Leaving Florida. It’s a Birthday Van Road Trip to Visit Laurel, Mississippi

Home of HGTV’s Home Town TV show!

After spending nearly two weeks staying and touring northern Florida and the beautiful Emerald Coast, it was time to head back home.

Happy Birthday drive

It was early November, and it was JK’s birthday (we won’t say how many trips around the Sun he’s made, lol).

Leaving Florida was hard. We fell in love with the small town along the Gulf Coast. We are still in disbelief that we actually had our feet in the white sands and aqua blue waters of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach.

This was certainly a new way to celebrate JK’s birthday. We stopped at a small bakery in Navarre Beach to grab a morning birthday pastry and coffee, then pointed our 2019 Ford Transit van north towards the heart of the South.

Pines not palms

Florida certainly dispelled all the stereotype images we had of the place. It’s like the way people envision California, nothing but sandy beaches, surfers, movie stars and palm trees. JK is a California native and grew up in the northern part of the Golden State amongst the pine trees and oaks, not palm trees.

It is like that in the areas of Florida we saw. The northern part of the state is mostly pine trees. What palms we saw looked to have been transplanted by landscapers. Even along the Gulf coast, pine outnumber the palms.

Fall is a wonderful time to visit the area. The fall colors were so prevalent throughout our entire trip, especially in the Carolinas and Georgia. Truly beautiful and unexpected for the end of October.

Sweet Home Alabama

Our plan was to make a beeline to Laurel, Mississippi to visit the home of Erin and Ben Napier, stars of the extremely popular HGTV home improvement show “Home Town.”

Google Maps show the trip to Laurel was about a three and a half-hour drive. So, we said goodbye to the Florida blue waters and headed deep into Sweet Home Alabama.

We decided not to deal with the freeways and traffic of Mobile, Alabama, instead taking a more rural track on Highway 29 to the state line. Then it was onto Highway 21 to Highway 89 which put us heading due west to Laurel.

One of the cool things we saw during our ride through this region were all the cotton fields ready for harvest. We had to stop and take photos.

Wasting away again in Coffeeville

Admittedly, we both got excited when we saw the sign for Coffeeville, AL thinking this small town would have capitalized on their name and boosted multiple places to find a good, steaming hot cup of Joe.

Boy, were we disappointed. There wasn’t even a gas station in this “blink and you miss it” town. At that point, we might have even settled for a Styrofoam cup of 10-hour old convenience store coffee.  

No coffee for you

After “no coffee” Coffeeville, it’s a short drive to the Mississippi state line on Highway 84. We passed through Waynesboro and landed on the outskirts of Laurel.  

Getting into the historic and TV famous downtown area takes a bit of fancy driving and maneuvering. It’s not a straight shot by any means. Expect to do a lot of zigzagging to get into the heart of town.

Laurel is HGTV “Home Town” Headquarters

So why go out of our way to visit a small Mississippi town? Well, in case you have been sleeping under a rock for the past seven years, “Home Town” is an American television series starring husband and wife team, Ben and Erin Napier, that premiered on January 24, 2016, on HGTV. The married couple restores Southern homes in Laurel, Mississippi. The show is in its seventh season.


The once sleepy and somewhat forgotten lumber town is now a huge tourist draw for fans of the TV show. The popularity of the show has helped attract new residents and businesses to Laurel.

Although there are sections of Laurel not “ready for their closeup,” a majority of the downtown buildings and several residential neighborhoods look to have been touched by the couple’s recent efforts to revitalize the town.

We knew they’d make it big

Kim always boasts that we were watching the “Home Town” show from the very start and knew it would take off and become wildly popular. We don’t think the hometown couple could have known just how big an influence they would have on their little community.

Admittedly, it was fun to drive the streets looking for shoot locations we have seen in the TV show. Of course, we had to stop at some of the tourist attractions.

Visiting the Scotsman

Our first stop was at the Scotsman General Store and Woodshop.

This is where parts of the show are filmed. The woodshop is off limits, but there is a large picture window to view all the woodworking equipment and humorous signs seen in the show.

The remainder of the long and narrow structure along the railroad track is set aside for gifts, souvenirs, and clothing. What a perfect place to shop for Christmas gifts.

We talked at length to one of the staff about the Napiers and the town, plus got to hear some cool behind the scenes stories.

The life of a celeb

One of the most interesting stories of trying to keep admiring fans from mobbing the couple happened early in the week. Ben’s iconic white over blue 1960 Chevy Fleetside pickup truck was parked off to the side of the shop and he needed to come and get his truck.


The gentleman telling us the story said Ben called him on his cell phone and told him to discreetly bring the keys to the pickup to the back of the shop. The keys were delivered, and Ben sped off in his truck before anyone knew he was on property.

Time to feed our bellies!

By this time, we were getting very hungry, so before heading across town to Erin’s Laurel Mercantile shop, we returned downtown to find one of the restaurants featured in the show. We parked and walked down W. Oak Street to Pearl’s Diner on the corner at 330 N. Magnolia St.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get to sample Pearl’s Southern Soul Food as they were just about to close for the day. (They are open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Taste of the Big Easy

We walked across the street to the New Orleans inspired Café Le Fleur, who was still serving lunch. The interior decor of the restaurant was very reminiscent of places in the Big Easy. The restaurant has been a downtown Laurel dining fixture for more than 20 years.

The menu features an eclectic blend of southern style and Louisiana favorites such as Fried Green Tomatoes, Red Beans and Rice, and Crawfish Etouffee.

For his birthday lunch, JK ordered the Blackened Redfish with a crawfish cream sauce and “dirty” rice. Kim ordered the Chicken Tortellini with red dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers in Alfredo sauce. Of course, we had to have a big pitcher of sweet tea. Man was that ever good!

We also shared a complimentary bourbon-laced bread pudding for birthday dessert.

Traveler’s note: Many of the restaurants in Downtown Laurel are only open for breakfast and lunch, closing at 3 p.m. If you plan to stop and eat in Laurel, keep that in mind. We were almost too late to find an open place.

You can find eating spots, such as the Texas Pitmaster BBQ, or the typical national fast food chain restaurants that are open all day. Other dining spots close during late afternoon and reopen again after 5 p.m.

With our bellies totally full, he headed over to the Laurel Mercantile on Front Street. Naturally, they were all decorated for the upcoming Christmas holiday. Christmas music was being piped into the street outside to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Holiday Shopping Mecca

Parked to the side of the store is another of Ben’s classic old blue trucks. This old pickup and the park-like setting has been the photo op background for thousands of “Home Town” fan selfies over the years. For some reason, we didn’t take a picture with the truck. I guess maybe we didn’t want to look like tourists? Lol

The Laurel Mercantile is stuffed with home decorating décor, candles, Erin’s original artwork, tee shirts, and during our visit, lots of Christmas themed gifts and goodies.

Tour of “Home Town” Homes

Time was getting away from us, so we drove to the neighborhood where many of the couple’s refurbished homes are located. Many of the magnificent homes looked familiar from seeing them on the show over the years.

We’re sure the homeowners have gotten tired of the endless streams of looky-loos slowly cruising past their homes gawking. A couple of the houses had posted “No Photography” signs in their yards.

As always, we wished we had a little extra time to spend walking downtown and visiting all the neat shops and businesses.

But it was now late afternoon and we needed to get back on the road. We hoped to get to the Memphis area by nightfall, but with a nearly 5-hour drive ahead of us, that wasn’t going to happen.

Places to sit a spell

Laurel does have two bed and breakfasts inns within the “Home Town” neighborhood, if you are interested in staying there. There is also a Budget Inn close to the downtown as another lodging option.

We had talked about staying overnight at the Sleepy Hollow RV Park campground just northeast of Laurel but opted to keep on trucking towards our Southern Minnesota destination.

Wouldn’t you know it, while looking a bit closer at the map, we did find a town to the northwest of Laurel named “Hot Coffee.” For sure they should have to have a good cup of Joe, or would they? I guess we’ll have to travel there on our next journey through Mississippi. 

Be sure to head over to our JK and Kim in the Camper YouTube channel and watch the accompanying video to this blog in addition to all our other great van and RV life travel videos. Click here to go to our YouTube page.


NEXT TIME: The weather seems to be against us as we battle severe storms and heavy rains in Missouri and southern Iowa trying to make it home. Plus we make a “dam” stop in Arkansas.

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We do get a very small percentage from each sale which helps us continue to provide great van travel content for you. Thanks so much for your support!

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