Summer is universally known as THE season to travel. I’ll never understand why traveling while it’s hot as the surface of the sun outside is so appealing, but my family (along with millions of others) does it every year. It’s expected. It’s tradition. We want to make memories and share experiences with those we love, so we research, plan, load up the minivan and hit the road. There’s a joy and excitement that comes with traveling some place new and discovering something for the first time. There’s also that wonderful familiarity that comes from returning to the same beach town and restaurants that you’ve frequented for years.
But what if you flip the script this year? What if you combine the excitement of discovery with the comfort and familiarity of being in your own town? There are so many new and wonderful things to discover in Laurel, and so many things you may have forgotten all about. The slower pace of summertime provides the perfect opportunity to be a tourist in your own hometown.
I don’t know about you, but when I plan a trip, I think about three things: eating, activities, and shopping. Laurel has all three of these things in a compact and walkable downtown area!
10. Home Town Sightings
In case you haven’t heard, Home Town, the hit show on HGTV that focuses on restoring old homes and welcoming new families to town, has been renewed for a second season! Although the exact filming schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, you can always spot the hosts of the show, Erin and Ben Napier around town. Closer to the end of summer, you’ll probably find the film crew too. If you don’t have any star sightings, you’re sure to notice some of the homes from the first season of the show and get some inspiration for your own home!
Ben & Erin Napier of HGTV’s Home Town in the Laurel, MS historic district / Photo by Bethany Byrd
9. Laurel’s Only Craft Brewery
If you’re looking to kick back and enjoy a cold one in a place with awesome atmosphere, look no further than Slowboat Brewing Company. Take a tour of the brewery and see what it takes to make some of the best beer you’ve ever tasted. Slowboat also hosts regular trivia nights and live music acts that you won’t see anywhere else. Saturday afternoons at Slowboat are completely family friendly with board games, giant Jenga, and food trucks to satisfy everyone. Guided tours begin at the top of every hour. Tours include six 6 oz of samples of Slowboat beer. Children, designated drivers, and pets are welcome and tour for free.
8. Public Parks that Pack a Punch (of history, that is)
After sampling local craft beer at Slowboat Brewing Company, you might want a nice place to sit and take in the scenery. Gardiner Park and Mason Park are the perfect spots for this. In the early 1900s, Laurel was experiencing rapid growth. The amazing mansions that line 5th Avenue today were brand new and the City Beautiful philosophy had taken hold. Mrs. Catherine Gardiner, decided that the cutover lands that her husband’s timber business had left behind would be the perfect place for public parks. As a wealthy and well-travelled woman, she insisted on hiring only the best architects she could find. She engaged the firm of Fredrick Olmsted, known as the “father of American Architecture” to design a city parkway system for tiny Laurel. He had already designed New York City’s Central Park and the grounds surrounding the U.S. Capitol so Mrs. Gardiner believed he was just the person to bring her vision to life. As a result, Laurel was soon declared by the National Recreation Association as having the best park system of any small town in America. Laurel’s public parks are well-preserved, serene and beautiful places to enjoy an afternoon with family and friends.
7. Arts & Culture
Laurel has always been an epicenter for arts and culture. Every elementary school child in Jones County takes a field trip to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art** to see the Native American basket collection, but did you know that this museum also hosts some of the world’s finest traveling art exhibits too? Who needs to travel to a large city and go to a crowded museum when you can visit your local museum for FREE? LRMA is also the host to Free Family Art Days, summer art camps, and even art classes for adults. Check their website or call for a complete schedule of summer events and special exhibits.
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art
The Laurel Little Theatre** recently brought back the roaring 20s when they celebrated the 90th anniversary of the grand opening of the Arabian Theatre. Not only does the Arabian Theatre boast amazing architecture, but it hosts amazing performances as well. I spent countless summers of my childhood involved with the Laurel Little Theatre and will never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment when we finally got to perform for a live audience after weeks of rehearsal. Those who attended performances at LLT also made an indelible mark on those of us who performed. It showed us that we were not an isolated community of small-town actors, but that we were part of a community who supported our big-time dreams. This summer, LLT will host its annual Kids’ Camp, which will culminate in the performance of Disney’s The Lion King Jr. In August, LLT will kick off their 57th season with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a high-energy musical spectacular that has been a favorite of theatre goers for decades.
The Arabian Theatre
6. Central Sunbelt Summer Series
The Downtown Laurel Farmer’s Market** and Downtown Movie Night are some of the most anticipated summer events in Laurel. The Farmer’s Market is held at The Brickyard in Downtown Laurel each Thursday in June from 3:30 – 7:00 p.m. Farmers, home cooks, and artisans come from all over Mississippi to bring you homegrown produce and handmade goodies. Fresh bread, heirloom tomatoes and fresh squeezed blueberry lemonade are always local favorites. Plus, admission to the Farmer’s Market and Downtown Movie Night is FREE.
After the Downtown Farmer’s Market winds down, meander over to The Backlot for Movie Night. Bring your lawn chairs and picnic blankets to enjoy a movie under the stars with a hundred or so of your neighbors! Family-friendly films such as “Finding Nemo” are shown each week on a giant outdoor movie screen. Food and drinks are available for purchase or you can bring your own and enjoy a picnic under the stars! Movies start at 8 p.m.
4. The Market Beautiful
The Market Beautiful is coming to The City Beautiful June 9th-10th! Formerly known as The Vintage Whites Market, this one-of-a-kind show offers live music, great food, fun family activities, vintage-inspired and trend-setting artisans, but most of all, FABULOUS VINTAGE FINDS! The owners and organizers of The Market Beautiful host vintage markets across the United States and have been ranked among the Top 4 markets to visit by Romantic Homes & Flea Market Style! The vendors chosen for The Market Beautiful specialize in repurposed furniture, architectural salvage, industrial pieces, primitives, antiques and other vintage items. You’re bound to find something here that you can’t live without. Tickets are on sale now!
3. Speaking of Shopping…
Hello, my name is Carrie and I’m a shopaholic. I enjoy shopping for anything, for anyone, at anytime. A LOT has changed in Laurel since the inception of Laurel Main Street 10 years ago. One of the biggest changes has to be the shopping and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Gone are the days of driving to Hattiesburg (or further!) just to find a dress for Easter Sunday, or a baby gift for your neighbor. There haven’t been this many unique and thoughtful shops in downtown since I’ve been alive and I just want to go inside each one and high five all the brave business owners. If I were to write a little something about each and every shop in downtown, it would be enough for a book, so I’m just going to list them below. Trust me, there is something for everyone.
Places to Shop:
7th Style | Adam Trest Home | Fine Art by Amy Luker | Baptist Bible & Book House | Bella Bella | Closet Candy | Elegant Evenings | Guild & Gentry* | Goodness Gracious | HAND+made by Clairmont&Co.* | J. Parker Reclaimed | Jack & Jill Children’s Consignment | The Laurel Leaf | Laurel Mercantile Co. | The Loblolly Boutique | Lott Furniture Co. | Misty’s | Molly Renee’s | New Look | Office Products Center | Patina’s | Peddler’s Junktion | Quarter Century** | Six Point Furniture | The Paper Studio | The Rusty Chandelier** | Southern Antiques** | Woodcut Funhouse
My other favorite thing is eating. I plan every trip I take around the food, and a “trip” in my hometown is no exception. When you’re on vacation, you try to cook as little as possible, right? When you’re on a STAY-cation, the same rules apply. Laurel itself has plenty of restaurants to choose from, but we’re going to focus on downtown.
Did you know you can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in 1/4 of a mile? You can literally eat your way through downtown if that’s your thing. Whether you want a sit-down dinner, food truck fare, a casual lunch, or specialty coffee and breakfast, you’re in luck.
Places to Eat:
BackRoad Bistro | Café La Fleur | Lee’s Coffee & Tea | The Knight Butcher | The Loft | The Pearl Diner* | Phillip’s Drive-In (P.D.I.) | Sweet Somethings Bakery
2. Horse Drawn Carriage Rides Downtown
What do you do when you go to New Orleans for the first time? Catch a ride in a horse drawn carriage of course! New York City? Horse drawn carriage. Laurel, Mississippi? HORSE. DRAWN. CARRIAGE. Sweet Somethings Bakery and Sweet Somethings Bed & Breakfast now offer rides in a carriage fit for a Disney princess. Could you imagine a more magical and romantic thing than riding in a horse drawn carriage under the lights of downtown? We didn’t think so. Guys, if you’re looking to wow your sweetheart or (gasp!) PROPOSE, this would be the way to go. You won’t find them hanging out on the street corner though, so be sure to call well in advance to make your plans.
1. Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Blues Bash
On June 2nd, The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art** will host their 24th Annual Blues Bash on the front lawn of the museum. The music is always top notch, as is the barbecue! Everyone sets up picnic blankets and lawn chairs, and the crowd spills out onto picturesque Fifth Avenue and the lawns and porches of neighboring houses. You’ll see everyone you know and some people you forgot you knew. The Blues Bash provides an atmosphere that could even rival that of The Grove on gameday. Yes, I said it. Blues + Barbecue = Summertime Perfection. Advance tickets are available at the museum and online or you can buy them the day of the bash.
LRMA Blues Bash
Put on your walking shoes and leave your luggage at home! Look at your hometown through the eyes of a tourist and you’ll be surprised what you see.
*Business opening soon!
**Best of Mississippi/M-List Award Recipient 2016