The saying of University of Mississippi (aka Ole Miss) football fans that has become popular is: “We may not win every game, but we never lose a party." That saying couldn’t be truer as you’ll discover on a trip down to Oxford, Mississippi. The football hasn’t been great at Ole Miss over the years, with only one SEC division title since it split into divisions in 1992, but you’ll know their schedule will be full of competitive SEC West teams.
The Grove, however, is possibly the greatest tailgating experience in all of college football with the masses all gathered in an area just north of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It doesn’t hurt that the Grove is full of good-looking, well-dressed girls in dresses and heels no matter what the weather. Your true taste of the South awaits on a college football weekend in Oxford.
When to Go
As mentioned above, Ole Miss plays in the SEC West and recently the SEC determined its non-divisional opponents until 2025. The Rebels got to play a home game against Georgia in 2016, and will get to play home games against South Carolina in 2018, Florida in 2020, and Missouri in 2024, but you don’t have to wait for those schools to find a good game to see. Good games to see in even-numbered years are Alabama and Auburn with LSU and Texas A&M coming to town in odd-numbered years. Mississippi State is their biggest rival, but the game takes place over Thanksgiving and could be missing the usual buzz of the student body unless both teams are successful in that given year.
You likely won’t get too excited about Ole Miss cross-division rivalry game with home games against Vanderbilt every other year because Vanderbilt obviously isn’t a football powerhouse. But if you can only squeeze in an inferior opponent, I guarantee you’ll still enjoy Oxford.
As you’d expect, tickets aren’t the easiest things to come by.
You generally won’t be able to find tickets on the primary market through the University of Mississippi because most tickets are sold to alumni or students. You’ll likely end up having to look secondary ticket options like StubHub and eBay or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and TiqIQ. Craigslist is another option for deal-making but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets. You can also try working the tailgates before the game to see if anyone’s selling, but it’s probably worth securing the tickets earlier if you’re traveling all that way.
Oxford, Mississippi isn’t the easiest place to get to. You can fly into the Oxford University airport by either private jet or with Southern Airways Express from Atlanta, Destin (Florida), and Jackson (Mississippi) on Fridays. Otherwise, you need to fly into Memphis and drive the hour and a half to Oxford. You can get to Memphis from mostly anywhere in the country. At least some major airline can get you there from your closest major city. The drive is also under three hours from Jackson and Birmingham, under four hours from Little Rock and Nashville, and about five hours from Atlanta and New Orleans.
No bus or train service operates to Oxford so the train is your only way in.
Where to Stay
The biggest problem when visiting Oxford is finding a hotel room. It’s not like some other college towns with hotels in the town and other hotels within a decent driving decent that you can take taxis to and from on game weekends. The hotels in and around The Square, the heart of downtown Oxford, are very expensive during game weekends and get booked months in advance. If you can plan far enough in advance and have money to spend, the two choices to look at are the Downtown Oxford Inn and The Inn at Ole Miss. Outside of that, the closest hotels are two or more miles away from downtown. The low-end brands that make up these other hotels are names you know like Hampton Inn, Super 8, and Holliday Inn Express, but the lack of convenience will make things a pain.
The best alternative is to rent an RV. There are numerous areas around campus to park your RV and your location will be better the earlier you arrive. You should be able to get around reasonably well if you don’t mind walking places. (Taxis are a little hard to find.) Those flying into Memphis can pick up an RV within a taxi ride from the airport. A second alternative is to look into renting a house or a condo via VRBO or Airbnb. Anything you can get close to the Square would be the ideal situation.
It’s time to talk about the best part of your Ole Miss adventure, the Grove. It’s a tailgating scene so grand that it has its own Wikipedia page. People get to the 10-acre park just north of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Fridays before games and set up shop. Rules have changed over the years as to how early tailgates can be setup (historically they’ve been anywhere from the morning to the afternoon to midnight), so you’ll need to check with local information when you go.
(There are still some people who skirt the rules and lock down their space before they’re supposed to.)
There are three key rules to the Grove that you’ll need to know ahead of time. Rule #1 is that open flames aren’t allowed. Tailgates are generally known for burgers and dogs, but you won’t be seeing any of those here. You’ll witness things like sandwiches, prepared appetizers, or even trays of local favorites like Chick-fil-A or Zaxby’s because people still do need to eat. Rule #2 is that no cars are allowed on the Grove. Space is at a premium, so tents will be laid out one next to the other. Rule #3, and probably the most important one, is that all drinks must be consumed out of cups because of some antiquated local laws about consuming alcohol.
This doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself at the Grove. There’s still plenty of beer to consume (just make sure you have your cup) and food to eat (just not a fresh cheeseburger).
Things start as early as 4 a.m. for some and everyone’s well dressed, so make sure you dress accordingly. It won’t matter if you don’t have your own tailgate spot set up. You can always walk around with a cooler of your own and jump in on someone else’s tailgate because making friends is easy.
As with every small college town, there are a great places the local rave about that you’ll want to see for yourself.
The first place on the menu is a breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast. Known for using chili in all their breakfast dishes, you’ll enjoy whatever your heart desires. Hash browns and house-cured are suggested sides with your meal, but don’t leave without having their biscuits. Despite the name, they also serve really good fried chicken and burgers lunch. (They close after that.) The next stop on your food tour is Ajax Diner. You’re eating typical southern food here with things like chicken and dumplings or fried catfish. There are also well-liked burgers here, such as “The Deuce,” which is a two-patty burger with bacon and cheese. I’d suggest grabbing the chicken fried steak sandwich known as “The Big Easy,” which comes with baked beans, potatoes and gravy piled on top. Squeeze in the broccoli and rice casserole if you have room left.
There are a couple other places to grab burgers. As featured on TV’s Burger Land, Phillips Grocery offers the skillet-fried dough burger, which mixes in flour to the burger meet. It may sound weird, but you’ll enjoy it. The Lamar Lounge offers the Lamar Burger for your last on the burger list. They know how to lock the juices inside by providing some good char on the outside.
Taylor Grocery is known for their catfish and rotel fries, which are of the spicy home variety, but it is 20 minutes south of Oxford. In an interesting twist, you can brown bag your alcohol while there and you might need to since there’s often a wait for a table. Keeping with groceries, City Grocery is a popular spot that gets booked up quickly with reservations. You’ll also need to secure a reservation at Snackbar, part of the City Grocery family, which is slightly fancier than some other local spots. The cocktails go well with your oysters and any main course of your choosing. You might have to go at odd times, but the shrimp and grits is worth it. You’ll also find some barbecue in town because this is the south after all. Handy Andy’s is your place for that, but they have good burgers too.
You can also find a fabulous Boure burger at Boure or get their surf and turf if you’ve had too many burgers at this point.
I would be remiss to talk about food in Oxford without mentioning the late night food scene at the Chevron. That might sound weird on first read, but I can confirm that a gas station offers what the locals love after a night of drinking. “Chicken on a stick” is exactly that, but it’s a site to behold when everyone gathers there after the bars close. If chicken tenders on a stick don’t get you going, there’s always a Sonic down the road.
You can’t make a trip to an Ole Miss football game in Oxford without going to The Library. I’m not referring to the place on campus with books, but the bar that’s always listed as one of the best college bars in the country. It’s really a trio of bars, but the main area is a club and live music venue that’s open to those 18+. There’s also the Library Patio and The Library Sports bar to hold your interest. You may complain about the $20 cover on football weekends, but you’ll enjoy yourself once you’re inside. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your hands on the sought after Library card and get in for free. They sell a limited amount of them a couple times a year or put on competitions for you to win them. You’ll likely spend a majority of the drinking portion of your weekend here.
Most other bars in Oxford are around The Square. Most places are your standard college bars. Dive spots like (the basement of) the Rib Cage and Levee can keep you entertained if you like that type of scene. You’ll likely catch see student-athletes at Funky’s, which is next door to the Library. It’s referred to as a “pizza and daiquiri” bar, but offers a much more laid back scene. If you’re into music there are a couple options. Those in the mood for a piano bar can go to Frank and Marlee’s. Proud Larry’s has local indie bands or The Lyric generally has enjoyable concerts, so check their listings before you go. Head to Rooster’s if you’re looking for a more boisterous atmosphere, which is pretty fratty and generally full with a fun crowd.