Curtis Simmons / flickr
IntroductionMemphis is the motherland of American music. Here, Elvis made his first recording and W.C. Handy penned the blues. As a result, many of the city's sites have direct ties to rock, soul, gospel and blues music, and pilgrims gather to pay homage.
If Memphis had a soundtrack, its title track would be a peppy rock number to commemorate the city's prominence as the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. Elvis' first-ever recording, which was taped at the renowned Sun Studio, took the world by storm. Now the world takes Graceland by storm.
Heath Cajandig / flickr
Exalted gospel harmonies hang over the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968. The motel is now the locale for the stellar National Civil Rights Museum.
Alexander Guerson / flickr
In DepthBeale Street at night. The garish hues of neon-lit signs. The mouthwatering scent of barbecue. The touch of a breeze off the Mississippi. But most of all the sounds, the music. The thrum of an electric guitar, visceral drum beats, a saxophone's mellow moan.
Of course, the musical style most at home on Beale Street is the blues. Here in 1909 bandleader and classically trained musician W.C. Handy published one of the first and most popular blues songs, “The Memphis Blues.” A statue of the Father of the Blues holding his trumpet presides over Beale Street in W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park.
It's hard to believe that bustling Beale's historic buildings were virtually abandoned due to hard times in the 1960s and '70s. But thanks to a redevelopment project, the district is one of the city's most visited attractions. Blues legend B.B. King, who saw the rise, fall and rebirth of Beale Street, started here in the 1940s. His flagship club's massive guitar-shaped sign is topped by a golden crown—he was the King of the Blues after all.
Another of Memphis' musical royal family also holds court on Beale. A statue of a guitar-wielding, hip-thrusting Elvis Presley captures the King of Rock ’n’ Roll in mid-song, eyes closed, lips apart. Some credit him with not only popularizing rock music, but helping to invent the genre—as an unknown 19-year-old he recorded “That's All Right” in a small Memphis studio.
Now a museum near the Beale Street Historic District, Sun Studio is hallowed ground to Elvis fans, but it's also where music legends B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis began their recording careers.
What Beale Street is to blues lovers, Graceland is to King devotees. Modest by today's standards, Elvis' home is the centerpiece of a complex covering many aspects of his life, including his military service, film career and automobile collection. Tours conclude at his gravesite after visiting rooms frozen in 1977, the year of his death.
The city's contribution to American music continues at Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum, with its comprehensive music history exhibits that trace rock 'n' roll from its rural Mississippi Delta roots through rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and soul. The name Stax comes up a lot in those exhibits, and for good reason. Stax Records developed the Southern Soul sound and was home to greats like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the MGs. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, on the site of the old Stax Records building, is crammed with memorabilia from the golden age of Memphis soul music.
But Memphis' music heritage lives on outside museum display cases. The city celebrates blues, jazz, country, pop and bluegrass during the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival in September, while the Memphis in May International Festival, a month-long event beginning with the 3-day Beale Street Music Festival, draws thousands to outdoor stages on the banks of the Mississippi.
Also part of the Memphis in May festival is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which pits teams such as Natural Born Grillers, Notorious P.I.G. and Sweet Swine O' Mine against each other to win thousands of dollars. Despite the lighthearted names, barbecue in Memphis is serious business and as much a part of the culture as the blues.
Memphis-style ribs and soul-stirring blues go well together, and several Beale Street clubs serve both. But Memphis isn't all about music. It has its share of cultural institutions like the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and The National Civil Rights Museum at the former Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King's 1968 assassination, now a moving, powerful tribute to the civil rights struggles of the 20th century.
By CarExcept for the downtown business core flanking the river, Memphis is circled by a controlled-access highway, I-240, which intersects with all major approach routes. I-40 is the primary east-west route, linking Memphis with Jackson and Nashville to the east and Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark., and Oklahoma City to the west. As a bypass it runs convergent with I-240 around the northern edge of the metropolitan area, intersecting with Austin Peay Highway (SR 14) from the northeast and Danny Thomas Boulevard (US 51) from the north.
A freeway extension of the eastern portion of I-40 penetrates inside the I-240 loop as far as Highland Avenue, where it is shunted over to Summer Avenue (US 64/70/79) for a straight westward run toward downtown. On the west, I-40 interchanges with Arkansas-Riverside Drive, Second Street, Third Street and Front Street, the most direct entrances to the downtown area.
The major north-south corridor is I-55. From Jackson, Miss., and other points south it connects with the western leg of I-240, loops around the southwest part of the city and then, having picked up US 61, veers west at an interchange with E.H. Crump Boulevard. From St. Louis and points north, I-55 runs southward along the west bank of the Mississippi River, absorbing US 63 traffic from the northwest.
At West Memphis, Ark., I-55 joins briefly with I-40 before the two divide again to cross the Mississippi and circumnavigate Memphis. US 61 brings light traffic through the southern countryside from Vicksburg, Miss., and US 51 repeats the leisurely pace from Kentucky on the north.
The only other major approach routes are US 72 and US 78. The former provides access from Huntsville and Florence, Ala., angling into the heart of the city via Poplar Avenue. US 78 from Birmingham and Tupelo, Miss., enters Memphis as Lamar Avenue. It interchanges twice with I-240—once at the circumferential highway's southern segment and again on the western leg at E.H. Crump Boulevard.
Street SystemAs did nearly every facet of the city, Memphis' street plan developed with the river as a focus. Streets form a compass-oriented grid, running parallel or perpendicular to the Mississippi. Major arterials follow a more or less diagonal course as they radiate from the downtown business section.
Except for downtown, where Front, Main and Second through Seventh streets (all parallel to the Mississippi River) march inland, most streets and avenues are named. Although Madison divides north from south and Main and Florida separate east from west, compass designations are rarely used in Memphis addresses.
Unless posted otherwise, the downtown speed limit is 25 mph. The speed limit is 35 mph on major thoroughfares. Turning right at a red light after coming to a complete stop is legal unless otherwise posted. Similarly, so is turning left from one one-way street onto another. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way, particularly at marked crosswalks. Driving during rush hours, 6:30-9 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m., should be avoided if possible.
ParkingAs in any big city, parking downtown or near the major attractions is often at a premium. On-street parking, when a space can be found, is governed by meters. Commercial garages and parking lots are scattered throughout downtown. Rates average $2-$5 per hour, $7-$15 for all day.
About the City
Sales TaxState sales tax is 7 percent; occupancy tax is 6 percent; and Memphis sales tax is 2.25 percent, for a combined lodging tax of 15.25 percent.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(901) 545-2677
Time and Temperature(901) 526-5261
HospitalsBaptist Memorial Hospital, (901) 226-5000; Delta Medical Center, (877) 627-4395; Methodist North Hospital, (901) 516-5200; Methodist South Hospital, (901) 516-3700; Regional Medical Center at Memphis, (901) 545-7100; Saint Francis Hospital, (901) 765-1000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersMemphis has two daily newspapers, The Commercial Appeal and The Daily News; one weekday-only paper, the Evening Times; three weeklies, The Memphis Flyer, Memphis Business Journal and Tri-State Defender; and the monthly Memphis Key magazine.
RadioMemphis radio station WKNO (91.1 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationMemphis/Shelby County Visitors Center 12036 Arlington Tr. ARLINGTON, TN 38002. Phone:(901)543-5300 or (888)633-9099
Memphis Visitors Center 3205 Elvis Presley Blvd. MEMPHIS, TN 38116. Phone:(901)543-5300 or (888)633-9099
The Tennessee State Welcome Center, 119 N. Riverside Dr. (at Jefferson), can provide maps, brochures, calendars of events and area attraction information; phone (901) 543-5300 or (888) 633-9099.
Air TravelDomestic and foreign airlines serve Memphis International Airport (MEM), off I-240 exit 23 (Airways Boulevard). Taxis to major downtown hotels are available for about $30.
Rental CarsDiscounts are offered to AAA members by Hertz, (901) 345-5680 or (800) 654-3131.
Rail ServiceAmtrak offers passenger service from Central Station, 545 S. Main St.; phone (901) 526-0052 or (800) 872-7245.
BusesThe Greyhound bus station is at 3033 Airways Blvd.; phone (800) 231-2222.
TaxisThe major company is Yellow Cab, (901) 577-7777. Fares are metered, with the basic rate $3.80 for the first mile, then $1.80 for each additional mile. One dollar is added for each additional passenger. A $3 surcharge is added to fares originating from the airport.
Public TransportationMemphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) buses operate Mon.-Fri. 4:30 a.m.-11:15 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. and holidays 8-5. Base fare is $1.75, with increases for zones outside city limits; a day pass can be purchased for $3.50, and covers unlimited bus rides. Ages 65+, students and the physically impaired pay reduced rates with a special MATA ID card. Park 'n' Ride service is available at multiple locations within the city. Not all routes operate nights and Sundays.
David Brossard / flickr
EssentialsCut your own record at Sun Studio (706 Union Ave.), said to be the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll; this is the small, unimposing studio where a young Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash first recorded their now signature sounds.
Shop for kitschy Elvis souvenirs at A. Schwab Dry Goods Store (163 Beale St.), or just peruse everything from voodoo potions to vintage clothes; in operation at the same location since 1876, its creaky wood floors hold tables loaded with fascinating knickknacks.
Ply the muddy waters of the Mississippi River with Sightseeing Cruises Aboard the Memphis Riverboats (251 Riverside Dr.)—choosing from narrated sightseeing cruises or evening cruises featuring a barbecue dinner and music.
Catch live music in any number of clubs on legendary Beale Street, on which W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and B.B. King introduced the world to the Memphis blues. Although the city was declared “Home of the Blues” in 1977, once vibrant Beale had by then lost much of its appeal, with most of its music halls, saloons, pawnshops and stores shuttered; see why—after a 1980s makeover—it remains a Memphis focal point.
Chow down on Memphis' famed dry ribs at the bare-bones, basement-style Rendezvous (52 S. 2nd St.) barbecue joint. (A heads-up: The waitstaff prides itself on being curt.) Or try a slow-cooked, hand-pulled pork sandwich (topped with coleslaw, of course) at Corky's Ribs & BBQ (5259 Poplar Ave.).
Check out colorful, homespun works in the folk art gallery, examine historic photographs and attend a jazz, soul, gospel or blues concert at the Center for Southern Folklore (119 S. Main St.).
Pay homage to the civil rights movement and to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the site of his assassination, the Lorraine Motel, and visit The National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry St.), which will leave you in a contemplative mood.
Learn the history of soul music at Stax Museum of American Soul Music (926 E. McLemore Ave.), on the site of the original Stax Records, where you can see Isaac Hayes' blue '72 Cadillac, Ike Turner's Fender guitar and a century-old church from the Mississippi Delta.
Experience the scope of Memphis' music history at the Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum (191 Beale St.), where exhibits include B.B. King's “Lucille” guitar and costumes worn by Johnny Cash and Elvis.
Peruse paintings from the Italian Renaissance, British portraiture and Baroque, French Impressionist and contemporary collections at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (1934 Poplar Ave.); the museum's 1916 Beaux Arts building in Overton Park is a work of art itself.
Explore the history of Memphis and the Mid-South (cultural as well as natural) at Memphis Pink Palace Museum (3050 Central Ave.) and become part of the action at the museum's 3D theater and planetarium.
Cross a bridge or take a monorail by the riverfront to reach Mud Island River Park (125 N. Front St.); be sure to check out the full-size boat replicas at the Mississippi River Museum and the River Walk, a scale model of every curve of the Mississippi as it flows from Cairo, Ill., to the Gulf of Mexico.
Enjoy the elaborate ceremony as the resident ducks at The Peabody Memphis (149 Union Ave.), one of the city's most posh hotels, take an elevator from their rooftop palace to the lobby, waddle across a red carpet to a marble fountain and float for 6 hours before repeating the process in reverse.
Thomas R Machnitzki / Wikimedia Commons
Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Imaginative minds will discover all sorts of fun at The Children’s Museum of Memphis (2525 Central Ave.) as they play in an indoor tree house, shop for groceries in a pint-sized store, watch honeybees in action and drive a sheriff’s car—virtually, of course.
Young firefighters-in-training will beg for a visit to the Fire Museum of Memphis (118 Adams Ave.). Located in a historic fire house, the museum encourages children to climb on and through fire trucks and slide down a brass fireman’s pole. High-tech exhibits like a fire simulation room and an animatronic firehouse horse teach fire safety.
Kids can run, slide and climb their way around Woodland Discovery Playground, an innovative play space within Shelby Farms Park (7171 Mullins Station Rd.) in East Memphis. The space includes sand play areas, a grassy lawn, giant slides and rope nets. After playtime, check out the other things to do at the park—there are miles of trails, a zipline course and even a buffalo range to explore.
Memphis Botanic Garden (750 Cherry Rd.) features a kid-friendly zone called My Big Backyard with more than 15 themed play areas and educational activities. From tunnels and rope bridges to puppet shows and whimsical playhouses, kids and families will love playing together at this garden.
TeensThe Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum (826 N. Second St.) is a great experience for teens with an interest in history. A narrated tour takes visitors through the antebellum home of Jacob Burkle, an immigrant who provided refuge to runaway slaves. A hidden cellar, trap doors and an escape route reveal the home's remarkable past.
Did you know Memphis is home to a guitar factory? Get a behind-the-scenes look at the facility with Gibson Guitar Factory Tours (145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave.). You'll get to watch as luthiers—the skilled artisans who make the guitars—transform simple blocks of wood into beautiful instruments. The guided tour ends in the factory store where you can play on finished guitars or pick one out to take home.
Spend a few hours immersed in history at The National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry St.), housed in the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum includes interactive exhibits and a film that tells the story of the African American experience from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. Emotional—and sometimes graphic—displays bring history to life and encourage discussion.
Sean Davis / flickr
All AgesLions and tigers—oh my! The Memphis Zoo (2000 Prentiss Pl.) entertains visitors of all ages with animal shows and more than 3,500 animal residents. Hands-on opportunities include a stingray touch tank, giraffe feedings and camel rides. Be sure to visit the giant panda exhibit where “YaYa” and “Le Le” live among authentic Chinese gardens and architecture.
No trip to Beale Street is complete without a stop at A. Schwab Dry Goods Store (163 Beale St.). Part general store, part soda fountain, the shop has been a Memphis institution since 1876. Tables are filled with an assortment of voodoo potions, knickknacks, t-shirts and Moon Pies, and an old-fashioned soda fountain serves up milk shakes, sundaes and made-to-order sodas.
A good time is guaranteed when dining at Huey’s Downtown (77 S. Second St.), where patrons are allowed (and encouraged!) to blow frilled toothpicks through a straw into the ceiling while they wait. Ask your server to demonstrate their best toothpick-shootin’ technique, then nosh on tasty burgers, onion rings, fried pickles and other favorites.
Brent Moore / flickr
ShoppingBeale Street, with its raucous blues clubs and brilliant neon signs, is the heart of downtown Memphis’ tourist district and the place to go for Blues City T-shirts, Elvis refrigerator magnets and postcards of Graceland and the Peabody Memphis hotel. First-time visitors may be surprised at how compact the district is—it’s really just a couple blocks along Beale—so you could conceivably hit all the stores here within a single afternoon. But first on your list should be A. Schwab Dry Goods Store , 163 Beale St., a Beale Street institution since 1876.
Yes, they have Memphis souvenirs here. They also have just about anything else you can imagine: sun hats, calendars, clothing, coffee mugs, shampoo, collectible figurines and other knickknacks, Elvis biographies, toys, costume jewelry, candy, hardware, tools and even some voodoo paraphernalia. On the second floor, there’s a museum of sorts where you can handle antique items from the old-fashioned general store’s past, including ancient-looking adding machines, mysterious iron kitchen gadgets, photos, ledgers and high school yearbooks. Just 5 minutes of sensory overload here and you’ll know why the store’s motto is, “If you can’t find it at A. Schwab, you’re better off without it!”
Thomas Hawk / flickr
Strange Cargo , across the street at 172 Beale St., has novelty items, some of which are on the risqué side. For rock ’n’ roll merchandise, head to Hard Rock Cafe at 126 Beale. A block south of Beale at 145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave. is the Gibson Beale Street Showcase Factory Store at the Gibson Guitar Factory, a fun place to browse if you’re in the market for a new guitar or just enjoy looking at the beautifully crafted instruments.
Head a few blocks north to The Peabody Memphis historic hotel, 149 Union Ave., to check out the elegantly appointed lobby—famous for its twice daily duck parade to and from the centerpiece marble fountain—and the Peabody’s upscale gift shops and clothing stores. Foremost among these is another Memphis institution: Lansky Brothers , a men’s clothier since the late 1940s known for its famous clientele, which has included Elvis Presley as well as Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Isaac Hayes and Jerry Lee Lewis among others. Even if the prices are out of your range, the wall-mounted guitars autographed by various recording stars are worth a look in their own right.
Memphis’ historic commercial district along Main Street has struggled for a long time, and the smattering of clothing stores, art galleries and furniture stores does not exactly qualify the district as a shopping mecca, but getting around on foot is fairly easy. The street is closed to car traffic between Market Street and Union Avenue, and the early 20th-century buildings are well maintained and many have lovely, ornate facades.
One local favorite on Main Street is The Peanut Shoppe , a tiny store that’s hard to miss thanks to its 2-story-high “Peanuts” sign in the shape of an arrow pointing to its front door. The clerks here will explain the health benefits associated with each kind of nut (their selection is in no way limited to just peanuts), but for candy lovers, they also have an assortment of caramel- and chocolate-covered nuts as well. Munching on a bag of fresh roasted pecans while strolling through this pedestrian-friendly district is a great way to experience downtown Memphis once you’ve seen the sights along Beale Street.
Near The National Civil Rights Museum, you’ll find what’s become known in recent years as the South Main Street Arts District. Art galleries, trendy clothing boutiques featuring local designers and shops selling hand-crafted jewelry give the district a more urban, sophisticated vibe than you’ll experience elsewhere on Main Street. Coffee shops offer a quick cup of your favorite blend or if you have time for a sit-down meal, check out the Arcade Restaurant at the corner of Main and G.E. Patterson, Memphis’ oldest café, serving Southern home cooking since 1919.
Housed in a pyramid-shaped building just north of downtown, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is a sprawling complex featuring an 84,000-gallon alligator swamp, duck aviary, waterfowling museum, bowling alley and a glass-floored observation deck.
If you venture outside of downtown, the Cooper-Young neighborhood in Midtown just a few miles east of the city center is known for antiques and secondhand clothing shops. Most of the antique stores are along Central Avenue between Cooper Street and East Parkway, a stretch of busy four-lane road not at all inviting to pedestrians.
Across Central Avenue and down a couple blocks toward East Parkway is Flashback , a large store specializing in 1950s-era housewares, knickknacks and furniture with a small area for vintage clothing off to one side. You’ll find several styles and decades represented here, but mid-century modern rules, so if you’re in the market for a kidney-shaped coffee table, a starburst wall clock or a chrome dinette, this is the place to go.
The epicenter of the Cooper-Young District—no surprise here—is the intersection of Cooper Street and Young Avenue a couple blocks south of Central. With trees, Victorian houses, narrower streets and crosswalks, this part of the district offers a more pedestrian-friendly environment, so you’ll find it easier (not to mention less hazardous) to browse among the locally owned shops selling used records, used books and funky clothing. The area’s also known for its coffee houses and trendy restaurants where you can pause to take stock of your purchases.
Just east of Midtown in the area known as East Memphis, two shopping centers worth noting face each other across busy Poplar Avenue. Oak Court Mall is anchored by Macy's and Dillard's, while Laurelwood Shopping Center features high-end clothing boutiques, art and interior design galleries, jewelry stores, a stationery shop and The Booksellers at Laurelwood , an independent book store.
If you continue east on Poplar Avenue, you’ll come across a retail landmark of sorts in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. The Shops of Saddle Creek , at Poplar and West Street/West Farmington Boulevard, was one of the first lifestyle shopping centers—typified by open-air plazas and immaculate landscaped areas connecting stores rather than enclosed corridors—when it was built in 1987. Burbling fountains and a thick tree canopy provide a lovely setting for the trendy, upscale shops that include Free People, J. Crew, Madewell, Lucky Brand Jeans and Talbots.
Tanger Outlets in Southaven, Miss., has more than 60 outlet stores.
Adam Jones / flickr
NightlifeSince an act of Congress in 1977, Memphis has officially been known as the “Home of the Blues,” and Beale Street has been the cherished front door of that home from the beginning, when musical pioneers such as W.C. Handy composed some of the earliest blues songs here in the early 1900s. Originally a bustling commercial district with African-American-owned businesses of all kinds, Beale Street fell on hard times until a 1980s revitalization project created the neon-lit, tourist-friendly and some would say sanitized version of today.
Crowds still make the pilgrimage to Beale Street restaurants and bars seeking that soulful sound in renovated brick buildings between Main and Fourth. On any given night you might hear rock ’n’ roll, jazz, funk and the latest dance club music along with the home-grown blues style so closely associated with Memphis and Beale. You'll have plenty of time to get your groove on, too, as many downtown Memphis bars and night clubs stay open until 2 or 3 a.m. (sometimes as late as 5 a.m.) and are open on Sundays.
Enjoying a prominent corner on Beale and Second, this location of the B.B. King’s Blues Club chain, 143 Beale St., might disappoint blues purists since the house band is as likely to play rock and funk as traditional blues, despite the name of the legendary guitarist and King of the Blues over the door. But anyone hankering for tasty Southern cooking and a lively atmosphere steeped in blues imagery is bound to leave this Beale Street landmark happy, and that’s not to mention the frequent appearances by big-name blues acts. Phone (901) 524-5464.
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Just down the block, at the corner of Beale and Third, is Rum Boogie Cafe , 182 Beale St., which has a reputation for rum drinks (hence the name), a respectable beer selection, Memphis-style barbecue ribs, and red beans and rice. Even if you skip the Southern cuisine you can still have a blast grooving to the blues and rock bands playing nightly or ogling the décor, which includes more than two hundred autographed guitars suspended from the ceiling and mounted on the walls. Look for the prized scribbles of George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting, Henry Rollins, Kenny Loggins and bands like Aerosmith and The B-52s. Phone (901) 528-0150.
Probably the most eye-catching establishment on Beale, which is saying a lot considering the gaudy neon signage competing for your attention, is Silky O’Sullivan’s Irish Bar , 183 Beale St. Massive steel beams support an elaborate three-story brick façade, all that remains of a 19th-century hotel, saloon and gambling den known as the Gallina Building. The old reinforced façade is now the entrance to a festive patio, scene of dueling pianos nightly, while blues bands play indoors. This is Beale Street, after all, and even Irish pubs host the blues. O’Sullivan’s other claim to fame? A gallon-bucket-sized cocktail called “The Diver,” to be shared, of course. Phone (901) 522-9596.
Find a seat on the second-floor patio at Alfred’s On Beale across Third Street from Silky O’Sullivan’s at 197 Beale St., and you’ll have a nice view of the goings-on along Beale. And you can enjoy good Southern comfort food while you people watch. Alfred’s books a variety of musical acts but focuses on classic rock ’n’ roll and Top 40 faves from the past. On weekends, the large dance floor stays busy late into the night. Phone (901) 525-3711.
If you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy a cold one, then walk on over to nearby Flying Saucer Draught Emporium , 130 Peabody Pl., which has what can only be called an encyclopedic beer selection. A bank of windows on two sides opens up to create something like a patio when the weather is nice, and the spacious brewpub has pool tables and dartboards that will help you pass the time with friends. Scores of plates displayed on the walls honor local beer connoisseurs—members of the “UFO Club”—who have managed to sample the Flying Saucer’s entire beer menu. Phone (901) 523-8536.
The Peabody Memphis hotel, 149 Union Ave., famous for its twice daily duck march through its lobby, is a favorite with tourists. Once you’ve seen the ducks waddle into the elevator to return to their rooftop pen around 5 p.m., step over to the Peabody hotel bar for a martini and a chance to take in the elegant setting without the crowds. Phone (901) 529-4000.
If you’re hungry, exit the Peabody and cross Second Street to Huey’s Downtown , 77 S. Second St., home of juicy, award-winning hamburgers and delectable onion rings. And you can hone your skill at blowing frilled toothpicks through a straw and into the ceiling, an activity the management surprisingly encourages; your waiter will show you the best technique. On Sunday evenings Huey’s features live bands playing blues, rock and soul. Phone (901) 527-2700.
If you want a taste of Memphis nightlife beyond the usual tourist haunts downtown, drive or catch a cab to midtown’s Cooper-Young District, an eclectic neighborhood popular with Memphians looking for innovative cuisine and cool, laidback hangouts closer at hand than the party dens of Beale Street. Celtic Crossing , 903 S. Cooper St., is one such gathering place, an Irish bar with a tree-shaded outdoor patio and live music on Sundays when weather permits. Phone (901) 274-5151.
And just off the intersection of Cooper and Young that gives the district its name, Young Avenue Deli , 2119 Young Ave., brings local bands to its stage several nights a week. What’s more, the deli’s better-than-average pub fare includes several vegetarian options as well as tasty beer batter fried pickles and homemade french fries. The deli’s combination of good food, a large beer selection and live alternative rock, pop and country music is a winning one. Phone (901) 278-0034.
Not long ago another exciting nightlife option appeared on the southern horizon when rural Tunica County, Miss., transformed itself virtually overnight into a 24-hour, Las Vegas-style gambling mecca. Less than an hour south of Memphis, the huge casino resorts along the Mississippi River boast headline entertainment, live music and comedy acts along with all the slot machines and poker, blackjack, roulette and craps tables you’d find on the Vegas Strip. Phone the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau, (662) 363-3800 or (888) 488-6422.
Bach Festival Society
Performing ArtsMemphis offers a variety of cultural activities—ballet, opera, dance, the symphony and professional theater. The arts are supported by several colleges and professional organizations. Many touring companies play Memphis, and there are eight local theater groups.
The Orpheum Theatre, 203 S. Main St. at the corner of Beale, was one of the South's grandest vaudeville and movie palaces. Built in 1928, it has its original Wurlitzer organ and offers a variety of musical and theatrical productions, including Broadway road shows, throughout the year and a family series October to mid-March; phone (901) 525-3000.
Thomas R Machnitzki / Wikimedia Commons
Performing at the Clark Opera Memphis Center, 6745 Wolf River Pkwy., is Opera Memphis, which offers two mainstage performances each year; phone (901) 257-3100 for ticket or performance information. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra performs at The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, Poplar Avenue and N. Main Street; phone (800) 726-0915 for the Cannon Center or (901) 537-2500 for symphony tickets. Music and dance performances take place September through May at the 288-seat Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center at St. Mary's Episcopal School, 60 Perkins Ext.; phone (901) 537-1472.
Memphis also has a number of repertory theaters, including the Circuit Playhouse, 51 S. Cooper, (901) 726-4656, and Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Extended, (901) 682-8323.
Big-name bands play at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Other headliners appear at Mud Island Amphitheater; phone (901) 576-7241 for ticket or performance information. A variety of free outdoor concerts are held in the fall and summer in Overton Park at the Levitt Shell, 1928 Poplar Ave.; phone (901) 272-2722.
iStockphoto.com / DenisTangneyJr
Bus and Carriage ToursHorse-drawn carriage tours of the city are available through Carriage Tours of Memphis, 393 N. Main St., (901) 527-7542.
Industrial ToursGibson Guitar Factory Tours
Walking ToursThere are several sightseeing areas in Memphis, including Victorian Village, Beale Street and Elmwood Cemetery. Victorian Village is a collection of 19th-century buildings centering on the 600 block of Adams Avenue. Of the nine churches nearby, the oldest is Calvary Episcopal Church, which dates from 1832. Brochures describing a self-guiding walking tour through Victorian Village are available at the Woodruff-Fontaine House.
Beale Street, the birthplace of the blues, now features restaurants, shops and music clubs in a three-block entertainment district.
Docent-led walking tours of Elmwood Cemetery are available by appointment; phone (901) 774-3212.
Brent Moore / flickr
Memphis in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Memphis.
Day 1: MorningMemphis is known worldwide for its music and its smoky, slow-cooked barbecue. Today's agenda, all centered in the downtown area, gives you a thorough introduction to the city's blues and rock ’n’ roll heritage and that aforementioned smoked pork. What's not to love?
Begin your Memphis musical journey at the W.C. Handy Memphis Home & Museum . The celebrated music pioneer lived in this unassuming wood-frame shotgun house when he wrote “Beale Street Blues” and “Memphis Blues.” It seems only appropriate that the Memphis home of the “Father of the Blues” was moved from its original location to Beale Street, where Handy worked and played music in the early 20th century.
The blues, derived from the mournful tunes of slaves and sharecroppers, was a major influence on early rock ’n’ roll musicians. The Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum , just a few blocks away next to the FedExForum, traces rock ’n’ roll from its rural Mississippi Delta roots through rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and soul. The mid-20th-century rock ’n’ roll revolution that shook the nation began here in Memphis when a young truck driver named Elvis Presley recorded his first song at Sun Studio. Instruments, costumes and memorabilia help document the development of this musical genre.
For a building that played such a pivotal role in rock ’n’ roll history, Sun Studio is remarkably small. Sam Phillips recorded an amazing number of future stars in the studio's three-rooms. In addition to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison began their careers at this landmark studio.
Day 1: AfternoonIf all this music history has put you in the mood for some down-home comfort food, head west back toward the river and make your lunch choice the Blue Plate Café on Court Square, where you can indulge in the Southern tradition of “meat and three” (your choice of a meat entrée and three home-style vegetables or side dishes). You can also choose from the breakfast menu, if you prefer; the café is renowned for its biscuits and gravy, omelets and waffles. Either way, portions are more than ample and you won't leave hungry.
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Eclectic is an apt word to describe the Center for Southern Folklore , an easy walk from the guitar factory. Galleries exhibit folk art, crafts and photography documenting the Southern experience, and visitors can watch shows filmed by the center about the artists and musicians who have kept these regional traditions alive. If you're lucky, you might be able to catch a live performance.
You'll have to get in your car and drive a couple of miles to reach your next destination, an important part of Memphis' music scene in the 1960s and '70s. In addition to blues and rock ’n’ roll, Memphis' musical heritage also includes soul. Stax Museum of American Soul Music sits on the site of the former Stax Records, which launched the careers of such soul stars as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Booker T. & the MG's. Soul's gospel roots are explained in a century-old church from the Mississippi Delta, and other exhibits display stage costumes, instruments and photographs, including a sequined dress belonging to Tina Turner and Isaac Hayes' '72 “Superfly” Cadillac Eldorado.
A visit to Memphis isn't complete without stopping at A. Schwab Dry Goods Store , a Beale Street institution since 1876, so head back to the city's downtown core. The dry goods store, still owned by the same family, retains its squeaky wood floors and aisles stocked with such out-of-circulation items as voodoo supplies, size 74 overalls, lye soap and top hats. If you rummage around, you'll also find a good supply of reasonably priced Elvis souvenirs.
Day 1: EveningStart your first evening in Memphis by observing a tradition begun in 1933. The marble fountain in the elegant lobby of The Peabody Memphis hotel is the site of a twice-daily ritual—the march of the Peabody's resident ducks. Five mallards, who have their own suite on the hotel's rooftop, travel with their Duckmaster by elevator to the lobby, waddle across a red carpet to the cadence of John Philip Sousa's “King Cotton March” and plop with five splashes into the fountain. The ducks make their grand appearance at 11 a.m. and float to their hearts content until 5, when the ceremony is repeated in reverse and they return to their rooftop penthouse. Try and get there early; the ritual is wildly popular, and crowds of spectators congregate in the lobby for the show.
By now it's time for dinner, and our restaurant choice is the perfect place to sample some of Memphis' famous barbecue. The grill at the Rendezvous , in an alley just across the street from the Peabody, has been smoking since 1948, and the restaurant has earned a stellar reputation for its “dry” ribs, a Memphis specialty. Dry ribs (pork, of course) are liberally massaged with a special blend of spices before being grilled or smoked. Typical accompaniments include baked beans, the Rendezvous' mustardy coleslaw and a pitcher or two of beer. The walls are covered with memorabilia; the place can be downright crowded, especially on weekends; and the waiters, most of whom have worked at the restaurant for decades, are characters in their own right.
For a night on the town, head a few blocks south of the Peabody to Beale Street. Although the city of Memphis was declared “Home of the Blues” by Congress in 1977, once vibrant Beale Street by that time had lost much of its appeal, with most of its music halls, saloons, pawnshops and stores shuttered. The street underwent a metamorphosis in the 1980s, however, and the result is now the focal point of Memphis' nightlife scene. Street performers provide entertainment as locals and visitors barhop from jazzy blues emporiums to lively rock clubs, and bright neon signs serve as an enticement to a variety of shops and restaurants.
For a perfect end to your evening, return to The Peabody for a nightcap in the hotel's classy Lobby Bar.
Day 2: MorningDowntown Memphis sits on a high bluff overlooking the muddy Mississippi—Old Man River himself. The perfect place to begin your day is Mud Island River Park , which is actually not an island but more of a peninsula jutting into the river. The park incorporates both indoor and outdoor diversions. The Mississippi River Museum has 18 galleries that trace the city's history from the days when its river banks were inhabited by Chickasaw Indians, through explorer Hernando de Soto's visit, its strategic importance during the Civil War and the evolution of its musical traditions. The highlight of the outdoor segment of the park is the River Walk, a scale-model of the lower portion of the Mississippi. Children (and grown-ups) delight in taking their shoes off and walking barefoot through every curve and bend of the river as it meanders from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans.
Memphis is, unfortunately, also known for a tragedy—the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. His death and the history of the civil rights movement are remembered at The National Civil Rights Museum , housed in the Lorraine Motel, the site where King was shot. Interactive exhibits and audiovisual displays explain the struggle for equality in the U.S. and the racial tension surrounding his visit to Memphis. King's legacy and the continuing struggle for both civil and international human rights are examined.
Day 2: AfternoonIf you're really, really hungry about now, you can try to down an artery-clogging 4-pound Kookamonga Burger with all the trimmings at Kooky Canuck , a Canadian-themed eatery in the middle of downtown Memphis. If you manage to accomplish that feat in less than 60 minutes, the burger is free (and you'll get your picture on the wall, to boot). Regular-sized hamburgers, fried ham and cheese sandwiches and Canadian poutine are other specialties. For dessert, save room for the do-it-yourself s'mores or the 18-scoop ice cream sundae called The Avalanche.
Visiting Memphis and not making a pilgrimage to Elvis Presley's Graceland is akin to going to New York City and ignoring the Statue of Liberty. Adoring fans flock to the King's Southern-style white-columned mansion about 8 miles south of downtown throughout the year, making it the second most visited U.S. residence after the White House. Depending on your choice of tour, you'll be able to see Graceland Mansion (including the living room, shag-carpeted Jungle Room, music and TV rooms, Elvis' racquetball and trophy buildings and the Meditation Garden), Elvis' Automobile Museum and his custom jets. Thank you, thank you very much.
If you're heading back toward downtown, plan a stop along the way at the Metal Museum where you can view exquisite examples of the metalsmith's craft, both historic and contemporary; an outdoor sculpture garden; a smithy, where you can watch works being created; and a foundry. This unique museum is said to be the only one of its type in the country.
Day 2: EveningFor an early dinner, head east toward midtown to Overton Square and Bogie's Delicatessen . New York-style deli sandwiches are the specialty here, with Reubens, roast beef and Italian varieties on the menu. Make sure you save room for their pasta salad or a Key lime dessert bar.
Overton Square, centered around Madison Avenue and Cooper Street, is a great place to spend an evening checking out the music scene and watering holes. Not far away is the Cooper-Young district, encompassing the area around Cooper Street and Young Avenue, which has an interesting mix of bars, restaurants and shops.
Day 3: MorningYou can easily spend a full day in Overton Park, 350 acres of green in midtown Memphis. Depending on your interests, you can pick and choose from visiting Memphis Brooks Museum of Art , Memphis Zoo and Memphis College of Art , playing nine holes of golf, enjoying a picnic lunch, and hiking through an old-growth forest. If your timing is right, you might even catch a concert at the Levitt Shell outdoor amphitheater.
For a cultural interlude, spend some time at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art exploring its wide-ranging collection that includes Renaissance masterpieces, Baroque paintings, works by French impressionists and an impressive group of English portraiture. Or stop in at Memphis College of Art for more contemporary pieces, created mostly by students, faculty and alumni.
The Memphis Zoo welcomed its first visitors to its Overton Park digs in 1906. More than a century later a greatly expanded zoo gives visitors a chance to watch polar bears swimming and playing underwater, marvel at birds of prey and observe big cats in a 4-acre natural habitat.
Day 3: AfternoonIf sushi sounds good for lunch, Sekisui is where you want to be. In addition to sushi, the lunch menu includes several varieties each of udon noodles, tempura and teriyaki. The restaurant also has other locations throughout Memphis.
Continue east from midtown. When you see what looks like a huge pink marble mansion, you've reached the Memphis Pink Palace Museum . This elaborate building, begun in 1922, was to be the grand home of Clarence Saunders, the founder of the first self-service grocery, Piggly Wiggly. Saunders, unfortunately, lost his fortune, and his unfinished mansion was turned over to the city. Initially a natural history museum, the Pink Palace now also explores the cultural history of the Mid-South. So, in addition to dioramas featuring animals that once roamed the region, you'll also learn about the history of Memphis from its early native residents through the political regime of Boss Crump and the reign of the King. If you have time, see what's playing at museum's 3D theater or its planetarium.
Two gardens and a collection of impressionist art are next on this east Memphis itinerary. Dixon Gallery and Gardens , as the name suggests, combines both of those elements. The expansive 1942 Georgian Revival-style home of philanthropists Hugo and Margaret Dixon is the setting for their impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Visitors are also treated to collections of pewter and 18th-century German porcelain. Sculpture and statuary enhance the estate's 17 acres of formal and informal gardens, which are landscaped in the manner of an English park. The gardens are particularly lovely in spring when dogwoods and azaleas are in bloom.
Directly across the street in Audubon Park is the 96-acre Memphis Botanic Garden , where you can stroll through woodlands and more than 25 specialty gardens, including spaces devoted to roses, irises, azaleas, hydrangeas, daylilies, daffodils, wildflowers, dogwoods and magnolias. One of the most popular spots in the garden is the Japanese Garden of Tranquility, where a red bridge gracefully arches over a lake filled with koi.
Day 3: EveningIt's time for more barbecue, and two east Memphis restaurants are standouts, each with a devoted following and each producing classic versions of Memphis' signature food. Just follow your nose—once you get close, the tempting aroma from the smokers will guide you the rest of the way.
The original Corky's Ribs & BBQ (there are two others in the Memphis area) has been serving tender ribs and hand-pulled pork since 1984. The wood-paneled dining room, oldies music and photos of celebrities who have dined at Corky's add to the casual ambience. You can have your ribs either “dry” (rubbed with a dry seasoning mix) or “wet” (basted with Corky's special barbecue sauce), and your pulled pork sandwich will come topped with coleslaw, unless you request otherwise. Additional specialties include Bar-B-Q Nachos, pulled pork salad and crispy fried onion loaves. Slow-smoked chicken and brisket also are on the menu.
About an hour's drive south of Memphis is an unlikely spot for a gambling mecca, but a great way to spend an evening. Cotton fields line one side of the highway leading into Tunica, Mississippi, while just off the other side are clusters of Las Vegas-style casinos, all on or near the Mississippi River and all offering 24-hour, non-stop action. Try your hand at poker, slots and an assortment of table games—maybe you'll win enough for a return trip to Memphis.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Memphis has music running through its veins, so it's no surprise that one of its top visitor destinations is Elvis Presley's Graceland . Home to the King until his death in 1977, the 14-acre estate, a AAA GEM attraction, comprises the white-columned Graceland Mansion, said to be the second-most visited private home in the country (topped only by the White House). A tour of the mansion includes a peek at Elvis' glittery jumpsuits, awards and rows of gold records, a stroll into the over-the-top Jungle Room and a stop at the Meditation Garden, Elvis' permanent resting place.
The tour of Elvis' Automobile Museum includes his 1955 pink Cadillac and other cars and motorcycles. Serious fans looking for more intimate details about the life of the rock ’n’ roll legend should visit the Graceland Archives, which features photographs and even more memorabilia.
After visiting Graceland, a trip to the tiny Sun Studio is mandatory, as it was here that Elvis recorded “That's All Right (Mama)” the tune that launched him into international fame and introduced the world to a new sound that came to be known as rock ‘n' roll. You can also check out the W.C. Handy Memphis Home & Museum , a small frame house where the Father of the Blues lived while he created the syncopated rhythms of “Memphis Blues.”
A number of museums celebrate Memphis' musical roots. Stop at the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum , a AAA GEM attraction, to learn about how the Memphis sound played a role in the creation of the blues, country, rock 'n' roll and soul music. Galleries are chock-full of music memorabilia. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music honors American soul music and its musicians through exhibits and such notable pieces as B.B. King's “Lucille” guitar.
Other museums present impressive collections of art and artifacts: The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art , a AAA GEM attraction, boasts works by French Impressionists, American paintings and sculpture, Renaissance and baroque paintings and 18th- and 19th-century English and American portraiture. Housed in a giant pink marble mansion, the Memphis Pink Palace Museum , also a AAA GEM attraction, contains changing historical and anthropological exhibits as well as a 3D theater. Featuring Asian art, the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art houses one of the most extensive collections of Asian art in the country. Created for Chinese nobility during the Quing (Ch'ing) Dynasty, pieces include jade sculpture, intricate ivory carvings, imperial textiles and red lacquer furnishings. And find vibrant folk art on display at the Center for Southern Folklore , which also serves as a venue for blues, jazz, soul, gospel and folk music concerts.
To get a taste of life on the Mississippi, opt for Sightseeing Cruises Aboard the Memphis Riverboats . The triple-decker paddle wheelers take passengers on leisurely, breezy voyages up and down the Mississippi River. Speaking of the river, if you're interested in learning more about its muddy waters, visit the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island River Park . A AAA GEM attraction, the 52-acre island park sits amid the river and is reached by bridge or monorail. The museum educates about the river with the help of thousands of artifacts, a huge aquarium and a replica of an antique steamboat, among other displays.
Back on solid ground, the Memphis Botanic Garden is a great spot from which to take in the serenity of nature. More than 25 specialty gardens sport roses, irises, daylilies, hostas, azaleas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, wildflowers and magnolias. An urban oasis, the Lichterman Nature Center offers gardens with native plants set on 65 acres of lake, meadow and forest that are home to birds, reptiles and mammals. Polar bears, sea lions and bald eagles reside in the Northwest Passage exhibit at the at the Memphis Zoo , sharing space with some 3,500 other mammals, primates and amphibians in nearly-natural habitats.
The Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, assassination, provides the locale for The National Civil Rights Museum . Excellent exhibits at the AAA GEM attraction educate about slavery and the civil rights movement. A large wreath hangs on the balcony outside rooms 306 and 307, which appear as they did on April 4, 1968.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
For more than 60 years, the Vergos family has been grilling the best ribs in Memphis at Rendezvous . This spot has served world leaders, touring rock bands and thousands of locals who crowd this downtown favorite on weekend nights. The décor reflects the restaurant's history, and antiques are displayed seamlessly with new memorabilia. The result is a comfortable, casual atmosphere where families and friends linger and laugh. Don't be surprised if you see the same waiters on a return visit; some have been working here for 45 years. As for food, start with barbecue chicken nachos, charcoal-broiled lamb riblets or the colossal sandwiches of pork shoulder, chopped chicken or ham and cheese. Full meal recommendations include the world-famous Rendezvous charcoal-broiled ribs, which come in a full or half order, or the delectable beef brisket, pork loin and pork shoulder, available alone or as a combination.
Experience classic Southern barbecue at Corky's Ribs & BBQ . Open since 1984, this popular restaurant operates numerous locations in Memphis. Corky's is cozy and fun, with rough plank walls, bright neon signs and oldies music. Thanks to slow hickory cooking and a secret-recipe rub, Corky's pork and chicken are savory and fall-off-the-bone tender. Ribs are served “with” or “without”—locals know this means with just rub seasoning, or also with tangy, award-winning sauce. Pulled pork, beef brisket and combinations tempt the barbecue connoisseur. Great starters include barbecue pork nachos, fried chicken drummies or hot tamales. Huge salads come topped with smoked meats. The sides are great, especially the slow-cooked baked beans and loaded baked potato. If you can, save room for the chocolate fudge pie or Karo pecan pie.
Not all steakhouses break the bank, and Buckley's serves great meals at reasonable prices. A consistent local favorite, Buckley's serves one of the best steaks in Memphis. The kitchen cooks to exact specifications, and the results are tender, juicy steaks, delectable grilled seafood and exceptional chicken dishes. Ravioli soup tops the appetizer list, which includes stuffed mushroom caps, hot artichoke dip and Rag's cheese bread. All of the entrees are first-rate, but especially good are the shrimp and grits and the macadamia nut-encrusted mahi-mahi. Garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach are perfect accompaniments to the steaks.
At Texas de Brazil , guests feast in the tradition of the Brazilian churrascaria, or steakhouse. The luscious red decor is decidedly upscale, though never stuffy. From the moment you enter, you're treated like a member of the family. Knife-wielding gauchos carve the restaurant's signature meats at tableside, with selections ranging from seasoned beef, pork, lamb and chicken to Brazilian sausage. Surprisingly, this steakhouse also stocks an impressive salad bar with more than 50 items, including fresh buffalo mozzarella, steamed asparagus, Brazilian hearts of palm, grilled portobello mushrooms and various sushi and sashimi selections. An extensive wine list is heavy with rich and lusty French, Californian and South American reds to match the meat-themed menu. The bar is well stocked with single malt scotches and spirits. The adventurous will want to try a caipirinha, a margaritalike drink prepared with cachaça.
Crowds pack Folk's Folly Prime Steak House in east Memphis to sample Prime steaks served with herb-flavored butter. Though meats are clearly the focus, the menu also features duck, chicken, veal, lamb, crab and lobster dishes. The crab cakes are especially good, made with sweet crab meat and little filler. For dessert, try the bread pudding topped with whiskey sauce. There may be prettier places to enjoy a steak, but not many boast this level of quality. The Cellar Lounge offers live piano music and complimentary fried dill pickles (a Southern delicacy). The drink list includes fine wines, mixed drinks, cocktails, cognacs, liqueurs and coffees.
Family-owned and operated since 1921, Jim's Place Restaurant & Bar offers Greek-influenced cuisine in addition to New Orleans seafood gumbo, chopped sirloin and other Southern dishes. The seafood menu is extensive, emphasizing simple, flavorful entrees and light sauces. The wine list is well matched to the menu; an extensive selection of premium whiskeys also is available. The overall atmosphere is classic, romantic and unhurried. Dress is casual but fashionable.
The fashionable Firebirds Wood Fired Grill specializes in open-flame grilling, bold sauces and creative touches of Southwestern spices. Paired with hand-cut steaks, fresh seafood or rotisserie chicken, the result is distinctive and exceptional. Favorites include the chile-rubbed Delmonico steak and coconut jumbo shrimp with mango habañero chutney. Your best bet for dessert is the warm chocolate brownie, though all of the pies and cakes are tasty. Sample the restaurant's private label wines or choose from a substantial list of scotches, specialty margaritas and microbrews. Exposed rafters and huge beams evoke the feel of a Colorado ski lodge. The large, open kitchen and in-house rotisserie add warmth, as does a massive fireplace in the bar.
Tucked away in an upscale shopping center in East Memphis, Napa Cafe is a trendy bistro with a welcome lack of pretense. As you'd expect, the restaurant focuses on wine, with many unusual labels to match its electric American cuisine. First courses include a jumbo lump crab cake, house made pumpkin gnocchi, short rib sliders and seasonal soups and salads. Though the dinner menu isn't long, it features standout entrees like filet mignon, ancho-crusted rib-eye steak and pan-seared yellow fin tuna. Try the sweet buttermilk pie—a lighter, Southern version of cheesecake—for dessert. For a special occasion, request private seating in the wine cellar.
A longtime tradition in Memphis, Owen Brennan's Restaurant serves up Cajun and Creole dishes with panache. Big Easy favorites include gumbo, crawfish, soft-shell crabs and turtle soup. Save room for the bananas Foster or Key lime pie. Seating options range from the soaring grandeur of the main dining room to the intimacy of the smaller Orleans rooms for private functions. Bring family and friends to the free-wheeling Sunday brunch, with great live music and Cajun Bloody Marys.
Taking its cue from the Versailles, Chez Philippe at The Peabody Memphis elevates French cuisine to an art form. Jackets are preferred, as this fine dining experience deserves the proper respect. The changing menu features inventive and artistic variations on classic French dishes—many with an Asian flare. Evening specials might include pheasant with truffled potatoes, brown butter-basted sea scallops with a crispy lobster claw, or medallion of veal with potato, spinach and brie roulade. To sample a variety of courses, take a look at the prix fixe menu. Order the Grand Marnier soufflé du jour for dessert—it takes 25 minutes to prepare, but it's well worth the wait. With its elegant atmosphere and opulent decor, Chez Philippe is the ultimate place for a romantic candlelight dinner.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Memphis kicks off the year by honoring the birth of its favorite sons. Fans from around the world flock to the Elvis Presley Birthday Celebration . The festival, which spans several days surrounding January 8, includes a concert of the King's tunes performed by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and an Elvis Presley Day Ceremony, complete with birthday cake.
In mid-January, the city honors another King. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration features speakers, forums and concerts to honor the late civil rights leader on his birthday.
It wouldn't be Memphis without the sultry sounds emanating from Beale Street, and the Beale Street Music Festival in May highlights blues, rock, gospel, R&B, alternative and soul artists from around the country. The 3-day, Mardi Gras-like celebration brings throngs of partiers to the street, and more than 60 musical acts take to stages set up in Tom Lee Park, where Beale meets the Mississippi River.
The music festival is part of the city's most well-known event, the Memphis in May International Festival . This monthlong event focuses on a different country and its culture every year. A highlight is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest , known as the Super Bowl of Swine, where grill masters gather under a cloud of hickory smoke and compete to prepare the tastiest pork barbecue.
Summer is ushered in with the FedEx St. Jude Classic , a key PGA Tour event in June. The city rallies in mid-August to pay tribute to Memphis' hip-shaking, lip-curling king during Elvis Week . The weeklong, all-Elvis festival includes more than 30 events: bus and house tours, tribute concerts, dance parties, karaoke nights, trivia competitions and a candlelight vigil are some of the highlights. This event attracts loyal fans from all over the world.
Music is again the focus of celebration during the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival , held over Labor Day weekend; local and noted personalities perform blues, jazz, country, pop and bluegrass music on various downtown stages. Dance, poetry and spoken word performances also are featured.
With more than 300 booths featuring art, crafts and gourmet food, the Pink Palace Crafts Fair , set in Audubon Park in October, also is a big draw. The family-friendly fair also offers children's crafts, educational exhibits, entertainment and rides.
When the holidays approach, Graceland celebrates in style with the Christmas at Graceland event, held from mid-November to early January. The mansion's exterior and interior are made festive with decorations that Elvis himself used when he resided here.
There's no better spot to ring in the New Year than where the blues began. Attend the New Year's Eve Countdown on Beale Street for a Guitar Drop and a merry good time.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Memphis' Musical RootsMemphis is synonymous with the blues. While the musical style has its origin in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, it was in the hazy clubs lining Beale Street where jug bands and electric guitar acts introduced the blues to urban ears. Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie and W.C. Handy were among the first to define the sound, which relied upon harmonicas, mandolins, banjos and guitars as well as washboards, kazoos, Jew's harps and jugs. While performing in PeeWee's Saloon on Beale, Handy put the song “Memphis Blues” to paper; considered the first published blues song, it epitomized the city's sound, and the name came to describe blues with both a rhythm and lead guitar. Later, such legendary blues musicians as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and Ike Turner performed on Beale and recorded in Memphis. Nightclubs still line the blocks between Second and Fourth streets, and on any given night, you can hear blues, rock, jazz and country music in the air.
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Soul music has ties to the city as well. Stax Records (which began as Satellite Records) and Hi Records attracted soul legends Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MG's, Isaac Hayes and Al Green, all of whom recorded in Memphis. Softer than other soul compositions, Memphis soul presented a sultry compilation of horns, organ, bass and drums.
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