As Mississippi's largest city and state capital, Jackson is home to nearly 200,000 people, although its slow pace and wide population distribution make it seem smaller. Exploring the city requires some forethought, however, as well as (in most cases) a car, as many of Jackson's tourist attractions, shopping opportunities and business concerns are spread over a large geographic area.
Downtown is where the action is, at least during business hours. At the center sits the Mississippi State Capitol. Built in 1903, this stunning structure was modeled after the United States Capitol in Washington and cuts a commanding figure against the downtown skyline. Two blocks to the south, you will find the Mississippi Governor's Mansion , a fine example of Greek Revival architecture and one of the few lucky buildings to survive the Civil War. Two other antebellum buildings are located nearby: the Old State Capitol and Jackson City Hall. In addition to its own historical value, the Old Capitol building harbors the country's most comprehensive museum on Mississippi history and culture.
Downtown is home to most of Jackson's cultural outlets. Two blocks from City Hall rests the Russell C. Davis Planetarium , one of the largest in the Southeast; it stands right next door to the Mississippi Museum of Art , which boasts the world's largest collection of folk art and crafts by regional artisans. Performances by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra , the Ballet Magnificat! and the Mississippi Opera Association are regularly scheduled at Thalia Mara Hall , a state-of-the-art auditorium directly across the street.
Situated just a few miles from the city center, Ridgeland comprises an enormous mass of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities, along with a bit of nightlife. At the core of it all is the Northpark Mall , which provides Jackson shoppers with everything from large national department stores to the finest in local specialty shops.
While in the area, be sure to pay a visit to Tougaloo College . Of historical significance is the Natchez Trace Parkway , which bypasses Jackson through Ridgeland and neighboring Madison. One of America's oldest and most beautiful thoroughfares, the Trace was originally a trading route for American Indians and today operates under the protection of the National Park Service. Ridgeland is also home to one of Jackson's most popular recreational facilities, the Ross Barnett Reservoir . This 33,000-acre expanse of water was created by the damming of the Pearl River and serves as a summertime playground for boaters, swimmers, fishermen and picnic-goers.
North of the downtown business district is a comfortable neighborhood of residences, small businesses and large medical facilities. In the middle of it all is scenic Millsaps College . Across the road is the towering Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium , a venue for concerts and major sporting events. This area also contains Jackson's thriving medical community, anchored by the enormous Mississippi Baptist Medical Center and the University of Mississippi Medical School.
Mid North is home to many museums and recreational outlets, perhaps none more utilized than the verdant expanse of LeFleur's Bluff State Park . Offering fishing, camping and even a nine-hole public golf course, the park also houses one of the city's most cherished shrines, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science . Across the street, a large, state-owned complex is home to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame , the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum . And while you're in the neighborhood, be sure to catch a minor league baseball game at Smith-Wills Stadium .
Historically significant but financially depressed in recent years, the Farish Street Historical District comprises roughly 60 square blocks just to the west of downtown Jackson. In the years of racial segregation that followed the Civil War, this neighborhood became a center of black culture, politics, religion and business. At its peak, Farish Street was a thriving and vibrant community, and landmarks such as the Alamo Theater regularly hosted such greats as Louis Armstrong. With nearly 700 historical landmarks inside its boundaries, including churches, buildings and Civil Rights shrines, this neighborhood is worth seeing. If you visit Jackson during September, be sure to check out the Farish Street Heritage Festival .
Outside the City
Much of the Jackson area's interest actually lies outside the city. Amid the lower middle-class neighborhoods that stretch away to the southwest of downtown, for example, is Jackson State University . One of the nation's premier historically black colleges, Jackson State is home to the newly renovated H.T. Sampson Library and historic Ayer Hall. Similarly positioned to the near northwest of downtown, the Medgar Evers Home , a fittingly subtle tribute to the soft-spoken Civil Rights martyr, sits on a quiet residential street.
Due west of the Old State Capitol, you will find the sprawling greens of the Mississippi State Fairgrounds , the regular site for many exhibitions, livestock shows and, of course, the State Fair.
As you might expect, traditional Southern cuisine is well represented in this Dixie capital, but if pork chops and collard greens aren't your thing, you're not out of luck. Italian, Mexican, Greek and Japanese restaurants abound in and around Jackson.
The height of dining elegance can be found just around the corner from the Mississippi Governor's Mansion within one of Jackson's most storied institutions. The classic dining room at the Edison Walthall Hotel sets the table for some of the city's most prestigious dinners and receptions, and is home to the local power-lunch crowd. Under a huge corner marquee you'll find the Mayflower Cafe , an authentic and popular greasy spoon—beware the gravy on your lunch or dinner entree.
Closer to the Capitol, you can rub elbows with a state legislator on one side and a truck driver on the other at the Blue Cafe . An inexpensive menu features sandwiches and salads, and if the weather cooperates, you can abandon your counter stool for a table along the sidewalk. Order off the big blackboard at one of several McAlister's Deli locations. Crowded for lunch and dinner, it offers quick and friendly service, and the sweet tea is legendary. Coffee is king at Cups , a golden find in a downtown as yet undiscovered by the Starbucks and Caribou Coffee powerhouses.
For a bit of rowdy fun with your meal, head over to the Cherokee Inn on State Street. You will find great pub food and flavor, along with a healthy contingent of the local college crowd. A block north of the State Capitol, George Street Grocery is another place for good down-home cooking during the day and youthful revelry at night, including live music. At Hal and Mal's , you can dine on some of the best Mississippi catfish in town.
Several dining and drinking establishments are located around the college campuses and various area attractions on the outskirts of downtown. Que Sera Sera on State Street is popular with Millsaps College students for its margarita menu, voluminous pitchers of beer and sprawling patio. A few blocks away, Keifer's —in the shadow of the sprawling Baptist Medical Center—has good Greek food and standard bar appetizers and entrees, although you will usually find as many drinkers as diners at this upbeat spot. Catch a game on TV at on one of the crowded tables inside, or head out to the equally crowded covered porch.
A visit to Jackson wouldn't be complete without sampling a world-renowned Inez Burger at CS's , just around the corner across from the Millsaps campus. Another local favorite with a similar culinary attitude can be found just down the street at Backyard Burgers' downtown location. For a heart-healthier option, grab a cup of java, a breakfast roll and a copy of the Clarion-Ledger (or The Wall Street Journal) at the Joe Muggs coffee shop at Books-A-Million.
A quieter and classier environment can be found at Marcel's, a local favorite with arguably the best salad dressing in the South. Crechale's has been a campy Jackson favorite since 1956. It's said that if you haven't dined in Crechale's truck-stop-decor elegance, you haven't been in Jackson very long. BRAVO! Italian Restaurant was named restaurant of the year four years running by the Jackson Visitors Bureau . Blending authentic Italian with authentic Southern is a tricky feat, but one that's accomplished here with surprising style in such entrees as the linguine with crawfish.
Many of the city's restaurants have followed the population as it has moved north, with the largest concentration centered around Northpark Mall in near-suburban Ridgeland. Northpark itself is home to the popular Morrison's Cafeteria, a pleasant family-style chain that serves up Southern favorites quickly to frantic shoppers. Other chains, including Ruby Tuesday's and Grady's as well as local favorite McAlister's Deli , are situated in and around the mall for quick bites.
Just down the street in a smaller strip mall is one of Jackson's most frequented barbecue joints, Red Hot and Blue , which is a bit antiseptic but serves exceptional pulled-pork sandwiches and rib platters. More worldly palettes will find satisfaction at Little Tokyo .