Jackson, Mississippi, also known as America’s ‘City with Soul’ is the capital of Mississippi one of the most underrated cities in the US – what may seem at first glance as a quiet southern town is actually a place that boasts amazing gastronomy, a unique history and a bustling Blues music scene. What to see and do in Jackson, Mississippi, the city with soul!
In order to discover the best of what to see and do in Jackson, I spent five unforgettable days exploring the city in partnership with Visit Jackson MS.
During my time there I was blown away, especially by the food scene. Without further ado, here is our travel guide to Jackson, Mississippi!
What to See and Do
Jackson, Mississippi is famous for being the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Throughout the city you’ll find plenty of historic sites, plus some awesome activities I recommend you check out.
Mississippi State Capitol
The Mississippi State Capitol building was constructed in 1903 and houses the Mississippi Legislature. It was built in Beaux-Arts architectural style, with white marble and eight large columns made out of ornamental Scagliola marble.
The Mississippi State Capitol building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, designated a Mississippi Landmark in 1986, and eventually became a National Historic Landmark in 2016. I recommend passing by to capture a few some images. There is nothing more representative of a state capital then the grandiosity of its Capitol building, and this one is quite impressive.
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a must visit when in Jackson! Its mission is the promote a greater understanding of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and its impact by highlighting the strength and sacrifices of black Mississippianas in their fight for equality. The museum itself is fairly new, recently opening its doors on December 9th, 2017.
The museum holds eight galleries, each one documenting a different piece of Mississippi’s Civil Rights history. The third gallery, ‘This Little Light of Mine’ is situated in the heart of the museum. Here, a sculpture honors the Civil Rights activists by allowing visitors to gather and interact with the sculpture by adding their own “light” – it shines brighter and the music grows stronger as more visitors gather.
This is a very real and graphic museum, which serves as an invaluable way to educate the public about the state of Mississippi had to go through/ is going through to eradicate segregation and gain equal rights. A visit to this museum is a must! The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 9am – 5pm and Sundays 1pm-5pm (closed Mondays). Admission is $8.
Although not open to the public, I had to mention this amazing record label with a special history tied to Jackson. Malaco Records is an independent American record label with the largest collection of blues and gospel music in the world. Several blues and gospel acts recorded albums here: Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland, Z. Z. Hill, Denise LaSalle, Benny Latimore, Dorothy Moore, Little Milton, Shirley Brown, Marvin Seas, Mississippi Mass Choir and more.
What started off as a small recording studio in 1967, became the dominant Southern R&B label in the country, eventually becoming a leader in recording, marketing and distribution of blues, gospel, jazz, Christian, urban and soul music. It received the honor of being a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Farish Street is a historic neighborhood that was once a flourishing black-owned business district under Jim Crow segregation laws. It’s considered the second most important black neighborhood in America, after Harlem in New York. For this, it was nichnamed “Little Harlem” and eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the most unique things about Farish Street is the Big Apple Inn. This quaint sandwich shop serves some of the best pig ear and smoked sandwiches in the south. I personally loved the smoked pig ear sandwich. It reminded me of chewy bacon – definitely not your everyday flavor.
The Alamos Theatre is a historic theatre dating back to 1942 and seats up to 406 people. The theatre screened western and African-American films and also hosted acts and performing artists such as Nat King Cole, B.B. King and other chart-topping acts.
Smith Robertson Museum
Before the new Civil Rights Museum opened in late 2017, the Smith Robertson Museum served as Jackscon’s main Civil Rights Museum. It still holds multiple exhibits depicting different eras of Mississippi’s African-American history to raise public awareness of their cultural and historical experiences.
The museum exhibits tell a story that starts by showcasing what life was like for slaves forced to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to America from 1670 to 1864, eventually leading into the Civil Rights Movement and how it unfolded in Mississippi. The goal of the museum is to give you a better understanding of the African-American experience in the deep south while still celebrating their contributions to our country.
Medgar Evers House
Most people may not know who Medgar Evers was. I personally didn’t know who he was prior to this trip. He was considered ‘Mississippi’s Martin Luther King.’ Medgar Evers was the state field secretary of Mississippi for the NAACP and an African-American Civil Rights activist that fought to end segregation of public facilities.
On June 11, 1963 Medgar Evers was murdered in front of his home by KKK member and white supremacist, Byron de la Beckwith. Evers’ home is now owned by Tougaloo College and has been restored for tours by appointment only. The curator of the house gave us a history lesson on Medgar Evers’ life and took us through the house to see how he and his family lived in those times.
Jacksonians love their music! Fondren Guitars is a one-stop shop for anything and everything music. I had the opportunity to visit and have the owner Patrick give me a private guitar lesson. They are also known as Fondren School of Music – Jackson’s #1 Music Lesson program offering specialties for all ages and levels in guitar, bass, drums, piano, voice and ukulele. They also sell some incredible guitars!
Fondren after Five
Fondren after Five is a block party that is held on the every first Thursday of the month in the Downtown Fondren Historic District. It’s a neighborhood open house with live music, beer and food. Basically, a great way to experience Jackson by night.
All of the restaurants and shops stay open late and they also have a several galleries open to the public. It’s a really cool neighborhood with some of the best restaurants in Jackson.
Pearl River Kayaking
The Pearl River runs through Mississippi and Louisiana, stretching 444 miles. I met up with Angi, the owner of Pearl River Kayaks for a 30-minute kayaking tour of the river.
Pearl River Kayaking made it as easy as possible for me to kayak on the Pearl River, which runs directly through Jackson. You can go out for just 30 minutes, or all day – it really depends what you want. The offer scenic group tours, bird watching, fishing trips and kid-friendly tours. It’s always nice to get out of the city and experience nature whenever possible.
Lucky Town Brewery
Lucky Town Brewing is Jackson’s only craft brewery. Since opening in 2012, they’ve produced some amazing craft beers. I sampled their Blonde, Pub Ale, Dry Irish Stout, Hop Fiasco, Flare Incidental and a Cizer, a blend of honey and apples!
The tap room is open every Thursday 4 – 8pm, Friday 4 – 10pm and Saturday 1 – 8pm. I personally love craft beers and I was blown away with the selection and quality of their brews. They also ferment beer in bourbon barrels. If you love beer and you’re in Jackson make sure to visit Lucky Town Brewery!
Cathead Distillery first opened in 2010, becoming the first legal distillery to open in Mississippi since the prohibition era. They are located in Downtown Jackson on South Farish Street. Cathead currently has six products: three vodkas, two gins and a hoodoo chicory liqueur.
On my tour I learned that the process to make vodka is similar to making beer, the one difference is that they have a distillation process. It goes from mash, to fermentation, then to distil and then into barrels. You can only try 4 of their products (by Mississippi law) so choose wisely!
Where to Eat
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jackson is a foodie paradise! From sweet and savory chicken and waffles, to gourmet seafood, and heavenly soul food, there’s something for everyone! As you’ll see from the list below, I did A LOT of eating during my trip. A piece of advice: forget your diet while in Jackson because it would be a crime to miss out on these great restaurants.
The Mayflower Café was established in 1935 by a Greek Family, so it’s no wonder why its Greek-inspired menu of seafood and steaks make it one of the longest running businesses in Downtown Jackson. It’s basically a landmark in Downtown Jackson.
The Mayflower is famous for its seafood, so I had to start with the gumbo. We got some onion rings to dip into their infamous comeback sauce and it was out of control! If you didn’t know, it’s called comeback sauce because it will make you want to come back! I decided on the Red Fish Jane for my main course, which has broiled oysters, shrimp and red fish. The Mayflower’s inviting atmosphere and delectable menu was a real highlight of my trip. Note: they don’t serve wine but you are allowed to bring your own.
Sugar’s Place is also located in Downtown Jackson and is famous for its chicken and waffles, although they also have burgers, po-boys, daily lunch specials, salads and breakfast items. You can order the chicken and waffles with wings or with tenders. What makes their waffles so delicious is the batter, which they mix with special blend of spices.
I decided to go with the chicken tenders so that I could pour syrup all over it and mix it with the waffles without having to fuss with any bones. I absolutely loved this dish! It really is something amazing, very sweet and very salty. Definitely not for those on a diet! I still dream of them.
CS’s is a famous burger joint serving up some of the city’s juiciest patties. The interior of the restaurant is simple and casual – walls covered in political candidate bumper stickers and Mississippi memorabilia. It’s not a large restaurant, but the menu offers home style foods like mac and cheese, fried okra, cheese fries and pot roast, just to name a few.
We decided to go with some onion rings with comeback sauce. If you didn’t know, every restaurant in Jackson has their own version of the comeback sauce. We got two burgers, the mushroom with Swiss cheese and gravy, as well as a place cheeseburger. They were both delicious and really inexpensive for how good they were.
Johnny T’s Bistro & Blues
Johnny T’s is located on Farish Street in what was once the Crystal Palace – a club where some of the greatest musicians, like Sammy Davis JR and Red Fox, played. They have a restaurant with live music twice a week (Wednesday and Friday) and they also have a club upstairs, the 540 Ultra Lounge.
Johnny T’s menu features classic and gourmet southern-style cuisine. We tried Shrimp and Toast, Shrimp and Grits, Lamb Chops, Chicken Cajun Pasta and Chicken Wings! My personal favorite was the Shrimp and Grits (sautéed gulf shrimp, andouille sausage, grilled green onions, mushrooms, cheddar grits, topped with crawfish cream sauce).
Iron Horse Grill
The Iron Horse Grill is restaurant-museum located on the edge of Downtown Jackson and was mysteriously burned down twice! 15 years after the last flames were put out, they brought it back out of the ashes and back to life like never before. The restaurant portion is downstairs, and upstairs there is a small wax museum honoring all the musicians of the state of Mississippi.
I tried two different dishes at the restaurant – the Soul Train Hot Wings, which were so good but they were out of control spicy. I also went with the BBQ Ribs because they were recommended by my server. I love the barbecue sauce they use. The menu also features charcoal grilled fajitas, catfish dishes, tacos, burgers, salads and fixins like cheese grits and garlic mashed potatoes.
If you’re looking to try authentic soul food in Jackson, Mississippi then you have to head over to Bully’s Restaurant. This laid-back restaurant opened its doors in 1982 and they serve some of the best soul food in the state. You can either pick up to-go or dine in.
I went with classics – Fried Catfish, Collard Greens, Squash and Pork Neck bones. The fried catfish was so tender and the pork neck bone was something I had never tried and it was full of delicious meat. To end the meal, I had some heavenly peach cobbler. Bully’s is open Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 6:30 pm.
Brent’s Drugs was a pharmacy and soda fountain that opened in 1946, eventually expanding into a full-service restaurant in 2009. They have been a staple in Fondren since the 1940s. To this day, it’s a family-friendly place where you can get shakes, sundaes, floats and pies in addition to breakfast and lunch.
I went to Brent’s for breakfast one day and decided on the buttermilk pancakes, cheese grits and the chicken biscuit. I also had some of their famous egg and onion salad, which is to die for.
Saltine Oyster Bar
Across the street from Brent’s Drugs is the more upscale Saltine Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant and raw bar serving up some of the best southern-style seafood in Jackson. It’s a modern oyster bar with a beach vibe and they also have a great bar. It’s located in an old school dating back to the 1920s.
I had to go with some gulf coast oysters. Then I tried their Gulf Shrimp and Grits with tomatoes, kale, and goat cheese (amazing) and a refreshing key lime tart.
Pig and Pint
A one block walk from Saltine is Pig and Pint BBQ, a restaurant that promises to take your BBQ experience to the next level, and they DO NOT disappoint. They put a twist on what you know as southern BBQ, plus they have over 140 craft beers on the menu.
I started with the brisket tacos, which was something that I had never seen on a menu of a BBQ restaurant so I naturally had to try them. They were fantastic! I also tried their pulled pork rind nachos, which was a completely unique twist on your typical nachos. I ordered them with jalapenos on top and couldn’t be happier with my choice. Come with an empty stomach!
Two blocks away from Pig and Pint is Walker’s Drive-In, a gourmet seafood restaurant. The owner bought the place in 2001 and turned it into what it is today, but the venue dates back to 1946. They are famous for their red fish Ana but every dish is amazing!
I started with a fried BBQ oyster Po’boy. It was just amazing! Light battered oysters with BBQ and comeback was so unique and delicious! Next up I tried the everything crusted #1 tuna which is basically the best Tuna with pepper jack cheese grits! Wow it was to die for!
A few steps away from Walker’s Drive-In is Basil’s Fondren, an Italian focaccia spot that has some unique BBQ pizza and paninis. Nathan the owner is putting a twist on BBQ with Italian inspired foods.
I tried the Rodeo Panini, which is a BBQ brisket panini, it’s so tender it literally fell apart in my mouth! I also had the BBQ chicken pizza, if you love pizza, bbq and honey you will be in heaven with this one!
For upscale Latin cuisine, head to Babalu across the street from Brent’s Drugs. This Spanish-southern fusion restaurant has a menu focused family-style tapas and tacos that are meant to be shared. They also have a great bar with a very good selection of local beers.
After munching on some fresh guac and chips, I had the Baba Burger, which has held the reputation as the best burger in Jackson for the past four years. It was so juicy and delicious! I washed that bad boy down with a refreshing red ale.
Across the street from Walker’s Drive-In is Barrelhouse, a southern gastro pub that focuses on southern cuisine that marries American, Asian and Italian flavors. They have an incredible cocktail list, as well as some of Mississippi’s best craft beers on tap.
I tried the Tuna Poke Nachos, an Asian inspired dish, with wonton crackers, tuna and seaweed. I paired it with an Imperial IPA from Southern Prohibition brewery, it was very strong but really good!
Broad Street Bakery and Café
This place makes some of the best southern-style breakfast and desserts in Jackson! Broad Street Bakery and Café opened its doors in 1988 and has been making everything by hand ever since!
For breakfast, I tried the Chicken Biscuit with Cheese Grits and a Hash Brown Casserole. Needless to say, I was full for hours after eating it. They put a delicious glaze over the Chicken Biscuit to give it a sweet taste that perfectly complements the savory flavors. And if that weren’t enough, I tried their Cowboy Cookie and Crack Pie, both of which are delicious and highly addictive!
Fine and Dandy
Fine and Dandy is a high-end burger joint with a menu of classic American dishes. They take great ingredients and get really creative. They have an awesome atmosphere and their bar is beautiful!
I tried three amazing items, the Worst Ribs in Town, Tater Tots We Didn’t Make, and Party Balls. The worst ribs were probably the best ribs I have ever eaten in my life!
Where to Experience Live Music
Jackson is known as the City of Soul for a reason. It is the capital of soul, blues and gospel music! Almost every restaurant has live music during weekends but here are three awesome spots where you can experience Jackson’s musical heritage for yourself.
Hal & Mal’s
This restaurant and music venue was founded by two brothers, Hal and Malcolm White. It remains a family owned and operated establishment. Every Monday Hal and Mal’s hosts Blue Monday in association with the Central Mississippi Blues Society, Inc. Blue Mondays are a celebration of the blues. Musicians are invited to come and jam out on stage. It starts at 8:30pm and runs until 11pm.
F. Jones Corner
F. Jones Corner on Farish Street is one of those hidden gems. This is a late-night spot, which hosts Blues acts from 10pm – 5am on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They have everything from delicious brews to casual menu items (burgers, fries, chicken tenders). They have some of the best blues acts in town and the speakeasy vibe is very unique. Their slogan is ‘no black, no white just the blues here!’
Underground 119 is located in Downtown Jackson and they have live blues music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They have cocktails, beers and some delicious food. I tried some of their comeback sauce with fried green beans as I was treated to an energetic Blues set.
Where to Stay in Jackson
While visiting the City with Soul you must stay in the Downtown Jackson to be close to the main attractions and best restaurants in town. It will make everything a lot easier, as it is the center of the city.
The Westin Jackson is one of Downtown Jackson’s newest hotels. It offers a five different room styles, from traditional to an Executive Presidential Suite. It hosts luxurious amenities with a hint of iconic Southern hospitality. They have an indoor pool and a 6,000 sqft resort-style spa where you can get an massage.
Their Estelle Wine Bar & Bistro has some of the best food in town! Chef Matthew Kajdan is putting a twist on traditional Southern classics by giving basic dishes a gourmet flare. From appetizers like duck sausage and lobster deviled eggs, to wood-fired artisanal pizzas, and an extensive wine list, Estelle has definitely earned its place among Jackson’s best eateries.
I spent five incredible days in Jackson, Mississippi and I fell in love with the friendly people, great selection of food and just how much Jacksonians love their city. Jackson has a long history, much of which isn’t pretty, but by visiting its museums you’ll gain a sense of appreciation for how it’s persevered, becoming one of the my favorite cities in the US. Thank you to the City with Soul for treating me so well. I’ll definitely be back!
I hoped you enjoyed my list of what to see and do in Jackson, Mississippi!