We explored Tupelo, Mississippi, last year, but if you ask any of my three kids, it felt like we were there yesterday! That’s how vivid our memories of this charming Mississippi town are, and even my husband, who has a tendency to forget whether or not he’s already eaten lunch, can tell you exactly what we did on each day of our vacation.
For a town of 35,000 people, Tupelo has a lot to offer. My husband was most interested in checking out the sites associated with its most famous former resident, Elvis Presley, but I promised the kids that this trip would be much more than the Elvis extravaganza their dad was dreaming about. For them, Tupelo’s most famous former resident was Tukota, the legendary rare white bison they heard about from their teacher who took his kids to the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo a few years ago. My kids have no enthusiasm about getting to ride the school bus every day, but when they found out the park was home to the Monster Bison Bus, I had to calm them down before they hyperventilated!
“Who wants to pet Patches?” Every hand in my family shot up, and why wouldn’t they? It’s not every day that you get the chance to feed a giraffe. Yes, while the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo is most well known for its impressive herd of American bison (the largest east of the Mississippi River), it’s also home to exotic animals including Kiki the lion, Joe the camel and Bandit the bear, just to name a few. It felt like we were on a safari in the Serengeti!
Fueling tummies and minds
The Buffalo Park & Zoo is only four miles from the heart of Tupelo, so as soon as we had our animal fix, we headed downtown to get a dose of Southern hospitality. Although we were the ones on vacation, you’d guess the locals were also enjoying time off! We wandered in and out of several family-owned and operated shops and left on a first-name basis with the proprietors. Plus, Tupelo is the upholstered furniture capital of the world. I could spend days shopping along its highly acclaimed Antique Trail.
Because browsing begets hunger, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves enjoying some classic Mississippi cuisine as live music played in the background. I was thinking the kids would be all over that famous Mississippi Mud Pie, and I was certainly ready to indulge, but we had spent our first day in Tupelo at the HealthWorks! Kids Museum and they were still fascinated with the facts they had learned at exhibits like Decision Diner, Supersize, and the ridiculously fun Fit Pit. My husband remarked that he thought they laughed and learned more in a few hours at this intimate and interactive museum than they did on their all-day amusement park pass.
“Honey,” he said to me as we left HealthWorks! “Do you mind if we swing by the hardware store before we head back to our hotel?” The kids looked at me with questioning eyes—why would dad want to get tools on our vacation? Minutes later, we were posing for a family photo in front of Tupelo Hardware. It was here, my husband proudly proclaimed that Elvis’ mother Gladys bought him his first guitar. For this 10-year-old kid who would grow up to be known around the world as “The King,” Tupelo was home. In fact, the following morning, we plugged 306 Elvis Presley Drive into our rental car’s GPS, and before Jailhouse Rock could finish playing on the radio, we were parked in front of Elvis’ birthplace.
Sure, Tupelo is famous for its affiliation with Elvis, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle that makes this Mississippi town such a treasure. Another giant piece is what you take home from Tupelo. Not only the souvenirs (although who doesn’t value some amazing antiques, Elvis memorabilia, and buffalo stuffed animals that you won’t find in a big box store?), but also the warm and welcoming vibes that continue to resonate long after a trip ends.