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oxford, ms city guide

by Stephanie

Today’s Oxford, Mississippi, city guide comes from Erin Austen Abbott, a photographer, travel nanny for The Flaming Lips and storeowner of Amelia on the Oxford Square. Originally from Oxford, Erin has lived all over the country but has returned to her roots, making Oxford/Water Valley her home for the last six years. Now she shares with us some of the many wonderful gems of this tiny town, including charming bakeries, bookshops, yoga studios and much more. Thanks, Erin, for this spectacular guide and beautiful photo above! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

Oxford is a small town of 22,000 folks, but it holds its own. So much to do, see and eat!! Welcome to our little Southern gem.

Before we dive in, I created a custom Google map of all these locations. You can view the map right here.

The Square
The Oxford Square is typical of squares in the South. The heart of the town is in the Square, where the Courthouse sits in the middle of a bustling roundabout. Local shops and restaurants line the streets.

Start your morning at Bottletree Bakery (923 Van Buren Ave.) — When Oprah says it’s good, it must be. The queen of cool named Bottletree the home of the best apple pie in the country. Staying ahead of the game, they have added other treats to the changing daily lineup that are sure to keep you coming back. The Honey Cream Cheese Danish and the made-in-house sourdough are my personal favorites.

Up the street is The Lyric Theatre — What was once a movie theater that even housed the world premiere of Intruder In The Dust has changed hands many times, only to end up in the hands of Bradley Bishop. He worked hard to return it to its original luster with many of the original fixtures now back in place. Ranked one of the top music venues in the country, Bishop has worked hard to get Oxford on the map by bringing such touring acts as Modest Mouse, Andrew Bird, Wilco and MGMT to this 1200-person venue.

Amelia — Connected to the Lyric Theatre’s lobby and also its ticket booth is Amelia. With an ever-changing group of artists and crafters, here you can find everything from letter-pressed greeting cards to handmade jewelry and baby gifts. Not to mention well-edited vintage finds and cupcakes from a local bakery. Stop in and say hi. I’m there all the time!

South Side Art Gallery — Fine art gallery with many local and regional artists always on display. Certainly a treat to browse through this wonderful gallery.

City Grocery — James Beard Award winner and Top Chef Masters contestant John Currence runs this fine dining, Creole-style restaurant in the heart of the town. His menu changes seasonally. Don’t miss out on the bar with a balcony above, named by Esquire Magazine as one of the top ten bars in the country.

Square Books is a few doors down. Revered as one of the best independent bookstores in the world, it lives up to its reputation with two floors of wonderfully selected books. Buy a book, grab a coffee in the upstairs café and enjoy the really big porch on a nice day.

Around the corner from Square Books and down South Lamar is Holli’s Sweet Tooth. Great for ice cream milkshakes and any bulk candy you could ever dream up.

Cross the street and walk back toward the courthouse to get to Cicada. This clothing boutique always has the latest in high-end fashion.

A few doors up is Proud Larry’s — Great pizza and burgers at “Larry’s,” as the locals say. Pop in on a Tuesday when burgers and beer are two for one. Perfect for sharing. Stay into the evening, as this is also a music venue. The stage at Larry’s has seen the likes of Band of Horses, Elvis Costello, The Hives and Iron and Wine to name a few. At a 350-person capacity, it certainly makes for an intimate show.

Hang a right out of Larry’s door and then another right to walk down to Off Square Books. The overflow shop from Square Books, you are sure to find some great titles here. The really exciting part of Off Square is that it’s home to Thacker Mt. Radio, a live radio show that broadcasts from the store every Thursday night. It’s free to the public, so join the live audience. The show features a house band, usually two touring bands and an author to do a reading and signing afterward. Certainly the place to bump into any one of the many local writers that call Oxford home.

When you walk out of Off Square Books, cross the street and walk straight toward . . .

Square Books Jr. on the East side of the Square. With this amazing selection of children’s books, you are sure to find a little something for the child in your life.

Just on the north edge of the Square is The Downtown Inn, the perfect place to stay and within walking distance to everything in town.

Back up toward the courthouse and across from The Downtown Inn is another one of John Currence’s four restaurants in town, Boure. More on the casual side, yet still in the vein of Creole cooking, you are sure to love anything you try. FYI: They are moving locations soon, closer to the courthouse. This won’t happen until late 2011/early 2012.

Nest Paper Studio, a fun stationery store, is just up from Boure. They also do a lot of personalized stationery and invitations.

Just around the corner from Nest Paper Studio is what I like to think of as a local Sephora — Zoe has anything and everything you need in the world of beauty.

Head back to Jackson Ave. and go west to Two Stick (1107 Jackson Avenue East), a great sushi restaurant with specialty rolls like the Oxford Roll, which features Mississippi fried catfish.

Across from Two Stick, on the west side of the Square, Ajax is Southern cooking in a fun, lively atmosphere. Order the fried pickles and a shrimp po-boy — you won’t be sorry.

Just a few doors down from Ajax is a chic clothing boutique called Therapy (136 Courthouse Sq). They have a wonderfully edited eye for fashion.

For a more intimate place to stay, the 512 Bed and Breakfast is also in walking distance to everything in town. Closer to the Ole Miss campus, book early because rooms are limited. This bed and breakfast is run by the former Widespread Panic guitar player, George McConnell, and his wife.

North Lamar
This area of Oxford is growing in popularity everyday, and situated just about ten blocks from the Square, it makes for an easy walk.

At the beginning of the North Lamar district is Volta. In an old gas station, you can get casual Greek fare. I love their whole menu, but my personal favorite is the hummus plate and the Greek salad. Ask for the Kaleigh Special. It’s the best way to go.

Across the street is the Midtown shopping center, which is not your typical strip mall. Home to Snackbar, Big Bad Breakfast, the seasonal Farmer’s Market, Southern Star Yoga, and The Depot.

Snack Bar is the third of John Currence’s restaurants. Focusing on small plates, these “snacks” are meant to be shared. The list of cocktails is really great. Only open for dinner.

Next door is Big Bad Breakfast, the forth and final restaurant run by Currence. Open for breakfast and lunch, certainly the place to go for a good Southern breakfast. Try the tomato gravy. On toast or a biscuit, it’s my favorite. They do offer 20% off your meal if you arrive by 9am. All the menu items are named for book titles by Oxford writers.

Southern Star Yoga — If you’ve overdone it with the Southern cooking, drop into one of their many classes. Ya’ll are always welcome.

Depending on the time of year, the Farmer’s Market sets up in the parking lot here on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A wonderful array of local meats, cheeses, veggies and flowers.

The Depot is a booth-style antique mall with many great vendors to peruse.

Just up the street is Fat Possum Records. This is just the office for the world-renowned record label and not a storefront. You can find their releases at Off Square Books. Some of the acts on Fat Possum are Tennis, Band of Horses, The Walkmen, Andrew Bird, T-Rex, Al Green, Bass Drum of Death, T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside, Smith Westerns and Yuck.

When you start back toward the Square, take a quick detour at The Downtown Inn and drive down to the four-way stop. At the cemetery, take a left and just down on your right you will see a marker for William Faulkner’s grave. Pour a little whiskey on his resting spot. He would be proud.

South Lamar
This area also sits just about ten blocks from the Square.

While mostly residential, it’s here that you can visit Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home. Tour the home Tuesday through Saturday for only $5. Feel free to have a picnic on the lawn or take a walk through the woods that start here. The paths are well marked.

Continue on South Lamar and around two roundabouts and you will come to Shipley’s Do-nuts. Great, regional donut shop.

Another really sweet bed and breakfast is The Z. Within walking distance to Rowan Oak and the Square.

West Jackson
West of the Square sits West Jackson Ave. It’s not really within walking distance, so jump on the bus or travel by car.

Sweet Tea Recording Studio is not open to the public, but the likes of Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, The Walkmen, The Hives, Rogue Wave, Jay Retard, Colour Revolt, Animal Collective and Buddy Guy, to name a few, have all recorded here in this humble studio.

Just across the street is James Food Center (505 Jackson Avenue East Oxford). In a BP gas station, you can pick up picnic goods like chicken salad and pimento-cheese spread. It’s really good stuff.

Continue on down West Jackson, past the University of Mississippi, until you get to Rice and Spice Thai Kitchen (1520 Jackson Ave W). Very fresh and authentic Thai cuisine.

Drive about three miles down the road to Honey Bee Bakery. Serving a daily veggie special and meat special, everything is very fresh, and they always use local ingredients when possible. You can also buy fresh bread and local milk served in a glass jar. Honey Bee also has wonderful cupcakes, cookies and donut muffins.

In the same shopping center is Newk’s. Sandwiches served on wonderful bread and large salads, tossed fresh per order.

Steps from Newk’s is Highpoint Coffee (2311 Jackson Ave W #301). Serving local roasted coffee, this is the perfect place for a pick-me-up cup of joe.

University Ave.
Runs from just past Highway 7 straight into the University of Mississippi campus.

Tallulah’s Kitchen sits up the hill, farther away from everything else on University. Great for bulk orders for a party or for tailgating, you can get everything from red beans and rice to filets of catfish. They are adding a dining room this summer.

Down University Ave. is Mundo Latino Taco Shop serving up the most amazing authentic Mexican tacos. Small, corn tortilla tacos served one per order. There are about 15 to choose from. Also available is real sugar cane Coca-Cola in the bottle. Often called Secret Taco by the locals because this little gem still flies under the radar.

Heading toward the Square is Main Squeeze. In a colorful little building behind the Pizza Hut, it’s easy to miss. Head here for a wheatgrass shot or tasty smoothie. They also serve great wraps like the Green Goddess Wrap. Yum! And they show movies outdoors here in the summer. They do make everything to order, so it takes a little longer. Call in an order for pickup if you are in a hurry.

The Powerhouse Arts Center is across the street. Housed in the old powerhouse building, the Powerhouse brings many, many events to the thriving arts community here in Oxford. On any given night you can take an art class, see a play or attend an art opening.

Head toward the campus and you will see the University of Mississippi Museum on your left. Home to amazing permanent collections ranging from Glennray Tutor to Kurt Vonnegut. The visiting collection is always worth the visit, as well.

As you enter Ole Miss, head right into The Grove (1667 University Circle). A wonderful tree-filled park, great for sitting and reading or people watching.

The Inn at Ole Miss, just behind the Ford Center on University Ave., is another great hotel to stay.

Taylor is a village just eight miles outside of Oxford. The drive alone is worth it.

Taylor Grocery Catfish is world famous for their catfish. This is a “brown bag” restaurant, which means you bring your own wine, beer or liquor, but it must be hidden inside of a brown bag or unmarked cup. The wait is usually pretty long but worth every minute. The waiting is part of the experience.

Tinpan Alley Antiques is just around the bend from Taylor Grocery in Pleinair. This wonderful antique store is consistent, and even though it’s separate vendors, you’d think it was all one eye.

Water Valley
Continue on through Taylor another nine miles and you come to Water Valley. This town of 3,600 has become a thriving arts scene.

Main Street:
Rounders Pizza and Deli (407 North Main Street) — This pizza and deli is a great place to grab a pizza and beer.

Next door is Main Attraction (405 North Main Street) — Need a cup of coffee? Head here for a quick cup. Sweet little place to sit at a table in the window and watch the town.

Bozarts’ Gallery (403 North Main Street) next door is a wonderful art gallery that has a new opening every month. All the artists that show here are regional. Always something interesting to see.

Turnage Drugs (323 North Main Street) is just down a little ways on Main St. Head here for an old-fashioned milkshake. They still have the original counter and booths.

Yalo Fine Arts and Studio is down a few doors. This gallery offers a showing of regional artists and is a studio for the two owners. The building is only ten-feet wide!

Next door is B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery. The B.T.C. is set up like an old grocery, selling the staples every kitchen needs, as well as local vegetables, cheeses and meats. There’s also a children’s play area inside. They carry a wide selection of specialty beers, as well.

Continue down Main St. to White Star Restaurant and Tavern (14 South Main Street). Offering a “meat and three” plate at lunch, they also have great burgers and catfish sandwiches. At night after the restaurant closes, the back bar opens up for a lively local crowd. On any given night you can see a live band playing or pick up a game of pool. There is a night bar menu that is really two steps up from typical bar food. The wings are so great! Ask for the copper sauce; it’s worth the spice. Drinks are also super cheap here.

Notable Locals

Joey Lauren Adams

Musicians/Bands/Record Producers/Road Crews
Sean Kirkpatrick of Colour Revolt
Dent May
Charlie Mars
Bass Drum of Death
Dennis Herring
Junk Culture
Amos Harvey — tour manager for LCD Soundsystem /Hot Chip/Lucero
Shannon McNally
Jimbo Mathus

Jere Allen
Carlyle Wolfe
Laura Robuck
Jane Rule Burdine
Kate Robuck
Glennray Tutor
Zach Tutor
Coulter Fussell
Megan Patton
Amy Evans Streeter

Larry Brown (deceased)
William Faulkner (deceased)
John Grisham
Michael Bible
Jack Pendarvis
Tom Franklin
Barry Hannah (deceased)
Ace Atkins
Beth Ann Fennelly
Sarah Frances Hardy
John T. Edge

Miscellaneous Notables
John Currence (chef)

Suggested For You


  • Hooray for small southern towns! They often get overlooked, but they have so much hidden charm & style! Plus, all the people are so nice! Can’t beat that!

  • This sounds like a place I’d love!

    I have to say, though, can you really call a town tiny when it has more than ten thousand people? If you can, then my town is microscopic!

    Either way, I think I really want to visit Square Books.

  • Forgotten: Ravine, the one place in Oxford that actually uses all local Mississippi ingredients and is the most delicious and relaxing restaurant in town. (John Currence is a sham and a liar about his “organic” and “local” food, just ask the purveyors, they’ll tell you the truth.) OTher than that a nice write up!

  • Thank you for the post! Oxford is truly my favorite place ever. I used to be involved with Thacker Mountain Radio and recommend that you must visit on a Thursday. Don’t forget musicians, Shannon McNally and Jimbo Mathus!

  • Yes, of course Shannon and Jimbo!! Two great musicians! Times like that when it’s like, “of course, how could I have forgotten them!?!?” Jane Rule Burdine is also a wonderful photographer
    from Taylor I should have also mentioned.
    Also, thanks for the reminder about Ravine. Wonderful restaurant in the South Lamar district.
    The film fest in Feb is wonderful! The One Night Stand at The Ole Miss Motel in Oct. This weekend’s Double Decker Art and Music Festival…
    I wish I could list everything Oxford has to offer…

    Thanks for reminding us about Ravinez

  • LOVE THIS. Oxford is one of my favorite places on the planet. I’m sorry there aren’t more photos so everyone can see that it is, honest to gosh, the living picture of Small Town America.
    Next time you highlight Missi, I hope it’s Natchez. Talk about Deep South…nothing compares to Natchez. It’s like beauty and sadness and pulled pork sandwiches all rolled into one :)

  • I love that you’re featuring a Mississippi town! I’m a mississippian (and a big design*sponge fan) and I can’t wait to use this city guide on our next weekend getaway!

  • There’s going to be notables that I have forgotten. I’m sorry for that. I also forgot John T. Edge, a wonderful food writer living in Oxford. When a small town has as many great as it does, it’s hard to remember everyone.

  • Great guide! Thanks for putting this together.

    I have an addition to the list- The “permanent” Farmer’s Market on North Lamar. It is the source of Brown’s Family Dairy, meat from Brown’s and Stan’s, bread from the Honeybee, and much more! It is a small town Whole Foods.


  • I’m an Ole Miss grad, so I’m particularly partial to Oxford, but it really is unlike any other place I’ve ever been. Also, local artist and Ole Miss professor Carlyle Wolfe is amazing!!

  • So sad not to see the south’s oldest department store (1839)mentioned…The J.E. Neilson Co.

  • @Day – I added Ravine to the map.
    @Lou Haney- I also added the Farmer’s Market to the map. I didn’t list the Farmer’s Market before because they are so far from everything else and by themselves. But it didn’t feel right to not have them on the map, at least.
    @Kate- Carlyle is wonderful! Yes, thank you for adding her to the list.

  • I love that the love that Oxford has for its people and community is emerging simply from all of these comments/recommendations.

  • this is so helpful. not sure when i get to go, but will tuck away this guide. my family stopped in the, yes, 70s on a road trip,and i remember wandering around the run-down faulkner home. recently, my daughter attended a concert there. must return!! thanks!!!

  • erin — thanks so much for this write up. you are a brave woman to do this knowing that every thing you didn’t mention would be handed back to you on a how-could-you-not-mention-this plate. good for the people that did this kindly. oxford is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. glad to see your view.

  • Erin – I already wanted to visit (as you know) but this makes me want to go to Oxford even more! One of these days, I think we’ll have to plan a 1-2 week cross-country road trip with stops throughout the South.

  • Don’t mean to be a buzz kill because it’s really such a sweet little guide, and it looks like it’s an honest mistake (not to mention I’m behind on my design*sponge reading, so there might not be anybody left to read this) but… in the intro, it’s the Courthouse, not City Hall in the center of the Square.

  • Thanks for noticing that. It was an honest mistake… I saw that I had written that the other day, but wasn’t sure if anyone would notice and since I correct the mistake when you read the area around Proud Larry’s by calling it the courthouse, didn’t know if I should address that. I will see if that can be fixed. Thanks for reading!!

  • Dang! I visited Oxford very spontaneously after going to Graceland Too (whoah!) about three weeks ago. I spotted Amelia Presents and was bummed because it was closed, I think it was around 6 on a Saturday. I had a faint tickling of a memory about this town & shop because I’m an Amelia and this seemed like such a cool store! Anyhow, it was a charming place and really bustling with energy. I’ll have to make another visit in the future…

  • My new home is so Cool! Thanks for a great little guide to pass along to my friends, Erin.

  • Erin- This was WONDERFUL! Of course, with a town as amazing and as stuffed with character as Oxford, you can’t include everthing. But people using this guide will then have the joy of finding some of Oxford’s hidden gems of their own along the way. I went to Ole Miss and I say with certainty that Oxford is my favorite place in the whole word. In fact, it’s not even a place. It’s a feeling. Great job.

  • erin, you did such a great job with this! i’m glad you took the time to share this with everyone. this is a great guide for those who are either familiar or unfamiliar with the town.

  • Erin, I stopped in your shop in March ’12 (visiting from Chicago). You gave me two restaurant recommendations (Ajax Diner and Taylor Grocery). I was lucky to have the time to try them both. Ajax had amazing food and the atmosphere of Taylor Grocery was beyond cool. Thanks so much!

  • Wow, wonder why I didn’t find this earlier. My grandparents lived in Oxford and Water Valley. Many years of family vacations took us kids from Chicago to these two places. Oh the memories of us piling in the family station wagon and just barely tolerating the 635 mile drive down I-55. Now that I live in the Ozarks and am about a 5 hour drive away I haven’t been back much. Country Living magazine did features on the new/old store in Water Valley and the book store in Oxford and that excited me as well to know that my home roots are thriving and being featured.