WATCH: 7 Reasons Every Southerner Should Take A Trip To Natchez, Mississippi
Natchez, Mississippi, is its own little corner of the South. There's no Publix, and most businesses are local (although you can visit the Super Wal-Mart if you need to grab something from a box store). With a town population of about 15,000, two major garden clubs, historic homes that'll make you swoon, and its own brewery – this Southern gem in west Mississippi is rich in culture, stories, and community. Here are a few great reasons that everyone should take a trip to Natchez.
For the history:
You know you're in good hands when Sal, a tour guide with Open Air Tours, waves to everyone on the street. She knows everyone in Natchez, and everyone knows her. She also knows the history by heart, which is very impressive as you near an hour of your tour. I asked her how she keeps it all straight (there are a lot of dates to remember!), to which she responded: "you know it all when you grow up here." We wheeled around Natchez's downtown in a six-seat golf cart, stopping in front of large antebellum homes, beautifully architected government buildings, and even the lemonade stand of one of her friend's grandchildren. To experience the true community culture of Natchez, a trip with Sal is crucial.
For the fresh air:
Jimmy "Jimbob" Allgood is one of the most interesting characters you'll ever meet in Mississippi. Best known for hosting "Redneck Adventures Televison Show" – of which you can watch 200+ episodes on everything from squirrel hunting to noodling catfish – Jimbob's company, Redneck Adventures, specializes in bringing folks out in the country for an outdoor adventure they won't soon forget. Boating, fishing, skeet shooting, hunting – Jimbob and his team customize tours to whatever a family wants to experience. You can float on the Mississippi, learn how to catch fish in jugs, or hunt squirrels in Vidalia, LA, just across the bridge from Natchez.
For the trees:
Picturesque scenery is every-which-way you turn in this Mississippi town, but the trees that frame the antebellum homes, old brick buildings, and views of the Mississippi River are truly a magnificent sight to behold. Live oaks are all around, with Spanish moss dripping romantically from the limbs and Resurrection Moss – which you'll find closer to the water – coating the branches with soft greenery. One of the best places to gaze at the live oaks is at Monmouth Historic Inn & Gardens, a 19th-century antebellum home on John A. Quitman Boulevard. With a gazebo, ponds, and trees dotting 26 acres of manicured gardens, Monmouth is a popular Southern wedding destination with a gorgeous backdrop and beautiful bed-and-breakfast-style accomodations.
For the legends:
The story behind King's Tavern may bring visitors to this nearly 230-year-old bar in downtown Natchez, but that's not the reason that folks stay. With cocktails like "Little Easy" – made with Honeysuckle vodka, homemade grenadine, and chocolate bitters – and "Midnight In Manhattan" – made by smoking orange blossom water on cedar – you can sip on a little piece of Mississippi while Ricky Woolfolk, the bar's manager, shares the story of Madeline's ghost. And, if you ask, he may just show you a little proof of the ghost's existence. Next door to King's, you'll find Charboneau, an award-winning Mississippi rum distillery that adds a signature kick to several of King's cocktails.
For the tamales:
If in hearing the name "Fat Mama," you imagine a plump elderly woman, you wouldn't be the only one. Fat Mama's Tamales is a local staple in Natchez, but the irony behind its name can't be missed. The original "Fat Mama" – Britton Gammill – is actually a tiny, compact woman; the name of the restaurant came from the amount of "mess-ups" that Britton and her husband made while trying to perfect their recipe. According to their website: "[Britton was] going to have to name the shop Fat Mama's after eating all the mistakes!" Fat Mama's is a bright, colorful restaurant with incredible cheap eats, a sunny patio, and eclectic themed décor. You'll probably want to try out the Gringo Pie, as a recommendation from some of the locals – it's three of Fat Mama's famous tamales topped with homemade chili, shredded cheese, onions, and jalapeños.
For the relaxation:
Natchez has historic houses on every street corner, with plaques declaring their names and stories etched up and down their stately facades. Nearly 75 of these antebellum homes are also bed-and-breakfasts – meaning that visitors have quite a few options for lodging as they plan their visit to Natchez. Whether you swoon over architecture, interior design, or large porches – a stay at one of Natchez's bed-and-breakfasts will kick off your trip to west Mississippi the right way each morning. Some favorites include Monmouth Historic Inn, Linden Bed & Breakfast, Dunleith (with incredible grounds for a Southern wedding), and Greenlea.
For the donuts:
As I walked around Natchez, every local I talked to asked if I'd been to The Donut Shop yet. "They sell out quick," someone told me. As I was warned, the shop was almost completely out of donuts – all kinds – by 11AM on Sunday. The shop's glazed yeast donuts rival those of Krispy Kreme, and, made fresh daily, the donuts are legendary around town. But, if you're not into sweets, The Donut Shop's got something else for you. "They have some of the best tamales in Mississippi," my tour guide confided in me. Donuts and tamales? It's the best kind of souvenir, in this writer's opinion.