Over the last year or two, road trips have become wildly popular and the South is scattered with great places to visit, some secret and some not so much. One wildly popular destination these days is the sweet southern town that is Laurel, Mississippi. Like a great southern lady welcoming everyone with ambiance and overwhelming charm, The City Beautiful sits ready and waiting to welcome you. Once you breathe her name you have about ten seconds before someone starts talking about Erin and Ben Napier. The couple has made their home town into one of America’s favorites with their HGTV show of the same name, and while home improvement shows may not be anything new, the way the Napiers approach things is a little differently. Mainly due to the fact that the remodels and renovations and relocations they tackle all happen to be right smack dab in the middle of Laurel. They want to keep this sweet little town going and growing, and they’ve put their hopes and dreams to work making sure Laurel will thrive for generations to come. The way they describe their love for this town and her people can make anyone swoon. Everyone wants to visit Laurel these days, including me.
Not long ago I made the drive and The Napiers were kind enough to sit down with me to share some of the must see, must do, must eat spots in town. For starters, you need to know that Laurel is, at its heart, an art city. The founders were big supports of art and industry, and that’s one reason it never faded away like so many other small towns that were once vibrant parts of the Southern landscape. Lauren Rogers, son of one of the town’s founders, is the focus of The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. It’s filled with treasures focused within five specialized collections including American art, European paintings, Native American baskets, Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, and British Georgian silver. It’s also home to the tiniest basket in the world. The museum is the oldest art museum in the entire state of Mississippi and was gifted to the city by The Rogers family a number of years ago. The curator, George Bassi, and his staff are dedicated to making sure families can continue to enjoy the works of art here for many years.
When it’s time to eat, you’ll want to be sure you stop by Phillips Drive In. They have fresh produce and fresh beef which make for some mighty tasty burgers. Their shakes are some of the best you’ll taste, and their specialty flavored drinks won’t be found anywhere else. If you’re looking for a good steak you can head over to The Loft, and if New Orleans style cuisine peaks your interest be sure to try Cafe Le Fleur. Looking for a great Italian meal and a love story to go along with it? Then it’s time for a visit to Mimmo’s. The owner is from Italy but he fell in love with a girl from Southern Mississippi and the rest is history. Or you can try newcomer Pasta Bella where you’ll find Ben’s favorite lasagna. For a good old fashioned meat and three plate you can’t go wrong with Pearl’s. Make sure you try the banana pudding, and then you can thank me later. For those of you who like to focus on dessert you can try Sweet Somethings Bakery and Shug’s Cookie Dough and Candy Bar. Or wander off the beaten path a bit and visit Garcia’s Donuts where you can try a donut or a burger—or a donut burger. Yes please!
Once you’re ready to walk off your meal, be sure to visit one of the lovely city parks. They were all designed by the same big firm that created New York’s Central Park. They’re beautiful and welcoming spots where you can relax a while, let the children play, and then snap a few photos before you head over to Laurel Mercantile to shop till you drop. This charming store is perfectly and thoughtfully curated with more “Made In America” treasures than you can shake a stick at. You’ll find housewares, candles, furniture, even some of Erin’s artwork. You name it and you’ll likely find it. Of course, Scotsman General Store is another must-shop-stop that needs to be on your list. You can peek inside Ben’s workshop, and if you’re lucky you might even spot the man himself. Be sure to grab some coffee and a mug while you’re there for the perfect souvenir.
As long as you’re in town, you might as well spend the night. That means you’ll want to head over to The Laurel Cottages. Mallorie and Jim Rasberry, two of Erin and Ben’s partners in Laurel Mercantile, bought their house in 2017 and have since turned it into a happy family home and a thriving business to boot. Built in 1907 by the Gilchrist Family it is a true gem. The Gilchrist’s were in the lumber industry and they hand selected every piece of wood in the house which is large, lovely and very inviting. So much so, Mallorie and Jim couldn’t bear to keep it all to themselves. The guest cottage, originally built as a coach house and staff quarters, was used as a long term rental property for a while but it didn’t suit their lifestyle. When Home Town became popular and people started flocking to Laurel, they decided to try listing the cottage on Airbnb. They had such success they not only renovated the guest cottage they also added an Airstream and Laurel Cottages was born. Home Town’s success has spurred other families to follow their lead and currently you’ll find around thirty Airbnb style properties in Laurel. I can say first hand, if you want to feel like a local, staying in one of these cozy little spots is the best way to get a real down home experience.
So when you plan your next road trip, take a chance to step inside the television and cruise on over to Laurel. Yes, it really is as quaint as you think it is, the Napiers really are as nice as you think they are, and in no time flat you’ll see why so many nice folks want to make it their own home town.
Erin and Ben love a good road trip and have their own Airstream which they travel with all around the South. Here are a few of their tips to help you plan your next long haul drive.
-PACK A TOOLBOX.
-Keep a loose schedule and don’t try to over plan.
-Ditch the screens and take this great opportunity to talk and sing songs.
-Bring plenty of sticker books for the little folks.
-Visit old tourist areas and try some out of the ordinary destinations.