Hops and Skips

Meet Hattiesburg’s Creative Community: 8 Spots to Visit

As we circled Hattiesburg’s loop of Pine and Front Streets, I noticed something unusual about this archetypical American small-town. These thoroughfares, intersecting the requisite Main Street, were full of life and business. This space that, in so many of its counterparts nationwide, is often shuttered – a derelict memory of its past – was, on the contrary, bustling.

“Hattiesburg has never suffered a ‘run-down’ era,” says Paige Robertson, VisitHATTIESBURG’s Director of Communications and Digital Strategy. That hasn’t always been my experience with America’s small towns. A walk down Main Street in McLean, Texas, was reminiscent (during my 2016 visit) of a scene in a western with tumbleweeds rolling down a deserted street; the buildings in Clarksdale, Mississippi, have a 50-50 chance of being abandoned or occupied (though I’ve read it’s a town on the rise since our 2015 visit). Main Street in Marfa, Texas, is, actually, filled with shops and art galleries, due to its artistic Renaissance catalyzed when artist Donald Judd moved into the declining town in the early 1970s.

Hattiesburg seems different. It feels solid. Consistent. The town was founded in the 1880s and, with its location halfway between the Gulf Coast and the state’s capital, quickly became “the Hub City,” a center of the railroad and lumber industries. It has boasted a passenger train continuously for over a century; today, Amtrak’s Crescent line carries passengers west to New Orleans in just three hours or further east all the way to New York City. Camp Shelby and the University of Southern Mississippi have been in operation just as long, and, like the industrial booms of the 19th century, have continuously drawn new visitors and residents to the area.

What has resulted is a community deeply in touch with its roots, that has developed a culture and identity that is constantly evolving, pulling influence from its own story. This town of 47,000 possesses a creative energy usually found in much bigger cities. “We’re kinda quirky, kinda funky – like Austin but with small town vibes,” describes Paige. What I found in this industrial, agricultural hub of rural southern Mississippi was an entrepreneurial community of locals that capitalizes on collaboration, craft, and serendipitous opportunity.

City of 100 Murals

Since 2020, the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art has set out to make the city a public art destination through murals, sculptures, and other art installations. One goal is to become the “City of 100 Murals” in the next few years, and it’s already halfway there.

The murals are an investment by multiple stakeholders – the city puts up half the funding, and the business or building-owner wanting the mural puts up the other half. In some projects, an artist and/or theme are already in mind; in others, a call for artists is publicized. While murals are easy fodder for tourists and social media posts, the emphasis on public art is intended to create a better space for Hattiesburg’s residents – community development, not economic development.

Click here for a full listing and map to Hattiesburg’s public art murals.

Mohawk Steel & Glass

Jeremy Thomley and Daniel Bell opened Mohawk Steel & Glass in 2016 on the Christmas tree farm Jeremy’s family has owned for over 100 years. It’s the only glass blowing hot shop in the state of Mississippi, and, at the time, Jeremy didn’t even know HOW to blow glass. What began as a journey of education and discovery has turned into a business and community that inspires and fosters art and connection.

You can book date nights, parties (for kids and adults), and technique-based lessons at the shop; on the farm, you can visit the goats and pigs, purchase your annual Christmas tree, or stay at farmhouse Airbnb. Jeremy’s creative collaborations have no limits; you can even visit as a runner in the Molten Mohawk Niner which, after a successful first run, will be back for its second year in February 2024.

Mohawk Steel & Glass, 50 Hegwood Road (map), 601-467-6959

The Midtowner

Every small town needs its quintessential diner, and The Midtowner fills that role for Hattiesburg. It’s one from the collection of local restauranteur, chef, and author Robert St. John, a native to Hattiesburg whose restaurants have been feeding locals for nearly forty years. He currently has seven restaurants open in the area, including a bakery, burger joint, and taproom. They’re different from one another – really leaning into a theme or cuisine to provide a somewhat immersive experience.

Walking into The Midtowner is like visiting home during winter break, or catching up with the neighbors you’ve known your whole life over breakfast on the weekend. It borders the University of Southern Mississippi, lending to its sense of an old-fashioned community hub. The walls are filled with photos and paraphernalia from Hattiesburg’s past; on looks alone, the restaurant lives up to its motto: “Real breakfast. Real lunch. Real local.”

The Midtowner, 3000 Hardy Street (map), 601-602-2273

The Lucky Rabbit

You wouldn’t notice anything distinctive about the two large, brick warehouses that house The Lucky Rabbit until you head into the AstroTurfed courtyard tucked between them. There, a set of large, colorful swan statues line the sidewalk; vintage automobiles and other props are scattered as photo ops; and a slew of tables and chairs offer respite for shoppers or visitors to the store’s seasonal outdoor events.

The Lucky Rabbit is a self-proclaimed junk store located in the old 1920s Hawkin’s Hardware Store. It’s not just a random gathering of stuff; it’s a uniquely curated collection (from over 80 vendors) of antiques, nostalgic collectibles, boutique wares, creative restorations, and hand-crafted goods. To owners Brandon and Abby Thaxton, the space itself is a canvas, as well, and its look is constantly changing. They decorate for seasons and holidays, build elaborate thematic displays, and, most popularly, recreate popular TV and movie sets as free photo ops in the store. (Check out their meticulously-designed Schitt’s Creek hotel room that went viral.) You could very easily and very happily get lost here for hours.

217 Mobile Street (map)

Birdies Eats

If you’re a fan of TV cooking competitions, you may recognize Chef Katie Dixon as a finalist on Masterchef and Food Network Star. She’s a native Hattiesburgian (Hattiesburger?) with a wide, bright smile; an inviting southern drawl; and a fast-talking energy that builds conversation and connection instantly. Meet her and you’ll understand how her nature begets a myriad of fresh ideas to spread the message that healthy eating can be accessible, nourishing, and uplifting.

Birdies (aka Birdhouse Cafe) is a warm and cozy café located inside a home decor shop. Here, Chef Katie has built a thoughtful, intentional breakfast and lunch menu that benefits whole-body health. (*Chef’s kiss* to the Risi Pisi smoothie bowl!) Even the cafe’s layout invites connection with the food. It’s prepped in an open kitchen, allowing conversations with the cook just like at home. Birdies also offers weekly meal prep, catering, and private dining.

Birdies Eats, 6763 Highway 98 (map), 601-434-0512

Longleaf Piney Resort

When Sean McGee opened Longleaf Piney Resort at the start of 2021, it was the perfect answer to an amalgamation of needs. Initially launched as a collection of three tiny homes tucked into the woods, the resort offered comfortable, outdoor recreation when social distancing was still the way of the world. It has since expanded to include seven tiny homes (each uniquely designed) and two larger lakeside properties, and it’s been a welcome option for a nearby wedding venue that previously lacked overnight accommodations.

The resort is ideally located just off the Longleaf Trace, a 44-mile paved trail that runs from Hattiesburg to Prentiss. Complementary pedal bikes are available to guests (e-Bikes for rent), and downtown Hattiesburg is just 10 miles away. The tiny houses vary in capacity (sleeping 2-4 people) but each has outdoor seating, hammocks, a campfire area, private bathroom/shower, and indoor climate control.

Longleaf Piney Resort, 208 Lavel Graces Road (map), 601-297-0883

Big Trouble & Southern Prohibition Brewing

The character of restaurants Big Trouble and Southern Prohibition Brewing would not be the same without the offbeat, whimsical influence of Chef Jeremy Noffke. After all, it requires a certain sense of humor to describe a menu dish as “locally sourced from Sam’s Club” (SoPro’s Totino’s Pizza Roll Nachos). Chef Jeremy has enough history with Hattiesburg to be considered a local; in the 90s, he began his career in the city under Chef Robert St. John. In 2023, he became head chef at Southern Prohibition Brewing, and in 2024 he opened Big Trouble.

SoPro opened in 2013 as Hattiesburg’s first brewery and has since expanded (alongside state legislation allowing such) into a taproom and restaurant. There’s plenty of space for events and community gatherings; our visit coincided with a well-attended stand-up comedy open mic night. Chef Jeremy describes SoPro’s menu as “cool sandwiches and stoner food,” and I can’t argue; it’s innovative comfort food, best enjoyed tapas-style with a group.

Big Trouble is an “(a)typical Asian restaurant and bar” with some seriously well-designed interiors. The food is a blend – sometimes a literal blend – of Asian and American dishes. Think queso with wonton chips or a deconstructed bacon cheeseburger over fried rice. It’s another spot with such an inventive menu, you’ll want to try as much as you can on it.

Southern Prohibition Brewing, 301 Mobile Street (map), 601-602-4871
Big Trouble, 2313 Hardy Street
(map), 769-390-7996

Hattiesburg Pocket Alley

Another product of creativity spurred by pandemic-related shutdowns is the now-famous Hattiesburg Pocket Alley. When the nearby Historic Saenger Theater closed in the Spring of 2020, staff took to the alley behind the theater with the mission of creating an experience of “surprise and delight” to escape the monotony of isolation. With just $800 on hand, they transformed a boarded up 4×3 foot storeroom window into a small cabinet display, and thus the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum was born. The location of these monthly-rotating exhibits was at first kept secret, hints only shared through social media, but three years and 300,000 visitors later, it has become one of Hattiesburg’s must-see destinations.

In addition to the museum, the Pocket Theater plays short films through an eyepiece embedded in the alley wall, and the Pocket Gallery displays tiny pieces of art by local artists that visitors can take home. The entire alley has become a treasure trove of tiny discoveries, and the best part is that it’s always changing.

Hattiesburg Pocket Alley, 119 W Front Street (map)

Disclosure: My visit to Hattiesburg was a press trip during which the itinerary was planned and all costs were covered.

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