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Home Road Trip Road Trip Issue 2023: Hattiesburg, Miss. | Cover Stories

Road Trip Issue 2023: Hattiesburg, Miss. | Cover Stories

by Staff

As someone who travels a lot professionally (and writes about it), I have a lot of text exchanges like this:

Q: Do you have any recommendations for San Jose?

A: California or Costa Rica?

But that doesn’t happen with Hattiesburg, Miss. — it’s the only town with that name anywhere in the world.







Pocket Museum


Hattiesburg’s reputation as a creative oasis with a public art mission, quirky boutiques, vintage shops and multiple rivers on which to paddle made it road-trip catnip for me. In addition to its unique name, Hattiesburg has a nickname — Hub City — due to its longtime status as a railroad hub. The 1910 historic landmark station still welcomes Amtrak passengers from New Orleans; Birmingham, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; and other cities. Kicking back, reading a book and watching the rolling hills of Mississippi go by wasn’t an option because Nashville doesn’t currently have passenger rail. (Hey Gov. Lee, let’s do it — and bring $20 billion to the state.)

But I was OK with driving. I wanted to go to The Lucky Rabbit, the famous 10-year-old antique store/gift shop. It recently expanded and I wanted to be able to bring home treasures I found there. Also, I needed to pack my paddleboard so I could spend some time on the Bouie River. So I got in the car for about six-and-half hours. (If you are a fan of HGTV’s Home Town, you can stop in Laurel, Miss., about 30 minutes north of Hattiesburg. Downtown Laurel’s streets feel like a Truman Show set with all their branded shops.)

Stay 

Hattiesburg is home to the University of Southern Mississippi, so like any good college town, it has many clean, convenient, affordable hotels. The Hotel Indigo Hattiesburg is near campus and in a walkable area with restaurants and shops. The Holiday Inn Express has a pool, free breakfast and a convenient location next to I-59. There are a few options for water views, including the Whiskey on the River cabins in nearby Petal.

Do

A couple of Hattiesburg’s absolute must-see attractions have unexpected hours, so I plotted my schedule in advance. The aforementioned The Lucky Rabbit is open only on Saturdays and Sundays. It takes up two entire buildings (an old hardware store and an old grocery) of antiques, secondhand and vintage goods and other … well, stuff. Owners Brandon and Abby Thaxton like combing through goods and building fun displays to show off the goods. One of the cashier areas, for example, is a vintage grocery store checkout. There are rooms featuring imaginative replicas of different TV shows and movies — stepping in is like being at the Rosebud Motel in Schitt’s Creek, wigs on the wall and all. The buildings aren’t air-conditioned, which you notice if you choose to vacation in Southern Mississippi in July. So while I spent several hours here (and yes, found the giant antique schoolhouse map of my dreams), I took a break for a popsicle in the courtyard with water misters between the buildings (and again later with a beverage and a snack at Southern Prohibition Brewing across the street).

Hattiesburg is on a mission to have 100 murals in the city by 2025. There are murals on the sides of buildings, in crosswalks, on utility boxes, in a very cool tunnel where students leave their mark on the USM campus, and pretty much everywhere else. Maps help you find all the public art. My favorite is the “Suffrage” mural on McCloud Street, though I also caught several new works in progress. I stopped to watch the painting-in-action near the Longleaf Trace, a 44-mile park and bike trail, while eating an icy snowball. (Again, July in Mississippi was very hot.) Alpine Snow seems to be the old-timer’s favorite, but there’s no shortage of places to find the sweet New Orleans-style treat.







Pocket Museum in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Pocket Museum


The murals are just the start of Hattiesburg’s commitment to public art. I’m fixated on the genius of the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum. During the pandemic, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission built a museum in a downtown alley behind the historic Saenger Theater. Exhibits include optical-illusion murals, a piece by Kelsey Montague (creator of Nashville’s “What Lifts You” wings), and tons of miniature scenes hidden on electric meters and in crevices on the wall. Open 24 hours a day, the Pocket Alley offers scavenger-hunt-like tasks for kids to complete and a “pocket theater” where you can watch a short film through a viewfinder in the wall. It’s free and looks different during the day than at night, so I recommend going more than once.







Smith Drug Co.

Smith Drug Co.


Hattiesburg has roots in the civil rights movement, with several museums and displays to teach that history. (Hey Nashville, it’s time to build a civil rights museum already.) The Sixth Street Museum District includes the Historic Eureka School. Built in 1921, itwas the first school for Black children in Hattiesburg and only the second in the entire state. It’s been restored with museum exhibits in some of the classrooms, including photos from Freedom Summer. Plans are to expand the school into a larger civil rights museum. Next door is Smith Drug Co., a restored 1920s pharmacy with a soda fountain counter open on Saturdays only. I recommend grabbing a milkshake and checking out the artifacts. If you can’t, it’s still possible to get a sense of the restoration work from the outside. The gem of the district (and the city) is the African American Military History Museum. Housed in a historic USO post, the museum features interactive displays about the lives of Black soldiers in U.S. forces, from the American Revolution to Operation Desert Storm. While learning about civil rights, don’t skip the “If You Don’t Vote” sculpture of slain activist Vernon Dahmer Sr. in front of the courthouse.

After all that culture, it was time for me to get on the water. Hattiesburg’s Pinebelt Blueways system consists of more than 52 miles of water trails along the Leaf and Bouie rivers. Thanks to state grant funding, the city is putting in paddling and motorized access points, plus there’s terrific signage at each launch about how long that section of the river is, where the takeout is and what wildlife you might see on the way. (Hey, Metro Council and Gov. Lee, let’s get some signage and access ramps for recreational paddlers in Middle Tennessee.)







Birdhouse Cafe

Birdhouse Cafe


After all the snowballs, I arranged my schedule to have a healthy breakfast on a weekday at Birdhouse Cafe. It’s one of chef Katie Dixon’s restaurants, serving fresh, healthy bowls, salads and sandwiches. It’s tucked inside an appliance store — at first you might think it is just a display kitchen — and its hidden location adds to the charm. Depot Kitchen and Market also served delicious healthy breakfasts and lunches. If you go, bring me back one of the spinach bowls. 

People who live in Hattiesburg call themselves “Hattiesburgers,” and so, of course, there is a HattiesBURGER Trail that helps you find all the burgers in the city. On that list is the old-school (for real, the diner turned 100 years old this year) Coney Island Cafe. If you’re feeling homesick, T-Bones Records and Cafe has an Old Nashville vibe, with vinyl on the right and coffee, salads and sandwiches on the left.

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