12 Things to Do in Meridian, Mississippi

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Meridian is a city located in eastern Mississippi, about 90 miles east of the state capital Jackson. With a population of around 40,000 people, Meridian serves as the county seat of Lauderdale County and is considered the sixth largest city in the state.

Meridian has a rich history and played a key role during the American Civil War due to its strategic location as a railroad junction. Today, the city still embraces its railroad heritage. Meridian is also known as the site of the Nasa Stennis Space Center, located just 30 minutes outside of town.

While small in size compared to other Southern cities, Meridian boasts a surprising number of museums, historical attractions, performing arts centers and outdoor recreational activities that both visitors and locals enjoy. From landmark buildings like the Grand Opera House to the Jimmie Rodgers Museum honoring the “Father of Country Music,” Meridian offers an authentic glimpse into Mississippi’s past and present.

Whether you appreciate historic sites, cultural attractions, family-friendly activities or the great outdoors, this guide covers 12 of the top things to do in Meridian, Mississippi for first-time visitors and longtime residents alike.

1. Visit the Jimmie Rodgers Museum

One of Meridian’s most celebrated native sons is Jimmie Rodgers, known as the “Father of Country Music.” The Jimmie Rodgers Museum pays tribute to his legacy and pioneering influence on genres like country, blues and rockabilly.

Located in a former train depot on Front Street, the museum houses the most extensive collection of Jimmie Rodgers memorabilia in the world. Displays include over 5000 artifacts like his Martin 0045 Guitar, 1930 Henderson School Bus, recordings, performance outfits and more personal items. Visitors can take a guided tour through his life story, listen to tracks in the “Musical Wonder Room” and view a short film on his lasting impact.

The museum also hosts a Jimmie Rodgers Music Festival every May, drawing fans from all over. For an in-depth look at a music icon and Meridian’s famous hometown star, the Jimmie Rodgers Museum is a must-see.

2. Stroll Through Merrehope Historic District

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Merrehope Historic District contains one of the best collections of 19th and 20th-century architecture in the city. Theseresidential streets are lined with gorgeous examples of Victorian, Colonial Revival, Craftsman bungalow and Neoclassical styles.

Merrehope’s focal point is the Grand Opera House Performing Arts Center on 22ndAvenue. Other major attractions include the Threefoot Building and the Frank W. Williams Home, now operating as the Meridian Museum of Art.

Visitors can pick up a walking tour brochure and admire the many historic mansions as they stroll down these charming, tree-lined neighborhoods. Guided tours are also available through the Meridian Convention & Visitors Bureau. With striking architecture and blossoming gardens around every corner, an amble through the Merrehope Historic District feels like stepping back in time.

3. Discover Meridian’s Black History

Once an important stop along the railroad, Meridian had one of the largest African American communities in early 20thcentury Mississippi. Many influential black leaders, businesses, cultural institutions and entertainment venues contributed to the city’s prosperity.

Today, Meridian’s African American history can be uncovered by following the Mississippi Blues Trail markers to sites like the Carver Heights neighborhood, Wechsler Junior High School and the Queen City Hotel. The Citizens Council Historic Marker tells the story of the white supremacist group formed in Meridian in 1954.

Other highlights include Soule Steam Feed Works, Soulé Steam Feed Works BBQ, housing a blues museum and some of the best barbecue around, as well as the up-and-coming Coleman Arts District.

Just outside downtown, Highland Park Cemetery is the final resting place for many notable African American figures. By exploring these historic sites and cultural gems, visitors can pay tribute to the significant role of black heritage woven into Meridian’s diverse fabric.

4. See a Show at the Marks Rothenberg Amphitheater

As one of the top Meridian attractions, the Marks Rothenberg Amphitheater has been entertaining locals and visitors since its opening in 1925. This impressive performance space can accommodate over 1500 people within its historic brick walls.

The summer months bring major headliners and concerts to “the Amp” during the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Experience. Past acts include Smokey Robinson, Earth, Wind & Fire, CeeLo Green and many more music legends. The rest of the year, patrons can catch community theater shows, dance revues, award ceremonies and other cultural events.

Whether attending a rock concert or Broadway-style musical underneath the starry Mississippi sky, the Marks Rothenberg Amphitheater promises a memorable show in an equally remarkable setting.

5. Learn Local History at the Meridian Museum of Art

What used to be the historic Frank W. Williams Home is now the stunning Meridian Museum of Art. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this museum contains Meridian’s most comprehensive collection of paintings, pottery and artwork.

The building itself showcases 16 rooms of beautiful 19th-century architecture adorned with ornamental mantels, chandeliers and other period features.

Permanent exhibits share insightful background on the early American settlement of the region. Rotating galleries highlight both traditional fine art and works by Southern folk artists in mediums like quilting, woodcarving and pottery. Sculpture gardens and the adjacent Hartley Peavey Park provide calm outdoor spaces to enjoy as well.

Through its artwork and educational exhibits, the Meridian Museum of Art offers a meaningful look into the cultural heritage of the city and wider East Mississippi territory.

6. Pay Respects at the Mississippi Holocaust & Tolerance Center

The Mississippi Holocaust & Tolerance Center takes a sobering look at one of history’s darkest chapters – the Holocaust orchestrated by Nazi Germany that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews and millions of others during World War II.

As both an educational center and memorial, visitors enter through the Hall of Witness to view films, photos and artifacts that provide context on events leading up to the genocide. The Holocaust Gallery features chilling images of ghettos and concentration camps while sharing stories of those affected. Finally, the Hall of Hope sends people back into the world with lessons on overcoming hatred through understanding.

Other parts of the museum teach about more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Although a serious site, the importance of the Mississippi Holocaust & Tolerance Center’s mission cannot be understated – “to inspire communities to preserve history, confront hatred and promote human dignity.”

7. Shop and Dine Downtown

Meridian’s downtown runs 15 blocks from the Amtrak Station to the Threefoot Building on 22ndAvenue. This vibrant historic district provides plenty of dining, shopping and entertainment options. Culture seekers will love independent boutiques like The Brickhaus Gift Shop andSouthern Prim & Proper Mercantile, while Threefoot Brewing and Weidmann’s Restaurant have been satisfying patrons for over 100 years.

The MSU Riley Center attracts big-name concerts and Broadway performances, with the Mississippi Country Music Trail marker outside commemorating this genre’s importance. Sweet treats like cookies from L.A.’s Baking Company and cupcakes from Pop’s Famous Baked Goods & Coffee make perfect pitstops during an afternoon downtown as well.

With new small businesses continuing to open thanks to community revitalization efforts, Meridian’s downtown district only becomes more appealing for both locals and visitors to grab a bite, raise a glass or spend an afternoon shopping.

8. Explore History at the Nany Long Military Museum

Opened in 2018, the Nany Long Military Museum honors over 200 years of American military history with thousands of artifacts spanning every U.S. conflict and branch of the armed forces. Extensive holdings like over 10,000 pieces in the antique firearm collection make it one of the most outstanding military museums nationwide.

Immersive exhibits transport visitors “into the trenches” of World War I while an entire Blackhawk Helicopter and jet simulator provide interactive components. Uniforms, vehicles, weapons, medals, photography and more fill multiple floors dedicated to the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

The Nany Long Military Museum stands as an exceptional tribute sure to engage any military buff or history enthusiast.

9. Catch Some Fresh Air at Bonita Lakes Park

Nestled right inside Meridian, Bonita Lakes Park provides a green escape with recreational activities for all interests. Made up of 3 lakes, this park stretches across 500 acres filled with opportunities to hike, bike, fish paddle and spot wildlife. Playgrounds like the bound-to-be-popular new nature-themed Koomer Park keep kids entertained too.

Outdoor enthusiasts head to Little Rock Lake Opening for kayaking and canoeing amid cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. Fishermen can try their luck catching bass, crappie or catfish in both Big and Little Bonita Lakes – just be sure to get the proper licensing first. With picnic areas, batting cages, disc golf and lighted tennis courts, visitors flock to the park year round.

An extensive trail system connects park goers to downtown Meridian as well, further expanding options for walkers and bicyclists. For green space filled with recreation and relaxation, Bonita Lakes Park makes for a perfect outdoor retreat right in Meridian’s own backyard.

10. Marvel at a Show at the Historic Marks-Rothenberg & Grand Opera House

When it comes to performing arts in Meridian, two historic venues stand above the rest – the Marks-Rothenberg Amphitheater and Grand Opera House. Both opened in the late 19th century after citizens raised funds to bring culture and world-class entertainment to downtown.

Today, the Marks-Rothenberg Amphitheater still hosts major concerts and events within its impressive brick walls and arched entranceways. The Grand Opera House continued welcoming legendary acts like Willie Nelson and Jerry Seinfeld to its storied stage. With outstanding acoustics and an opulent setting complete with private opera boxes, any show becomes a truly grand experience.

Performing arts lovers can choose from 600 shows annually between the two venues ranging from rock, country and pop concerts to musical theater performances, ballet and opera. For guaranteed show-stopping entertainment, Marks-Rothenberg Amphitheater and the Grand Opera House are Meridian icons not to miss.

11. Tour the Meridian Naval Base & Air Warfare Museum

Just minutes from downtown sits a branch of naval history unique to Meridian – the Meridian Naval Air Station Base and Air Warfare Museum.

Originally opened as McCain Field in 1937, naval operations played a pivotal role during WWII before closing in 1953. Today, it exists as Naval Air Station Meridian continuing advanced training for worldwide carrier aviation teams. While not normally open to the public, monthly open house days provide exclusive access to the base. Visitors can climb aboard aircrafts, watch flight demonstrations and interact with trainees when available.

The Air Warfare Museum on base displays vintage naval planes and artifacts documenting Mississippi’s contributions to American air power. Permanent exhibits highlight the Blue Angels, Tuskegee Airmen and other storied squadrons. Rotating galleries cover additional warfare history like underwater salvage operations and aircraft weaponry advancements.

Together, these sites offer aviation enthusiasts and military personnel rare views into Naval Air Station Meridian along with the air combat achievements of those stationed here over the decades.

12. Step Back in Time at the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum

From 1887 to 1983, the Meridian Hensley Shoe Company employed generations of Mississippians and produced millions of pairs of shoes shipped worldwide. Today, the original factory building houses the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum keeping the history of Meridian’s workers and industries alive through exhibits and hands-on displays.

Visitors enter to see a once state-of-the-art facility equipped with 900 shoe factory machines now serving as artifacts. Two floors of shoe molds, heels, boots and equipment tell the Hensley factory story alongside the history of railroad, textile and ceramic industries across the state.

Kids love operating restored equipment to mold a souvenir shoe or watching the 72-spindle mule spinning machine turn cotton into thread. From the humble tennis shoes you’re wearing to fired pottery and locomotives, the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum innovatively connects yesterday’s economic drivers to the products we still use today.

Conclusion

With its strategic location along railroad lines, Meridian emerged as a bustling industrial hub during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the city embraces its heritage while also looking towards the future. Music fans make pilgrimages to the Jimmie Rodgers Museum, but downtown, locals sip craft beers at Threefoot Brewing. Historical neighborhoods now house museums and cultural attractions sharing Meridian’s diverse stories.

Nature lovers explore the scenic lakes at Bonita Lakes Park while the Highland Park Cemetery memorializes prominent African American leaders that shaped the city. Whether uncovering the past at the city’s numerous museums or catching a traveling Broadway show, Meridian surprises visitors with cultural and recreational offerings beyond its small-town size.

From the cheery barbecue aromas on a Blues Trail to naval flight demonstrations overhead, Meridian’s many layers reveal this Queen City’s enduring richness. Through 12 can’t-miss attractions and sites, travelers discover genuine Southern hospitality and heritage at every turn. So next time your wander through Mississippi, be sure to stay awhile in this city at the crossroads.

Leave a Comment