I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
September 4, 2019
Looking for all the best things to do in Tupelo, Mississippi? Whether you’re taking a Tupelo family vacation or planning a weekend getaway with your partner or friends, this list has got you covered! From restaurants to shopping to local attractions, it’s all here — Prepare for a sweet, Southern vacation you’ll never forget!
In my mind, the word ‘Tupelo’ is synonymous with cotton fields and sleeping porches, cardboard fans and sweet tea and biscuits — and a young Elvis Presley, barefoot and sunburned and learning to play his first guitar. Tupelo’s proximity to the Natchez Trace Parkway (not to mention its frequent mentions in Southern Living) has had me dreaming for years of making the drive from Nashville — and when we finally ventured there this past summer, the city did not disappoint.
Beyond its reputation as Elvis’s birthplace, a visit to Tupelo will make you remember how it feels to slow down and savor the moment — and if you appreciate good Southern food, this town is a paradise for your palate. Tupelo is a fabulous weekend getaway destination, and if you use this curated guide featuring all the best Tupelo has to offer, I can promise you a vacation every bit as sweet as the town’s legendary honey.
You don’t have to take the Natchez Trace Parkway to get to Tupelo, but the route will definitely make your trip a whole lot more fun. It takes about 3 1/2 hours to drive the Parkway from Nashville to Tupelo without stopping — but you’ll want to make time for a few stops along the way.
An hour’s drive from Nashville on the Trace, Fall Hollow at milepost 391.9 is definitely worth a stop. A very short walk on a paved trail takes you to an observation deck, where you’ll see an impressive waterfall below — but the real fun begins when you continue down the dirt trail just past the deck. The path is steep and it is rocky so you’ll want to be careful, but it is also very short, so as long as you’re all wearing good walking shoes, everyone in your family should be able to make it. The trail winds past several more smaller waterfalls, ending at a larger one that pours into a perfect family wading pool. We love this secret spot.
I strongly suggest you exit the Parkway at milepost 370 for a stop at The Dragonfly, a wonderful coffeeshop and bakery in the tiny town of Collinwood, TN. Everything we tried here was absolutely delicious and I can personally recommend the Ferrero Rocher mocha, the hot buttered caramel mocha, and the candied orange soda. YUM. Oatmeal cream pie cookies are their top seller and when you taste one, you’ll understand why! While you’re there, you can also shop for arts and crafts, antiques and fun gifts.
At milepost 330.2, you’ll find a half-mile loop trail at Rock Spring, and this is another worthwhile stop. The scenery here is absolutely beautiful, the water bubbling from a natural spring is crystal clear, and this fun stepping stone bridge makes for fantastic family photos. Time it right and you might even get to see thousands of hummingbirds here — Rock Spring is a resting place for them during their annual fall migration!
Not far from Tupelo at milepost 286.7, you’ll reach Pharr Mounds, the largest and most important archaeological site in northern Mississippi. It consists of eight American Indian burial mounds, all constructed between 1 and 200 A.D., and you can see several of them from the roadside. Pharr Mounds has a nice, shady picnic area and we stopped here for a lunch we’d brought from home.
There are more great stops along the way — I couldn’t list them all here, but I did in another post. Here are all my favorite Natchez Trace Parkway stops on the way to Tupelo.
If you’re coming to Tupelo, you’d best love Elvis. He was born and raised here, and Tupelo will never, ever let you forget it. Elvis is inescapable; he haunts this city and pops out when you least expect it — in parks, on the sides of buildings, in restaurants, shops, and schools — You name it, The King is there. If you’re looking for your Elvis fix, here are all the best spots to get it, plus some unexpected points of interest you’re going to love.
Consider Elvis Presley’s birthplace a non-negotiable item on any Tupelo itinerary. Here, you’ll find his birthplace and first church, as well as a small museum chock full of memorabilia and a theater featuring a documentary about Elvis’s life. You can tour the grounds for free but to get inside any of the buildings, you’ll need a ticket– The cost varies depending on whether you want to visit the museum, home, and church or choose from just one or two of the three options. Although I’m not much of an Elvis fan, I do love American history and I was fascinated by his tiny two-room home. Meanwhile, my husband really enjoyed the museum. I think you can skip the church if you’re trying to save money, although we liked attending the old-timey virtual service there. If you’re traveling with kids, I can guarantee they won’t want to spend much time here, but it does help that much of the story here covers Elvis’s childhood. Be sure and look for Elvis’s gradeschool report card in the museum — Turns out academics were not his forte.
This fabulous Elvis Homecoming Statue is the centerpiece of Fairpark, a small city park in the heart of Tupelo and it’s hands down my favorite Elvis sighting in town. Not only does the statue make for a memorable photo op, but the park also contains a playground and splashpad for kids. Total. Win.
When I think of Tupelo, I think of its charming and historic downtown. Unless you’re visiting during a festival or special event, Tupelo’s sleepy business district has a Mayberry vibe that’s incredibly appealing to this big city girl.
My favorite store here has to be Reed’s Department Store, which has been open since 1905 and still retains the sprawling turn-of-the century feel of an old-fashioned, full-service department store. Here, you’ll find men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and accessories, as well as a bookstore and gift shop.
Tupelo Hardware is another landmark downtown site — It’s where Elvis bought his first guitar and from the looks of things, the decor hasn’t much changed since he entered through its doors for the first time. If you want to make like Elvis, you can buy a guitar here, too!
The Caron Gallery features nearly 50 different artists, all from the state of Mississippi. If you’re like us, you’d rather spend your souvenir money on something memorable that’s going to last a liftetime — We’ve bought plenty of local art during our travels and this is definitely the place to do it in Tupelo.
While you’re downtown, don’t forget to take pictures at the iconic Greetings from Tupelo mural at 202 W. Main Street. Direct sunlight during the afternoon hours creates unappealing shadows on the mural, so I recommend you get your shots sometime around sunset, when the warm golden light makes everything downtown look magical.
Tupelo isn’t exactly known for its buffalo, but I think it should be. The VIP Tour (it costs $10 per person) at the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo was our absolute favorite experience of the trip! It’s so much fun that I think anyone would enjoy it, no matter the age — A guide will take your group out on ‘safari,’ for an hour-long ride in a covered all-terrain vehicle, allowing you to get very up close and personal with buffalo, zebras, yaks, emus, and more. We got to see a brand new baby zebra and I actually got licked by a buffalo! It was seriously so much fun and we got some really amazing pictures and videos. Do note that the zoo itself is very small and most of the animals you’ll see on the VIP Tour are out grazing on the park property and can’t be seen from the zoo, so I wouldn’t plan a visit here unless you’re doing the VIP tour.
Looking for a shopping experience that everyone in your party can enjoy? In that case, you definitely don’t want to miss Relics Antique Marketplace. Located inside the gigantic former Tupelo Garment Company (where Elvis’s mother worked while he was still in the womb, FYI!), this airy factory building has 16,000 square feet of browsing space and more than 120 booths. There is literally something for everyone here and every budget, and that’s just the way owners Tony and Heather Palmer planned it.
Come here to learn everything there is to know about the Natchez Trace Parkway. A ranger is generally on hand to answer all your questions and there are often special events going on here as well — We came just in time to see a performance from about 30 dulcimer players! Several Parkway points of interest are within easy driving distance of downtown Tupelo, including the Chickasaw Village site, a mysterious row of Confederate graves, and the Pharr Mounds, which I mentioned earlier in this post.
We’re always up for a good farmers’ market when we travel and in Tupelo, the downtown Farmers’ Depot happens May through October on Tuesdays from 3pm until 6pm and Saturdays from 6am until 12pm. Vendors here sell everything from local produce to baked goods and flowers, and cooking demonstrations and children’s activities are also scheduled, as well as live music on the first Saturday of each month.
Tishomingo State Park is a little under an hour’s drive from Tupelo and it tops my list of places to go the next time we visit Tupelo. The park’s 3.6 mile Bear Creek Outcropping Trail, is a favorite here — It’s a loop trail that features a swinging bridge, a waterfall, springs, and rock outcroppings with caves once inhabited by the Chickasaw people. Even better, the park offers a ranger-led daily Bear Creek canoe float between April and October that takes about three hours to complete. Advance reservations are required.
Got little ones? Then you’ll definitely want to make time for Healthworks! Kids Museum while you’re visiting Tupelo. Kids up to about age 10 will find plenty of fun and games inside this museum devoted to health and the human body, including the world’s largest fiberglass teeth, a climbing wall, and tons of activities and games promoting physical movement. Although my kids were a little old for this place, we all had fun here and my 12-year-old didn’t want to leave!
You may come to Tupelo for an Elvis encounter, but trust me when I tell you you’ll stay for the food. In my opinion, the restaurants are the number one draw here — Tupelonians are serious about their meals and it most definitely shows! Even better, the best restaurants here are casual and generally inexpensive — Kids are welcome and you don’t have to worry about looking fancy.
Hello and welcome to what’s now one of my favorite restaurants in the entire United States. Located in a strip mall, you’d never guess that this butcher shop/restaurant is home to a burger that’s been voted the best in America. It’s called the Smash Burger and it’s made with a house grind that includes Benton’s bacon, aged filet, sirloin, ribeye, and New York, served on a ciabatta bun with cheddar cheese, pickled onion, hoisin and comeback sauce. That’s the long way of saying the burger at Neon Pig is OUT OF THIS WORLD. And while we went crazy for the burger, we honestly loved our pork belly bun just as much. All this plus a $4 kids menu?
Pretty much everyone in Tupelo loves Connie’s Fried Chicken — Known for its crispy fried chicken and delicious biscuits, the real star here is the blueberry donuts. They are insanely, fantastically, impossibly good and I must have them now every single time I come to Tupelo. Bonus points go to Connie’s for being a great place to get an inexpensive breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
This downtown hotspot has a relaxed sense of style that makes it a perfect spot for a date night — although children are welcome if you’ve got ’em. You’ll want to sit upstairs at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen if you can — that’s where the locals go — and you’ll also want to order Kermit’s phenomenal wood-grilled gulf oysters. You can’t go wrong ordering anything on this menu, though — Much of the produce and meat is locally sourced, which explains why it all tastes so good! The $6 kids’ menu includes an entree, fries, and a drink for $6. Be sure and get a picture of the Elvis mural on the side of the building before your meal — It’s my second-favorite mural in Tupelo.
No visit to Tupelo is complete without a visit to Tupelo’s oldest restaurant: Johnnie’s Drive-In. From the looks of things, very little has changed since this burger joint opened in 1945. It was young Elvis Presley’s favorite restaurant — Today, you can sit in his favorite booth, beneath a photo of Elvis sitting in the very same spot. But there’s more to this diner than nostalgia.
We loved Johnnie’s famous doughburgers — Known elsewhere in Mississippi as a slugburger (because during the Depression Era, these burgers were sold for a nickel, or a ‘slug’), the ground beef is mixed with a little flour to cut costs. It makes the patty a little crispier, which is absolutely not a problem for me! We went crazy for the delicious funnel cake fries here as well, but I think my favorite thing about Johnnie’s was the prices — $1.35 for a doughburger? $1.35 for an order of fries? This may have been our cheapest vacation meal ever!
Looking for healthier fare? Try Cafe 212, a cozy coffee shop and restaurant that’s a perfect place for lunch. Famous for its chicken salads (one is sweet, one is savory) and grilled white cheddar pimento cheese sandwich, Cafe 212 gets fantastic reviews from patrons who also love its Elvis-inspired meals like the banana, peanut butter and honey grilled sandwich. Cafe 212 is downtown, making it a great place to stop for lunch or a cup of coffee while you’re out shopping. Do note that Cafe 212 closes at 2pm.
Whether you’re looking for a hot cup of coffee or an ice-cold treat, Tupelo’s got you covered. This town takes its treats seriously, as you can see for yourself below.
I’m of the humble opinion that stopping in at PoPsy is an absolute requirement when you’re tootling around downtown Tupelo. Yeah, I said it. TOOTLING. Featuring popsicles made with fresh fruit, organic sweeteners, and locally-sourced ingredients, PoPsy is the perfect way to cool off on a sultry southern day. But while the popsicles are delicious, owner Misty Coleman’s new smoothie bowls are what’s really getting the attention of locals. Smoothie bowls are essentially thicker smoothies, eaten with a spoon instead of a straw, and the best-selling bowl now at PoPsy is the Acai, which includes acai berries, blueberries, green apples, bananas, strawberries, granola, and almond butter. I WANT.
In all my travels, I’ve never before found a dessert place with a more appropriate name. As I write about Crave, I am busy CRAVING this downtown Tupelo cafe — and I know I’m not alone because every time we went here during our Tupelo stay (yes, we went multiple times), the place was packed. Looking for a salted caramel brownie cheesecake with Heath Bar crumbles? Or maybe an Oreo Avalanche? How about the greatest skillet cookie known to mankind? Crave’s got it all, as well as hand-crafted coffee drinks and breakfast to boot. Crave is also open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, making it a perfect after-dinner (or after-drinks) place to end the night.
Need a coffee fix? Look no farther than Strange Brew, Tupelo’s coolest coffee shop. Housed in a former gas station, Strange Brew attracts a diverse clientele, from moms with young kids in tow to young business professionals to retired couples. The coffee here is very good and the inventive baked goods are a real treat as well. Best of all, it’s open all day, every day, from 6am to 10pm during the week and until midnight on weekends. Oh, and while you’re there, take note of the elementary school next door — It’s where a little Elvis used to go to class. I’m telling you, man, The King is everywhere.
Honestly, Tupelo isn’t a big drinking town. This is a place, after all, where pretty much everything completely shuts down on Sundays, BECAUSE CHURCH. That said, if you’re looking for the best places in town to throw a few back, hear live music, or try something new, here are some great options.
Wondering where the party’s at after dark in Tupelo? Look no further than Blue Canoe. This self-described ‘laid-back, funky joint’ offers live music several nights a week, more than 100 beers including 35 on tap, and a surprisingly excellent dinner menu. Favorites here include the Crack Dip fries (which are, indeed, addictive), the Neon Pig’s famous Smash Burger, and two different bread puddings that food reviewers swoon over. One is made from Connie’s delicious blueberry donuts (and is a 3-time winner of best dessert in Mississippi), but several locals swore to us that Blue Canoe’s traditional bread pudding is even better. Sadly, I couldn’t put the two to the test — Our waiter told us that from the moment the place opens at 3pm, nearly everyone who comes in orders the bread pudding — and they generally sell out very early in the evening. We’ll just have to go back!
Kids are welcome here, but I recommend that if you’re bringing little ones, you have an early dinner before the music starts. There’s definitely a bar atmosphere at night and the live music is LOUD.
This downtown watering hole was always hopping during our stay in Tupelo — so much so that we opted for a slightly quieter bar (see below). But if you’re looking for a dive-y late night spot where anything could happen, The Thirsty Devil is the bar for you. Do note that you’re not coming here for hand-crafted cocktails and James Beard Award-winning food — You’re here for the raucous crowd.
Built inside an actual turn-of-the-century stable that once housed the city’s work horses, I loved The Stables for its history (the bar’s photos of the stables taken over a hundred years ago show you just how little the inside has changed since then) and for the local-heavy crowd — Judging from the number of uniforms, it definitely looked like the bar/restaurant of choice for Tupelonians after a long day on the job. When the weather’s nice, the alley outside is very popular as well. We thought it was a perfect spot for a quick after-dinner (or before dinner! Or both!) drink downtown.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of a glass of mead, you owe it to yourself to try this deliciously sweet fermented beverage, made from honey, water, and yeast. You’ll find Mississippi’s first meadery in West Tupelo, made with local honey from bees that pollinate around the nearby cotton crops. The result, one local told us, is fabulous. Attend a tasting at Queen’s Reward Meadery and discover whether you prefer a sweet or dry mead. My guess is that you’ll choose… both!
You’ll find most of the basic chain hotels in Tupelo, and there’s certainly one to suit every budget. That said, here are two I’d definitely recommend.
We loved staying at this brand new Holiday Inn near downtown Tupelo — Honestly, I’ll stay anywhere as long as it’s super-clean and this hotel definitely delivered on that front. Beyond that, the beds were comfortable and there were lots of pillows (a big deal when you’re staying four to a room), our room had a mini-refrigerator (SCORE!), and there was an all-day coffee station in the lobby (major bonus points), as well as an indoor pool and large-ish fitness room. The hotel also has a surprisingly popular restaurant and bar. Basically, you can’t go wrong if you book a room here.
Want to stay in the center of everything? Opt for the Hilton Garden Inn, which is in walking distance of plenty of downtown Tupelo’s restaurants and shops. You can book a room or a suite at this Hilton — It also has an indoor pool, fitness center, and full-service restaurant.
Got questions or suggestions of your own? Leave them in the comments!
Thanks to the Tupelo CVB for hosting our stay!