From ocean adventures and taking in views of the famed Natchez Trace Parkway to relaxing on miles of white-sand beaches, Mississippi is a dream destination for any type of traveler — and these four Mississippi towns make a fantastic home base for your next getaway. Once you’ve satisfied your spirit for adventure, each city also offers a unique variety of local shops, restaurants, roadside attractions, and more.
4 Small Mississippi Towns for Your Next Road Trip
For a Coastal Getaway: Gulfport
One of the best ways to experience the Mississippi Gulf Coast is to visit Gulfport. As Mississippi’s second-largest city, the town is known as a coastal getaway offering everything from pristine beaches and emerald green water to fishing, museums, and more.
Book a cruise with Ship Island Excursions to make the most of your beach adventure. For nearly 100 years, this ferry service has transported travelers around the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Running from March through October, the ferry drops travelers off on the north shore of Ship Island, where you can easily head to Fort Massachusetts, a historical landmark built after the War of 1812 that offers free guided tours. After your tour, spend the afternoon basking in the sun on the protected national seashore, where there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, shelling, and birding.
Of course, you can’t visit Gulfport without taking advantage of its fishing charters. Whether you’re an experienced angler or new to the fishing world, the Gulf Coast offers opportunities to catch anything from redfish to speckled trout, billfish, and beyond. Book a guided trip with companies like Fishing Frenzy Charters, 9-Ball Mississippi Fishing Charters, or Captain Ron’s Charters for a day full of fun and fish!
To experience even more of Gulfport’s unique marine life up close, visit Ocean Adventures Marine Park. Located inside the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies — a nonprofit research organization — guests can enjoy excursions with sea animals, snorkeling opportunities, and behind-the-scenes tours with staff members. Other family-friendly Gulfport attractions include the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, the Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum, and Gulf Islands Waterpark.
To Embrace Mississippi’s Culture: Oxford
Oxford offers something for everyone, whether you’re a foodie, an avid hiker, or a history buff. Often called the “cultural mecca of the South,” this is a small town steeped in history, charm, and creativity.
Oxford is the perfect place to set up shop, offering cozy bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels for weary travelers to rest. The Z Bed & Breakfast is located in South Lamar and within walking distance of Rowan Oak, Ole Miss, and The Square. If you prefer to be closer to the hustle and bustle, we recommend staying at the local Graduate hotel, which is decorated from top to bottom in Ole Miss paraphernalia and offers an on-site coffee shop, a restaurant, and a rooftop bar. Other standout lodging options include Castle Hill Resort, Chancellor’s House, and The Inn at Ole Miss.
Be sure to also take full advantage of Oxford’s diverse culinary scene. For a casual meal near The Square, head to Ajax Diner. An Oxford staple for over 20 years, the diner serves everything from chicken and dumplings to classic casseroles, po’boys, catfish, and more. Taylor Grocery is another can’t-miss hotspot. With the tagline “eat or we both starve,” the restaurant is known for its delicious catfish (served fried, grilled, and blackened) and live music. Other popular destinations include Ravine, McEwen’s, and Saint Leo.
Once you’ve filled up on food, you can burn off some calories by exploring the streets of Oxford. From touring the home of William Faulkner at Rowan Oak to perusing the shops and boutiques at The Square, there is plenty to do and see. Other activities include exploring markers along the Mississippi Blues Trail, paying a visit to the Civil Rights Monument, and exploring any of the local parks.
For an Outdoor Adventure: Natchez
We’d be remiss not to include “the birthplace of Mississippi” on this list. Not only is Natchez the oldest town on the Mississippi River, but it’s filled with so many opportunities to embark on your next great adventure! After all, it is the namesake for the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The 444-mile scenic road is home to some pretty spectacular sights, including the Cypress Swamp. The swamp’s loop trail is perfect for both beginner and experienced hikers, as it includes a wooden footbridge and breathtaking views of trees like black willows, sycamores, and red maples. The Homochitto National Forest is also perfect for hiking, offering plenty of trails and nearby creeks for travelers to explore. Located 10 miles south of Natchez, the St. Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge is the perfect opportunity to experience Natchez’s unique wildlife, offering fishing, hunting, bird watching, and hiking.
For a more leisurely stroll, pay a visit to Longwood, a historical mansion known for its unique architecture, including its octagon shape and byzantine onion-shaped dome. Also referred to as “Nutt’s Folly,” the historic landmark was designed in 1859 by architect Samuel Sloan for cotton planter Dr. Haller Nutt and his wife. Today, visitors can tour the mansion and its original furnishings and explore the beautiful walking grounds through Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.
To truly embrace Natchez’s rich history and culture, book an adventure on one of Miss-Lou Tour’s 12 excursions. A few standout tours include a ferry ride across the Mississippi River, tours of the city’s “odd treasures” like the Devil’s Punch Bowl, and a lunch tour that visits some of the town’s tastiest restaurants. Tours range from three to five hours and begin at $79 per person.
For a Bit of Everything: Ridgeland
If you’re looking for a town full of activities for everyone, plan a trip to Ridgeland. Also located along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, the city offers everything from water-related fun and delicious food to shopping and relaxation.
As a waterfront town, it’s no surprise Ridgeland is bursting with opportunities to get out on the water. Located along the shore of the Barnett Reservoir (also known as “The Rez”), travelers can enjoy all kinds of activities including boating, fishing, and water sports. A handful of local businesses offer rentals of everything you need for a day out on the water. Main Harbor Store offers pontoon rentals, or you can rent a kayak from Pearl River Kayaks.
If you prefer to stay on land, don’t fret! Ridgeland offers 35 miles of hiking and biking trails. A perfect option for beginners and seasoned bikers, the Chisha Foka Multi-Use Trail is over 14 miles long and spans from Harbor Drive to Rice Road to Highland Colony Parkway. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to stop at local shops and businesses along the way. For more seasoned bikers, Ridgeland also offers 10 miles of singletrack mountain bike trails.
No trip to Ridgeland is complete without exploring the city’s Retail Trail! Offering everything from independently owned boutiques to The Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi and multiple shopping centers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Favorite boutiques among locals include shoe haven Arco Avenue, Libby Story for stylish apparel, and Kinkade’s Fine Clothing for men. Ridgeland shopping centers include Northpark Mall, Renaissance at Colony Park, and Township at Highland Colony.
Here’s to a summer full of adventure!
This article is sponsored by Visit Mississippi. All photography provided.