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I closed my eyes and silently paid homage to a man with whom I’d spent many long, confusing and frustrating hours in college. I quickly downed a shot of Jack Daniels and placed the tiny empty bottle on his grave, completing the tradition of having a shot with William Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi. “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi,” he said.

While a road trip through the Magnolia State may not leave you understanding the world, you’ll have a better appreciation for the birthplace of American music, the state’s entrenched literary tradition, and a landscape that ranges from lush, tree-filled terrain to farmland and beautiful white-sand beaches. Beginning in northwest Mississippi and zigzagging all the way down to the breezy Gulf, here are some road trip highlights of this land of biscuits, blues and books.

RELATED: The ultimate California wine lover’s road trip

Tune up in Tunica

Dog died? Your honey left you? Channel your pain by creating your own blues song in a recording studio at the Gateway to the Blues Museum housed in an 1895 train depot. Email it to yourself to impress your friends at home. Or learn how to play a lap steel guitar and a diddley bow at one of the other interactive exhibits while you learn how and why the blues evolved in the Mississippi Delta. Or maybe you can banish those blues by winning big at one of Tunica’s many casinos. If you lose? More fodder for your next blues song.

STAY Famous for its casino hotels, gleaming Gold Strike Casino Resort is among the best of the bunch.

Trover photo by Alice Andersen

Sing the blues in Clarksdale

It doesn’t matter what day of the week you pull into Clarksdale, you’ll find live blues music nightly at this town located at The Crossroads, the famous intersection of Highways 61 and 49. Robert Johnson, one of the first blues players, sold his soul to the devil here so he could play the blues (or so the story goes). Start the day with a visit to the Delta Blues Museum where a highlight is the remains of a cabin where Muddy Waters lived when he was a sharecropper and tractor driver. Then head over to juke joint Red’s Lounge for a brew and live blues.

STAY Keep up the immersion in blues with an overnight stay at the Bluestown Inn, featuring two fully furnished suites located right around the corner from the Delta Blues Museum.

Get lit(erary) in Oxford

After visiting Faulkner’s grave and stately home, Rowan Oak (where you can view the home exactly as he left it, including his typewriter and the outline for a novel drawn on his bedroom wall) visit Square Books. Despite being miles from a major airport (Memphis is 85 miles away) the book store hosts more than 160 authors annually. Attend a free live taping of the popular “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour” held weekly and hear authors read from their works at its annex store Off Square Books. John Grisham, then an Oxford resident, had his first book store signing here for “A Time to Kill.”

STAY A stone’s throw from both Rowan Oak and the University of Mississippi, the charming Graduate Oxford boasts a riot of quirky, cool furnishings inside a stately brick building.

Trover photo by Corey Dargan

Get your motor running in Tupelo

You can’t visit Tupelo without a visit to the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum where you can see the church where Elvis first performed and tour the tiny shotgun house where he was born in 1935. Next, see a 1976 Lincoln he owned as well as more than 100 other classic cars in pristine condition at the Tupelo Auto Museum, featuring cars dating back to an 1886 Benz.

STAY Keep it simple and stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Tupelo, located right near the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum.

Discover Desire in Columbus

Tour the birthplace of Tennessee Williams, a Mississippi-born Pulitzer Prize winner (like Faulkner), who was born in a Victorian home in 1911 while his granddaddy was pastor of a local church. Tour the many beautiful antebellum homes and other points of interest in Columbus on a red double-decker bus in this charming town that boasts more than 650 sites on the historic register.

STAY Take the sting out of a hot day with a dip in the outdoor pool at the Hyatt Place Columbus.

ALSO: You’ll never sing the blues again after joining Orbitz Rewards—the travel rewards are instant!

Listen up in Cleveland

File this away for a future trivia question: Where is the first GRAMMY Museum outside of Los Angeles? Yep, that would be Mississippi, where the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, a 30,000-square-foot museum focused on the history of American music, opened in 2016. Listen to 50 years of GRAMMY performances, check out red carpet styles and take a seat in a pod at the “In the Studio” exhibit where you will be guided through the process of making a recording. Then, drive to Dockery Farms, established in 1895, and considered to be the birthplace of the blues.

STAY Greenville Inn & Suites is nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River; it’s a good 45 minutes from Cleveland, but it sure is a charmer.

Feel right at “home” in Laurel

It may have a population of less than 20,000 but this small town a few hours south of Cleveland (past Jackson) is home to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, one of the finest mid-size art museums in the South and Mississippi’s oldest museum. Its five collections range from American paintings to Native American baskets—don’t miss the world’s smallest hand-woven basket!

Known for the HGTV show “Home Town,” Laurel is attracting more fans of the show that features Ben and Erin Napier restoring many of the town’s homes. Peruse their selection of items for sale in their Laurel Mercantile Co. store.

STAY Budget lodgings abound in Hattiesburg, about 35 minutes south of Laurel.  Try the Best Western Premier University Inn for a comfy and affordable stay.

Trover photo by Quentin White

Have a Civil experience in Natchez

Talk about stretching out a renovation. Longwood, an antebellum home in Natchez will never be finished although all the workers’ tools are just where they left them during the Civil War. A tour of the elaborate octagonal home offers a fascinating look at that period of history when Natchez was the second wealthiest city behind New York. The city has also proclaimed itself the Biscuit Capital of the World, celebrated with an annual festival every September.

STAY Best way to press your luck at Magnolia Bluffs Casino Hotel? Park yourself poolside and enjoy the day.

Pass Christian | Trover photo by John E Souter

Find a shore thing in coastal Mississippi

Mississippi boasts 62 miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, including communities like Gulfport, with its lively entertainment district; Biloxi, which boasts Las Vegas-style casinos and shows; Waveland, home to Buccaneer State Park, and Pass Christian, a less-crowded, laid-back beach town once visited by Theodore Roosevelt.

STAY Win big at the South Beach Biloxi Hotel and Suites, a four-star beachfront hotel and a non-gaming option in coastal Biloxi.

 Float down river in Moss Point

Take the McCoy’s River and Swamp Tour with Captain Benny at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and learn about the Pascagoula, the longest free-flowing river in the continental US as Benny navigates the boat through tidal marshes and swamps while pointing out wildlife and some of the many bird species that inhabit the area, a point on the Mississippi Coast Birding Trail.

STAY Cheep and cheerful options line HWY 63 at I-10. Check out the Holiday Inn Express Moss Point, a short drive to swamp tours.

 

 

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Jan Schroder
An award-winner writer based in Atlanta, Jan Schroder is an editor, book author, publisher of Girl on the Go and a really pathetic packer for a travel writer. She is also editorial director of The 100 Companies, a publishing platform with 100-word stories and 100-second videos.
Jan Schroder
Jan Schroder
Jan Schroder

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