As a Chicago transplant who attended the University of Alabama, one of 14 members of the Southeastern Conference collegiate athletic institution, I’m no stranger to the charms and fervors of an SEC college town, from sports-centric traditions such as tailgates to campuses that showcase Southern architecture as much as any downtown square. You can draw a lot of parallels between attending an SEC school and visiting a city or town that hosts one. That’s why I jumped at the recent chance to visit Oxford, Mississippi, otherwise known as the home of Ole Miss.
Dedication to Ole Miss and its athletics is one of Oxford’s defining features, but so is its dedication to the arts. The onetime home of literary figures such as William Faulkner and John Grisham, Oxford is an excellent place to browse charming bookstores, tour historical sites, and check out the latest from a wide network of musicians, painters, and other artists. Add in a long list of bars, restaurants, shops, and other venues that you’d expect to keep both college students and locals entertained, and you’ve got yourself a great place to visit.
These are the best things to do in Oxford, Mississippi, including what to see, where to dine and drink, and where to stay while you’re in town.
The best things to do in Oxford, Mississippi
Square Books is an independent bookstore located on The Square, Oxford’s central hub. Since opening in 1979, Square Books has opened three additional stores a short walk from one another: Off Square Books, Rare Square Books, and Square Books Jr. (Rare Square Books is located above the children’s bookstore Square Books Jr. in what was once the original bookstore.) Today’s main Square Books location features two floors and a cafe, and it holds several events throughout the year, including book signings.
Square Books: 160 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS 38655
South of The Square lies Rowan Oak, the former home of author William Faulkner. Faulkner resided in Rowan Oak for over 40 years, and it’s where he created most of his work. Originally built in the 1840s and purchased by Ole Miss in 1972, the house now serves as a museum to the public year-round. It features many artifacts on its two floors, as well as a rotating art gallery in the former sewing room. Admission is $5 cash for visitors ages 12 and up.
Rowan Oak: 916 Old Taylor Rd, Oxford, MS 38655
Neilson’s Department Store is Oxford’s oldest store and the South’s oldest department store. Opened in 1839, Neilson’s was around before Ole Miss was even established in 1848. Its gorgeous exterior and interior make for a fun stop for clothes and home goods when walking around The Square.
Neilson’s: 119 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS 38655
One of my favorite things to do in Oxford was touring the Wonderbird Spirits Distillery where I had the chance to taste locally made gin. (North Mississippi’s first distillery, Wonderbird is technically located about 10 minutes south of Oxford.) The award-winning gin starts with fermented Mississippi Delta rice and includes a flavor profile filled with citrus and floral notes. After tasting the gin by itself, it was great to try it out in a cocktail at local bars in Oxford.
Wonderbird Spirits: 618 Co Rd 303, Taylor, MS 38673
Where to eat and drink in Oxford, Mississippi
Snackbar, created by Chef John Currence, uses quality, farm-to-table ingredients from Mississippi to create captivating dishes. Featuring a diverse food and drink menu, SnackBar is known for its rotating oyster selection from across the country. The oysters I tried the evening I went were native to Virginia and Alabama and paired perfectly with their mignonette dressing.
For my entree, I tried the braised pho-spiced beef cheeks. The beef was tender and delectable and was served over Two Brooks Jasmoon Rice in a delicious broth. We finished the meal with an apple donut cake topped with cider ice cream — the quintessential fall dessert.
Snackbar: 721 N Lamar Blvd, Oxford, MS 38655
Known for its artisanal and wood-fired pizzas, Saint Leo is a must-try restaurant that also has a nice brunch menu. The restaurant is a combination of classic Italian fare in trendy digs. For my entree, I opted for the burrata and soppressata pizza. Being from Chicago, I have extremely high standards for my pizza, and this one passed the test. Our waiter also offered us an off-the-menu latte with lavender syrup, which was phenomenal.
Saint Leo: 922 E Jackson Ave, Oxford, MS 38655
I’m notoriously known for being indecisive when it comes to ordering at a restaurant, so I particularly enjoyed The Sipp’s tapas-style menu. The portions are the perfect size for sharing, meaning diners can try a little bit of everything. The standout for me was the charcuterie board. In addition to the typical meats and cheeses, it was adorned with honey, lavash, and pickled vegetables.The Sipp also has an extensive drink menu, including seasonal cocktails and customizable wine flights.
The Sipp: 400 S Lamar Blvd a2, Oxford, MS 38655
Created by Executive Chef Joel Miller, Kingswood is located inside The Oliver Hotel of Oxford. The interior was gorgeous, and there was also outdoor seating. My travel companion and I split the brioche cinnamon rolls as a starter and both got the avocado toast. I loved how the avocado toast had lemon, basil, and sriracha, elevating it from the basic recipe.
Kingswood: 400 S Lamar Blvd a2, Oxford, MS 38655
Quietly tucked away in The Lyric Oxford is Bar Muse. It’s the perfect spot to grab drinks with a friend for happy hour or after a meal. Try the clarified drinks, Ghost of Amelia and Gyro Trip, for a unique and fun experience. The Gyro Trip, clarified with Greek yogurt, had the essence of tzatziki sauce in a light and zesty drink.
Bar Muse: 1006 Van Buren Ave, Oxford, MS 38655
On our second night, we wanted to find a spot where we could watch the remainder of the Ole Miss football game. We stopped at Funkys, a New Orleans-style bar on The Square. The interior was eclectic, and the bar featured all kinds of fun-flavored daiquiris.
Funkys: 1012 E Jackson Ave, Oxford, MS 38655
Where to stay in Oxford, Mississippi
The Graduate hotel in Oxford features a gorgeous collegiate-inspired interior, much like its other locations across the nation. The hotel was just steps from The Square, making it the perfect place to stay. The lobby, hallway, and rooms were complete with personal touches relating to Oxford and known people who’ve lived there. The hotel is the perfect place to start and end your day with its on-site coffee shop, Cabin82, and its rooftop bar, The Coop.
Graduate Oxford: 400 N Lamar Blvd, Oxford, MS 38655