a former ranch that fostered a massive herd of buffalo before adding in many other species to create a public space for animal lovers.
The quaint Union County city of New Albany acts as the geographical apex of the triangle formed between it, Oxford (34 miles to the Southwest), and Tupelo (28 miles to the Southeast). Here, visitors can experience the "heart of the Mississippi hills." Bisected by the Little Tallahatchie River, surrounded by a rolling landscape, and adjacent to the Holly Springs National Forest (which prospers just West of town), New Albany is a great place to get away from it all. The city's promotion of a healthy lifestyle perfectly complements the natural landscape. Visitors can try their hand at a round of disc golf, bike or walk the 44-mile Rails-to-Trails pathway (or at least part of it), or if the weather is less than ideal, take refuge in the high-caliber indoor facilities for a game of tennis or pickleball. New Albany also sports an attractive downtown core, complete with boutique/antique shops, other specialties, independent retailers, and restaurants.
History buffs will want to head even further North (50 miles Northeast of Tupelo), to the Tennessee border city of Corinth. This place was founded in 1853, originally as Cross City, as a railroad town serving the junction of the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston lines. Less than ten years later, in 1862, some of the most crucial battles of the Civil War took place, as Union and Confederate battalions sought to control these vital transportation routes. Nowadays, Corinth showcases their living history, but has also added to their identity in the subsequent centuries. Foodies, in particular, will want to spend at least a few days hopping from one restaurant to another. Along with a blend of authentic ethnic cuisines, Corinth put the Southern slugburger on the map (and it's much more delicious than it sounds!).
And finally, on your way to or from Corinth and Tupelo, make an Easterly detour to the tiny town of Tishomingo. This Tishomingo County community is nestled between the North end of Bay Springs Lake (to the West) and the border of Northwestern Alabama. With only 370 permanent residents (as of the 2020 census), this place is the epitome of chill. While there are a few local five and dimes worth checking out, the beauty of Tishomingo is the chance to sink into quiet contemplation. Take a pleasant stroll through the forested foothills of the Appalachians, aiming for Tishomingo State Park (immediately Southeast of town) or the various public green spaces on either shore of Bay Springs Lake.
The small towns of Mississippi are ideal locations for a chilled-out vacation. The tight-knit communities have a grounded identity that is augmented by beautiful environments, a colorful past, and a fostering of cultural expression that is free from the rampant egos that sometimes jut out in bigger cities. In short, an easy-going tour of rural Mississippi picks a unique lane. So don't rush, take lots of mental pictures, and have a good time!