Back in April, I Love Memphis went on the road! I had a generous invite from Mississippi Delta tourism pros to join them on a trip through the lands just a little south of Memphis. I spent four days exploring Greenville, Leland, Cleveland, and Vicksburg with a group of writers and bloggers; there was great history, music, and food.
If you want to see an overview of the trip, click here. If you're a Memphian looking for a road trip or day trip idea, or if you're a visitor to Memphis looking to extend your trip to the south, this post will help you out.
Here are 10 places worth visiting in the Mississippi Delta.
1. Doe's Eat Place
When I asked y'all on Twitter where I should eat in the Delta, the overwhelming response was "Doe's" in Greenville. Their tamales are legendary, their steaks enormous, and the down-home atmosphere is one-of-a-kind. It kind of reminded me of eating in my South Mississippi grandparents' house for some reason.
If you're staying late in Greenville, lodge at the historic Greenville Inn & Suites and walk right down the street to the Walnut Street Blues Bar.
2. Highway 61 Blues Museum
Not far from Greenville in Leland is the Highway 61 Blues Museum, filled with photos, art, instruments, and artifacts documenting the blues. If you're lucky, a bluesman like Pat Thomas might be there for an impromptu show.
Outside of the museum, you'll find a handful of Blues Trail markers as well as a huge mural. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and kids 12 and under are free.
3. Winterville Mounds Archeological Site and Museum
Learn about the people who originally inhabited the Mississippi Delta before the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. There are twelve mounds – including one major one – and a small museum. It's worth a stop just to take in the peace and quiet of the place. Admission to the museum is free.
4. Jim Henson Museum
The Jim Henson Museum in Leland is a small museum with a big heart. It's worth a stop to for the Henson family photos, muppet memorabilia, and a human-sized Kermit. My favorite part of the museum is that it backs up to Deer Creek: the creek that inspired Henson to invent Kermit the frog.
5. McCarty Pottery
I had no idea what to expect when we stopped at the McCarty Pottery Studio in Merigold, Mississippi (just outside of Cleveland).
What I found was one of the most exquisite residential gardens I've ever seen, a bustling pottery business (they were throwing clay on the wheel right there behind the cash register), and an earnest family eager to share their love of Mississippi, their art, and hospitality.
You'll want to set aside a decent amount of time for a walk through the gardens, shopping, and if you go during lunch, make a reservation at "The Gallery", the onsite cafe.
6. Dockery Farms
Dockery Farms is a quick stop, but one worth taking. Memphis may be officially known as the Home of the Blues, but Dockery Farms is considered the Birthplace. The African Americans who worked at Dockery Farms were the first blues singer/songwriters and blues music audiences.
It's a pretty little place (people get married there now) and it's totally free to go and check it out. Read up before you go, or schedule a tour.
Cleveland as a city could easily take a day or so to explore. There you'll find Delta State University, home of the Fightin' Okra, where the campus boasts an impressive sculpture garden, as well as the Railroad Heritage Museum downtown (free) which has a huge model train full of fun details that runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Right across from the Railroad museum is the rails-to-trails walkway parallel to downtown's main drag of shops, galleries, and restaurants. There are regular festivals and events in Cleveland. You can keep up with most of them and plan a good weekend to go on this awesome site: Keep Cleveland Boring.
I love that the organizers of Keep Cleveland Boring took that "there's nothing to do here!" complaint about their town and turned it into something positive. It's definitely something I can relate to.
8. Delta Meat Market
I'll admit this was one of my favorite places we ate on our trip. It's in the heart of downtown Cleveland, and when I walked in and saw Hog & Hominy chefs Andrew and Michael's cookbook on the shelf, I knew I was going to feel right at home.
It's a new-old-fashioned butcher shop and specialty grocery store that also serves up plate lunches on weekdays, plus Friday dinner. Everything I ate there, from the biscuits and cornbread to the mixed greens salad to the quail with was superb. The drinks come in mason jars with Sonic ice, all the servingware is McCarty Pottery (of course) and I had a shockingly good moon pie bread pudding that I'm still thinking about six weeks later.
It was kind of like if Porcellino's was more casual and far less pricey. I made it a specific point to meet the owner, and I specifically asked him to open up shop in Memphis. I think y'all would really like it.
If you're a history buff, Vicksburg is essential. Between the architecture, the river, and the Civil War history, it makes for a day or two of exploring. The Old Court House Museum ($5 adults, $4.50 seniors, $3 under 18) is huge and full of thousands of historic and antebellum artifacts, and a chance to check out an historic courtroom.
If you have the kids with you, also stop at the free Lower Mississippi River Museum in Vicksburg. Right around the corner are the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals, also worth a look. The Anchua Mansion is a popular bed and breakfast that also hosts brunch and tours – stay there if you're looking for something special.
10. Vicksburg National Military Park
Drive through this park and get a triple dose of Civil War history. First, you're driving around literally where the Battle for Vicksburg took place and can see how the terrain played a role in the battle's outcome. Second, the park is full of about 1,300 monuments, ranging in scale from busts of important soldiers to a Pantheon replica you can walk inside.
Third, the USS Cairo Gunboat – a Civil war era submarine – is there for you to see and has an accompanying museum. The Park is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except major holidays and is free to drive through. If you're really into history or have a group, the guided tour (which is what I did) is absolutely worth it. Get details on that here.
Where to stay: In Greenville, we stayed in the historic Greenville Inn & Suites. It had a nice courtyard and was within walking distance of a few blues bars. In Cleveland, we went for the seemingly new Holiday Inn Express. In Vicksburg, we stayed in the lovely Ameristar Hotel. The latter was a real treat – splurge for a night or two there if you're staying in Vicksburg, and call and ask about special amenities packages. We arrived to monogrammed robes, fresh chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate-covered strawberries.
Other places to eat: Everyone on the trip raved about Ubon's in Yazoo City, though I didn't join the group until after they'd eaten there. Cicero's in Leland is popular for lunch: skip the barbecue sandwich if you're from Memphis and go for the fried pickles, catfish plates and other dishes they're known for.
The Warehouse in Cleveland was tasty and had a good cocktail selection, but the locals we met raved about Mosquito Burrito and Hey Joe's burger and beer joint so much, I wish we'd gone there. We had cupcakes from Crave in Cleveland that were ridiculously good and moist and crazy sweet (below). Apparently there's a line out the door every day.
I should mention that several of the places we stopped to eat seemed to have trouble accommodating large groups in a timely manner. Keep this in mind if you're bringing a crew. Bring an extra dose of patience at some of these more rural spots in general, and don't expect a plethora of healthy or gluten-free options, though it seemed like most spots had at least a veggie plate.
An important note: There are dozens of other places worth visiting in the Delta. The point of this piece is not to name every single place worth stopping, but rather to share some of my favorites that I explored on my trip. I know I didn't make it to Po'Monkey's juke joint in Cleveland or Clarksdale at all this time (too much to do in just four days!) but of course, that's a town worth looking into if you're going to visit the Delta.
I'd like to say a big thank you to all of the folks at the Greenville, Cleveland, and Vicksburg tourism organizations who invited me and put together such a comprehensive trip. They helped me out in a major way working out the scheduling and driving details and were very kind. They do a great job sharing their passion for their cities. If you're from the Delta and you're reading this: Come up to Memphis anytime. I'd love to give you some recommendations!
One more thing: what do y'all think about I Love Memphis going on the road? Do you like the day trip ideas? What other nearby destinations would you like me to explore?