You won't find a city more authentic than Memphis. As the place where Soul and Blues music were invented, it kind of makes sense; only a truly genuine city could inspire its citizens to create such powerful music. And there's so much more to the city than music, too... incredible food, rich history (especially in regards to the Civil Rights movement), and tons more make Memphis a treasure worth visiting. Lace up your blue suede shoes and hit the streets to explore!
Waste no time getting a taste of the real Memphis at Cozy Corner Barbecue. Fall-off-the-bone tender ribs are bathed in sweet, smokey, rich BBQ sauce and massive chicken wings are served up to hungry locals. The brisket and pork sandwiches hold their own as well. Plus, they offer one of Memphis's more... unique delicacies: BBQ spaghetti. It's exactly what it sounds like, and if you're feeling bold, is worth ordering for the novelty of it.
One of Memphis's most famous residents was, of course, Elvis Presley, and his massive mansion, Graceland, remains one of the most popular attractions in the city. The personal look inside the life of one of history's most legendary and most troubled rock stars is entertaining and and touching-- you get to see the foyer, the famed Jungle Room, his dad's office, the trophy building, the racquetball building (which now houses an exhibit covering his life between 1972-1977) and the garden where Elvis and his family members are buried.
For an even more thorough experience, you can buy tickets to the automobile museum, the archives, his private jets, and more!
Pro tip: between 7:30am and 8:30am, the estate allows free access to the Meditation Garden, so if you're short on time or just want to get a small taste of the King's estate, you can pay tribute to him without the tour (or the cost).
The rise of Soul music in America is all thanks to Stax Records, the first studio to popularize the sound in the late 1950's. Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG's, Isaac Hayes and more were some of the most popular artists on the label, and even though Stax went bankrupt and closed in 1976, Soul's impact on American music was already solidified.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music was established in an old movie theater in 2003 to preserve the legacy of Soul music and the studio that helped shape it. Visit to learn about how Memphis turned Southern Gospel music into a phenomenon heard around the globe.
Who doesn't love ordering a flight of beers or wines? It allows you to have the best of everything! Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar takes the concept of a tasting flight and applies it to your dinner as well. Order a full-sized entree off the seafood menu, or try one of everything with the seafood flight! Other flight options include steak, fish, farm & field, and butcher... you can even order a flight of salads, soups, or desserts, or mix and match dishes from various flights! You're basically guaranteed to have a meal that you really enjoy.
Welcome to the Beale Street Historic District, Memphis's liveliest street! Here, you'll find classic bars and famous blues clubs lining the pavement, and even though it's not quite the same as it was during its heyday in the 1920s, it's still incredibly popular. And, as if the awesome music, fun crowds, and great bars weren't enough, it's legal to carry an open container of alcohol in the historic district.
Silky O'Sullivans is a classic Beale Street stop. The dive-y bar has several rooms featuring different kinds of tunes, plus a bustling patio with live music. They're most well-known for two things: their signature drink, "The Diver", which is a mysterious and strong concoction tat comes served in a bucket, and their beer-drinking pet goats. Only in Memphis!
Rum Boogie Cafe is an always-popular bar that serves up Southern cookin' (their gumbo has gator, shrimp, sausage, and crab, among other meats) and tons of rum-based drinks. Sip one as you gaze up at the many autographed guitars, shoot some pool, and soak in the music.
Once you're inside the Rum Boogie Cafe, make sure to stop into Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, located at the back. They feature the best live blues on Beale seven nights a week, so there's no excuse to not stop in to catch a tune or two. It's small, but it's got that authentic vibe that can be hard to find amongst the tourist kitsch on Beale... and cold beers to enjoy while you listen to the music, of course.
If you're looking for a really comfy place to drift off to sleep while in Memphis, check out the River Inn of Harbor Town. It blends classic American Southern vibes with a European atmosphere to flawless perfection. Think, crystal chandeliers in the lobby, four-poster beds, chocolates and port left in your room, and a truly outstanding rooftop bar with a view of the Mississippi River that only Memphis can offer. It's beautiful, but also effortlessly comfortable!
Before it became Memphis's most adorable and whimsical eatery, Beauty Shop Restaurant was, of course, a beauty parlor (duh.) The owners have taken great care to maintain as much of the old-school salon as possible, and have put just as much effort into concocting a menu to befit the distinctive digs. Sunday brunch features twists on breakfast classics: hash browns made with Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes, biscuit sandwiches topped with mango chutney, and Bloody Marys garnished with pickled okra. It's all delicious!
Memphis is not only the birthplace of Blues and Soul... it's also the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. Sun Records is the studio that put out what most accept to be the first official rock single ("Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats.) You won't find a studio with more history-changing artists on its lineup than Sun: Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and tons more all recorded here.
Book a tour in advance because it's worth it: you'll get to see the rooms where history was made, view tons of memorabilia, and learn loads of info from the knowledgable and energetic tour guides!
You can't make great music without great tools, so pay tribute to the greatest guitar in the business with a tour at the Gibson Guitar Company to see how they make their instruments. The amount of time and effort put into making each guitar is evident here, and even those who don't play will leave with a new appreciation for the guitar.
Keep the old-school 1950's vibes from Sun Studios and Gibson going with lunch at The Arcade Restaurant. Memphis's oldest cafe was opened in 1919, but it wasn't until the 50s when The Arcade really came into its own as a classic diner. With a menu of staples like biscuits and gravy, sweet potato pancakes, grits, cheeseburgers, catfish, and more, you'll probably leave stuffed. Plus, their menu features Elvis Presley's famous favorite sandwich: a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich with bacon.
Part delicious Southern restaurant, part concert venue (their Friday and Saturday night shows are cheap and always outstanding), part gift shop, and part multimedia museum dedicated to Delta culture, it's worth it to at least pop into the small but well-thought-out Center for Southern Folklore to just get a sense for the history of Memphis, and what makes it so special and unique.
One of America's most moving museums is in Memphis: the National Civil Rights Museum. Built around the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the newly-renovated exhibits trace the struggle of African Americans from the 17th century to today. It's a sobering and well-curated look at a tough topic, and, as you'll see as you examine the displays, there's no better place for the museum than Memphis.
Paulette's Restaurant is Memphis at its finest! Their weekend brunch is as classy as they come, but Paulette's is great for a nice dinner as well. Everything on the classic steakhouse-inspired menu is a solid option, and they're well-known for their crabcakes, popovers, and K-Pie (which stands for Kahlua-Mocha parfait pie).
Located in a historic Victorian home on Millionaire's Row and loaded with eccentric antiques, Mollie Fontaine Lounge has an unforgettably dark and sexy atmosphere that's worth checking out alone. Fortunately, they also have a jazz/blues piano player (or a DJ), tasty martinis, and a menu of tapas to munch on as well!
This little hole-in-the-wall might seem a little rough around the edges, but Earnestine and Hazel's is one of Memphis's most authentic bars. A former brothel-turned bar and grill, you'll find that this spot has cheap beers, mouthwateringly greasy Soul Burgers, and a famously great jukebox. Plus, they're open till 3am, so you can end your night here-- the burgers make great drunk food.
There's really no time to visit Memphis that's significantly better than any other time. Summer is a predictably popular time to travel here, but if you're averse to the sticky Southern heat and humidity of the region, note that highs average around 90 degrees or so. Winters get chilly, but nothing too frigid, and even though spring and fall can be a bit rainy, things are pretty moderate for most of the year. Spring and summer weekends often feature festivals and other cool events that are usually worth checking out!