Just an hour and a half south and east of Memphis, and an hour from Jackson, MS, a small Mississippi town called Oxford is akin to a siren, albeit one who lures college football fans and the literati.
Home to the University of Mississippi and its grand tradition of football and pre-game tailgating, Oxford is also home to American literary hero William Faulkner - a high school dropout who penned such classics as 'The Sound and the Fury' and 'As I Lay Dying'. And it's home to some of the best dining in the south, with shopping to match. Not bad for a town with a population of under 20,000, according to 2010 Census statistics.
The county courthouse on the Square in Oxford. — Photo courtesy of Sally Walker Davies
The near-idyllic perfection of the town square and its offerings are a respite from the real world. It's hip and sophisticated, yet friendly and comfortable. The always-changing mix of college students, retirees, day trippers from Memphis, and wealthy cotton farmers from the nearby Delta give the square a vibrant, festive atmosphere.
City Grocery, on the Square in Oxford. — Photo courtesy of Sally Walker Davies
City Grocery is perhaps the most sought-after dining experience on the square; on football weekends, getting a table is impossible (rumors are flying about someone from Texas renting it out for the Ole Miss - Texas A&M game) but the people-watching is worth the effort. From Tom Brokaw to one or all of the Manning boys, there's always someone famous in City Grocery on a weekend. The fare is delectably southern with a twist; there's cornbread to start, followed by a grilled goat cheese sandwich, grilled Gulf tuna, or a heaping serving of shrimp and grits.
Small eateries, ice cream shops, and college bars fill the square and the area around it, as does some great shopping. Square Books is throwback to the grand days of the town book store - and actually fills three separate spaces – one for children, and two split by interests. Neilsen's Department Store is a gem and a rarity; opened in 1839, the store is the oldest department store in the south and offers just about anything one could need or imagine. Hinton & Hinton is a men's and women's outfitter, with more emphasis on the men's clothing - but classic, preppy, southern couture at its finest.
Leaving the town square, antique stores and antique malls are another lure; be sure to download a map from the Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau to make navigating easy.
The University of Mississippi campus is a beautiful spot for a walk or drive - except on a football Saturday, when you will want to avoid the area, unless you have tickets to the game and an invitation to a tailgate. If you do, be sure to memorize the Ole Miss cheer known as Hotty Toddy.
Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner. — Photo courtesy of Sally Walker Davies
Faulkner's home, the Antebellum Rowan Oak, is just south of the sqaure (again, consult the CVB map) and features a glimpse into the writer's life; the house and grounds are open to the public. (Closed on Mondays).