Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Tupelo, Mississippi? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Tupelo, Mississippi?”
Elvis aficionados making the pilgrimage to Graceland are often lured an hour and a half south to see the King’s birthplace in Tupelo, Miss. While the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum is certainly the city’s claim to fame, there’s reason to stick around a while after you’ve gotten your fix of the King. Tupelo has grown up a lot since it gave Elvis his start. The city’s combination of fantastic food and friendly locals makes it hard to keep a visit here short. Read on to see why it’s worth spending a night or two in Tupelo after your Elvis Presley immersion.
You’re here for Elvis
In case the guitars filling the streets, the statue and the murals sprawled out over downtown didn’t give you the hint, Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Yes, there’s more than Elvis to Tupelo, but the city doesn’t shy away from showing you every place he ever set foot.
Elvis’ birthplace is far more than the little white shotgun house where the King of Rock and Roll entered the world. You can stroll inside and see how he lived his early years, wander a museum of Elvis artifacts, walk the tranquil grounds to a scenic overlook and attend a church service inside his boyhood church, moved to the museum grounds from its original location a few blocks away.
As legend has it, when Elvis Presley was 11 years old, his mother took him to Tupelo Hardware to pick out a birthday present. He wanted a rifle. She wasn’t having it. Instead, she bought him a $7.75 guitar. The staff at Tupelo Hardware will happily regale you this story if you step inside, and probably end up selling you a guitar much like the King’s.
Now home to the regional Tupelo Community Theater, this historic 1930s movie house was where Elvis was first introduced to the allure of Hollywood. During segregation, he used to hop over a barricade and into the balcony to watch movies with his Black boyhood friends. Today, you can enjoy professional performances here all year long.
Tupelo’s oldest restaurant is a true step back in time. Johnnie’s is home of the doughburger, a Depression-era invention with a patty made of flour and beef stuck between a bun. For $1.50, it’s maybe the best lunch deal in Tupelo. Guests can either order one from their cars or hit a wooden booth inside. Elvis thought so much of the doughburger he became a regular, and you can post up in his favorite booth to literally eat like a King.
A legendary picture from early in Elvis Presley’s career comes from his homecoming performance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. It depicts the King reaching down into a crowd of swooning fans. Those fairgrounds are now downtown’s Fairpark, whose centerpiece is a landmark statue recreating the famous photo.
All told, Tupelo has over a dozen Elvis-related sites, each marked with a historic plaque explaining its significance. They range from his old elementary and middle schools to the Mud Creek Swimming Hole to the Lee County Courthouse. The entire length of the tour is less than two miles, so if the weather is cooperating you can easily peruse it on bicycle or foot.
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Rating: +3. From 5 votes.
Scope surprisingly varied Southern food
The doughburger is a must-try while in Tupelo, but it’s not the only thing to try. The city will surprise you with its culinary offerings, with lots more than a glut of fried Southern comfort food.
This butcher shop and craft beer bar sits in a nondescript strip mall a couple of miles from downtown. It’s home to the Famous SmashBurger, which according to the menu, was awarded Best Burger in America by…somebody. It’s a smash grind filled with bacon bits and topped with cheese, pickles and hoisin sauce. If that sounds a little too heart-stopping for you, Neon Pig also offers bowls topped with smoked chicken and beef that are a keto treat.
Blue Canoe is every bit the funky Southern roadhouse. Live music hits the stage most nights, and neon signs and funny slogans are plastered all over the wall. The food is just as good as the music (which is very good). Caribbean-spiced edamame, shrimp tacos with Mexican corn and pot roast with cornbread waffles are just some of the creations.
“Deli” might be a little misleading, as the menu here is more Mediterranean than Manhattan. Even so, you’ll find Tupelo’s best sandwiches by bellying up to the bar, as well as an unusual collection of pizzas and flatbreads and Middle Eastern items like hummus and baba ganoush. The gyro nachos are delicious and among the most unique dishes in the city. No matter what you order, make sure it’s topped with the Green with Envy spice mix.
The restaurant inside the Hotel Tupelo is devoted to fresh seafood and savory meats. You can enjoy ginger scallion noodles with pork belly on the sunny outside patio, or lounge inside snacking on the butter burger or the blackened shrimp melt with smashed avocado. With Tupelo’s only shuffleboard table, Jobos has become a local happy hour and weekend hot spot.
For dining in a historic space, opt for this narrow little Italian restaurant along Main Street. It’s the red-sauce stuff of family dinner nostalgia, with meatballs the size of softballs and epic portions of pasta that’ll last two meals. The restaurant’s set inside a building that dates to the 1800s. Though it has cable and AC, eating here feels like eating 100 years ago. You can dine alfresco in the adjacent alley strewn with lights for twinkling nighttime meals.
Do you recommend this?
Rating: +3. From 5 votes.
Learn the natural history of the Natchez Trace
Tupelo sits almost smack in the center of theNatchez Trace, the historic trade route running from Nashville to Natchez, Miss., used by everyone from the Chickasaw natives to domestic slave traders. Today, it’s a National Parkway, filled with hiking trails, interpretive centers and loads of educational opportunities.
Before venturing out onto the Natchez Trace, learn the trail’s story from its early days as a trade route to its revitalization as a National Parkway. The official visitor center is less than 15 minutes from downtown by car and has maps, old photographs, artifacts and plenty of rangers to offer suggestions. You’ll also find some short hiking trails nearby if you’re looking for somewhere to burn off all that food.
Heading north from West Main Street, the first site along the Trace you’ll encounter is an old Chickesaw village. It’s the future home of Tupelo’s Chickasaw Museum and Cultural Center, but for now it’s an open prairie where you can learn how the Chickesaw constructed villages. A short walk through the woods has plaques along the path explaining each tree and how the Chickasaw used it.
A former dairy farm has been converted into the Tupelo historic museum, where short exhibits tell how the city transformed from a railroad boom town to an agricultural center to the city Elvis Presley knew as a child. The outdoor section is filled with old shacks, farmhouses and a decommissioned streetcar diner that show what life was like here 100 years ago. Take a few extra minutes to check out the Veterans Museum in the back, where you’ll find uniforms and other military artifacts, including a prosthetic leg from the Civil War.
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Rating: +2. From 2 votes.
Fuel up with coffee and over-the-top desserts
Beyond its culture of music and history, Tupelo has a surprising collection of fantastic coffee shops. If you’re looking to work during your trip to Elvis’ birthplace, these shops also offer fast Wi-Fi and a friendly environment. They also have some truly outrageous desserts.
Yes, the collection of single-origin coffees from around the world is impressive. But nothing can prepare you for the onslaught of delicious desserts you’ll find at Crave. The menu’s headlined by the Skillet Cookie — a cast-iron skillet filled with a chocolate chip cookie and topped with ice cream. It’s an epic treat that’s a calorie bomb beyond reason.
This former service station has become a sort of pre-work and pre-bike-ride hangout where a full menu of energy drinks complements the regular coffee offerings. It’s also an excellent place to pick up a quirky souvenir coffee mug or indulge in one of their house-made pastries.
For coffee with a side of live music, Lost & Found is worth the trouble it is to find the shop. Hidden down a row of industrial buildings in Tupelo’s big boxy west side, Lost & Found offers the city’s most intriguing collection of coffees and teas. Frequent live music is played on site. It’s a little like Central Perk, if “Friends” were set in Mississippi.
Do you recommend this?
Rating: +3. From 3 votes.
Bar hop and meet locals..and possibly country greats
The thing you’ll notice most in Tupelo is that everyone in town is eager to chat. It’s not hard to feel welcome here. Sit down at almost any bar in the city and someone will strike up a conversation within minutes.
What looks like a pretty nondescript American restaurant outside the BancorpSouth Arena is often a low-key celebrity hangout. Country musicians who fly down from Nashville to test out their sound on the arena’s system will stop in here for a drink. Not that it’s Spago South, but don’t be surprised if you spot one of your favorite Nashville crooners sipping a beer in a corner booth. Try not to bother them too much.
Kermit’s is a downtown outpost from the same people behind Neon Pig, and the food is just as fantastic. What’s even better are Kermit’s crazy collection of ever-changing margaritas. Order one (or three) and enjoy them on the street-side tables outside. They pair well with almost anything from Kermit’s wood-fired grill, like pork belly burnt ends and soul smoked ribs.
Though Tupelo doesn’t boast any of its own breweries, it does have Mississippi’s only operating meadery. Queen’s Reward Meadery cranks out award-winning meads that could pass as pretty solid wines. While a mead tasting is a must, you’ll also want to check out the mead slushies: the honey-made mead is mixed with ice and coconut cream as well as other tropical flavors.
This no-frills locals’ bar sits inside an old livery. The brick stable arches are still visible within the building’s walls. It’s effectively the Cheers of Tupelo, where everyone knows each other’s names and they’ll happily chat you up over $2 happy hour beers. The food is low-key fantastic. The blackened catfish nachos could keep you inside even without the friendly locals.
While Tupelo offers a number of established, serviceable hotel chains, if you’re spending the night in the city, do it at Hotel Tupelo. The city’s lone boutique hotel pays its requisite tributes to the King, but also has its own bright, modern personality complete with signature candles and custom-roasted coffee. For a splurge, stay in either its Elvis or Tupelo suites, which have royal views over Main Street along with art inspired by the city.