Summer Road Trips

Follow Jenna Bush Hager on an unforgettable adventure through the rugged country she calls home.

By Jenna Bush Hager
Illustrations by Ross MacDonald

From crossing the spectcular West Texas terrain to cruising the Gulf Coast shorelines to driving the Mississippi Delta Blues Highway—our editors hit the road to map out three scenic summertime drives. Who's ready for an adventure?

Go Wild for West Texas

Photography by Wynn Myers

West Texas is in my blood. Even though I haven't lived in Midland now for over 20 years, it still feels like home. It's where my parents first met as innocent, unsuspecting seventh-graders at San Jacinto Junior High School—and where they fell in love on a summer night at a backyard barbecue. They were married, just three months later, at First United Methodist Church, in the heart of downtown.

Actually, Mom and Dad might never have met if my paternal grandparents weren't so adventurous. Everybody probably assumed that my grandfather would take a high-powered job in New York City when he graduated college. After all, he was a war hero with a Yale degree—clearly on his way up. But instead, he and my grandmother left their families on the East Coast and drove from New Haven, Connecticut to Midland's neighboring West Texas town—Odessa—like a couple of young mavericks taking on the great frontier.

My mom's father, Harold Welch, was one of the most prominent homebuilders in Midland. When I was a young girl, we would hop in his beat-up "75 Buick and go searching for his signature ranch homes, which lined the flat streets like pieces on a Monopoly board. Even today, you can find homes that he built, leaving his mark on this part of Texas.

Once Henry and I fell in love, it seemed like a rite of passage to take him to the place where my roots run as deep as the oil beneath that tabletop of a landscape. We set off on a make-it-or-break-it driving tour across the country. Ultimate destination: West Texas.

Midland is an oil town. When there's talk of a boom, the town booms with it. When gas prices fall, Midland falters. Somehow, though, the essentials endure. When we landed, we picked up my maternal grandmother, Jenna Welch—I'm her namesake—and drove to Johnny's BBQ, a restaurant owned by my grandfather's best friend, Johnny Hackney. He showed us the back room where, years before, men (including my grandfather!) would come to watch football and play cards on Saturdays.

We packed up ribs and beef brisket before Henry and I set off to experience a West Texas adventure together. From Midland to Balmorhea to Marfa and Big Bend, the two of us were mesmerized by the rugged countryside, constantly transforming itself, sometimes in subtle nuances and sometimes in the kind of dramatic sweeps that can take your breath away. We ate Pecos cantaloupes and swam in the natural spring-fed pool of Balmorhea State Park, built in the 1930s.

Last year, we started feeling nostalgic for the sense of freedom that we had enjoyed so much on that first West Texas trip together. So we decided to re-create it, this time bringing along my sister and some close friends. Together we drove across the desert, with the infinite sky as our guide. Texas never ceases to amaze me. And it's home.

LOCAL COLOR Feast on brisket, stargaze under a big sky, and two-step like you mean it. You're in Texas.



  • Have lunch at La Bodega (2700 North Big Spring Street; 432/684-5594), and pick up Johnny's BBQ to go. 316 North Big Spring Street; 432/683-4581; barbeque


  • Monahans Sandhills State Park: Rent a sand toboggan or disk and go "surfing" on the soaring sand dunes—some of them as high as 70 feet. 2500 E I-20; 432/943-2092;


  • For a classic West Texas experience, check in at the Gage Hotel, a historic Mission- and Spanish-style property that offers casually elegant comfort with polish in the dramatic setting of the Chihuahuan Desert. Choose from 14 rooms in the main hotel; 20 pueblo-style brick rooms framing a courtyard; three casitas ("small houses"); or the former home of Marathon founder Captain Albion E. Shepard. Have drinks at the hotel's acclaimed White Buffalo Bar and dinner at the relaxing 12 Gage Restaurant, serving locally sourced gourmet fare. Rates from $242; 432/386-4205;


  • Marathon Coffee Shop: You never know when you might spot some locals having an impromptu jam session on the patio as you caffeinate for the day's adventures at the popular "home of the green chili hash browns." 301 NW. First Street; 432/386-4352;
  • French Co. Grocer: This is one of those handy road-tripping spots where you can pick up anything and everything—from groceries and sandwiches to camping supplies, toys, and souvenirs to take home. 206 North Avenue D; 432/386-4522;


  • Judy's Bread & Breakfast Bakery Cafe: Treat yourself to Judy's giant cinnamon rolls and then browse all the country stores in town for cowboy gear. 113 West Holland Avenue; 432/837-9424
  • Alpine murals: Modeled after vintage calendars, the annual mural projects depict the unique culture and heritage of West Texas. Stylle Read's 2013 mural, based on "Poco and Poquito" calendar artwork by Jesus Helguera, was the first in the series. Find it on the Printco building at Holland Avenue and 5th Street. Greetings from Alpine—an earlier Read work—is on the Kiowa Gallery (105 East Holland Avenue).
  • Big Bend Brewing: Take a one-hour tour, which includes a complimentary tasting of each small-batch craft brew. 3401 West U.S. 90; 432/837-3700;


Note: Many Marfa locations are open only on weekends. Call to check current hours before making your plans.

  • Marfa Burrito: Brush up on your Spanish, and prepare for home-cooked food that will make you swear you're in Mexico. 104 East Waco Street; 325/514-8675
  • Ballroom Marfa: This converted 1927 dancehall now supports contemporary cultural arts, including film, music, performance, and visual arts. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday; 108 East San Antonio Street; 432/729-3600;
  • El Cosmico: "Camp" under the stars at El Cosmico—where you can choose from whimsically renovated vintage trailers, safari and scout tents, yurts, Sioux-style teepees, or tent campsites. Rates from $150 (yurt); $175 (teepee); $85 (safari tent); or $140 (trailer); 432/729-1950;
  • Hotel Paisano: Book a room where Hollywood legends Liz Taylor and James Dean stayed while they filmed the movie Giant. You can have drinks or dinner indoors or by the patio fountain at the appropriately named Jett's Grill. Rates from $109; 432/729-3669;
  • Cochineal: Make a dinner reservation here to experience chef/owner Tom Rapp's innovative restaurant—with an open kitchen—which focuses on fresh ingredients and an ever-changing menu. Cochineal has a cocktail bar and maintains some 250 bottles of wine from around the world. Dinner service available daily 5:30-10 p.m.; 107 West San Antonio Street; 432/729-3300;
  • Lost Horse Saloon: Head to Ty Mitchell's seriously authentic Texas watering hole for unpretentious libations and live music. Open 4 p.m.–midnight Sunday-Friday and 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Saturday; 306 East San Antonio Street; 432/729-4499
STATE FARE Out here you can dig into everything from Swiss chocolate and craft brews to Texas "cue and burritos.



  • Balmorhea State Park: Take a cool dip in the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool. 432/375-2370;
  • Freda: This tiny boutique sells locally made crafts and goods, along with what it calls "carefully curated gems from elsewhere." Shop online or at the store (noon–6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; noon–4 p.m. Sunday); 207 South Highland Avenue; 432/729-2000;
  • Cobra Rock Boot Company: Visit the store Saturdays only (11 a.m-5 p.m.) and see where Colt Miller and Logan Caldbeck make their Western-inspired boots and leather goods. (Most boots must be pre-ordered and take at least 8 months from deposit.) 107 South Dean Street;
  • The Chinati Foundation: Tour this contemporary art museum founded by artist Donald Judd, whose 100 untitled works are installed in two former artillery sheds. The Chinati Foundation's collections are housed in 15 buildings on 340 acres. Open 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 1 Cavalry Row; 423/729-4362;
  • Pizza Foundation: Known for delicious hand-tossed thin-crust pies, it's only open on weekends (noon–9 p.m.), so the wait can be long. Order in advance. 305 South Spring Street; 432/729-3377;
  • Squeeze Marfa: Owner Verena Zbinden is the only U.S. distributor of her Swiss family's Vollenweider chocolate. Zbinden set out to create a juice bar, but it expanded into an eatery serving juices, smoothies, creamsicle sodas, frappes, and java specialties, as well as interesting breakfast and lunch fare, such as vegetarian soups, bratwurst, sandwiches, and salads. Open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 215 Highland Street; 432/729-4500;

Fort Davis

  • Davis Mountains Scenic Loop: Follow a high 75-mile circuit created by State Highways 118, 166, and 17. Book a stargazing party at McDonald Observatory (3640 Dark Sky Drive; 432/426-3640;
  • Indian Lodge: This full-service hotel with adobe walls offers rustic but comfortable accommodations inside Davis Mountains State Park. Reservations: 512/389-8982;

Cruise the Gulf

Skirt spectacular waters on this rambling drive to pretty towns, pristine beaches, and everything imaginable fried-in-a-basket.

Photography by Robbie Caponetto

Southerners own the Gulf of Mexico, or at least we like to think we do. Here in the U.S., it washes only Southern shores, which makes us more than a little possessive of its waters—and irresistibly drawn to them.

Drive from Apalachicola, Florida, to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, and your view constantly changes as white dunes morph into marsh grasses and then back again. You might tunnel for miles through pines or palms, then round a bend and find yourself suddenly soaring over blue water on a giant steel rainbow of a bridge. The water can curl into foamy breakers or lie flat, placid, and serene, depending on the time, the tides, and the barrier islands.

There are vestiges of Old Florida here, like the two remaining cotton warehouses in Apalachicola, once a bustling port city for the South's king crop. And you'll see the new Mississippi, whose entire beachfront was virtually erased by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Anchored by Biloxi and Gulfport, this coastline—which has some of the longest unbroken views of the Gulf—has not only rebuilt but also reinvented itself since that horrific storm. On Florida's enormously popular County Highway 30A, vacationers continue flocking to some of the most jaw-dropping communities ever dreamed up by a design team—and to quirky, authentic Grayton Beach just up the road.

You can't beat Gulf Coast towns for interesting, locally owned shops and galleries. As for food and drink? Salty-sweet oysters and golden-fried shrimp; snapper, grouper, flounder, and crab; burgers and muffalettas; piña coladas and (welcome) hurricanes; ice in the cooler and salt in the air . . . It's summertime. The Gulf is calling.


When in Rome, rent a condo. Beyond the major chains and mom-and-pop lodging, hotels on the Gulf are steep during the peak summer season (but you can get a deal by booking weeknights or planning ahead for a fall getaway). Families and other groups often go for a condo to help contain costs.

Rental Companies

  • Cape San Blas, St. Joe Beach, and Mexico Beach, Florida: Forgotten Coast Rental: 888/648-1012; forgotten
  • Northwest Florida: ResortQuest by Wyndham Vacation Rentals: 800/467-3529;; Sterling Resorts: 855/812-2282;
  • Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama: Brett/Robinson Vacations: 800/211-7892,
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast: Biloxi Beach Resort Rentals: 877/524-5694;; Note: Many Mississippi condos are separated from the water by the heavily traveled Beach Boulevard—so when you book, be specific about what you want.

Hotels & Inns

  • Water Street Hotel & Marina (Apalachicola), with screened porches that overlook a channel into the Apalchicola River, combines the at-home conveniences of a condo with hotel amenities. Rates from $179; 850/653-3700;
  • The Gibson Inn (Apalachicola), a downtown property built in 1907, has 30 rooms—some with period antiques—and wraparound porches. The Gibson hosts several "Murder Mystery Weekends" each year. (In 2016, the schedule is August 5-7; September 23-25; October 28-30; and December 2-4.) Year-round rates from $120; 850/653-2191;
  • St. Joe Club & Resorts operates two stunning boutique hotels, Watercolor Inn & Resort (rates from $425/night; 888/991-8878; and The Pearl (rates from $407/night; 850/588-2881; Budget-friendly they're not, but they are splurge-worthy.
  • Henderson Park Inn (Destin) is an all-inclusive (except dinner) bed-and-breakfast that serves adults only. Its beautiful private beach is adjacent to still more protected sands at Henderson State Park. Gulf-view rates from $429; 888/836-1105;
  • Hilton Pensacola Beach offers 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom suites; indoor and outdoor food and beverages; modern interiors; a 24-hour fitness center; and two Gulf-front pools with a hot tub. Rates from $279; 850/916-2999;
  • Beau Rivage Resort & Casino (Biloxi) has an elegant spa; a shopping promenade; in-house restaurants with atmosphere; arguably the best pool on the Mississippi Coast; live performances in its own theater; and MGM Park, home of a minor league baseball team, across the street. Weekend rates from $249, but you may save $100 or more a night by booking during the week; 888/750-7111;
  • White House Hotel (Biloxi), a historic beachfront property, looks like Tara on the outside and a sleek penthouse on the inside. Cora's restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and a weekend brunch, with fresh Gulf fare, creative cocktails, 40 wines, and 16 craft beers on tap. Rates from $169; 228/233-1230;
  • Bay Town Inn (Bay Saint Louis) has 10 roomy bed-and-breakfast suites that frame a pool, right across from the new marina. Walk to all the attractions on Main and Second Streets. Bonus: It's just an hour or so from New Orleans. Rates from $169; 504/421-0960;


Apalachicola to the Alabama Line

  • Shipwreck Raw Bar: Serves raw oysters, along with baked ones named for local beaches, like the "Mexico Beached," with pico de gallo, lime, butter, Mexican cheese, and panko breadcrumbs. 7008 West Highway 98, St. Joe Beach; 850/647-5050;
  • Owl Café: Follow locals here for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Avenue D, Apalachicola; 850/653-9888;
  • Lynn's Quality Oysters: Apalachicola's bivalves are famous, and this roadside raw bar across the causeway serves the freshest in the area. ("You can swim to where these came from," the bartender explains.) 402 U.S. 98, Eastpoint, Florida; 850/670-8796;
  • Alchemy Tavern: Worth a detour to Mobile, this is a cocktail drinker's dream—disguised as a dive bar that wouldn't be out of place in the French Quarter. 7 South Joachim Street, Mobile; 251/441-7741;
  • 30A Pop Stop: Creamy and fruity handcrafted, locally sourced frozen pops. 4042 East County Highway 30A, Seagrove Beach; 877/483-5616; 2421 West County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach;
  • La Crema Tapas & Chocolate: Sample and share innovative tapas—Serrano Wrapped Figs, Lamb Lollipops with Rosemary—without breaking the bank. And then there's the chocolate menu, including the OMG Espresso Cookie—two warm triple-chocolate cookies with a whipped espresso-cream center, drizzled with chocolate sauce. 38 Main Street, Rosemary Beach; 850/624-8272;
  • Louis Louis: The same family who brought Grayton Beach the Red Bar created this hot spot, and the kinship shows in great food, drinks, service, and atmosphere. 35 Mussett Bayou Road, Santa Rosa Beach; 850/267-1500;
  • Perfect Pig: Now with two locations on Santa Rosa Beach, this bistro describes itself as a "perfect blend of exquisite local cuisine and foodie fantasy land." Its breakfast fans are passionate about the brown sugar bacon. Seagrove: 4281 East County Highway 30A, #30A; 850/213-0701; Gulf Place: 7 Town Center Loop; 850/660-1591;
  • Red Bar: If you can get to Grayton Beach, you can get to Red Bar. Just head toward the center of town and follow the crowd. Fortunately, this place lives up to its hype, with good food and drinks, friendly staff, and kitschy-beachy decor. 70 Hotz Ave. Grayton Beach; 850/231-1008;
  • Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar: How many beach joints have two area codes? It's a bar, it's a restaurant—and it's straddling the Alabama-Florida line. 17401 Perdido Key Drive, Perdido Key; Florida: 850/492-0611; Alabama: 251/980-5118;

Alabama Coast

  • Original Oyster House: A popular family-friendly spot for traditional Gulf favorites. Get there early or shop the boardwalk while you wait for a table. 701 Gulf Shores Parkway; 251/948-2445;
  • Wolf Bay Lodge: Stained-concrete floor, long bar, and dollar bills tacked all over the place—it's a basic coastal hangout, with great food to boot. 26619 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach; 251/965-5129;
  • Doc's Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar: This is a favorite casual spot for fried seafood and raw oysters. (You'll even find the fixings to make your own cocktail sauce right there on your table.) 26029 Canal Road, Orange Beach; 251/981-6999; Sawgrass Landing Shopping Center, Gulf Shores; 251/967-4800;
  • Cobalt: Contemporary coastal cuisine and stone hearth pizzas are just part of the draw at this popular spot in the shadow of the Perdido Bay Bridge, where you can take in terrific views of the Perdido Pass. 28099 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach; 251/923-5300;

Mississippi Coast

  • The Shed: Brad Orrison and his sister Brooke started with a tiny takeout barbecue spot in Ocean Springs. Now it's a 9,570-square-foot blues and barbecue joint, and the family runs another location in Gulfport. Ocean Springs: 7501 State 57; 228/875-9590; Gulfport: 15094 Mills Road; 228/832-1147;
  • Woody's Roadside: The extensive burger menu includes the Cajun Burger: a blend of andouille sausage and freshly ground Angus beef. (It also offers a mean Bloody Mary.) 3008 Bienville Blvd., Ocean Springs; 228/265- 7758;
  • The Government Street Grocery: Sit inside or out. Ponder the menu of burgers and sandwiches, or go straight for the muffaletta. Full bar and live music. 1210 Government Street, Ocean Springs; 228/818-9410.
  • Leo's Wood Fired Pizza: Enjoy tunes in the courtyard and such pizzas as the Frank Sinatra and the Elvis Presley. 1107 Government Street, Ocean Springs, 228/872-7283.
  • Trapani's Eatery: A favorite in Bay Saint Louis, Trapani's is back on the Old Town waterfront after a long relocation post-Katrina. 116 North Beach Blvd.; 228/467-8570;
  • 200 North Beach Restaurant & Hurricane Hunter Bar: You'll find surf, turf, and more, plus an extensive cocktail menu. 200 N. Beach Blvd., Bay Saint Louis; 228/467-9388;
  • Blind Tiger has indoor and outdoor seating. "Waterfront staples" include a Cheddar Burger, Mahi Tacos, Steamed Shrimp, and Loaded Cheese Fries. 119 N. Beach Blvd., Bay Saint Louis; 228/216-2600;



  • Take an eco tour with Captain Jimmy Maxwell of Backwater Guide Service and explore the Apalachicola River and its backwaters. A 2 ½-hour tour for up to six people: $200; 850/899-0063;
  • Detour: From U.S. 98, head to Eastpoint, Florida, and the bridge to St. George Island, or go west on 98 and pick up State 30A, then 30E onto Cape San Blas and the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

Panama City

  • On Panama City's 1,500-foot Russell Fields Pier—aka City Pier—you can fish all day for $6 or just soak up the view for $3. It's across the street from Pier Park, a shopping/entertainment district with everything from an IMAX theater to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Pier: 16201 Front Beach Road; 850/233-5080;; Pier Park:


  • Detour: From 98, between Panama City and Destin, take the most beloved detour in the Florida Panhandle—County Highway 30A—to a string of planned villages, including Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, and Seaside, and the delightfully unplanned Grayton Beach.

National Seashore

  • Detour: About 23 miles west of Destin, take the Navarre Beach Causeway onto Santa Rosa Island and travel westward on State 399, through the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which you can follow to Pensacola Beach.

Mississippi Coast

  • Hike two bay-spanning pedestrian bridges on U.S. 90: one from Ocean Springs to Biloxi and another from Pass Christian to Bay Saint Louis. See works by George Ohr and other collections at the Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art (386 Beach Blvd., Biloxi; 228/374-5547; Make a night of it in Gulfport's dining and entertainment district, anchored by Half Shell Oyster House (2500 13th Street). The new Fishbone Alley (between 26th and 27th Avenues) channels the fantastic Printer's Alley in Nashville and brings new life and excitement to this part of town.
DETOUR Main highways don't always follow the Gulf. Venture onto some waterfront forks in the road.

Drive the Delta

This bluesy corner of Mississippi has stubbornly preserved its authentic character and southern soul.

By Vanessa Gregory
Photography by Robbie Caponetto

On a sunny morning, the blacktop of Money Road outside of Greenwood, Mississippi, glimmers as it unfurls past fields so flat they seem to defy nature. To drive this road is to seek the essence of the Mississippi Delta, land of epic riches and searing poverty, deep suffering and joyous creativity. You'll see the fertile fields that made cotton king. And you'll find not just the birthplace of the blues but the music's very soul. Here, blues legend Robert Johnson lies buried along the roadside.

And that's just one stretch of highway. Bounded by Memphis to the north and Vicksburg to the south, this alluvial plain is both storied and stunning. Curving rivers and cypress-studded canebrakes flow across fields and beneath highway bridges. Old service stations and tin-roofed tenant shacks dot the landscape, and spectacular sunsets color the sky in shades of pink and orange above grassy levees.

At Red's Lounge in Clarksdale, you can pass an unforgettable Saturday night watching a bluesman like Terry "Harmonica" Bean sing about bad luck and mean women. He's an heir to the likes of B.B. King, Charley Patton, and Muddy Waters. All lived and played here, inventing an honest, bawdy musical genre that captured the world's imagination.

Elsewhere, America might be yielding to a numbing sameness, with everyone rushing to strip malls and chain restaurants. But the Delta remains its funky self, and it puts a premium on slowing down. "People tell stories; they talk to one another," says Greenwood novelist Jamie Kornegay. "You may not even realize you're missing that, but the ease with which they share things—it's just very nice."



  • Oxbow Guest House: The building housed an ice-cream factory and a soda fountain until the 1960s, when a family turned the space into a home using elegant architectural details salvaged from Memphis and New Orleans. New owners Erica and Hayden Hall opened last year, preserving the bohemian charm while introducing modern touches. Rates from $129; 662/627-6781;


  • Tallahatchie Flats: Situated a short walk from Robert Johnson's gravesite on Money Road, these modernized farm shacks offer solitude and wide-open views of surrounding flatlands. Far away from city lights, the shacks make a good spot for sitting and stargazing, and have front porches made for watching summer thunderstorms roll in across the fields. Rates from $85; 877/453-1854;
  • The Alluvian: Locally headquartered Viking Range, LLC, restored the historic Hotel Irving downtown and reinvented it as a boutique hotel called The Alluvian. Viking preserved the historic architecture and Delta character of the place, while adding sleek decor, plush linens, and plenty of amenities. Don't miss dinner at Giardina's, just off the hotel lobby. Rates from $195; 662/453-2114;



  • Bluestown Music: Musicians swoon over owner Ronnie Drew's vintage electric guitars and 1960s amplifiers. Famous customers include Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. A former guitarist for Conway Twitty, Drew is a member of the classic rock band Ronnie & The Remnants. 317 Delta Avenue; 662/645-1816
  • The Crossroads: Some folks say that the crossroads—where Robert Johnson supposedly met the Devil and traded his soul for musical virtuosity—is in Rosedale. Others say it's at the intersection of two dusty roads outside Cleveland. Clarksdale claims it happened where Highway 49 crosses Highway 61. Pick a spot and pay your respects.


  • Dockery Farms: A cotton gin and restored service station still stand on the grounds of Dockery Farms, where hundreds of black tenant farmers worked the fields by day and played and listened to blues at night. Established in the late 1800s, the farm produced Charley Patton, an originator of early Delta blues. Check the website for listings of occasional outdoor concerts held onsite. 229 State 8;
  • GRAMMY Museum: This $20 million facility opened on the campus of Delta State University in March of this year. It's the first sister museum ever sanctioned by the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. 800 West Sunflower Road, Cleveland; 662/441-0100;
BLUES LEGEND Make a pit stop and pay your respects to Robert Johnson where Highway 49 crosses Highway 61.


  • Robert Johnson Gravesite: Equal parts man and myth, Robert Johnson is beloved, not just for his haunting music but for the mystery surrounding his life and death. He was allegedly murdered—poisoned in a juke joint—then buried in a grave on Money Road, in a cemetery flanked by the Little Tallahatchie River and the Little Zion M.B. church.
  • WABG Radio: Tune into WABG AM 960 for the ultimate Delta-rambling soundtrack. Owner and operator James Poe broadcasts an eclectic mix of Delta-focused programming, including interviews with Southern royalty like John Grisham and Billy Bob Thornton. Knock on the door of his station and you'll likely wind up on the air; Poe invites everybody passing through to come inside for a friendly interview. 68322 Money Road; 662/455-1688;
  • Turnrow Book Co.: Owned by Greenwood novelist Jamie Kornegay, Turnrow curates bestsellers, as well as interesting Delta-centric selections. 304 Howard Street; 662/453-5995;


  • B.B. King Museum: Although he was born in a tiny community outside of Itta Bena, Riley "B.B." King came to consider Indianola home. For the last 34 years of his life, he returned annually to perform in parks and other venues. The $14 million museum in his honor tells his life story. 400 Second Street; 662/887-9539;


  • McCartys: Founded in 1954 by the late husband-and-wife team Lee and Pup McCarty, this artisan shop features earth-hued pottery inspired by the Delta. Godson Jamie Smith now works the pottery wheel using Pup and Lee's techniques. 101 Saint Marys Street; 662/748-2293;



  • Red's Lounge: "We got real blues up in here," says owner Red Paden. That's the truth. The gritty, neon-lit Red's regularly features hot blues acts like Bill "Howl-N-Madd" Perry and the 17-year-old hometown prodigy Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. Red himself can usually be found on a vinyl barstool, talking trash from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Cash only. 398 Sunflower Avenue; 662/627-3166
  • Ground Zero Blues Club: Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Ike Turner got their start in this northern corner of the Delta. Ground Zero, which is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, opened 15 years ago to celebrate that musical legacy. With bright lights and a burger-and-fries menu, it's a good choice for early evening. And Freeman, who owns a farm south of town, is a regular. 387 Delta Avenue; 662/621-9009;


  • Po' Monkey's: One of the last rural juke joints, Po' Monkey's is riotous fun. The legendary blues house sits on a lonely dirt road in the middle of nowhere, beckoning from beneath a garland of Christmas lights. Owner and farmworker Willie "Po' Monkey" Seaberry opened in 1963. Like all jukes, it was black-only. Nowadays the crowd includes whites and blacks, locals and tourists, farmers and country clubbers. Live music has given way to a DJ spinning soul and rhythm-and-blues. But the juke spirit endures. Open Thursdays only, cash only ($5 cover), and beer only. Brown-bagging liquor is allowed. 93 Po Monkey Road;



  • Chamoun's Rest Haven: Immigrant roots run deep in the Delta. In the late 1800s, Italians, Chinese, and Lebanese arrived as laborers and entrepreneurs, bringing traditions that melded into a beguiling Delta culture. That's how Chamoun's Rest Haven, a diner that sells homemade chocolate meringue pies alongside fresh kibbeh, became a Clarksdale institution. Cash only. 419 South State Street; 662/624-8601


  • Delta Meat Market: After working for superstar chefs Tom Colicchio and Sean Brock, Delta Meat Market owner-chef Cole Ellis felt the Delta calling him home. He opened Delta Meat Market in downtown Cleveland two years ago. A seasonal menu features crisp salads topped with charred veggies and homemade bacon, along with heartier fare like a tender Reuben sandwich. Ellis plans to start brewing his own beer and has started hosting casual "happy hour" dinners every Friday with choices like duck confit lasagna or red snapper served over a fennel-orange salad. 118 North Sharpe Street; 662/444-6328;


  • The Blue Biscuit: Situated just beyond the atmospheric bayou that flows through Indianola, this funky pub specializes in live music and what chef Trish Berry calls "a good level of ridiculous Southern hospitality." Catch a weekend show and try Berry's 72-hour pulled-pork barbecue or her decadent Delta beignets. Corner of Pershing Avenue and Second Street; 662/645-0258;


  • Doe's Eat Place: Walk right through the kitchen into Doe's unpretentious dining room, where seed sacks decorate the walls and there are no menus. Order the two-and-a-half-pound porterhouse, and bring your own bottle of wine. Dominick "Doe" Signa, a second-generation Sicilian immigrant, opened the place in the current spot in 1941, and the same family keeps it going. Look for his grandson, "Baby Doe," broiling steaks—and 90-year-old Aunt Florence tossing salads and making guests feel right at home, four nights a week. 502 Nelson Street; 662/334-3315;


  • Delta Bistropub: Modern interior design and killer cocktails make the newly opened Delta Bistropub feel like it belongs in Nashville or Atlanta. But the clientele is pure Delta: farmers in overalls mingling with tourists from around the world. Try the Pickleback—a shot of pickle juice and a shot of bourbon followed by a perfectly crisp hunk of duck crackling. Or opt for the more refined French 76, a twist on the New Orleans classic. Pair either with food from Chef Taylor Bowen Ricketts' menu of Southern small plates, including black-eyed pea cakes with remoulade, and bourbon-and-cola fried chicken sliders. 222 Howard Street; 662/459-9345;
  • Lusco's: Buzz for your server from inside a private, curtained cubicle at Lusco's, which is run by a fourth-generation descendant of founders Charles and Marie Lusco. The Luscos lived in Louisiana before settling in Greenwood, which is reflected deliciously on the Cajun-Italian menu. Bring a bottle of wine and relax. "This is not fast food," says Karen Pinkston, who married Charles' great-grandson, Andy, and runs the kitchen with him. "You sit down, you order, and we cook it." 722 Carrollton Avenue; 662/453-5365;


  • White Front Café: Strangely, Delta folks adore tamales. Historians think Mexican laborers brought tamales to Mississippi's fields in the early 20th century. African-American cooks embraced them and started tinkering. The Delta version—spicy and glistening with red grease—is smaller than Mexico's, and made from cornmeal instead of masa. The White Front Café makes them especially rich and tender. Order at least a dozen while you still can: Owner Barbara Pope is considering retirement. 902 Main Street; 662/759-3842
MELTING POT The many ethnic groups who came to work the fields brought recipes with them.