I have to admit that I was less excited about visiting Memphis when I was accepted to attend BlogHouse. Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted that the organizers accepted my application. And no matter how lukewarm I might be about a destination, I wouldn’t turn down a trip. But honestly, I thought of Memphis as a Nashville knock-off.
However, now having been to the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, I would consider it more like the Big Easy. I mean that in the best way possible as I love New Orleans. I can honestly say, Memphis is a place I would definitely return.
I added a day to the beginning and end of my trip. Plus, BlogHouse Memphis along with its sponsors, Memphis Tourism, Tennessee Tourism, The Peabody, and MediaVine put together a nice introduction to the city, its restaurants, and some attractions.
In my opinion, Memphis is all about music, food, and Civil Rights. That said, you should probably spend one day on music, one on Civil Rights, and the third day on everything else. Just work the food into the itinerary.
Memphis Long Weekend, Day 1- A Homage to Elvis and Rock and Roll
Between Graceland, the Elvis Museum, and Sun Records this itinerary will fill the better part of your day.
I recommend getting to Graceland as early in the day as you can. As the day goes on it just gets more and more packed.
Visit Elvis’ Graceland
Graceland was the home of Elvis Presley. By today’s standards, it is a fairly humble estate. The main living spaces and the grounds are open to the public. Visitors receive an iPad for the guided multimedia tour narrated by John Stamos. (I have no idea why Stamos.)
You will see where Presley spent family time, entertained, and even the Jungle room where he died. The lower level of the house is dedicated to family treasures including intimate pictures of him and his daughter Lisa Marie.
This was my first visit to Graceland, but my mother had visited a number of times. From her visits, I know the lower level once displayed some of the items exhibited at the Elvis museum related to his career. I like that they have moved those items across the street and dedicated the home to him and his family. After all, that is what a home is.
Elvis and his parents are buried at the Graceland estate. These along with the stables, the racquetball court, and swimming pool are all part of the tour.
Tour the Elvis Museum
Across the street is the Elvis Museum. This is actually where your Elvis experience begins. You will purchase your tickets here and before going by minibus to Graceland you will watch a short video.
The museum houses all things, Elvis! There is an exhibit dedicated to his personal automobiles and those used in his movies as well as automobiles he promoted. If you are so inclined, you can view the costume he wore when performing as well as, his gold and platinum record. This is just the tip of the iceberg as they say. Also, on-site you will find Elvis’s personal plane, the Lisa Marie, which is open for tours.
Of course, like any museum, you will find gift shops. Yes. Plural! There are multiple places to pick up a souvenir. Additionally, the museum offers three options for dining. However, don’t eat here. It’s outrageously expensive.
Try the Arcade Diner for Elvis’ Favorite Sandwich
If you want the authentic Elvis experience, you need to go to the Arcade Diner. Elvis was a regular at the diner in his early days and they still serve his favorite sandwich, Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana. They also offer the option of adding bacon.
I’m a huge fan of peanut butter and banana sandwiches but I never thought to grill it like a grilled cheese. Nor did I ever consider adding bacon. However, I went with the bacon-added version and it was delicious. The sandwich is served with fries.
In every other way, the diner is not dissimilar to any other in décor and food selection. However, they are only open until 3 pm.
Walk with Legends at Sun Studio
After lunch, Uber, walk, take the trolley or grab a bike share back to Beale Street. From here head to the Rock and Soul Museum, where you will pick up a free shuttle to Sun Studio.
Whether you are paying homage to Elvis or not you should visit Sun Studio, credited as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll. Here you will learn quite a bit about the Studio and its connection to not only rock music but also, blues, country, and more.
Sun Studio is considered the Birthplace of Rock and Roll because this is where Elvis recorded his first album. But its rock and roll roots run deeper than just Elvis. Sun Studio and owner, Sam Perkins gave rise to superstars including B.B. King, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. And sometimes more than one at a time. But for that, you will need to visit.
During the tour, you will have time to ham it up a bit (and stand in the shadow of greatness) in the studio where these and many other music greats recorded some legendary tracks.
You want to allow a couple of hours at least for Sun Studios. While it is not huge and the tour is not lengthy, there may be delays. No worries though, grab an ice cream or a coffee while you wait.
Chill Out at Loflin Yard
After a long day, I suggest a chill evening at Loflin Yard. This is a restaurant and bar, formerly the home of the carriage fleet offers both indoor and outdoor space. Outside, there are seating areas with brightly colored Adirondack chairs covered by sun sails. If you’re up to it, try your hand at Cornhole.
Loflin Yards has a varied menu including grilled veggies, brisket tacos, smoked wings, a pimento spread (which seems to be a thing here), and a lovely charred romaine salad. I was lucky enough to have a sampling of all and would recommend any of them but you won’t want to miss the tacos.
You can expect live entertainment in the evenings. While I was there in the afternoon, I imagine this place getting grooving at night.
Weekend in Memphis, Day 2 – Civil Rights and More
Take in the Civil Rights Museum
The museum is housed in the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. The building’s exterior looks exactly as it did on the fateful day. The interior is dedicated to the history of Civil Rights in the United States, beginning with slavery through Jim Crow and up to the present day.
This interactive, multimedia exhibit is both educational and moving. I think we all have some knowledge of slavery, its legacy, and racism in this country but to see it laid out chronologically is striking.
In addition to the interactive exhibits, the room where Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life is on display as is the room next to it. Room 307 was occupied by King’s aide and confidante, Dorothy Cotton. King and his best friend Ralph Abernathy were staying in Room 306. It was on the balcony in front of Room 306 where King was shot from a building on the opposite side of the street by James Earl Ray on April 6, 1968, at 6:01 pm. The shooting was less than 24-hours after King gave his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech to striking sanitation workers at the Church of God in Christ Mason Temple.
The rooms remain as they were in 1968.
To do this museum justice, you really need to spend about 3-hours here. I went one day but only had about an hour and fifteen minutes. It was not enough. I felt like I blew through. I went back for a second visit when I could dedicate more time and spent 3 hours there on that visit. So, I think it is fair to say that this is the minimum amount of time to allocate.
Don’t Miss Central BBQ
Like many cities, that have a particular food for which they are known, there is always dispute among the locals over who does it the best. In Bluff City, it’s BBQ. Typically, three names top the list: Rendezvous, Blues City Café, and Central BBQ.
Just around the corner from the Civil Rights Museum is Central BBQ. This is a must. Expect a line. This place is jammin’. They serve the food family-style and there seems to be an endless supply.
From what I am told the way to eat the pulled chicken and pork is on a roll and topped with coleslaw and some of their hot or mild sauce. It was delicious. However, we wanted some sauce that was a touch hotter than what was on the table. The server brought us back a sauce she said, “It’ll make you wanna get up and slap yo mama.” I’m not sure I wanted to slap anyone, but I was glad we asked to try it. Don’t let that description scare you off. If you enjoy hot sauce, it isn’t that hot.
For sides, they offer, mac and cheese, baked beans, coleslaw which is darn good (and from what I’m told, I apparently make some of the best) as well as greens which the southerners in the group said were made “right.” As a Northerner, I’m not exactly sure what that means.
They also have starters, including Nachos, topped with pulled pork. And for dessert, we tried the Apple and the Peach Cobblers.
Central BBQ is a favorite among locals and visitors to Bluff City. But Memphis has no shortage of great BBQ joints and has been called one of the Best BBQ Cities in America.
Stroll Beale Street
After lunch, you are probably going to want to walk some of it off. Head to Beale Street. The music starts playing and the booze begins flowing around 3 pm.
Beale Street has that Bourbon Street vibe. Like Bourbon, Beale street is lined with bars, restaurants, and some one-off shops. You can expect street performers and music pouring out into the street. Along, the way you will find everything from the iconic BB King’s Blue Club to the Hard Rock Café.
But because Beale Streett is wider than the main thoroughfare in New Orleans, even when it’s hopping it doesn’t feel overly crowded. However, I was there on a Wednesday night when Justin Timberlake played at the stadium and it was also Bike Night. That night, when the show let out things were extremely busy. But a typical Friday or Saturday night wasn’t bad at all.
An Extended Weekend in Memphis, Day 3 – Make Time for Everything Else
Rolling on the River
Start day-3 of your itinerary with a lazy paddleboat ride down the Mississippi River with Memphis Riverboats. There’s not much more southern than that. And you can conjure your inner Tom Sawyer.
Your cruise begins at the Beale Street Landing. An entertaining narrator provides some Memphis history and talks about the relationship the city has with the river. The trip is about an hour and fifteen minutes. They offer a full snack bar including beer and wine. Be sure to wear your sunscreen.
Visit Old Dominick’s Distillery
Whether you are a whiskey aficionado or not (I’m not), a tour of the Old Dominick Distillery provides a look at the craft of making Tennessee whiskey.
Old Dominick produces three kinds of Whiskey and two vodka blends. Plus, they offer their proprietary Old Dominick Toddy. And of course, samples are available.
Additionally, Old Dominick’s has a rooftop event space. We were there for a private party and it is a truly delightful space.
Eat, Drink and Play at the Railgarten
Later, this itinerary takes you beyond the downtown area to the trendy Cooper-Young neighborhood.
If you do nothing else while you are in the neighborhood, you should plan to spend some time at the Railgarten. This is a family-friendly (dog-friendly, too) complex with a big old block party vibe. Outdoors you’ll find games such as cornhole, volleyball, horseshoes, and more. There’s a playground for the kids. They have plenty of lawn chairs. Just grab one and set up anywhere.
There are multiple bars both inside and out and dining options abound. Choose from indoor diner-style seating or have a seat in the sports bar. Head to the yard or grab an ice cream cone and go.
While there I had a number of menu items but I have to admit the most memorable was the veggie burger. Let me just say, “Wow.” I’m not a vegetarian, but I was for three years and have therefore had my fair share of veggie patties. This one was like none I had before. The flavor was great but so was the texture. I almost didn’t know it wasn’t beef.
Take a Ghost Tour
After dark, take a walking tour of the city and hear about the legends of hauntings in Memphis. Whether you’re a believer in the paranormal or not, I think this is always a fun thing to do. If nothing else, you will learn things about the city that you otherwise probably would not on any other walking tour.
Your tour begins at the BB King Blue’s Club and takes you to some of the oldest and most legendary buildings in town. Learn about the city being hit with yellow fever, the little girl who haunts the Orpheum Theatre, and more. Some even claim to have seen ghosts on the tour.
Where to Stay in Memphis
Guesthouse at Graceland
If you are really into the Elvis theme itinerary, stay at the Guesthouse at Graceland, a 450-room hotel near the estate and the museum. I have not visited the Guesthouse. I have heard and seen quite mixed reviews about it. One complaint I heard was related to noise from other rooms. I have been told it is pricey and not worth the money. My research indicates that rooms start at around $200 / night. You will need to be the judge if it is worth it for the experience.
This is where I stayed as Bloghouse Memphis was held here and partially sponsored by The Peabody. It is an elegant historic hotel. In 2019, the hotel celebrated its 150th year welcoming guests.
Rooms at The Peabody are well-appointed and many have views of the city. High ceilings and bathrooms with tubs provide all the charm of an old hotel. At the same time, The Peabody has all the amenities of a modern hotel, including air conditioning, wi-fi, in-room safe, and a blow-dryer. Additionally, they offer all the services of a fine hotel including room service, valet, bellhops, and even shoe shine. If you are looking for something physical they have a gym, swimming pool, and a spa on the premises.
Thursday nights throughout the summer, The Peabody hosts a rooftop party with live bands performing. They offer both regular and VIP admission. The rooftop offers views of the city and to the Mississippi River. It’s an excellent spot to view the sunset.
And if you are staying at The Peabody and are concerned about the noise from the rooftop, the bands stop performing at 10 pm. It quiets down immediately.
The Duck March
Steeped in tradition, The Peabody is known for its twice-daily Duck March. What is that, you ask? It’s exactly as it sounds. Promptly at 11 am each morning they escort the ducks from their rooftop penthouse down to the fountain in the lobby. They roll out the red carpet and the ducks are ushered in with fanfare and the history of the tradition. It is quite a spectacle. The ducks spend their day swimming about in the hotel fountain.
At promptly, 5 pm each evening the ducks are escorted back to their rooftop digs. It’s a rough life, I know.
Whether you stay at The Peabody or not, I think it is worth trying to catch the spectacle, especially if you are traveling with kids. Come early though because it gets mobbed. If there is no space on the lobby level, then head to the mezzanine which overlooks the lobby.
I think the best way to experience the Duck March is to go early, grab a seat near the fountain and order either Coffee Service or High Tea.
Getting around Memphis
I found Memphis to be a very walkable city. But I should add a disclaimer: I may walk more than most.
To go to Graceland and out to the Cooper-Young neighborhood you will likely want to either Uber, Lyft or grab a cab. This is not walkable but I would say all the rest can be walked.
If you are not up to all the walking you can grab the trolley, which only returned to service this spring after a several-year hiatus. The cost of the air-conditioned public transportation is $1 (one-way) and can be paid on board. Exact change required. Also, one-day and three-day passes are available.
Also, Memphis has just introduced a Bike Share program. Download the app at https://www.bcycle.com/app. With nearly 60 locations, you will never be far from a kiosk.
What great music cities have you visited? What makes it amazing? Tell me in the comments.