The drive from Memphis to Oxford, Mississippi is a little over an hour down either Highway 78 or I-55, depending on which part of town you are leaving from. Upon arrival, you will discover this is not just any small town in Mississippi. Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi, a school with a dedicated fan base and a large population of alumni who choose to settle down, raise families, and retire in the small town. The school has significantly grown in enrollment over the years, with recent numbers reaching upwards of 24,000 students. That being said, if you visit Oxford during the school year, you can expect to see lots of students out and about.
If you visit Oxford on a football game weekend in the fall (which you should definitely do), do not expect to get around easily, eat quickly, or see much more than students and fans all over the place. If you do choose to visit Oxford on a football weekend, the Grove is a must. The Grove is a 10-acre area of land located in the heart of the Ole Miss campus. Commonly referred to as Ole Miss’s living room, the 10-acre wooded beauty plays host to 100,000 people on popular football game weekends. The tented tailgate in the Grove is unlike any other in the country with elaborate decorations (chandeliers, flat screen TVs, and sterling silver platters to name a few), an abundance of food and drinks, and tailgaters dressed up in cocktail attire. Ladies, if you want to fit in on gameday I would suggest a dress and heels. Seriously! The Grove on gameday is something to be experienced. As they say in Oxford, “We may not win every game, but we never lose a party!”
Oxford is also a great place to visit for a quick getaway full of shopping, friendly faces, and good eats. My personal favorite restaurants include Volta, Ajax, and Phillips Grocery. If you want some southern home cooking, Ajax cannot be beat. Located on the square, it is conveniently nestled in the middle of fun stores and shopping. If you decide to eat at Ajax, their fried eggplant is a must! And their jalapeño cornbread is amazing. For something local and fun, Volta Taverna is a Greek restaurant that sits in what used to be a filling station. Volta offers a reasonably priced menu and outdoor seating with fantastic drink specials and a friendly staff. If you are craving a good burger, Phillips Grocery is the place to go. Phillips originated in Holly Springs in 1892 and was built by a former Confederate soldier as a saloon. The saloon was bought in 1919 and turned into a grocery store until 1948, when new owners Mr. and Mrs. W.L Phillips began serving burgers out of the store. Phillips burgers, in my opinion, rival a Huey’s burger any day.
After lunch, strolling around the square is one of my family’s favorite things to do. While there are many unique shops on the square to get lost in or simply window shop, one store in particular worth mentioning is The J.E. Neilson Co. (pronounced Nelson’s). Neilson’s is considered “the oldest store in the south.” At 177 years old, Neilson’s is one of a few establishments to survive the burning of Oxford during the Civil War. While you can find stylish clothes for men, women, and children there, do not go to Neilson’s looking for a deal, as it is quite pricey. Make sure you check out Olive Juice Gifts as well. This is the cutest gift store, featuring local and seasonal items. You’ll want to buy the whole store!
A day in Oxford would not be complete without a trip to Square Books. Located on the square, Square Books is a quaint and comfortable bookstore packed with coffee, interesting reads, and loads of history in and of itself. In 2013, it was named best bookstore in the U.S.! The two-story establishment hosts the Thacker Mountain Radio Show and upwards of 150 author events each year. Fun fact: John Grisham had his first bookstore signing appearance at Square Books. My kids love going into Square Books Jr. which is also located on the square, right next to Neilson’s. The children’s bookstore would be a great place to visit if you bring kids along for the ride. They have story time every Wednesday and Saturday at 10am, along with fun activities, puzzles, and toys for the kids to enjoy.
All in all, Oxford is a fun getaway with something to do for everyone in the family! Personally, I would suggest experiencing a football weekend without small kids, and going back in the summer while school is out to enjoy some leisurely fun for the whole family.