There’s a magic and mystery to Mississippi so strong it’s nearly palpable. It rises up from that famously rich soil, creating a culture as potent and productive as the land itself.
This is the place that begat the blues, the music out of which everything from rock ’n’ roll to jazz grew. But there is more to the Magnolia State than world-changing sounds, including a celebrated culinary scene that’s the envy of the country, and historical treasures that tell the story of a deeply troubled past while looking toward a much brighter future.
And Mississippi is imbued with a heaping dose of sweet Southern hospitality, all the better to enchant group travelers.
Vicksburg National Military Park
Called “the key” to Civil War victory by Abraham Lincoln, Vicksburg was the site of a bloody 47-day siege that changed the course of American history. Today, Vicksburg National Military Park is home to more than 1,400 beautifully crafted memorials and monuments that have earned it the well-deserved title “the largest outdoor art gallery in the world.” Other sights at the park include the restored U.S.S. Cairo, a Union gunboat that was torpedoed in the Yazoo River near Vicksburg during the war. Step-on guides are available, and groups may also schedule tours of the charming downtown.
GRAMMY Museum Mississippi
You might wonder why there’s a Grammy museum in the small town of Cleveland. Turns out more Grammy winners per capita come from Mississippi than any other state, and the town sits in the heart of the Delta, where the blues were born. There are plenty of nods to the influential genre in this 28,000-square-foot musical repository, as well as exhibits featuring Magnolia State greats like B.B. King, Elvis Presley and Muddy Waters. Specialized tours and expanded hours are available for groups.
People come from all over the world to visit Clarkdale, where legend has it Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for blues guitar mastery. Groups will want to check out the indispensable Delta Blues Museum, then enjoy some live music at places such as Bad Apple Blues Club or Ground Zero Blues Club, an establishment co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman that serves up Southern classics like fried catfish and pork barbeque. Red’s Lounge, perhaps the last remaining original juke joint in Mississippi, is a must. Private, off-hour concerts for tour groups can be arranged through Visit Clarksdale.
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
Tucked away within LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is a wonderfully wide-ranging attraction serving up a whopping 73,000 feet of exhibit space exploring the state’s flora and fauna. Highlights include a massive display of fossils, a 1,700-square-foot greenhouse and a 100,000-gallon aquarium network that’s home to more than 200 aquatic species. The museum offers plenty of special group tours and experiences, such as meeting some of the museum’s creepy critters, like alligators and snakes.
Up and Coming
The Mississippi Aquarium opened in Gulfport about 18 months ago. Set within a nearly six-acre campus, it offers indoor and outdoor habitats spread over 80,000 square feet. Residents in the one million gallons of water range from dolphins and otters to sharks and stingrays. Group visitors can opt for a number of thrilling adventures like the immersive SeaTREK Diving Experience; the Dolphin Encounter, which allows guests to touch and feed the mammals; and a 90-minute eco tour that sails around the harbor.
Civil War Museum
Opened in May 2021, the Vicksburg Civil War Museum is a true rarity: It might be the only privately held, Black-owned Civil War museum in the South. Filled with thousands of fascinating pieces of ephemera from the War between the States, it features everything from pistols and rifles to shells, uniforms, medical equipment, musical instruments and more. Some of the most poignant are the re-creation of an enslaved person’s quarters and the bill of sale for a 7-year-old girl named Ella. It’s all in the service, a sign near the front reads, of inspiring visitors “to want to become more educated” about the Civil War.
Groups can get a feel for life on the African plains with Hattiesburg Zoo’s new expansion, which has grown the attraction’s size by a massive 25%. The “Experience Africa” enhancement, which debuted in June 2021 to the tune of nearly $4 million, offers seven new buildings, including a restaurant and pavilion, as well as new animals like a hyena, two giraffes, colobus monkeys, chinchillas and boa constrictors. The zoo offers groups customizable experiences, such as animal encounters and behind-the-scenes tours.
B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
B.B. King now has a museum fit for royalty, thanks to the 4,500-square-foot expansion to the Indianola institution dedicated to him. The enlarged space, which opened June 2021, includes new displays featuring two of King’s cars and his tour bus. Located in Indianola, King’s hometown, the museum also offers groups the chance to see the last two iconic “Lucille” guitars, as well as King’s gravesite, contained in an upgraded pavilion. Check availability for catered group packages that feature lunch and a live blues performance.
Part of the boutique hotel brand with locations in a handful of college towns across the country, Graduate Oxford is very specific to Ole Miss and the charming burg in which the school is located. The expansive lobby is lined with vintage books (legendary author William Faulkner hailed from Oxford) and decorated in Southern-style seersucker and preppy pink. Groups will especially enjoy The Coop terrace lounge, a relaxing spot with craft cocktails that looks toward The Square, Oxford’s justifiably beloved historic heart.
Located in the hip enclave of Cleveland, the luxe-but-laidback Cotton House opened its doors less than three years ago. Named for the commodity still traded out of the city, the hotel offers groups goodies like an art collection inspired by the people and places of the Delta; spacious, beautifully appointed rooms with a modern flair; and two restaurants overseen by the Delta’s own James Beard-nominated chef, Cole Ellis. Bar Fontaine is the tonier of the two, specializing in small plates and house-made pasta, while Delta Meat Market serves more casual cuisine, like awe-inspiring sandwiches.
Beau Rivage Resort and Casino
If your group wants it, chances are they can get it at Beau Rivage. Standing tall on Biloxi’s Gulf Coast, the resort boasts a sumptuous spa; a 1,595-seat theater that welcomes huge headlining acts like Tony Bennett and Martina McBride, restaurants ranging from a sophisticated steakhouse to a downhome snack bar, thrilling shopping, a spectacular pool overlooking Mississippi Sound and even a celebrated 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course. And with 1,800 slot machines, a plush poker room and a premiere High Limit Lounge, plus craps, roulette, blackjack, baccarat and more, the fun for groups never stops.
The Crystal Grill
Family-owned for nearly nine decades, the Crystal Grill is a Greenwood institution. The eatery’s delectable pies have appeared on the Food Network and in Southern Living and People magazines. Groups will especially want to sample the lemon icebox, a local favorite, or the coconut creme, piled with “mile high” meringue. The restaurant serves steak, chicken and sandwiches, as well as pastas, but groups might want to order one of the Delta’s traditional dishes, such as the broiled shrimp fresh from the Gulf of Mexico, breaded pork cutlet or lemon pepper catfish.
Nissan Cafe by Nick Wallace
Group travelers can fill two needs with one deed by dining at Nissan Cafe. The restaurant, which offers “modern Mississippi” cuisines, sits inside Jackson’s Two Mississippi Museums, giving guests a chance to fuel up on exquisite fare when visiting the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Nissan Cafe is the brainchild of Nick Wallace, a lauded Magnolia State culinary artist who has appeared on Food Network programs including “Comfort Nation,” “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.” Groups will want to try stand-out dishes like shrimp and grits, made with gulf shrimp and pork belly, and Mississippi gumbo, sourced from regional ingredients such as Delta brown rice.
Perched prettily on The Square in Oxford, inside a former livery stable dating back to the Reconstruction, City Grocery is the first establishment opened by legitimate Southeast cooking sensation John Currence. Nominated for James Beard awards in 2005, 2007 and 2008, Currence has guided the restaurant to appearances on the covers of Food and Wine and Bon Appétit, while maintaining its feel of casual elegance. Carefully considered change is the name of the game here, with an always-evolving gallery of local artists on the brick walls, and menus that change every six weeks.