TRAVEL - HATTIESBURG
Known as “Hub City” among Mississippians for its central location between New Orleans; Jackson, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama, Hattiesburg is a melting pot of cultures. Nestled at the intersection of Interstate 59 and U.S. Highway 49, and also connected via Amtrak, the city of just under 50,000 residents has a deep history rooted in the Civil Rights movement. In the 1960s, local activist Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. (known for his mantra, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count”) played a key role in promoting equal voting rights for African Americans—so much so that his work attracted national attention. Civil rights activists, including many teachers, flocked to Hattiesburg in summer 1964 to take part in peaceful sit-ins, and the city became known as a mecca for the Freedom Schools movement. Today, visitors can explore Hattiesburg’s Freedom Summer Trail, a collection of 16 stops throughout the area that commemorates those who fought for civil rights during that time. And in January, the Forrest County Courthouse in downtown dedicated a new bronze statue honoring the life of Dahmer.
While reliving civil rights history can feel both somber and triumphant at once, Hattiesburg helps visitors experience the impact of those transformational years in a positive light. “That’s the compelling story we want to show—that’s the Mississippi we have today,” says Marlo Dorsey, executive director of Visit Hattiesburg. “We want to be that progressive, diverse, welcoming community for all, and for people to see that while we have a storied past with ugly chapters, we’re set on a path of equality and civility like we’ve never been able to be before.”
Bursting with Flavor
Hattiesburg’s close proximity to the Gulf helps solidify its position as a foodie destination. “From a great piece of grilled fish with delicious toppings to fried shrimp, catfish and oysters, you’re always going to be able to find excellent seafood,” says Dorsey. That’s not the only thing you’ll find, however: The area has about 200 locally owned restaurants, ranging from Cajun to soul food and Southern classics to vegan cuisine. Don’t miss spots like Keg & Barrel, known for its pub-style grub and hundreds of beers on tap; healthy-eating Birdhouse Café, helmed by local celebrity chef Katie Dixon; and GrateFull Soul, famous for its Southern-style plate lunches.
The Lucky Rabbit, which was recently featured on HGTV’s “Home Town,” is only open four days a month—so plan your visit accordingly if you’re planning to stop by this downtown hotspot. The beloved shop features many items from local artists and vendors. Whether you’re looking to scoop up some antique glassware or find a one-of-a-kind hutch that’s been completely restored, you never know what treasures you’ll find. In Hattiesburg, discover boutiques around every corner, from shoe shops to women’s clothing, furniture and the unique T-Bones Records and Café, where you can browse vinyl records while sipping a cold brew coffee. If you’re in the mood to browse art, Oddfellows Gallery, located inside the historic home of the Hattiesburg Chapter of the International Order of Oddfellows, is primarily a private event space but also houses art exhibitions and is open to the public Thursday through Saturday.
With more than 400 live music events each year, Hattiesburg is a haven for good beats and a good time. “Our live music scene is not only the talk of the town but also the region, attracting fans and artists from all over the Southeast and beyond,” shares Dorsey. Some venues to check out include Saenger Theater, a historic venue dating back to the 1920s that has nearly 1,000 seats and a grand Robert Morton pipe organ; and The Thirsty Hippo, a combination music venue, bar and restaurant that also hosts open-mic nights, live trivia, and local and regional bands weekly. Throughout the summer, there are many options for enjoying live music outdoors, too (see sidebar).
As much fun as it is checking out local restaurants, shops and music venues, visitors would be remiss to visit Hattiesburg and not spend time outdoors. “We have tremendous green spaces and lots of beautiful waterways,” says Dorsey. For example, the area’s Longleaf Trace is 44 miles of paved trail atop a former railroad. Lined with trees on both sides, it’s ideal for biking and hiking. If you enjoy the water, you can spend a day at Okatoma River, doing everything from tubing to kayaking, canoeing, boating and swimming (rent gear from Okatoma Outdoor Post). Check into Okatoma Resort and RV Park to make a weekend of it, and stop into Shady Acres Village for a meal of fried green tomatoes and hearty sandwiches to refuel. Golfers also have several top-notch options for public courses in the Hattiesburg area—and thanks to the area’s relatively mild climate, play happens year-round. Timberton Golf Club is highly rated and one of the leaders in championship golf in Southern Mississippi, while Shadow Ridge is a scenic course populated by native pines, dogwoods and magnolias. Kids will enjoy the Hattiesburg Zoo, which is home to nearly 100 species of animals as well as a high-ropes adventure course, train, splash pad and more. Later this year, look for a new giraffe exhibit and feeding station.
– Kelsey Ogletree
Sidebar: Can’t-Miss Summer Events in Hattiesburg
FestivalSouth: June 4-20
Returning for its 10th year as the state’s only multi-week, multi-genre arts festival, this event has everything from music to Broadway performances to a golf tournament.
SummerTunes: June 12, 26; July 10, 24; Aug. 14, 28
Taking place at Town Square Park in downtown, this free live music event is a favorite among locals.
Hattiesburg Craft Beer Festival: June 13
Sample more than 100 craft beers from 30 breweries at this 8th annual event, which honors the area’s growing beer industry.
Star-Spangled Celebration on the River: July 3
Kick of Independence Day early with live music, kids’ activities, food vendors and fireworks.
Downtown BBQ Showdown: July 17-18
Put your game face on and head to this smokin’ hot competition. Try top-notch bbq, enjoy live music, and let the kids play in the free kid zone.
Mississippi Farm Country – Summer 2020
Travel: Hattiesburg, MS
Writer: Kelsey Ogletree