Officially established in 1716, Natchez is the oldest continuous settlement on the Mississippi River and teems with history. From the early 1800s to the Civil War, Natchez reigned as one of America’s wealthiest cities. In fact, on the eve of the war, the small town claimed more millionaires per capita than any city in the nation, though that count did not include the enslaved people who built many of those millionaires’ homes and fortunes. Roughly 300 of the town’s antebellum homes survived the Civil War and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with more than 700 other Natchez buildings. The famous biannual Natchez Pilgrimage Tours have provided visitors the opportunity to explore some of these storied homes since 1932. (This year’s tours are slated for March 11–April 11 and September 23–October 20.)
DISCOVER | Fat Mama’s Tamales
The traditional Mesoamerican dish, beloved and enhanced by both Mexican and African American cultures in Mississippi, takes center stage at this festive eatery. The Gringo Pie—tamales topped with a generous helping of chili, cheese, onions, and jalapeños—is a Fat Mama’s favorite. Wash it down with a “Knock-You-Naked” frozen margarita.
INDULGE | The Little Easy
Brunch is served all day, every day, at this cozy cafe. Enjoy specialties like the Stump Jumper, an open-faced biscuit topped with crispy fried chicken, spicy honey, sausage gravy, and cheese. Make it a boozy affair with a mimosa or craft cocktail.
PICK YOUR PINT | Natchez Brewing Company
Named the best brewery in Mississippi by Yelp in 2022, the city’s namesake brewing company offers a rotating variety of options, including a Polish smoked lager and experimental seltzers, such as a fruity, non-alcoholic pour infused with Delta-8 THC. Pair your pint with a brick-oven pizza (choose between Neapolitan- or Detroit-style crust), loaded brat, or stuffed calzone.
DINE RIVERSIDE | Magnolia Grill
Located in the notorious Under-the-Hill historic district whose taverns, gambling dens, and brothels catered to 19th-century river travelers, this laid-back riverfront restaurant is modeled after the saloon that once occupied the space. Specialties include regional favorites, such as Gulf shrimp with tasso ham and cheese grits, Cajun grilled catfish, and crawfish étouffée. Snag a table on the glassed-in porch for the best sunset views.
QUEUE UP | The Donut Shop
Arrive early at this popular spot (it opens at 6 a.m. and is known for drawing a crowd) to take home a dozen hot, fresh doughnuts, from classic glazed to creative concoctions with ingredients like Lucky Charms marshmallows and Butterfinger crumbles. Craving something savory? They’re also known for their tasty hot tamales.
BEHOLD | Stanton Hall
This Greek Revival–style home built in 1857 is the largest completed antebellum house in the city. Take a guided tour of the house, which includes opulent rooms filled with period furniture and original antiques. Its details are astounding, from the massive gold-leaf mirrors to the grand bronze chandeliers to the 17-foot ceilings in the entry hall.
REFLECT | Forks of the Road
Though this landmark is small, its historical significance is huge. Before the Civil War, Natchez was the second-largest slave market in the South. A rudimentary concrete marker depicting chains and shackles serves as a spot of reflection on the city’s role in the purchase and sale of tens of thousands of enslaved men, women, and children.
LOOK UP | Longwood
This 1859 hulking, six-story mansion, the largest octagonal house in the nation, was never finished due to the outbreak of the Civil War. Tour the basement level of the home, the only lived-in part of the house, then make your way to the unfinished ground floor for unobstructed views of the cupola five stories above. (For more on Longwood, see our architectural wonders story)
CONTEMPLATE | Grand Village of the Natchez Indians
This 128-acre site features three prehistoric American Indian mounds dating to the early 1700s, a museum, and a one-mile nature trail. Walk the grounds and take in the Great Sun’s Mound, where the tribal leader would live; the Plaza, an open area used for games, feasts, and funeral processions; and the Temple Mound, which served as burial grounds for leaders of the Natchez.
LEARN | Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture
Literary legend and “native son” of Natchez Richard Wright is honored at this museum devoted to Black history and culture from the slave trade to today. Exhibits include a chilling display of items left behind from the devastating 1940 Rhythm Club fire and The Portraits of Black Natchez, a rare collection of photographs depicting the daily life of African Americans at the turn of the century.
CYCLE | Natchez Trace Parkway
Stretching 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville, the parkway is a centuries-old corridor used by native tribes, European settlers, and American traders. Today, it’s designated a bike route by the National Park Service, meaning there’s no commercial traffic. Plan a 28-mile roundtrip ride to see 400-year-old Emerald Mound, the second-largest temple mound in the country.
HIKE | Homochitto
National Forest This nearly 200,000-acre park is a wooded wonderland, home to more than 850 species of plants and ideal for hunting, fishing, and birding. Opt for the quick and easy one-mile Clear Springs Lake Trail, or challenge yourself on the 10-mile Richardson Creek Trail, also known as a great spot for mountain biking.
GAZE | Bluff Park
There’s no better place to watch the sunset over the Mississippi River than this park in downtown Natchez. Stake claim to a park bench or walk along the paved trails and take in the bluff’s magnificent views of the wide, brown expanse of water. Information panels along the walkway highlight Natchez’s history, including its role in the steamboat era of the 1800s.
OBSERVE | St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Keep your eyes and ears open at all times in this enchanting park. Home to thousands of migratory birds, it’s a prime spot for birdwatching. Look out for roseate spoonbills and herons, and you may even spot a bald eagle. Hiking trails wind past old-growth cypress swamps and woodlands—habitat for alligators, bobcats, and deer.
PADDLE | Old River
Embark on a guided kayak tour with OutsideIN’s Robin Person, who leads nature tours on Old River, an oxbow lake formed when a bend in the Mississippi River was cut off from the main channel. A springtime float takes you over submerged islands and past banks lined with enormous sycamore trees and black willows, where you can spot woodpeckers, herons, and sunning turtles.
This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Southbound.