I originally learned about Oxford, MS from my charming sister-in-law. She grew up in nearby Albany and went to school at Ole Miss. A few years later I learned about the Debutante Farmer and the amazing food scene in this small Southern town. Football, food, and friendly folks like my SIL, Tina? I was ready to visit!
So hubby and I hopped in the car for a ‘date night’ weekend escape to Oxford, MS and fell head-over-heels. Here are just 23 reasons why we love it so much…now it’s your turn to fall in love with it, too. Our recipe for an exciting time doesn’t include game day at Ole Miss (Hotty Toddy!) so you’ll have to make it back for that!
Music, Art and Culture
Oxford Treehouse Gallery. When we pulled up and were greeted by the chickens, we knew this was a place we’d adore. Vivian and Walter – the owners and amazing artists in their own right – have created an oasis just a few miles from the downtown square. The eclectic gallery includes art work of varying mediums from a great number of regional artists, primarily from Mississippi.
Don’t be shy about stopping by; they have scheduled hours or you can make an appointment. And don’t worry about having to make a purchase…of course they hope you find something you love to take home with you…but they really want to simply share the experience with you. (And honestly, there is something for all price ranges, even starting at about $10.)
I feel horrible not writing a lot more here because honestly, it was my favorite stop.. BUT stay tuned. We have an entire post about Treehouse Gallery coming shortly. Know this: You’re missing out if you don’t make a stop!
End of All Music. Southern Living named them one of the five best record stores in the South, and now we know why! Even if you don’t have a turn table you need to stop in to see the wonder. (Also, you need a turn table. Seriously! Pick one up while you’re there.) End of All is special because of the wide variety of music genres represented here…everything from Country to Blues to Indie Rock.
I loved the little listening room, where I could grab a single and hear songs of yester-year. I swear I listened to that Johnny Cash single twice over. There’s also a section of “pricey” albums that are fun to (gently) look through. We didn’t leave with one of those, but we did bulk up our collection during that visit. The owners here also regularly put a “free” album among their inventory so keep an eye for that while you’re exploring.
The Square. There are million cute stores along the square that you MUST visit. OK – not a million, but a ton. We loved finding shoes at Lulu’s…trying the “Brando” at Lenora’s (it’s a lemon whiskey drink…and tell them 365AF sent you) … and picking up some Ole Miss attire at University Sporting Goods.
We also loved the photo ops. There is a red photo booth – British style – perfect for this city named after it’s European counterpart. It also pays homage to the Double Decker bus tour you can take on Fridays in the Spring and Fall before Ole Miss home baseball and football games. Reserve a spot beforehand; these are popular.
Finally, don’t miss the life-size statue of William Faulkner next to Square Books Jr. This bronze sculpture marked the 100th anniversary of his birth, and is another great photo spot.
Square Books. You don’t have to be a bibliophile (like me) to appreciate this three story book store! It was named Book Store of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, but simply calling it a bookstore doesn’t do it justice. Over 2,000 writers have appeared to read and/or sign books since 1979, including Oxford resident John Grisham who visited here for his very first book signing of A Time To Kill.
Don’t miss Square Books Jr for a few kiddo presents, and Off Square Books for lifestyle books plus their events…including the next item on our list….
Thacker Mountain Radio Hour. We did not visit on a Thursday, but after learning about this, I wish we had! If you’re not in the know, Thacker Mountain is a weekly live radio show featuring author readings and a wide array of musical performances.
There are 12 shows in the spring and 12 in the fall, all taped and broadcast live on the Square inside Off Square Books at 6pm on Thursdays. The book shelves are rolled over to the walls or to the back behind a curtain, wooden folding chairs are set up, a lectern is placed in front for the host and for visiting authors to read from their books, and the cozy raised “reading area” in the back right is cleared to make a stage for the house band (Yalobushwhackers) and visiting musicians.
Take a listen if you’re interested; shows air every Saturday night at 7 pm on Mississippi Public Radio and online.
Flying Tuk. What’s a Flying Tuk? It’s an open-air electric car that seats up to 5 people (and your stuff!) For only $5 per person, you can get a ride to anywhere within a 2-mile radius of the Square and the Ole Miss campus.
I was lucky enough to get a tour of the city with a local history buff, and we took it in the Flying Tuk…so much fun! The price does go up on game day, but what a great way to see the city or grab a ride to dinner.
Neilsons. Why am I sending you to a department store? This isn’t just any department store! This is the Suffrages of the South! It was founded by William Smith Neilson, born in 1812, and in 2014 Neilson’s celebrated its 175th year. it is the South’s oldest store, and the nation’s 16th oldest.
Ole Miss. The University of Mississippi is here in Oxford, and even in you’re not an Ole Miss grad it is still a remarkable place to visit. I’ll cover a few places you have to check out in the History section below, but other fun sights include
- The Grove – voted the best place in the nation for tailgating
- The Lyceum – where you can see one of the remaining bullet holes in the door left as a reminder of the battle that broke out over the enrollment of James Meredith, the first African American to attend the school. According to HottyToddy.com, some historians say the integration of Ole Miss was the last battle of the Civil War. Bob Dylan even wrote a song about this it.
- Farley Hall – dubbed “Dead House,” this is the site of the building that was used as a morgue during the Civil War.
- Ford Center for Performing Arts – The site of the first Presidential debate in 2008 between Obama and McCain.
History and Education
Rowan Oak. You can tour the home of Oxford’s William Faulkner, Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author. Faulkner purchased this home in 1930 and made it his own until his death. He is one of America’s most celebrated authors…with a penchant for extreme detail, circular writing, intricate character descriptions and long complex sentences. In fact, Absalom, Absalom includes the longest sentence in literary history.
You can see where he and Estelle raised their children and made a life for themselves. I loved seeing Faulkner’s own handwriting on the wall, both by the telephone and in an upstairs room where he outlined A Fable, the story for which he won the Pulitzer.
There are not an exceptional number of oak trees on the property – primarily cedar. But look as you may, you won’t find a single Rowan Oak – it’s a mythical tree. Anther fun fact: the plethora of Cypress you see here and around Oxford are from a time passed when people didn’t know where malaria came from…they just knew it wasn’t happening in the mountains. Perhaps, they thought, it didn’t happen there because of the smell coming from the Cypress, and so they planted hundreds! And they are lovely.
Faulkner’s Grave. Don’t miss the chance to visit Faulker and his wife Estelle at their grave in St Peter’s Cemetery. Bring a few coins and a bottle of Jack Daniels, as is custom.
James Meredith. a courageous soul of the Civil Rights Movement, Meredith’s bravery is commemorated in a life-size statue behind the Lyceum building on the Ole Miss campus.
According to Wikipedia, Meredith was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, and he decided to exercise his constitutional rights and apply to the University of Mississippi. His goal was to put pressure on the Kennedy administration to enforce civil rights for African Americans.
Meredith wrote in his application that he wanted admission for his country, race, family, and himself. He said,
Nobody handpicked me…I believed, and believe now, that I have a Divine Responsibility… I am familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi.
After twice being denied, he was advised by Medgar Evers, and after a long fight, the Supreme Court decided he should attend Ole Miss. There was rioting, gun shots, and protests to be sure. Meredith was even shot on his second day but recovered quickly from his wounds. He’s still alive today, living with his wife in Jackson. What an incredible man…it was an honor to see the memorial celebrating the 40th anniversary of his admission.
Univ Mississippi Museum. It is with much regret that I tell you that we ran out of time to visit this museum (but I will use it as an excuse to go back.) Don’t make my mistake…leave some room for it! Among this museum’s 20,000 items are Southern folk art, Greek and Roman antiquities, 19th century scientific instruments, and American fine art. It was even named one of the top college museums in the US. It’s free to visit, and you’ll need about an hour to explore.
L.Q.C. Lamar House. Yet another place we ran out of time for….but I learned about it from my special history tour guide and just had to share! Lucius Lamar, for which a street is named along the Oxford Square, holds many honors. Here are three I enjoyed learning about:
- He was one of few people who held a job in all three branches of the Federal government. He was Secretary of the Interior (Executive,) a Mississippi Congressman and Senator (Legislative,) and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (Judicial.)
- He developed the idea of the Federal State Parks, for which Roosevelt gets the credit.
- He was instrumental in healing relations between the North and South after the Civil War.
Food and Drink
I’m not going to go into great detail about each of the restaurants because I have a new post coming out next week that will do that. I just want to mention that these were the places we visited on our journey to Oxford, and each of them are OUTSTANDING and deserve a visit from you, as well.
Saint Leo. Want to splurge on a single restaurant while you’re in Oxford? Let this be the one! A 2017 James Beard Foundation “Best New Restaurant” semifinalist, the wood-fire Italian cooking here is divine. Don’t miss the charcuterie plate with garlic-rubbed grilled bread. The pizza crust is on point with 800-degree ovens, though I was partial to the little neck clams.
The Coop. The Coop is the name of the bar/restaurant on the rooftop of The Graduate (more on this hotel shortly.) It’s not your average hotel bar – the view is spectacular and the food is worth making a stop in for. It’s name is a nod to Cooper Manning, but we love the play on words with the chicken coop theme…don’t miss the fox at the bar. Who let him in the hen house?
City Grocery. This is the first restaurant from Chef John Currence, 2009 James Beard Foundation award recipient for Best Chef South. It’s one of four restaurants owned by Currence, and probably his most popular. You’re not going to want to leave without trying the shrimp and grits, and I also recommend the cold corn and buttermilk soup!
Bottletree Bakery. This adorable cafe offers a great cup of coffee and pastry for breakfast, or head there for lunch for one of their specials (listed on Facebook each day.) Hurry up, though. They close at 2pm.
Snack Bar. Another of Chef John Currence’s establishments, this one focuses on French Creole. The food is a creation of Chef Vishwesh Bhatt who was a 2017 James Beard finalist, Best Chef South. Fun fact: Bhatt also participated in Gunshow’s Hired Guns series, which hubby and I attended. It is from that visit that I named Gunshow one of Atlanta’s best restaurants for several publications.
I am a HUGE fan of the raw bar here…don’t miss those oysters. This is not just a tapas eatery, but we focused on that during our visit, giving us a chance to sample a wide range of amazing options. Crab Corn Fitters, Red Chili Pork Belly, Lady Pea Salad, Cornbread Toast, Boudin Balls..oh my! It was a slice of heaven!
Big Bad Breakfast. The final Currence establishment we visited on our visit was no disappointment. Their meats are cured right on site, and the bacon proved to be angelic – hit up with just a tad of heat. You can’t go wrong here with any selection, but we adored the skillets. And you know it’s deep south cooking done right when you get to select from three different gravy types: sausage, red eye or tomato!
The Library. We didn’t eat here – just had a few drinks. We visited on fight night (Mayweather vs McGregor) and decided to watch it here based on feedback from the locals. Great choice! If you need a sports bar while you’re in town, this is the place to go. Just tell “mom” you’re heading to The Library.
Volta Taverna. “Going Greek” may have two meanings in this college town, but this is route you want to take while visiting. Felafel, gyros, souvlaki…it’s all here and it is darn tasty! I highly recommend the Hotty Toddy balls to start off with, and the chicken gyro was my fave.
Proud Larry’s. Looking for a little entertainment with your meal? Check out the grub and tunes at Proud Larry’s. The calendar of talent is online, and you might want to grab your tickets while you’re there, too.
The Graduate Oxford is reason number 23 to head to this college town. This charming hotel offers so much, both to visitors and to the community. Let me tell you why this boutique hotel made the list:
Biking Breaks. The hotel offers a handful of bikes free of charge, for your use around the city. Just check them out and you’re off!
Community- Minded Mission. When we visited the hotel, there were dozens of students hanging out in the lobby. They were studying, drinking coffee, reading books. I spoke with the General Manager, and he told me this was common. With free internet, comfy seating, alumni memorabilia, sprawling tables and plenty of food options…there is no wonder they love it.
Additionally, The Graduate hosts several local events. When we were there they hosted a pet adoption day (even offering free drinks!) You know from the moment you step foot here that it’s not a typical hotel. They love their town, and we love that!
Adorable Rooms and Lobby. Pink wood floors. Pink. That’s what you see when you first walk into The Graduate. Globes hang from the ceiling and books line the check-in desk like a library. My favorite thing? The oversized hot pink velvet chair pulled up to a long wood table. In the picture above you can see the rooms, with their nod to university living. Even our key cards featured Oxford greats like the Manning family.
There are a number of Graduate Hotels in the country… each in a college town (have you been to the one in Athens?) …each taking on the personality of the town they represent, down to the last detail.
A Nod To History. I love that the coffee tables hold Faulkner’s books, that the walls are covered with local art depicting Oxford’s legends, that black and white photos of Mary Ann Mobley and Archie Manning are tucked into subtle corners. The hotel even sits on North Lamar Blvd (named for Lucius Lamar, whom I told you about earlier.) It’s those details that make all the difference…those acknowledgments that make it feel like home – even if you’re not a local.
For breakfast, you absolutely want the chicken and egg biscuit (and add the pepper jack cheese.) You can grab that chicken sandwich for lunch, too…and don’t skip the bread pudding.
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Disclosure: Thank you to Oxford, MS for hosting me and my family. As always, opinions here are my own…and yes, my heart is in Oxford.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.