Because of its location in the far southwestern corner of Tennessee, Memphis doesn't have the wealth of convenient day-trip options that Nashville has. For example, you could head west into Arkansas if you're interested in seeing Bill Clinton's presidential library in Little Rock, or drive north if the flat expanse of rural Missouri's boot heel holds any appeal (probably not). Look east, and you're at least a 3-hour drive to Nashville. Due to the distances involved, all of these options are perhaps better suited to overnight trips than simple daylong escapes. But here's the good news: Head south from downtown Memphis, and you're only a few miles from the Mississippi Delta -- the mother lode for blues-loving pilgrims who travel here from all over the world.


Home to the University of Mississippi, "Ole Miss," Oxford is a quaint small town where daily life revolves around its 150-year-old Court Square. A popular weekend destination for out-of-towners and visiting alumni, Oxford offers an enticing array of great art galleries, bookstores, restaurants, and historic homes. Although its proximity to Memphis (about 70 miles away) makes it a doable day-trip, Oxford's offbeat charms might entice you to stay a day or two.

Getting There

By Car -- The major route into Oxford is I-55 from both the north (Memphis) and south (Jackson). It's about a 90-minute drive.

Visitor Information

Contact or visit the Oxford Convention & Visitors Bureau ([tel. 800/758-9177) for information. The Visit Oxford Visitor’s Center, 1013 Jackson Ave. E., is open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5pm.

Exploring the Area

Oxford's favorite son is Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, whose residence from 1930 until his death in 1963 was his beloved home, Rowan Oak, Old Taylor Road (tel. 662/234-3284). A $5 tour of the grounds (still cash only!), with its graceful magnolias and old farm buildings, is a trip back in time.  with its graceful magnolias and old farm buildings, is a trip back in time. Inside, literary enthusiasts can still marvel at the author's old manual typewriter, and read his handwritten outline for A Fable, which is scrawled on the wall of his study.

The most popular pastime in Oxford is simply strolling The Square, where travelers might spot former local residents such as John Grisham. Square Books, 160 Courthouse Sq. (tel. 662/236-2262;, in business since 1870, is regarded as one of the best independent bookstores in the country. Down the street is its bargain-priced annex, Off Square Books, 129 Courthouse Sq. (tel. 662/236-2828). Thousands of discounted and remaindered books cram shelves and bins. It's also the site of Square Books' author signings and readings, as well as Thacker Mountain Radio, Oxford's original music and literature radio show. Best-selling authors such as Robert Olen Butler, Elmore Leonard, and Ray Blount, Jr., have read their works on the live show. Musical guests have run the gamut from Elvis Costello and Marty Stuart to the Del McCoury band and the North Mississippi Allstars. The show is recorded live on Thursdays from 6 to 7pm.

Where to Stay & Dine

If you decide to stay the night, The Oliver Hotel, 425 S. Lamar Blvd. (tel. 662/371-1400), features suites that have their own private Juliet balcony overlooking the town. Go on a weeknight for the best deals.City Grocery, 152 Courthouse Sq. (tel. 662/232-8080;, is one of the best restaurants in Mississippi. New Orleans-born chef John Currence finesses spicy cheese grits topped with plump shrimp, mushrooms, and smoked bacon, while offering an array of tempting gourmet salads, soups, and Cajun delicacies. Main courses cost $20 to $32. Reservations are recommended.

While it’s small in size, Oxford is big on food, thanks in large part to John Currence, a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” and winner of the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef South in 2009. He helms City Grocery, 152 Courthouse Sq. (tel. 662/232-8080), a local favorite for decades, but that’s only part of his empire. Boure, 309 N. Lamar (tel. 662/234-1968), serves casual Creole fare; Big Bad Breakfast, 719 N. Lamar (tel. 662/236-2666), specializes in biscuits, gravy, cured meats, and other comforting breakfasts (their slogan is “Lard have mercy”); and Snackbar, 721 N. Lamar ([tel] 662/232-2442), is an oysters-and-whiskey kind of place, which Currence dubbed a “Bubba Brasserie.” But if it’s a portable, greasy snack you crave, look no further than the 4 Corners Chevron’s chicken on a stick (502 S. Lamar Blvd.). Exactly what it sounds like, this giant juicy, crispy, deep-fried chicken tender is loaded up onto a stick for easy carrying and chowing. It is the preferred method of soaking up too many beers late at night for every college kid.

Oxford’s favorite dive bar is Proud Larry’s, 211 S. Lamar Blvd. (tel. 662/236-0050), where live music and drink specials please younger crowds.



An unmistakable vibe pervades the languid Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale, about an hour's drive south of Memphis, Tennessee. It's by turns eerie and endearing, a flat landscape where fertile fields, endless railroad tracks, and run-down shacks are giving way to pockets of progress -- an upscale restaurant, a strip mall full of dollar stores and fast-food drive-throughs, a museum celebrating the blues music that took root here in the early 20th century and changed the course of popular music.

Clarksdale also happens to be Tennessee Williams country. The cherished American playwright, author of such masterworks as A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, grew up here. Young Tom, who later adopted the name "Tennessee," lived in the parsonage of St. George's Episcopal Church, where his grandfather was pastor. Self-guided walking tours of the historic neighborhood are available.

If you don't plan to return to Memphis the same day, this is a good place to begin a driving tour of legendary Highway 61 (U.S. 61), the two-lane road that took blues legends such as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and B. B. King north from the impoverished cotton plantations of the south to the cities of Memphis and Chicago to the north. The long drive south will take you through the proverbial dusty Delta towns, and cities such as Greenville, Vicksburg, and finally, where Mississippi meets Louisiana in the southwest part of the state, historic Natchez.

Getting There

By Car -- The major route into Clarksdale is Highway 61 from Memphis to the north.

Visitor Information

Contact the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, 1540 Desoto Ave., Clarksdale, MS 39614 (tel. 800/626-3764 or 662/627-7337;

What to See & Do

As you ease into town, your first stop should be at The Crossroads, at the intersection of highways 49 and 61. The site is legendary as the place where bluesman Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the guitar prowess that has made him one of the most revered musicians of the past century. A guitar statue marks the spot.

From here, your next stop should be the Delta Blues Museum, 1 Blues Alley (tel. 662/627-6820; Housed in a renovated train depot built in 1918, it includes a treasure-trove of old blues memorabilia, including the log cabin where Muddy Waters grew up, on a cotton plantation not far from here. There are displays, musical instruments, and costumes of some of the Mississippi-born greats, such as Albert King, James Cotton, and Son House. Admission is $7 adults, $5 children 6 to 12; it is open daily except Sunday. Bessie Smith fans can do a drive-by tour of the Riverside Hotel, 615 Sunflower Ave. (tel. 662/624-9163), the former blacks-only hospital where the great blues singer died after a car crash in 1937. Blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson II, Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk, and even politician Robert F. Kennedy once stayed here. Today it still operates as a motel, but most visitors see it only from their windshields.

While downtown, don't miss Cathead Delta Blues & Folk Art, 252 Delta Ave. (tel. 662/624-5992; The store sells new blues CDs, DVDs, and books as well as eye-catching -- and affordable -- folk and outsider art. The hepcat-cool hot spot also serves as a clearinghouse for what's going on around town. Check Cathead's chalkboard that tells of weekly music events and updates. The store also occasionally has book signings and special events. You'll likely find the owner chatting up tourists who've made the pilgrimage here for some serious blues sightseeing.

Where to Stay & Dine

There's a pitiful lack of decent hotels in Clarksdale. Your best bet is to grab one of the inexpensive to moderately priced chain properties along State Street. Clean and modern with comfortable rooms and discounted rates is the Executive Inn, 710 S. State St. (tel. 662/627-9292).

In the lodging category of too-creepy for anyone but the most die-hard blues fan, there's the one-of-a-kind Shack Up Inn, 001 Commissary Circle (tel. 662/624-8329;, on old Highway 49 south of Clarksdale. Billed as Mississippi's oldest B&B (and that stands for Bed and Beer), the property is on the site of a weedy rural cotton gin littered with rusting antique farming implements, old road signs, and crumbling sharecropper shacks that have been modernized enough to accommodate easy-to-please travelers in search of a good time and a place to crash -- and great music at the on-premises Commissary club. In 2004, the inn opened up 10 new "gin bins," private rooms within the gin warehouse that's now a makeshift "inn." Rates, which range from $65 to $95 per room, include a Moon Pie on your pillow. Sweet dreams . . .

Hands-down the best restaurant in town is Madidi Fine Dining, 164 Delta Ave. (tel. 662/627-7770;, the upscale eatery and bar opened in 2001 by actor Morgan Freeman, who grew up in the area and is still seen around town from time to time. (He is also a partner in Ground Zero Blues Club, reminiscent of an old juke-joint, in downtown.) Other popular venues are Abe's Bar-B-Que, 616 State St. (tel. 662/624-9947); and Sarah's Kitchen, 203 Sunflower Ave. (tel. 662/627-3239), which serves Southern cooking 3 days a week -- lunch and dinner Thursdays through Saturdays only.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.