Ah, Memphis, Tennessee. So much about this rugged and intriguing city that’s perched alongside the Mississippi River is like a dog you’ve been neglecting but when you finally pay him some attention, his love for you is rough-and-ready and spilling over.
Memphis isn’t like all the other Antebellum cities. She’s got a story and an identity that has made her one of the most resilient cities in the southern United States. Each mural on old derelict buildings you pass pines for the past. Each one pays homage to the civil rights movement, Elvis Presley, blues legends, and rock and roll.
She’s a melting pot and she’s been that way since the first millennium A.D. when the Chickasaw nation settled the land — long before French and Spanish explorers put their hands in this cookie jar.
Memphis is named after the ancient capital in Egypt which was once a booming economic epicenter along the Nile River, however, the rise of Alexandria eclipsed her acclaim and put an end to that golden age.
Much like the ancient capital, the city has had its rough go of it. The great thing about it is that the good times, the bad times, and the nostalgia are felt just about everywhere.
The history, the food, and the music are prominent in its unique way. It’s where the “King of Rock and Roll” lived out his dream and where Dr. King’s dream was cut short. It’s the homestead of the National Civil Rights Museum that occupies the old Lorraine Motel where King’s assassination took place.
It’s a city that doesn’t sulk in sadness but rejoices its moral fiber.
Where To Stay
The Peabody Memphis
The historic Peabody in Memphis is a four-star hotel with a lobby glitzy enough for F. Scott Fitzgerald and a bar that won’t quit.
Every corner you turn makes you ache for a nostalgic past when people still wrote letters to their friends and family miles away and sat in private phone booths.
It looks like the roaring 20s in here. The ballrooms are lavish, the hallways are glitzy and dazzling, and everyone’s jovial. The Peabody is also imaginative. It’s easy to visualize all the gangsters and the in-crowd who’ve walked these halls, drank in this lobby, and danced in these impressive ballrooms.
Any French dignitary would be impressed. You feel like you’re in Paris walking into some of these. The ornate ceilings, the French doors, and the stained-glass ceiling, it’s immediately entrancing. Everything is fitting for a hotel that was established in 1869.
On any given day, you’ll find that it’s busy and the atmosphere is lively with kids and families from all over the country clamoring in to visit Memphis.
They all surround the opulent granite water fountain in the center of the lobby where the famous ducks march twice a day by way of their Dockmaster.
Ducks are everywhere, you’ll learn. For a full historical rundown of the hotel, visit their website and stay a while.
photo: wiki commons
Where To Eat
If you’re into finer-dining with a southern twist, Flight Restaurant is one junction you don’t want it to miss. If you happen to stay at the Peabody Hotel like we suggested, it’s less than a five-minute walk to the Flight.
And trust us, you’ll want to walk after they’re done with you. Not only is Flight the best rated restaurant in Memphis, it’s also the Travelers’ Choice 2018 Winner for Best Fine Dining restaurant in the United States, making the list at #5.
Flight restaurant isn’t like any other restaurant. It’s called Flight because many items on the menu literally come in three flights, (small portions) but you can order them as entrees. It’s all a matter of what you’re in the mood for.
Flights range from scrumptious meats and seafood, to insanely decadent desserts. Since it’s in the heart of downtown Memphis and you’ll want to make a reservation for this one because the place is lively, especially during the summer and for good reason.
There’s complimentary valet but we truly recommend walking due to all the sensational chow and dessert you’ll be devouring.
photo: Downtown Memphis
Farm & Field Flight
Chicken and Waffles / Diamond Head Ranch Quail / Lamb Porterhouse
Pork Tenderloin / Veal Scallopini / Wild Boar Tenderloin
The one place you need to visit in Memphis is Central Barbecue. Go to the downtown location. It’s the epitome of southern cuisine and hospitality, and it’s life-changing. The downtown building is old, the people are friendly, the staff is bustling, and the taste buds are watering.
It’s slow-smoked BBQ, Memphis style — the only style, really. This is where you’ll find meat that falls off the bone, pork that melts in your mouth, and BBQ sauce that’s evocative on the tongue.
It’s hard to go wrong with anything on this menu but if you need a little help, get their famous pulled pork sandwich, you won’t regret it. It’s rated #1 in Memphis by the Travel Channel for a reason.
It doesn’t get more authentic in Memphis than this and don’t skimp out on dessert. The banana bread pudding is to die for.
What To Do
Beale street is iconic. Before Elvis Presley was famous, he used to frequent this soulful place in hopes of being discovered by the heavy hitters in the music scene in the 1950s.
So much history, food, and music is packed into a little less than 2 miles in Downtown, Memphis. The street dates back to 1841 but didn’t get its musical jumpstart until the 1860s when black musicians traveling through would perform.
A few years later, it became the epicenter of culture and music in Memphis. Later, black shop owners began opening restaurants, shops, and clubs. Many musical legends were known to frequent Beale Street throughout the 1920s and the 1940s including Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, Memphis Minnie, and more.
In 1966, Beale Street was declared a National Historic Landmark and has seen both good times and bad. Today, Beale street is much different than it was as Memphis struggles to fight their growing crime problem.
On a Saturday, the street is closed off and you’re required to wait in line to enter. You must be 21 years old to enter the street and security must search your bag. If you arrive after 10:30 PM, you may be required to pay a cover fee to enter.
We recommend a daytime visit to truly enjoy the street’s historical past.
It’s impossible to visit Memphis without visiting Elvis Presley’s Graceland. This is where Elvis purchased his dream home from a doctor in 1957 for $102,000. It’s also the first site related to rock and roll to be designated a National Historical Landmark and to be listed in the National Register of Historical Places.
The house has an incredible history as Elvis had many famous friends who visited the property as well as traditions. It’s also the location of his untimely death. Elvis died in the home of a heart attack in 1977 in his bathroom and is buried on the property alongside his parents, his twin brother, and his grandmother in the meditation garden which you can see on visit to the mansion.
A private funeral for Elvis’s was held at Graceland following his death right outside of the music room which you’ll also be able to view while on your tour. After his passing, Graceland was opened to the public on June 7, 1982, less than ten years after his death.
The mansion sits on almost 14 acres and attracts millions of tourists and media attention every year, especially during his birthday in January. Tickets are purchased off-site across the street from the mansion but the tour begins in front of the home where you’re shuttled in. You’re given audio sets that narrate your walk-through of the house and you can more or less go at your own pace.
The tour starts in the living room and ends at Presley’s tombstone. There are plenty of exhibits within the home which feature some of Elvis’s old records, his iconic stage wardrobe, original furniture and China, and more. If you’re there in January, you might see the Christmas tree on display as Elvis loved Christmas more than any other holiday. Nothing is off limits so you’ll able to see exactly how the King lived during his time at Graceland.
It’s one of the most visited homes in American only second to the White House. If Graceland isn’t on your bucket list, it definitely should be. Give yourself at least four hours to tour the home and exhibits Graceland has to offer.
Right after you tour the mansion, head on over to Sun Studio (Sun Records) where the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded. There’s something fascinating about touring a studio that laid the foundation for some of the most influential artists of our time. It’s also where the first rock and roll song, “Rocket 88,” was recorded in 1951.
You can even snap a picture behind the Shure 55 microphone said to be used by Elvis.
National Civil Rights Museum
Immerse yourself in the Civil Rights Movement and learn how instrumental Memphis was during that time by heading over to the National Civil Rights Museum.
It’s rated 4.8 stars on Google out of over 6,000 reviews and was honored in 2016 by the Smithsonian Affiliate museum. The museum originally opened in 1991 but was temporarily closed in 2012 to undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation.
Exhibits are emotional and historically accurate thanks to civil rights scholars according to the museum’s Wikipedia page. The website says the museum is open from 9 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., however, one reviewer recommended calling ahead to ensure the museum is open.
An adult ticket will cost $16 and $14 for senior citizens. Children ages 5-17 are $13 and children under 4 are free.
The Best View In Memphis
If you want to see the best view of the Mississippi River and downtown Memphis, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is where you need to go.
You can walk around the inside of the pyramid even if you aren’t lodging at Big Cypress Lodge, the four-star hotel within the pyramid. There’s an under-the-sea-themed bowling alley on the inside, a restaurant right beside it, and plenty of room to shop for all your outdoor needs.
There are also several recreational activities within the pyramid for kids. The $10 elevator ride up to the top of the pyramid is where you’ll get that scenic, panoramic view of Memphis and the Mississippi River which is well worth the trek.
If you find your stomach growling, there’s a restaurant up top where you can soak in the view even longer.
Photo credits: Can You Actually unless noted