Oxford, Mississippi, is that kind of small Southern city that makes you want to bury your nose into a book. Between the town’s literary legacy—authors from William Faulkner to John Grisham have called it home—and the scholarly community entrenched at the University of Mississippi, not to mention one of the South’s most beloved bookstores, it’s easy to walk the streets and feel just a bit more erudite.
The Square, the cultural heart of Oxford, provides a good home base; you’re in walking distance of Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, from which a trail leads to the University Museum at the University of Mississippi. It’s also home to sites like the Lyric Theater—which occasionally hosts the Thacker Mountain Radio program—and Square Books, as well as its smaller offshoots.
Fall means football here—if you head to the Grove during a game day, you’ll encounter thousands of fans tailgating in such a civilized manner that some even pack their crystal stemware. And every day of the year, Oxford’s food scene has something for everyone from the casually refined City Grocery, to the warm vibe and wood-fired pizzas of Saint Leo, to the meat-and-three fare of Ajax Diner. Access it all easily with a stay at the Graduate Hotel, where shelves of vintage books line the walls to round out your literary excursion.
A decades-old haunt, Bottletree is a go-to for mouth-watering pastries, like brownies with white chocolate chip and graham cracker crusts, as well as a caffeine fix. Go for the Bump & Grind, which is coffee with a shot of espresso, and a raspberry brioche. (662-236-5000)
Inside this hip, updated gas station, you’ll find Vietnamese coffees, drippy fried bologna sandwiches, and a range of breakfast items and salads.
Set at the heart of the Square, this meat-and-three takes lunch to a new level with plates piled high with meatloaf, sweet potatoes, and turnip greens.
Taylor Grocery and Restaurant
Set a few miles away in the town of Taylor, this roadside spot is open Thursday through Sunday and puts out some of the South’s finest fried catfish, which you can enjoy with a few tunes, some sweet tea—or your own brown bag of wine or liquor.
Big Bad Breakfast
Stop into the original location of John Currence’s strip mall breakfast and lunch spot and order up a Dear American Airlines plate, loaded with country ham, eggs, and grits, plus a dollop of tomato gravy.
Saint Leo Lounge
This sister of Saint Leo, a cozy pizza joint, this cocktail spot sits a few blocks away and strikes the balance between fun and sophisticated: A hexagonal bar puts mixologists at center stage, while eighteen disco balls bring the funk to the dance floor. Joseph Stinchcomb leads the bar where you might find creations like the Evening Edition with bourbon, cynar, coffee, and Angostura bitters.
With Indian-meets-Southern nibbles, Snackbar is run by chef Vishwesh Bhatt who might pair Gujarati-spiced stewed black eye peas with fenugreek dumplings alongside a French 75 or two. There’s a dimly lit hunt club vibe, along with a raw bar and jazzed up classics like harissa-spiced roast chicken with cumin-fennel potato puree.
This is an Oxford institution with its warm brick walls, worn wood floors, and white tablecloths (plus a well-loved second-story bar) where you’ll find locally minded dishes like Mississippi rabbit ragù with housemade pappardelle and pecan-parsley pesto.
At the original spot, you can peruse multiple levels in search of first editions, or explore an entire Faulkner section. Nearby, Off Square Books shows off a selection of gently worn books and lifestyles titles, while Square Books Jr., has you covered with kids’ books and toys.
Within walking distance to the University of Mississippi campus Rowan Oak, this quirky, somewhat literary themed hotel will have you reliving your college days with cheeky touches like room keys that are phony school ID cards of famous Ole Miss alum and pennants as do-not-disturb signs. Visit the campy Cabin 82 for breakfast until 2 pm or cap the night off at the Coop, the hotel’s rooftop bar featuring a killer view of the Square.
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