Last Updated on May 10, 2023
You can’t write about what to see in Tupelo, MS without acknowledging the Elvis Presley connection, but there’s more to Tupelo that makes this southern gem an ideal vacation destination.
My husband and I had the pleasure of exploring this welcoming north Mississippi town and delighted in all it had to offer. Of course, we couldn’t resist paying our respects to the King. He is, after all, the town’s larger-than-life favorite son.
Staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi provided a comfortable and convenient location that afforded us opportunities to walk rather than drive.
What to see in Tupelo
What is Tupelo, Mississippi Famous For?
What to see in Tupelo? Elvis, of course.
He’s everywhere around town: on murals, statues, and in gift shops.
If you want to delve deeper into the life and legacy of this Mississippi musical legend on your visit, start with the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum.
Along with the house where Elvis was born and the museum that chronicles his life, you’ll find other tributes to the King. The grounds include the church where the Presleys worshipped, a replica of the community outhouse used by neighborhood families, and the statue of a 13-year-old Elvis with his first guitar.
The House Where Elvis Was Born
We toured the plain two-room frame shotgun shack Vernon Presley built with help from his father, brother, and a loan from his boss in 1934. The house was restored to its original condition and contains period furniture. It was humbling to see how much one can live without, and a reminder of how privileged we are today.
Eventually the family left Tupelo for financial reasons and settled in Memphis when Elvis was 13.
In 1957, the city of Tupelo purchased the home and surrounding property, and later the State of Mississippi designated the Presley Birthplace a historic landmark.
The House Where Elvis’s Music Was Born
On the same property as Elvis’ birthplace stands The Assembly of God Pentecostal Church where the Presley’s regularly attended. It was in this tiny building where Elvis found his calling. He sang in the choir and then performed as a soloist, hypnotizing the congregation with his clear young voice.
In 1959, the congregation moved into a larger facility. The building was moved across the street and transformed into a four-room home. By the time renovations were completed, nothing was left to indicate this had once been a place of worship.
Lawrence and Martha Stanford purchased the house in 1966 and lived there until they sold it to the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation. The structure was moved again in 2008, this time to the Elvis Presley Museum, where it was restored to its 1930s style and opened to the public.
We sat in a hard wooden pew while a presenter shared stories of the church’s history and Elvis’ strong connection. Approximately half the structure is the original church. This includes most of the rafters, interior walls, as well as some of the flooring. The unadorned building seats approximately 50 and contains little more than the pews, an old upright piano in the corner, and the original pulpit.
Next, we watched a film depicting a representation of a service during the time the Presleys attended the church. The worshippers wore 1930s-era clothing as they sang hymns and listened to Brother Smith’s sermon.
Elvis once dreamed of becoming a member of a gospel quartet, but fame and Colonel Parker had different plans. Gospel music never left him, however, and he recorded several religious albums which included church songs from his childhood. In fact, all three of his Grammy awards were gospel recordings.
Pieces of Elvis
The museum was filled with the kind of memorabilia one might expect: photos, clothing, Elvis’ bible, and the hammer his father used to build the family home. Items on display primarily consist of the personal collection that belonged to Janelle McComb, a Tupelo resident and longtime friend of the Presleys.
The museum which opened in 1992 is listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Top Things to do in Tupelo, MS (Non-Elvis)
Downtown Tupelo, Mississippi
While Elvis casts a big shadow, what to see in Tupelo, MS includes more than just the King of Rock and Roll.
Pleasantly walkable, downtown Tupelo, Mississippi is worth a wander. You never know what you’ll find amongst the guitar sculptures along the sidewalks. Whether it’s a leisurely Southern-style lunch, retail therapy, or a piece of Tupelo’s history, there’s plenty to occupy visitors here.
Murals seem to be part of every downtown area, and Tupelo is no exception. A fine example of local artistic talent is the postcard-themed mural created by the mother-daughter team of Reid Caldwell and Kit Stafford. The street art features scenes of the Farmers’ Depot, the courthouse, and downtown Tupelo.
Of course, no one would dream of leaving Elvis out of this downtown beautification project. You will see a young Elvis dancing on the side of a West Main Street building. If you venture into Reed’s Department Store, one of the oldest in Mississippi, wave to a pregnant Gladys Presley in a scene from a Reed Company picnic.
Take some time to browse the Caron Gallery featuring 50 Mississippi artisans and their creations. Whatever your taste, you’re sure to find something special among the wide variety of abstracts, modern, and traditional landscapes, as well as sculptures and ceramics.
Tupelo, MS History
For avid history buffs like me, Tupelo is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sadly, much of the world’s history is consumed by war, bloodshed, and the stronger side winning, whether the cause was just or not. Still, if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.
Tupelo is no different. When putting together your plans for what to see in Tupelo, MSI there are many powerful historical sites that are well worth a visit.
Several heritage trails in and around Tupelo are part of the Heritage Trails Enrichment Program. Follow the markers to learn how individuals, cultures, and events shaped the town, the state, and the nation.
- Chickasaw Heritage Trail: Native American history doesn’t typically come to mind when thinking about what to see in Tupelo, MS, but it should. The Chickasaw Nation was one of the great tribes from the southeastern United States – the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes – and the Tupelo area was their ancestral homeland. That was until the Indian Removal Act brutally uprooted them and drove them west in 1837. Of their many contributions to the area and the country, their victory in the 1754 French-Indian War played a direct role in the formation of the United States. The trail tells the story of the life and struggles of these original inhabitants.
- Tupelo Civil War Heritage Trail: As the American Civil War was nearing the conclusion of four years of horrific bloodshed and destruction, the summer of 1864 saw some of Mississippi’s final battles of the conflict in and around Tupelo. The Civil War Trail takes visitors to seven locations of significance that tell the story of battles fought and lives lost on both sides.
- Civil Rights Heritage Trail: In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill, the most sweeping piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It was long overdue, especially in certain Southern States, including Mississippi, site of infamous atrocities of racial violence including the murders of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers.
Although the bill guaranteed equality for all Americans, there were those who believed themselves above the law of humanity, clinging to their outdated and misguided segregationist agendas, even if it meant resorting to violence. In Tupelo, community leaders – both black and white – worked together to ensure that demonstrations and expressions of opinion didn’t turn violent. The markers on the Civil Rights Trail tell the remarkable story of how Tupelo tried peacefully transitioning into the welcoming town it is today.
Keep these stories in mind as you consider what to see in Tupelo, MS.
Tupelo National Battlefield
The Battle of Tupelo on July 14 and 15, 1864, was Mississippi’s final major battle of the Civil War. The fierce and bloody confrontation involved more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, but when the smoke cleared, neither side was able to declare a decisive victory.
However, the Union troops successfully achieved their primary goal, which was to prevent the Confederates from cutting off Union railroad lines in Tennessee and disrupting Sherman’s march to the sea.
The battle is commemorated by two monuments, along with interpretive signage, in a one-acre park on Tupelo’s West Main Street. If you stand still in the park on a hot summer day, try to imagine the horrific sights, sounds, and smells of the battle raging around you. Then send up a prayer, kind thought, or some message of compassion for those who experienced the cruelty and carnage during those two terrible days.
The Tupelo National Battlefield is open daily and the National Park Service administers the site through the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Tupelo Veterans Museum
If military history is your jam, the Tupelo Veterans Museum is a must. You’ll find it within the Tupelo City Museum. The Veterans Museum contains thousands of military artifacts from the Civil War to the war in Afghanistan.
Tony Lute, a United States Army Veteran, owns the collection and generously shares it through the museum. This citizen soldier has taken over sixty years to amass his military treasure trove.
From the Civil War era, you’ll see weapons, uniforms, maps, and a document signed by Abraham Lincoln. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars are also represented through everyday items and a few surprises. Particularly meaningful is the flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol at the hour the D-Day invasion began.
Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center
Prepare to be wowed by the Natchez Trace Parkway, a “must” on your what to see in Tupelo, MS itinerary. In fact, everyone traveling throughout the South should make it a point to visit at least some part of this captivating 444-mile scenic byway winding its way from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS.
A short drive along this historic road was enough to help us understand why it is one of the top ten national parkways in the country.
Tupelo is the headquarters of the Parkway’s Visitor Center which houses interactive exhibits. We were mesmerized by the film describing the diverse landscape and history of the Trace dating back 10,000 years.
If you want to get out in the fresh air, hiking trails surround the center. Since we aren’t avid hikers, we elected to take a leisurely drive simply to drink in the stunning landscape. Now, I want to travel the entire route someday.
What to Eat in Tupelo, MS
No that you know what to see in Tupelo, how about what to eat in Tupelo, MS? Here are a few suggestions to keep hunger and thirst at bay:
- Queen’s Reward Meadery: Treat yourself to a tasting at Mississippi’s first meadery, producing small-batch meads with 100% Mississippi honey. The friendly owners will share their delightful story while they pour, and the mead is first-rate.
- Brick & Spoon: This Southern café is known for starting their customers’ day with a scrumptious breakfast or brunch and live music on the weekend. Try one of their omelets with grits on the side. You won’t need to eat for the rest of the day.
- Kermit’s Soul Kitchen: Located in downtown Tupelo in a 140-year-old building, this funky, eclectic restaurant specializes in smoked meats, savory sides, and creative craft cocktails. Try one of their outstanding burgers. You won’t be sorry.
- Romie’s Grocery: Are you hungry enough for “meat and three”? For lunch? Would you rather dine on a steak, catfish, or a burger, accompanied by live music on a weekend evening? Then this casual eatery is the place for you.
- Crave: Looking for a fantastic place for after-dinner coffee and dessert? This café specializes in homemade sweets and gourmet coffee. Any of the desserts will wow you enough to forget the treadmill.
Tupelo is a delightful town full of Southern charm, fascinating history, and fabulous food. If it isn’t on your radar, it should be. You’ll love it, and Elvis wouldn’t lie.Black historyhistoryIndigenous culturemusic