12 Attractions in Meridian, Mississippi

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Meridian is a vibrant city in eastern Mississippi offering visitors Southern hospitality, rich history, cultural attractions, and plenty of family-friendly recreation. As the sixth largest city in the Magnolia State, Meridian packs a lot into its neighborhoods and surrounding areas.

From museums and historic sites narrating the city’s integral role in railroad expansion to science centers, arboretums and playground parks suitable for visitors of all ages, Meridian has something for every interest and taste.

Visitors should prepare to discover Meridian’s prestigious past playing a pivotal part in railroad connectivity between New Orleans and other major east coast cities in the 1900s. Its many heritage attractions provide glimpses into how Meridian significantly contributed to Mississippi’s commercial and economic growth early on. As a treat, the city’s Country Music Trail highlights its little-known but remarkable roots influencing country music evolution in the Southern states and beyond.

This guide covers 12 top-rated attractions and activities promising visitors an eclectic mix of history, culture, architecture, nature, and family entertainment during their Meridian vacation.

1. Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum

The Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum ranks among Meridian’s best attractions documenting the city’s heritage as a turn-of-the-century railroad hub in the Southern states. Inside three brick train repair buildings, this museum narrates Meridian’s fascinating transition from a small rural hamlet into a bustling industrial center through interactive exhibits.

Spread across 16 acres, the grounds feature antique trains, a working blacksmith shop, gardens, and historic homes open for guided tours. The museum uniquely highlights how the city’s intersection of two major 19th-century railroads, Southern Railroads and Mobile & Ohio, transformed its destiny. Visitors also learn about Meridian’s economic bubble and downturn in the early 1900s.

Exhibits like “The Soul of Gandy Dancers” share insights into the contributions and adversity faced by African American railroad workers during the Jim Crow era. Every weekend, visitors can enjoy special experiences like train rides in vintage cabooses around the grounds.

2. Jimmie Rodgers Museum

Country music enthusiasts will love a visit to the Jimmie Rodgers Museum, an attraction dedicated entirely to the “Father of Country Music” – a Meridian native. This museum documents Jimmie Rodgers’ upbringing in the city and early railroad job before becoming the genre’s first commercial star in the late 1920s until his untimely death in 1933.

Through extensive memorabilia displays from record covers, performance costumes, guitars, railroad gear and more, visitors can retrace Rodgers’ phenomenal rise from humble beginnings. Exhibits also detail his legacy influencing generations of country music artists and induction as an inaugural member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Jimmie Rodgers Museum further offers daily opportunities to view a short documentary on the musician’s eventful life and career. Visitors can pick up Jimmie Rodgers-inspired souvenirs from the gift shop as the perfect Mississippi memento.

3. Highland Park

Anchoring one of Meridian’s most picturesque historic districts, Highland Park serves as the ideal family playground slash garden spot. This public park spans 30 verdant acres of towering oak trees, blooming azaleas and other floral beauty aside the Ross Collins Brook.

Families appreciate Highland Park for its well-maintained picnic spots, two lighted tennis courts, charming bridges and walking trails following the natural creek. The Brook’s scenic tree cover dotted with benches makes it an excellent backdrop for photos.

Leashed dogs are welcome across most areas for some exercise and fun. Every Easter weekend, locals and tourists flock here for the park’s annual Azalea Fest celebration of live music performances, Civil war historical tours, arts, crafts and food vendors all week long.

Its central location by the historic East End homes neighborhood also makes Highland Park a perfect springboard for sightseeing by foot around Vale Street and Grayson Avenue.

4. Mississippi Children’s Museum

The Mississippi Children’s Museum in Meridian offers families a brilliant mix of education and entertainment for young visitors aged 10 months to 12 years. Through engaging rotating exhibits and hands-on permanent galleries, kids can let their creativity and imaginations run free.

Popular gallery sections covering numerous themes allow children opportunities to join the circus, become grocery store managers, race sail cars and design buildings. Exciting traveling exhibits also make periodic pit stops at the museums for more unique, interactive learning opportunities celebrating science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics education.

For warm days, kids will love stepping out to the museum’s outdoor play area – the No Time 2 Cook Café. This pretend restaurant playset becomes the perfect hangout to fuel their inner chef and customer service skills through role play. Parents also appreciate the Mississippi Children’s Museum for keeping the kids engrossed for hours of edutainment.

5. Merrehope Historic Home

History lovers visiting Meridian should schedule a guided tour of the magnificent Merrehope Historic Home on 33rd Avenue. As one of very few 19th-century neoclassical homes still intact in the city after the Civil War, this property’s lovely architecture and interiors evoke the belle époque era.

Constructed in 1858, Merrehope’s first owners were a prominent politician and his wife before changing several hands over the decades. A major highlight touring this house museum is discovering the diverse range of architectural and interior design styles the families implemented. These include Gothic, Greek Revival, Italianate motifs, Corinthian columns and rounded galleries with ironwork.

Visitors should note the home’s original Tiffany glass windows and doors, ornately carved pine panel mantelpieces and exceptional stonework craftsmanship throughout. With advance reservations, guests can also opt for Moonlight tours of candlelit house interiors on select evenings that make a memorable romantic date night activity.

6. Bonita Lakes Park

For refreshing escapes into nature within the city, Bonita Lakes Park is a beloved spot famed for its fishing, boating, tennis, walking trails and outdoor concerts. Covering over 500 verdant acres, the park’s focal points are the serene Bonita Lakes framed by cypress trees weeping into the waters.

Ardent anglers flock here with their rods and tackle boxes in tow to enjoy some relaxing shore fishing for catfish, bass and bream. Pedal boat and stand-up paddleboard rentals available onsite further allow visitors chances to explore the calm open waters and picturesque lakeside scenery.

When not on the lakes, the park trails make perfect running, walking or cycling paths for athletes and nature lovers. The park also contains a professional 18-hole Frisbee golf course snaking around the wetlands for avid disc-throwers.

Something as simple as picnicking and admiring Mother Nature becomes more phenomenal while catching breathtaking Mississippi sunsets over the glistening lakes.

7. Meridian Museum of Art

For a refined dose of culture in Meridian, the Meridian Museum of Art simply dazzles with its impressive permanent collections and changing exhibitions. As the second largest museum in Mississippi, its galleries hold over 1,700 works celebrating renowned American and European artists. Visitors are privy to view paintings, sculptures, photography and installations spanning numerous genres and mediums.

Some coveted pieces in the permanent galleries include Peter Hurd’s Portrait of John Wayne and Gilbert Stuart’s acclaimed George Washington portrait. Works by acclaimed Mississippi natives like Walter Anderson and William Dunlap also feature proudly.

Aside the six galleries, guests can participate in docent tours or attend arts education events like lecture series and classes. The museum store further tempts art connoisseurs with a fine selection of exhibition catalogues, artisan jewelry, home décor and more to commemorate their visit.

8. Grand Opera House

Harking back to Meridian’s Golden Age from 1880 to 1930, the Grand Opera House stands regally as the sole surviving 19th-century performance theater. Now fully restored to its original 1890 grandeur, this National Historic Landmark hosts a dazzling repertoire of live entertainment and productions yearly.

Visitors can appreciate this multi-dimensional venue’s ornamented interiors as a fine example of flamboyant late Victorian design in the US. Intricate details like wall sconces, gilded trimmings and opera boxes amplify the theater’s luxurious trappings fit for Mississippi high society of yore.

Aside operas and orchestras, popular modern acts touring nationally also hold occasional concerts on the Grand Opera House’s illustrious stage. Guided backstage walking tours further allow visitors glimpses of set and prop design elements for upcoming local productions.

9. Highland Park Splashpad

Families with kids visiting Meridian over the warmer months have an exciting and free attraction to enjoy with the modern Highland Park Splashpad. Located adjacent the entrance of Highland Park along 41st Avenue, this newly-installed water park playground is perfect for cooling down from Mississippi’s sweltering heat.

Over 3,500 square feet of splash pad features guarantee tons of wet and wild family fun. Kids can monkey around bridges, through tunnels and under cascading mushroom fountains as water sprays from all angles. For the little ones not keen to get soaked, ground sprinklers and junior water benches provide milder water fun. Parents love strategically positioning themselves poolside on deck chairs while monitoring their young ones at play.

Open from April to October yearly, the Highland Park Splashpad’s convenient location allows families to enjoy Highland Park playground amenities before or after water play.

10. Meridian Zoological Park

The family fun extends to the charming Meridian Zoological Park, an endearing small-scale zoo focused on animal encounters and education. Home to nearly 100 species of indigenous wildlife and exotics, the park offers memorable opportunities to view these creatures up close. From chatty parrots, lemurs and monkeys in the Primate Paradise section to prowling Bengal tigers, majestic peacocks and more, kids receive lots of memorable wildlife photo moments.

In the farm yard zone, friendly domestic residents like miniature ponies, donkeys, sheep and capybaras await cuddles and selfies. Nearby playgrounds, ziplines and splash pads further let kids roam freely burning off energy between enclosures. For reptile lovers, the tropical exhibit hall containing alligators, snakes and lizards rarely disappoints. Parents also give the onsite picnic pavilions and concessions two thumbs up.

11. Oaks House Museum

History lovers staying at the historic Oaks House Inn should definitely join one of the complimentary tours of the property conducted thrice daily. As Meridian’s only surviving antebellum mansion, this 14-acre estate transport guests back to the Cotton Era halcyon days through its magnificent Greek Revival architecture and interiors.

Aside the main 1853 house museum, the award-winning grounds contain several heritage outbuildings like an 1870 Carriage House, timber Barn and Cottaquoyah Garden Arbor for full immersion into 19th century Southern lifestyle. Costumed guided tours allow guests intriguing glimpses into each restored buildings’ furnishings, family heirlooms and role on a working antebellum estate reliant on enslaved labor.

Special events like Christmas candlelight tours, murder mystery dinners, high teas and weddings within the museum’s stately interiors indeed make for memorable Meridian sojourns.

12. Okatibbee Lake

Surrounded by thick forests and wetlands 25 miles north of Meridian city, magnificent Okatibbee Lake offers outdoor enthusiasts a spectacular natural playground. With crystal clear waters spanning nearly 7,000 acres stemming from the Okatibbee Creek, recreational fun for all ages abounds. Visitors can conquer the double-row 15-mile lakeshore drive for scenic views of sandy coves tucked among rolling Chunky River Hills woodlands.

At the Army Corp of Engineers’ managed lake, amenities like swimming beaches, cabins and full RV campgrounds appeal to families and outdoor groups. While powerboating and waterskiing dominate main lake channels, placid coves allow fantastic canoeing, kayaking and angling opportunities.

Other popular activities around Okatibbee Lake range from geocaching, to disc golf, hiking, cycling and observing diverse wildlife in their natural environs. An onsite marina also provides boat slip rentals and lakeside dining at Ann’s Country Kitchen restaurant worth checking out on day excursions from Meridian.

Conclusion

From its forebears pioneering railroads expansion to birthing genres as deeply rooted in Southern identity as country music itself, Meridian proves itself much more than just another Mississippi stopover.

This city’s eventful past laying crucial foundations for the state’s 20th century industrialization mirrors the welcoming hospitality shown visitors in the present. Beyond the heritage attractions and architectural feats, Meridian delivers nature, family-friendly sights, and hidden cultural gem said for discovering by intrepid road trippers.

Visitors who appreciate picking smaller Southern cities and towns often stumble upon delightful revelations about them being intrinsically woven into the American story’s very fabric. For those prepared to uncover Meridian’s immensely fascinating chronicles, its museums, historic sites and option for outdoor recreation offer compelling narratives worth uncovering.

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