In 1935 Elvis Aaron Presley was born in a tiny two-room house on the edge of town in Tupelo, Mississippi. Not surprisingly, the birthplace of the King of Rock and Roll is a main attraction for the Northern Mississippi city, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit Tupelo, too, especially in summer. From June to September, Tupelo activities abound, including the Down on Main concert series, a thriving food and retail scene and, of course, the Elvis Festival. So, if you’ve ever considered taking a trip to Tupelo, we urge you to take the King’s advice: “Never wait for tomorrow. What if tomorrow never comes?” Here, we’ve got the scoop for your summer visit to Tupelo, Mississippi.
Getting to Tupelo
If you hop on the Natchez Trace Parkway just outside of Nashville on I-40 West, you’ll learn of this Southern region’s history and enjoy a most scenic drive to Tupelo. But, we won’t lie. It’s a long haul, as the trace’s speed limit is 50 miles per hour. For when time is of the essence, Contour Airlines offers a special jet service from Nashville; it’s a quick, 45-minute flight that won’t break the bank ($19-$79). Regardless of the mode of transportation, however, once you see that vintage neon arrow sign pointing you to the heart of the city, you’ll feel the energy firsthand. Jennie Bradford Curlee of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau explains, “We were the first city to receive TVA power, and the sign proudly marks the spot.” Upon arrival, stop into the Tupelo Visitors Center to experience their interactive exhibits and timeline of Tupelo’s history to prepare you for your time in the town!
Food and Fun in Tupelo, Mississippi
To kick off the summer’s event lineup, the 21st Annual Tupelo Elvis Festival happens June 5-9 in the historic Fairpark downtown. This is the site where Elvis first competed as a young musician and barely even placed. These days, Elvis Tribute Artists travel from far and near to compete for bragging rights as well as a host of prizes, including $5,000 and a guitar from Tupelo Hardware Company — the same place where Elvis got his very first guitar.
Fairpark also hosts the Down on Main concert series every third Thursday evening July through September. The free, family-friendly live shows are a fantastic way to savor the flavor of this vibrant Southern community while dancing the night away. And speaking of flavor, the culinary options in Tupelo are abundant with more than 160 restaurants featuring emerging, but crazy-talented, chefs.
“Neon Pig has the Smash Burger,” Jennie Bradford explains. “They are an old school butcher shop, and the smash grind is made from aged Lilet, New York strip and Benton’s bacon.” She also recommends Clay’s House of Pig (C.H.O.P.), a barbecue joint housed in a bait and tackle shop. “Their signature dish is the Barbecue Tater,” Jennie Bradford says. “Get the half order if it’s just for you.”
For fine dining, look no further than Park Heights. Located across from Fairpark, the eclectic menu features tons of local produce and the rooftop is the best place to gain a new perspective of downtown. And, if you feel your temperature rising, PoPsy is a popsicle shop fit for the King of Cool himself. To wash it all down try Queen’s Reward Meadery — Mississippi’s first Meadery. Located in West Tupelo near the Natchez Trace, the bees’ honey comes from nearby cotton crops.
The Natchez Trace is the biggest draw in the area for outdoor enthusiasts, as it’s headquartered in Tupelo. But, if you prefer working off all those good eats and soaking up a little living history in town, Jennie Bradford suggests the Elvis’ Tupelo Self-Guided Bicycle Tour. The tour features 13 stops, including his birthplace, which sits on a 15-acre site along with a park and the church Elvis attended as a boy. It’s free, and there is an online map you can download here. Don’t have a bike? Trails and Treads will hook you up with a rental. You can also drive this tour, which will take you to places like Tupelo Hardware and Johnnie’s Drive-In, Tupelo’s oldest restaurant. You can even sit in the booth that Elvis sat in at Johnnie’s.
Want to bring home a little piece of Tupelo? Visit The Caron Gallery for keepsakes crafted by Mississippi artisans. “They bring in artists to show their processes at wine dinners that Park Heights caters family-style,” Jennie Bradford explains. “The next one is in July. They also offer a subscription service called ‘My Mississippi Art Box‘ which is a fun way to collect art.” Jennie Bradford also recommends perusing the three Tupelo shopping districts — Barnes Crossing, Midtown and Downtown.
You’ll definitely hear your fair share of Elvis tunes in Tupelo, but there’s plenty of other music to groove to. In fact, the word itself comes from the Native American word Tuh Pu Lah, which means to scream and make a loud noise – fitting for this music scene. “We have 11 live music venues, from the 10,000 seat Bancorp South Arena to The Blue Canoe that’s a local juke joint,” Jennie Bradford explains. From Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark, Jr. to the numerous local acts, you’re sure to find something to make a loud noise about.
In a world full of conflict these days, something tells us Elvis would have suggested: “A little less fight and a little more spark, close your mouth and open your heart.” So go ahead. Pay Tupelo a visit this summer, and you’ll undoubtedly experience some “love me tender” good times.
This article is sponsored by Tupelo, Mississippi.
For more travel tips and guides, find our archive HERE.