Exploring the Soul of Jackson
Travel blogger Ciara Johnson got a look into Jackson’s rich history through the sights, tastes and sounds of Mississippi, and you can too.
Whether it’s the freedom to plan your own schedule, or the excitement of immersing yourself in a community of locals rather than the traditional “vacation,” there’s no doubt that solo travel is on the rise, especially with millennials. Over one in four Americans prefers this type of travel experience, including 26 year-old Ciara Johnson of the popular travel blog Hey Ciara.
Ciara, a Texas native and notorious solo traveler, recently visited Jackson to discover the City With Soul for herself!
With her direct flight from Houston, she was able to spend less time in the air and more time visiting museums, exploring speakeasies, and of course, tasting some deliciously sinful soul food.
Enjoy seeing Ciara’s trip to Jackson on her Instagram feed? Learn more about her adventure, and plan your own soulful visit to Jackson based on her experience.
Day 1: Staying, eating and exploring local
Check in and lunch at the Old Capitol Inn
This boutique hotel is a favorite for travelers coming to Jackson due to its atmosphere and personal touches. As a full-service boutique hotel, its amenities include an Instagram-ready garden, meeting and reception rooms and even a rooftop bar open to the public (in-season) with live music on the weekends.
The hotel also features a restaurant inside, which serves delicious takes on Mississippi classics like shrimp and grits, Mississippi fish, southern fried steak, sweet tea and more.
A colorful stop while exploring Jackson’s Midtown District, Pearl River Glass Studio brings together top glass artists from around the country who specialize in making the colorful artwork that can be seen in shops, churches and homes in America and beyond.
Food Truck Friday at Smith Park
On the second Friday of every month, visitors can enjoy Food Truck Friday, a lunchtime in the park enjoying some of Mississippi’s most beloved food trucks! For delicious food, good music and a fun way to celebrate the weekend, this is the place to be! While the food trucks change every month, here are a few that have previously participated:
With fresh coffee and delicious hand-made Popsicles of ever changing flavors, as well as beer on tap and fun “Jackson-themed” pins and t-shirts, Deep South Pops is a favorite gathering spot for locals. It makes for a perfect stop to unwind while exploring the city. On a nice day, be sure to sit out on the patio and get a “Popsicle float” or a Popsicle inside of your favorite soda or craft beer.
Editor’s Note: Deep South Pops closed in November 2019
With 300-acres of natural landscape that house over 200 living species, a 1,700-foot greenhouse and numerous events like Mississippi Science Fest, Park After Dark and more, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is like stepping into a jungle oasis in the middle of a city. If you’re feeling adventurous, be sure to find the two-headed snake that lives in this museum!
To see what events are going on while you’ll be in town, check out their events calendar!
Enjoy dinner and a live comedy show at Johnny T’s Bar & Bistro & Blues
To end an amazing few days in Jackson, we recommend finishing off your night by heading to Johnny T’s Bar and Bistro on Farish Street to catch a comedy show, grab a drink, listen to music, and of course, enjoy some decadent dishes like their sautéed garlic crab claws or their deep fried salmon croquettes served with a honey butter sauce.
“I had such a fun night out during a comedy show at Johnny T’s Bistro and Club!” Ciara told us. “It’s the best place for hip-hop, rap, and r&b lovers in Jackson.”
Visiting a speakeasy: The Apothecary
Colorful diner up front, speakeasy in the back? To those who don’t expect it, this hidden cocktail bar can unassumingly be found camouflaged in the back of Brent’s Drugs.
With cocktails called “prescriptions” and a pre-Prohibition style ambiance, The Apothecary, while being a favorite for locals, can often be a hidden gem to visitors. The bar has seasonal and specialty drinks, classic cocktails and a boast-worthy menu offering small plates and snacks.
If you’re headed to Jackson, make this a must on your itinerary. After visiting, Ciara said, “Did you think you’d find a speakeasy in Jackson, Mississippi? Me neither. It felt like I stumbled upon a treasure when I stepped in.”
Day 2: Discovering the Unexpected in the City With Soul
Breakfast at Brent’s Drugs
Fun fact: Did you know that scenes from “The Help” were filmed here? For an Instagram-perfect breakfast spot that also has a drool-worthy menu for every time of the day, Brent’s Drugs is a must. As a former pharmacy that opened in 1946, Brent’s has a rich history that makes it one of Jackson’s most famous eateries!
Snap a picture, grab a milkshake and bring or make a friend to play board-games with while you’re there (ask for the games before you order your meal!)
The diner is “Ciara’ approved” as she says, “Breakfast at Brent’s was everything and the history behind this restaurant made it even more interesting. It was known as the neighborhood pharmacy back in the day, so it still holds a lot of nostalgia for many residents and visitors.”
With increasing communities of various backgrounds, Jackson embraces the different cultures, histories and traditions of people who decide to call the City With Soul, home.
An unexpected, yet fascinating museum to visit on your trip to Jackson is the International Museum of Muslim Cultures, known as “The Muslim Museum.” The museum was founded in 2000 by members of Jackson’s Muslim Community, making it America’s first Islamic history and culture museum. The museum showcases Islamic art, history and culture, and also hosts interesting events like slam poetry and live music from various Muslim countries.
“It’s the first of its kind in the United States, and somehow that makes it even more special. I didn’t expect much at first glance, but Erika Handy, the museum guide, provided an informative history lesson on all things Islam.”
Lunch at the Big Apple Inn
Featured by culinary notables like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman, Big Apple Inn was founded in the 1930s and is the oldest restaurant in Jackson, making it a dining staple for both visitors and locals. During the 1960s, the restaurant served as a meeting point for Civil Rights groups and freedom writers, solidifying its place in American history.
In addition to its roots as an iconic Civil Rights spot in Jackson, it’s also well known for its delicious and inexpensive menu items which include smokes and southern treats like tamales and their well-renowned Pig Ear Sandwich.
Conflicted on what to get when you’re here? Take it from Ciara: “You can’t visit Jackson without trying the famous smokes and pig ear sandwiches from this hole-in-the-wall, or without hearing the story behind this Farish street staple from the owner Geno Lee himself.”
Jackson’s past, present and future all intersect at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
To better understand the evolution of art and culture in Mississippi, museum-goers can find historic photographs and pictures and paintings that depict the state’s rich and often complicated history, while also participating in events such as slam poetry, live music from local artists, art-therapy events and a constant rotation of exciting exhibitions. Be sure to check out the museum’s events page to see which event is happening during your visit.
Dinner at Babalu
The flavors of Latin America meet the soul of Mississippi in this upscale and upbeat fusion restaurant located in Fondren, Jackson’s trendiest neighborhood.
The restaurant was born out of the founders’ love for Latin cuisine, music and ambiance and it has quickly become a favorite among foodies in the city.
With a long list of tapas, tacos, cocktails and so much more, this was Ciara’s favorite foodie spot in Jackson.
She says, “This was by far my favorite food experience during my trip. The atmosphere was lively and the food was bursting with flavor. I’d say it’s a must-visit in Jackson.”
Wondering what to get while you’re there? Ciara has some suggestions. “Order a La Paloma from the cocktail menu and Crab Croquettes from the tapas menu. Thank me later!”
Finish off the night at Iron Horse Grill for live music
The Iron Horse Grill prides itself on showcasing the legacy and history of what they call “The Birthplace of America’s Music – Mississippi.”
An iconic spot to have a drink, grab a bite to eat and spend the night listening to live music, the Iron Horse is the perfect place to learn about and channel the energy of music icons like Elvis Presley, Jimmy Rodgers, Robert Johnson and more. While most come for the extensive menu, drinks and live music, we recommend also going upstairs to check out their museum, which features historical insight on Mississippi music icons (including Elvis and Britney Spears, to name a few).
“If you’re looking for the best blues music in Jackson, The Iron Horse Grill is worth a stop. This isn’t just a restaurant/bar, it’s an experience,” Ciara said. “Visit Thursday through Saturday for live music acts and order fried okra as you enjoy the tunes.”
Day 3: Bakeries, Books and Blues
Breakfast at Broad Street Bakery
For fresh and local favorites including the buttermilk chicken biscuit, cheese grits and country sausage quiche, as well as a plethora of pasty items like their famous King cake, we recommend Broad Street Bakery.
Ciara’s favorite thing on the menu? “Let’s just say the handmade artisan bread doesn’t disappoint.”
Enjoy a quick read at Lemuria Book Store
Books cover the walls from floor to ceiling at Lemuria, and despite having hundreds and hundreds of books in stock – if they don’t have it, they’ll find it for you. Southern hospitality meets a book-lovers dream in this giant, photo-worthy bookstore with knowledgeable staff and a nearby coffee shop to spend the perfect Sunday.
Jackson is practically synonymous with the Civil Rights era — an integral part of American history that can’t be missed when visiting the state. To understand Mississippi’s past, present and future better, don’t miss out on a trip to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, no matter your age or understanding of American history. The colorful and interactive museum, which illustrates the tales of slavery and segregation, aims to tell the complete and often-negated tale of the state’s involvement in this important era.
For Ciara, this museum is a must-see. “The experience was both heartbreaking and phenomenal as I studied the artifacts, memories and displays of the Civil Rights movement in Jackson. I was moved to tears more than once and I’d say that this is one of the most well-curated museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.”
Jackson’s street art is definitely a hidden gem of the city and can often be overlooked for visitors who don’t know where to find the best spots for Instagram worthy murals. While Ciara’s favorite was the iconic “Welcome to Jackson” mural that can’t be missed while strolling through downtown (at Pearl and State Streets), some others include those in Fondren and Midtown. Check the link above for the JXN Google Public Art Map.
The Municipal Art Gallery in Jackson was built in the 1860s and is now one of the oldest historical structures in Jackson. The gallery has evolved into a cultural focal point for local artists to showcase their work, and sees over 20,000 visitors every year.
Into local art and history? If you’re stopping by downtown – be sure to check this place out!
Sip and Savor your way through Cathead Distillery
In the spirit for spirits? As the oldest distillery in Mississippi, Cathead became the first legal distillery in the state after the repeal of prohibition. Locals love to kick back, enjoy the weekend and partake in one of the distillery’s many weekly and seasonal events. Be sure to take one of the 30-minute daily tours of Cathead, which includes tastings of the vodka, gin, bourbon and award-winning chicory liqueur that are distilled here.
The distillery frequently holds parties, and events that bring the whole community together. You can’t miss them while you’re in town! If you decide to include this distillery in your itinerary, then check out its website and events calendar here.
Originally published Summer 2019. Check with individual properties for current opportunities and availability.