5 Must-Visit Small Towns in Mississippi
Words by Ashley Locke
Many small towns across America have been struggling to survive as residents migrate to suburbs and cities—but in Mississippi, towns are thriving. The small town magic captured in these places has spurred a new era of growth, progress, and revitalization. Young people are proud to call the neighborhoods home, new businesses are excited to become a part of the fabric of the community, and imaginative restaurants are jumping at the chance to show off their southern hospitality.
While the excitement surrounding these towns has long been known to the people who live there, word has been spreading—they’ve begun to attract visitors who want to experience the little luxuries of small town life: the calm and quiet streets, historic homes waiting to be renovated, and friendly passers-by. When you need a relaxing weekend getaway, these are the five small Mississippi towns that should be on your list.
Located in the Mississippi Delta, Cleveland is home to Delta State University. The city’s ironic, unofficial tagline is “Keep Cleveland Boring.” In fact, it became the name of a non-profit that curates events in food, music, and the arts—on a mission to erase the phrase, “Cleveland is Boring.” Their work has brought the community together for oyster shucking parties, pub crawls, and their annual music festival, Otherfest, which has brought names like Carver Commodore and Futurebirds to their stage off famous Highway 61.
With a rich blues history, it’s no surprise that Cleveland has a thriving music scene. Restaurants like Hey Joe's feature good food and great performances from local and up-and-coming acts throughout the year. The city is also home to GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, the first Grammy Museum located outside of Los Angeles. Inside, you can dive deep into famous Mississippi musicians such as Elvis Presley, Faith Hill, Muddy Waters, Lance Bass, and more. There’s even an interactive pod where you can write and produce a song of your own!
The Cotton House (A Marriott Tribute Hotel) is one of the Delta region's top boutique hotels. Inside, you’ll find the Delta Meat Market, helmed by Chef Cole Ellis, a 2017 semifinalist for the James Beard Award's “Best Chef South.” His delicious creations like tamales and pork loin are available Tuesday through Saturday, while a rotating lineup of chef dinners brings other southern chefs into the spotlight.
Famously known as Elvis Presley’s birthplace, fans still flock from all over the world for Tupelo’s annual Elvis Festival and to see the other sites associated with the King of Rock 'n' Roll—places like Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis bought his first guitar, and his one-bedroom childhood home. But the music doesn’t stop with Elvis—music lovers can catch a live show at The Blue Canoe or Cadence Bank Arena.
In 2020, the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association (DTMSA) was one of three winners of the Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. Between East and West Main Street, the walkable downtown is bustling with restaurants, shops, and businesses—including the new Hotel Tupelo.
Tupelo is home to a variety of unique, local spots. One of the most unusual, Queen's Reward Meadery, is a small-batch meadery that specializes in artisan wines that are made from 100% Mississippi honey. Locals will tell you to visit Connie’s Fried Chicken for their delicious blueberry donuts, and to grab dinner at Kermit’s Soul Kitchen where you can get a smoked half chicken or fried pork belly sandwich.
About 30 minutes from the college town of Oxford lies Water Valley, a community of 3,400 in the hills of North Mississippi. It’s become a haven for some of the region’s talented artists—quilter Coulter Fussell, writer and photographer Erin Austen Abbott, and painter Jonathan Kent Adams are just a few who settled there. More and more folks have been drawn in by the inexpensive, beautiful, historic homes with original features, seemingly untouched by time.
Husband and wife team Kagan Coughlin and Alexe van Beuren have spearheaded much of the city's revitalization. Kagan, a tech worker originally from Vermont, started Basecamp Coding Academy in the town. Basecamp is a 12-month program for high-school graduates that is 100% free to students. Alexe opened the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery in 2010, where locals come for locally grown produce and a delicious lunch. BTC stands for "Be the Change," and was inspired by a quote from Ghandi—"Be the change you want to see in the world."
Made famous in large part due to the HGTV series "Home Town," Laurel has always been a lovely place to live. Laurel residents, Ben and Erin Napier, have promoted residential and business revitalization through their work on the show and their renovation work in the city. Fans of the show regularly visit Laurel to shop at the couple's store, Laurel Mercantile.
Pearl Campbell returned to Laurel after 34 years away, opening her restaurant Pearl’s Diner in 2017. Jamie Suggs & Joseph Watkins renovated a downtown building for their shop, Sweet Somethings Bakery, located just below their Bed & Breakfast. Shop paintings from local artist Adam Trest, and browse the selection at the 100+ year old Lott Furniture Co. Around every corner, there’s someone keeping Laurel’s history and culture alive.
Founded in 1716, Natchez is the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River. The city is home to a thriving tourism industry thanks to its collection of historic homes—more than 1,000 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places—and its quaint riverfront vibe, unique restaurants and B&Bs. You can spend an entire day exploring the historic homes alone—many offer tours where you can see not only the original structures, but also furniture and decor from the historic era.
In recent years, Natchez has become popular as a location for film production thanks to the work and advocacy of Tate Taylor, director of "The Help," which was nominated for "Best Picture" at the 84th Academy Awards, and the James Brown biopic, "Get on Up."
In the downtown “go cup” district, diners can carry open containers while strolling the neighborhood. The district expands to the riverside, making it the perfect place for a post-dinner walk with a view.