Milkshakes, Museums: Family Time in JXN
Family YouTube superstar and mother of four, Bonnie Hoellein, takes us through her adventure to Jackson, Mississippi with the family!
From cleaning up spills to picking Play-Doh out of the carpet and making meals for a family of picky eaters, managing a busy family on the road isn’t easy. Finding places to go on trips that can accommodate the needs of the whole family can be tricky – but not impossible! With its many interactive museums, parks, kid-friendly restaurants and hospitable locals, Jackson is just the right place if your family is looking for a laid-back getaway that’s fun but still educational. In search of this kind of getaway, YouTuber Bonnie Hoellein, her husband Joel and her four children came to the City With Soul to experience Southern hospitality, fun and interactive museums and delicious eats for all ages.
Hoellein’s children – Olivia (9), Cody (8), Boston (5), and Lincoln (2) – were the main inspiration behind the itinerary for this fun, engaging and educational getaway for the family.
In one of her recent videos that chronicles the trip, Hoellein says, “I can’t get over the way people have treated the kids – they’ve been so good to the kids. It’s been fun and educational – and the kids were not bored at all.”
Want to plan your family’s trip to Jackson inspired by the Hoellein’s itinerary? Keep reading.
Day 1: Catfish, Oysters and A Two Headed Snake
Check in at the Hilton Jackson
The Hilton Jackson is a hotel that combines Southern hospitality with modern amenities and convenience for families looking to make the most out of their time in the city, while also enjoying the comfort of down-time at the property. The hotel’s spacious suites are designed for the whole family, like the Hoelleins’ family of six, and they include free wi-fi, flat screen TVs, cribs, high-chairs and more.
The hotel also features three award-winning restaurants, Wellington’s, Drago’s Seafood, and Fitzgerald’s, where the kid menus can satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
To wind down on a hot summer day, the property also features a gorgeous courtyard pool and fire pit with poolside service.
Eat your way through the menu at Fine and Dandy
Classic American food finds an upscale twist at this well-loved, modern restaurant in Jackson’s Eastover district. The extensive lunch and dinner menus feature American classics like burgers, meat loaf, chicken spaghetti casserole, and “the worst ribs in town” (hint: they’re actually some of the best ribs in town). You can also find more unconventional pickings like banh mi meatballs, smoked trout caviar deviled eggs and more.
Hoellein and her family tried the catfish with butter beans and collard greens and were not disappointed. “I love catfish!” Lincoln proudly exclaimed.
With 300 acres of natural landscape that’s home to over 200 living species, a 1,700-square-foot greenhouse and numerous events like NatureFEST, Park After Dark, and more, The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is like a jungle oasis in the middle of a city. If you’re feeling adventurous, be sure to check out the two-headed snake that lives in this museum.
From playing with possums, alligators, turtles and owls to learning about the local and national biodiversity, the kids had a blast alongside their parents, Bonnie and Joel.
“If anyone thinks museums are boring, you haven’t been to these museums. We are so excited to come back tomorrow – we were treated like gold,” Bonnie said.
As for her favorite part of the museum, Olivia said “the baby turtles were so cute!”
To see what events are going on while you’ll be in town, see the events calendar.
Try oysters for dinner at Drago’s
Drago’s specializes in authentic Cajun cuisine, including Gulf favorites like gumbo, grillades and grits and oysters. Drago’s invented charbroiled oysters, which it calls “the single best bite of food in town.” Bonnie’s favorite thing on the menu was the blackened red fish with crabmeat dressing and cream sauce. “I would fly back to Mississippi just to eat this masterpiece again – absolutely mind blowing!” she raved.
If oysters and gumbo aren’t your kids’ thing, the menu at Drago’s also includes a variety of items customized for kids, including fried catfish, chicken fingers, and Alfredo pasta.
Day 2: Eat, Explore and Play Your Way Through the City
Indulge in the breakfast buffet at Wellington’s
Southern cuisine meets family-friendly convenience at Wellington’s – an award-winning southern comfort restaurant located right inside the Hilton Jackson. Dining at Wellington’s saved the Hoellein family valuable time exploring the city, while also not missing out on the delicious southern eats in Jackson. Best of all, it’s a buffet, so everyone in the family got to pick out what they wanted.
The breakfast menu features a southern twist on breakfast classics, and Wellington’s also has an extensive lunch buffet of southern favorites like jambalaya, fried chicken, bayou pasta, andouille gumbo and more.
The state of Mississippi has such a rich history of producing world-class athletes and teams that there’s even a museum dedicated to them. Wander through the Sports Hall of Fame to learn about the great American sports giants or play some of the interactive digital games like virtual baseball or soccer as you walk through the halls. This is a must-see visit for sports lovers while visiting the City With Soul.
Best of all, children under five are free, and adults are only $5.
Enjoy upscale southern dining at Char
Fine dining and feeding children may not seem to go hand in hand, but Char is the Jackson, Mississippi restaurant that proves it can be possible. Char is an upscale yet unpretentious dining option when in Jackson’s Highland Village – a premier shopping center with plenty of courtyard space to take advantage of Jackson’s beautiful weather.
Follow the Hoellein’s lead and indulge in the fried chicken with cornbread stuffing, cream spinach, crab cakes and fried green tomatoes – and share them all family-style.
Its interactive exhibits are designed like a playground for learning – which makes the museum a fun and engaging place to stimulate kids’ creativity. Every year, the museum welcomes 225,000 visitors from over 80 countries and all 50 states.
The museum has consistently received recognition for excellence by the Association of Children’s Museums, TripAdvisor, Parent and Kids magazine and others.
When the Hoellein family came to visit, they loved how interactive the exhibits were, from the mock cooking demonstrations to the slide you could ride down the human digestive system. The museum has endless engaging and educational activities for all to enjoy.
The museum also has wheelchair accessibility and a nursing room, making it inclusive for all.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. Take a look at the events calendar before planning your trip to see what kind of unique programs are taking place during your visit.
Day 3: Milkshakes, Museums and Southern BBQ
Bonnie’s favorite fun fact about Jackson? The movie, “The Help” was filmed here. For a kid-approved photo spot that also has a drool-worthy menu for every time of the day, Brent’s Drugs is a must visit. As a former pharmacy that opened in 1946, Brent’s has a rich history that makes it one of Jackson’s most famous eateries.
“We met a few locals and they told us to come here – the food just doesn’t disappoint,” Bonnie raves.
Snap a picture, grab a milkshake and grab a board game to play with the kids with while you’re there – you can ask for the games before you order your meal.
As a family of six, the Hoelleins’ favorite touch at Brent’s was the board games.
Jackson is synonymous with the Civil Rights Era — an integral part of American history that can’t be missed when visiting the state. To understand Jackson’s heritage, don’t miss a trip to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, no matter your age or understanding of American history. The colorful and interactive museum, which illustrates stories of slavery and segregation, aims to tell the history of the state’s involvement in this important era.
While this museum is a great place to educate kids about this critical period in American history, it’s often parents who end up learning the most. When the Hoellein’s visited, Joel was blown away by the extensive history and culture that was found through the interactive exhibits. “I love that we’re experiencing this with the kids right now,” he said.
The Hoelleins’ were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet with Hezekiah Watkins, one of the freedom riders featured in the museum, who explained his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. “This is history coming to life in the truest sense,” said Joel.
Day 4: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth and Bask in the Mississippi Sunshine
Breakfast at Broad Street Bakery
When traveling with the kids, fresh and local food is a must — one of the many reasons to stop by Broad Street Bakery. Every item on their menu is always made by hand by one of their expert chefs or bakers, and the bakery also has speedy wi-fi and fresh coffee along with its fresh-baked goods.
Some of the local favorites include the buttermilk chicken biscuit, cheese grits and country sausage quiche – as well as a plethora of pasty items like their famous ‘crack pie’, a must try while in Jackson.
Take the family to Aplos for Lunch
A light and healthy option in Highland Village, Aplos is a casual Mediterranean restaurant offering popular fare like chicken shawarma, falafel, leg of lamb and more – along with a kids menu that includes pizza and chicken tenders.
Bonnie and Joel opted for falafel, while the kids chose the pizza.
“I love Mediterranean food,” Bonnie exclaimed before taking a bite of falafel and looking over at Joel as if to say, “you are going to love this!”
Enjoy a sweet treat at Deep South Pops
With fresh coffee, a rotating menu of delicious hand-made popsicles, beer on tap and fun “Jackson-themed” pins and t-shirts, Deep South Pops is a favorite gathering spot for locals. It makes for a perfect stop to unwind while exploring the city. On a nice day, be sure to sit out on the patio and get a “popsicle float,” which is a popsicle inside your favorite soda or craft beer.
Joel’s popsicle of choice was the avocado-cream, a local favorite.
All in all, Bonnie had this to say about her family’s time in Jackson: “Watching my kids play in the warm, humid air and just being happy hearing all of the southern music and eating the southern food. This is fun. It’s so good. I don’t think I could ask for anything else!”
The Hoelleins’ used this itinerary for their family trip to Jackson, but you can view our food and culture itineraries, too, for more inspiration to plan your trip.
Editor’s Note: Deep South Pops closed in November 2019
See the vlogs from Bonnie’s trip below:
Visiting Jackson with the family? Share your pictures with us on Instagram using the hashtag #FollowMeToJackson!