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Tupelo MS is a city full of Southern hospitality and small-town charm. With a cute main street, an eclectic mix of eateries and a variety of attractions, families can easily fill a weekend or more with fun things to do.
The writer was hosted on this trip.
My family recently had a chance to spend a weekend in Tupelo, Mississippi. Coming from Atlanta, it was an easy road trip, and we were happy to discover that Tupelo offered museums, historic sites, a zoo, parks, outdoor activities and more. If you’re looking for a short getaway with kids in the Southeast, think about spending a few days in this charming city. Here are seven fun family-friendly activities that we tried during our visit.
1. Learn About the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley
When you think of Elvis Presley, you probably think of Memphis, Tennessee, where the King of Rock and Roll began recording music with Sun Records and built his famous home, Graceland. But Tupelo has a compelling claim to Elvis too. Born in a two-room shotgun house in 1935, Elvis spent the first 13 years of his life in Tupelo before moving with his family to Memphis.
Today, his presence is still largely felt around the city. From murals and statues to historic sites and music festivals, you can’t spend time in Tupelo without learning something about the King.
Tour the Elvis Presley Birthplace
The most significant Elvis Presley attraction in Tupelo is the Elvis Presley Birthplace. The site includes a visitor center, museum, gift shop, the birth home, a memorial chapel, a church, two statues and a walking trail.
For me, the most interesting part of our visit was the tour of the original, restored church that Elvis and his family attended. The tour included a short docent-led talk and a 15-minute movie that re-creates a typical Sunday church service from Elvis’s childhood. Experiencing the intimate size of the church and the music-heavy service opened my eyes to the enormous influence gospel music had on Elvis’s life.
For my son, our visit was an introduction to an influential entertainer he knew very little about. He wandered the Birthplace museum with interest, looking at Presley family photos, Elvis’s clothes and other memorabilia.
Address: 306 Elvis Presley Drive, Tupelo MS 38801
Visit the Elvis Presley Homecoming Statue in Fairpark
We also visited the Elvis Homecoming statue in Tupelo’s central park, called Fairpark. It’s located on the site of the former fairgrounds where Elvis performed his Homecoming Concert in 1956. The inspiration for the statue was a photo of Elvis reaching into the crowd, and today, you can snap a picture of the King reaching out to you.
Take Elvis’s Self-Guided Bicycle Tour
Another fun thing to do in Tupelo MS is to take Elvis’s self-guided bicycle tour. It covers sites important to Elvis’s life, including the Elvis Presley Birthplace, the Lyric Theatre, where Elvis attended shows, Johnnie’s Drive-In, where Elvis liked to eat and Tupelo Hardware Store, where Elvis’s mother bought him his first guitar. We modified the route slightly, picking only a few sites close to downtown while also searching for some of Tupelo’s murals (see #3 below).
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to go inside Tupelo Hardware. Today, it operates as an Ace Hardware store and still sells guitars in honor of its most famous customer.
Attend the Tupelo Elvis Festival
If you’re in the Tupelo area in mid-June, be sure to check out the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival. The Tupelo Elvis Festival features some of the top Elvis tribute artists in the country and includes a preliminary competition for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. The winner named in Tupelo goes on to compete at Elvis Week in Memphis. We watched two shows at BancorpSouth Arena and found ourselves extremely entertained and impressed by the performances.
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2. Feed the Animals at Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo
Kids of all ages will love interacting with the animals at Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo. The zoo includes two sections, a park with animals in enclosures and a drive-thru with free-roaming animals. What makes the property so special is the ability to feed the animals. For $3 a bucket, you can purchase fresh lettuce and carrots for Jafar the giraffe or pellet food for the zoo’s other hooved animals.
The park section has alpacas, llamas, zebus, kangaroos, goats, coatis, monkeys, peacocks and a sloth, among other animals. It also has a reptile house where kids can see Burmese pythons and an aviary with talking parrots and cockatoos.
The zoo’s drive-thru winds through open fields on the 200-acre property where you’ll find animals like zebras, bison, a zeedonk (a cross between a zebra and a donkey), miniature horses, ostriches and camels. Visitors can feed the animals by holding a small bucket out the window of their vehicle. The animals aren’t shy about having a snack and will sometimes take the whole bucket right out of your hand. Even my teenager thought it was exhilarating to have such close animal encounters.
Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo also has a playground and offers pony rides for $3 on the weekends. Admission is $20 per person for both the park and the drive-thru, $15 for the park only, or $10 for the drive-thru only. Kids two and under are free.
Address: 2272 North Coley Road, Tupelo MS 38803
3. Find Tupelo’s Murals
For admirers of street art and devotees of colorful Instagram photos, a search for Tupelo’s downtown murals is a must-do. Stop by the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau or check out its website to get a list of the various mural locations around town. Six murals can be found on buildings that front West Main Street. There, we saw the Greetings from Tupelo mural, the 1950s Elvis mural, the new Mississippi Flag mural and the Chickasaw Heritage mural.
4. Go Shopping
Downtown Tupelo looks like the picture-perfect Southern town, with cute shops and boutiques lining its main street. We particularly enjoyed browsing the unique handcrafted wood pieces at RAW Furniture Co. and checking out the goods, including cast-iron skillets and guitars, at Tupelo Hardware. Across the street sits the historic Reed’s Department Store, which has been operating in Tupelo since 1905.
Lovers of antiques should also visit Relics Antique Marketplace in the historic Tupelo Garment Company building on Green Street. The marketplace hosts more than 200 booths of antique treasures in the 16,000-square-foot space.
For an indoor mall experience, check out the Mall at Barnes Crossing, where you’ll find stores like Belk, Old Navy, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Carter’s and The Children’s Place. The Mall at Barnes Crossing has a food court with fast casual dining, a movie theater, a carousel and ride-on Animal Zone rentals for kids aged two and up.
5. Spend Time at a Park
The local parks offer several fun things to do in Tupelo MS with kids. Ballard Park features a picnic area and a playground, while Fairpark has both a splash pad and playground. Fairpark is also the location of Tupelo’s weekly Food Truck Fridays, where we grabbed lunch one afternoon. Veterans Memorial Park has cool features like a 300-foot replica Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall and an installation of an F-105 Thunderchief jet. It also has an aquatic center, a splash pad, a disc golf course, paved paths and a fishing lake.
Within a short drive of Tupelo are two of Mississippi’s state parks, Tombigbee State Park and Trace State Park. Both parks offer hiking trails, disc golf courses, fishing lakes, playgrounds and picnic facilities.
6. Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile scenic byway that runs from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Near the parkway’s midpoint, just outside of Tupelo at mile marker 266, is the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center.
The center houses exhibits and interactive displays about regional history and the Native Americans who lived in the area. A national parks ranger is on staff to provide maps and other information about places to explore along the parkway. Nearby stops include the Chickasaw Village Site, a large field with foundation markers and displays about the Chickasaws’ daily life, and Pharr Mounds, which has three burial mounds visible from a covered pavilion.
7. Enjoy Great Food, Drinks and Live Music
During our weekend getaway in Tupelo, we had a chance to try delicious food and drink at a variety of family-friendly restaurants. Several restaurants in Tupelo, like Blue Canoe, Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen and Romie’s Grocery, also provide the opportunity to hear live music almost every night.
One of our favorite stops of the weekend was at Queen’s Reward Meadery, a producer of small-batch meads, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey. Our teenager companionably sat with us as we sampled four different meads and a frozen mead slushy. Afterwards, he got a kick out of seeing the enormous stainless-steel barrels, a fancy copper distiller and the bottle-labeling equipment used to process the meadery’s products during an impromptu behind-the-scenes tour with the delightful owner, Jeri Carter. Tastings are available for $12. Meads are also sold by the glass for $7.