Travel in the Deep South: Spend a Day in Oxford, Mississippi


You may not have noticed, but the state of Mississippi is currently the center of the college football universe. The Mississippi State Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the national polls, and their bitter in-state rivals, the Ole Miss Rebels, are ranked third.

On a national scale, the two schools have never had such a great combined start to the season, each with 6-0 records and an opportunity to improve from there. Oxford and Starkville have been featured on ESPN’s College GameDay, and the teams have graced the two most recent covers of Sports Illustrated. The state is proud of this early season football success, perhaps because historically there hasn’t been so much success to be had, on or off the gridiron.

“Mississippi” College GameDay ~ Wright Thompson from Bluefoot Entertainment on Vimeo.

However, as great as both teams have been on the field so far this season, Oxford and “StarkVegas” couldn’t be more different off the field. Since moving to the state earlier this year, my wife and I have had a chance to visit both towns, and one stood out clearly as worthy of a repeat trip.

If you are interested in taking an up close look at one of the two of 2014’s football powerhouses from the Magnolia State, simply want to see a wonderful small town in the Deep South, or happen to be driving through on the way to Memphis, Tunica, or Biloxi, take a day and see Oxford, Mississippi.

After you’ve spent the night in Oxford, or if you enter early in the morning, be sure to grab breakfast at one of many delightful spots. Big Bad Breakfast (also known as BBB) has traditional fare and some unique items as well. It’s easily Oxford’s most famous, so expect to wait. Another option, and a local favorite, is Bottle Tree Bakery. Rumor has it they have the best cinnamon rolls around, and possibly the best coffee as well.

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After breakfast, you’ll want to wander through downtown for a walk on the square. Two spots that cannot be missed are Nielson’s Department Store and Square Books.

Nielson’s, currently celebrating its 175th anniversary is simple the South’s oldest store. If you’re in town for an Ole Miss game day weekend, you’re sure to notice the students, alumni and fans are a little more dressed up than you might see them elsewhere in the country. Chances are many of these folks purchased their high fashion clothing and accessories at Nielson’s.

Square Books hasn’t been around as long as Nielson’s, but it’s been a staple in Oxford since 1979. Don’t get confused though, because the bookstore is actually comprised of three separate storefronts scattered throughout the square. The main store is located within a two-story building and the second floor balcony offers one of the best views in town.

Inside, you’ll find an eclectic mix of bestsellers and local authors, and everyone in between. Square Books hosts around 150 authors per year, so you have a great chance to meet and chat with an author and have them sign your copy as well. Down the street is a second location known as Off Square Books that offers lifestyle selections such as how-to books, cookbooks, gardening and the like. The third store, Square Books Jr., is dedication to children’s books.

You’ll be sure to find plenty from Oxford’s most treasured author and resident, William Faulkner. Should you be so inclined, you can visit Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak. The house is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10AM to 4PM, and on Sunday from 1PM-4PM for most of the year. From June 1 to August 1, Rowan Oak is open until 6PM. Tours cost $5. You can visit Faulkner himself, nattily dressed (and bronzed) sitting on a park bench on the square.

You might want to learn the following: “Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty – who the hell are we? Hey! Flim, flam, bim, bam, OLE MISS BY DAMN!”

After a morning of shopping and sightseeing, you’ll want to try one of Oxford, Mississippi’s most suggested lunch spots, Ajax. As a friend said when referring my wife and I, “it has amazing Southern food and you will need a nap afterwards.” The meatloaf is popular, but there are plenty of options to choose from.

From there, you’ll want to take a stroll through the campus of the University of Mississippi, which was chartered in 1844 and began classes in 1848. For 110 years, Ole Miss was the state of Mississippi’s only comprehensive university. It’s a beautiful campus, and right in the think of it all is the Grove.

There is a saying at Ole Miss: “We may not win every game, but we’ve never lost a party.” As Bob Lynch, managing editor at SB Nation Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion, puts it:

"“There isn’t anything quite like the Grove. A lot of schools do tailgate very well, but what we do at Ole Miss is pretty unique and a definite must-see for college football fans. For those who aren’t familiar, the Grove is a 10-acre park in the middle of the Ole Miss campus that, during the school week, is a popular place to study, eat lunch, throw a Frisbee, and other typical college campus stuff. During game day, though, it becomes a sea of popup tents, with students, alumni, and fans all gathering in what feels like a gigantic family reunion. Cars are not allowed in the Grove, so there is some creativity required that wouldn’t be required elsewhere. People typically set up their tents on the Friday night before home games, and show up as early as sunrise to ensure there is enough food and drink for themselves, their friends, their family, and any random passers-by that they might decide to socialize with.”"

For dinner, you’ll find plenty of options including City Grocery, Phillip’s Grocery or Boure. If you’re the adventurous type and would like a few cocktails afterwards, The Library is Oxford’s most famous nightlife spot. You can also catch a show at the Lyric, the Blind Pig and Proud Larry’s.

Keep in mind that everything is infinitely busier in Oxford on a football weekend. If you are planning to see the Rebels play, or will be in town on a fall Saturday, be sure to make all your lodging and meal plans well in advance.

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