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Introducing Jackson

Mississippi’s capital is hardly glamorous, but the city has a handful of funky surprises to go along with a cluster of museums and historic sites. Although Jackson is Mississippi’s largest city by far, most modern development has sprawled into plush suburbs leaving the downtown area – essentially a short stretch of Capitol St – something of a ghost town.

The convention & visitors bureau (601-960-1891; www.visitjackson.com; 111 E Capitol St, Suite 102; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri) has free information.

The one must-see attraction is the Mississippi Museum of Art (601-960-1515; www.msmuseumart.org; 380 South Lamar St; admission free; 10am-5pm Tue-Sat, from noon Sun), which got new digs in June 2007. The museum’s collection of Mississippi art – a permanent exhibit dubbed ‘The Mississippi Story’ – is nothing less than superb.

Also worth a stop, though completely different in its feel and scope, is the Agriculture & Forestry Museum (601-713-3365; 1150 Lakeland Dr; adult/child $4/2; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat). This rustic attraction is actually spread among several buildings designed to resemble a small Mississippi town, complete with a blacksmith’s shop and general store. In the main exhibit hall you can learn about catfish farming ‘from the egg to the plate, ’ and see working model trains.

Southern literature buffs should make a reservation to tour the Eudora Welty House (601-353-7762; www.mdah.state.ms.us/welty; 1119 Pinehurst St; tours 9am, 11am, 1pm & 3pm Wed-Fri). Welty, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author, lived in this Tudor Revival house for more than 75 years, and it’s preserved to look as it did in the 1980s. The garden out back is lovely, too.

Tucked way back in Lefleur’s Bluff State Park is the Museum of Natural Science (601-354-7303; www.msnaturalscience.org; 2148 Riverside Dr; adult/child $5/3; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, from 9am Sat, from 1pm Sun), an indoor-outdoor attraction with exhibits and aquariums inside, and nice hiking trails outside.

The Smith Robertson Museum (601-960-1457; 528 Bloom St; adult/child $4.50/1.50; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-1pm Sat, 2-5pm Sun), housed in Mississippi’s first public school for African American kids, is the alma mater of author Richard Wright. It traces African American cultural history.

Described by a former governor as ‘without question the state’s most historic building, ’ the Old Capitol (601-576-6920; http://mdah.state.ms.us/museum; 100 State St; admission free; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9:30am-4:30pm Sat, 12:30-4:30pm Sun) has been in the midst of a major restoration project, and is therefore closed. It’s scheduled to re-open in January of 2009.