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Jackson, MS: a surprising treasure trove

Fairview Inn is Jackson's most elegant inn and includes an equally impressive restaurant.
Fairview Inn is Jackson's most elegant inn and includes an equally impressive restaurant.www.VisitJackson.com

Jackson, Mississippi is only a 3.5-hour drive from Birmingham and holds a surprising amount of things to see and do. A must-see for every lover of literature is the Eudora Welty House and Garden. The Pulizter Prize-winning author spent over three-quarters of a century here and the home is considered one of America's most intact literary house museums. Tours are by reservation Tuesday through Friday. Admission: $5, adults; $3 students; free for kids under six. Address: 1119 Pinehurst St. Phone: (601) 353-7762.

Follow the Mississippi Blues Trail through Jackson and see historic markers highlighting a host of blues greats like Ace Records, the Five Blind Boys, Cassandra Wilson, and the Alamo Theater. Explore the Fondren district along North State Street and check out the antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and eateries along the way.

Sports enthusiasts will be impressed with the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, a spot ESPN dubbed one of the top 10 "Most Amazing Baseball Museums in America." Loaded with interactive exhibits, inductees include superstars like Brett Favre, Walter Payton, Archie Manning, and Dizzy Dean. Admission is $5 for adults; $3.50 for students (ages 6-17) or seniors (60-up); free for kids 5 and under. Address: 1152 Lakeland Dr. Phone: (601) 982-8264.

Just north of Jackson off I-55 is an astounding natural wonder: the Mississippi Petrified Forest. Located in hills with ravines hollowed out over time, the petrified logs are from trees that had grown to be over a hundred feet tall and likely date back a thousand years or more. The site includes a shaded nature trail, an earth science museum, picnic area, and more. Admission: $7, adults; $6, seniors and students grades 1 through 12. Phone: (601) 879-8189.

If you've read the bestselling book The Help or seen the movie, you know the locale is Jackson, where you can enjoy two self-guided driving tours of sites featured in the book and movie: (1) The Help in Belhaven Neighborhood Tour and (2) The Help in Jackson Driving Tour - Part II.

The Belhaven tour takes you by Fairview Inn, many homes related to the book/movie, and the Headquarters for the Junior League of Jackson. The tour starts and ends at Fairview Street and all sites along the route are clearly numbered. Part II of the tour covers the State Capitol, Governor's Mansion, Brent's Drugs, and the Medgar Evers Home and Museum.

Fairview Inn is mentioned in The Help. Obnoxious Hilly says: "I was thinking next year we might do a Gone with the Wind theme for the benefit; maybe rent the old Fairview mansion." This grand Southern home is for real and is Jackson's only AAA 4-star accommodation. Considered both bed and breakfast and small luxury hotel, the Fairview features 18 guest rooms with rates starting at $179 a night. Other amenities: a spa, a game room, a private guest lounge, plus 1908 Provisions, the in-house restaurant serving lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. To ensure seating, reservations are highly recommended and available online or by phoning: (601) 948-3429.

Now through August 31st, ask for the Summer Special and receive a 15 percent discount off regular rooms Sunday through Thursday or a 10 percent discount for Friday or Saturday. All stays include a scrumptious Southern breakfast, plus $20 in Fairview Bucks to be used in their gift shop, spa, restaurant, or lounge.

LeFleur's Bluff State Park in Jackson offers campsites and RV spots, as well as a beautiful place to simply enjoy the day. Amenities include boating, fishing, nature trails, and a nine-hole golf course. For camping reservations, phone (601) 987-3923.

What else can you see or do in Jackson? The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center; Russell C. Davis Planetarium; Jackson Zoo; Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum; Old Capitol Museum; plus plenty of fun shopping and dining.

To learn more about events and everything in Jackson, visit www.VisitJackson.com or phone (800) 354-7695.