Though I’d been to Memphis several times to visit Graceland (because…Graceland), I was thrilled at the chance to see more of this cool town. My husband and I took a day trip from our RV park and had the best time soaking up the culture, eating delicious food, visiting the Civil Rights sites, and shopping where The King did. Here are 9 things to do in Memphis, Tennessee, that will hopefully impress you as they did me.
1. Eat a Killer Brunch
I study menus of places I’m visiting really long and hard. I want to know that my time spent there exposes me to some of the best food in town, one that really resonates with the locals and tourists. Imagine how excited I was when we were able to land a Sunday brunch spot at Automatic Slim’s, a funky restaurant in the heart of town with a killer menu and straight-up fun decor.
Automatic Slim’s was my top pick for dining in Memphis, and to be there for Sunday brunch—in the South—was pure luck. My husband and I are both Benedict fans, so of course, that section of the menu called to us. He chose a Crab Cake Benedict, while I had the BBQ Brisket Benedict, my first time seeing that dish on a menu anywhere.
The tender and flavorful brisket was served over an open-faced biscuit, topped with two perfectly poached eggs and bbq hollandaise. While I could have used slightly more hollandaise, the taste was incredible. I ate every bite.
If you aren’t into Benedicts, Automatic Slim’s has frittata, casseroles, chicken and waffles, plus an arsenal of yummy pancake and waffle combinations.
2. Tour Graceland
It goes without saying that Memphis is home to Graceland, the only residence Elvis Presley ever lived in. The modest but well-preserved house is still filled with things just as Elvis left it. Many rooms are on display for visitors, who flock from around the world to see the King’s beloved home.
There is room after room of treasures at Graceland, and over the years, the tours have gotten more in-depth and cumbersome, but my favorite will always be the awards room, now turned into the Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum.
In there are many gold and platinum records, fantastic jumpsuits, and memorabilia from Elvis concerts and movies. Expect to spend a long time on this part of the tour. The Jungle Room, with green shag carpet and a Polynesian vibe, is a close runner-up.
You can also see the plane that Elvis used, named for his only daughter, Lisa Marie.
3. Shop at the Clothier to the King
New on my visit to Memphis was discovering the amazing Lansky Brothers store in the Peabody Hotel. Lansky Brothers were the clothier to the King, designing many of his most famous glitzy and glamorous outfits and coats. I was in awe of the guitars and memorabilia on the walls, even as much as the cool threads.
Lansky Brothers has been in business since 1946, and though it has the designation of dressing Elvis, it has also been a staple in Memphis, providing high fashion for men and women over 75 years. Everything isn’t “priced for the stars”; some great items are for the average Joe, like us. I snagged a great new pair of sneakers on my visit and some possible Christmas presents.
4. See a Show at the Orpheum
The Orpheum Theatre is the crown jewel of performing arts in Memphis, Tennessee. The 2,308-seat venue has a fantastic line-up of traveling off-Broadway shows, musicals and dramas, dance performances, movies, plus special events. On the National Register of Historic Places, the historic theater looks even more gorgeous at night when the neon Orpheum sign can be seen through town and was once the most gorgeous theater outside of NYC.
A few years ago, my daughter and I were excited to see, coincidentally, Memphis, the musical at the Orpheum. The decor is stunning, with crystal chandeliers, gilded molding, and fabulous draperies. I was shocked to see the might Wurlitzer organ still in existence at this theatre.
5. Stroll Beale Street
Legendary Beale Street is one of the big draws in Memphis, drawing people in for the live music, nightlife, and Memphis BBQ. Even in the daytime, there are dozens of things to see and do in the “Home of the Blues,” three blocks of pedestrian-only real estate.
Fun Fact: Beale Street is a National Historic Landmark.
I like to stroll the streets and pop in the shops, some riddled with gaudy Western wear and cheesy souvenirs, while others have really nice stuff. Two of my favorites are Memphis Music (get your vinyl and music-themed purses here) and A. Schwab, a circa 1876 general store with fabulous t-shirts, collectible items, retro candy, and all-around fun stuff. There is a small museum on the second floor and a tempting ice cream parlor on the first floor, serving, surprise, gelato.
Keep an eye out for the street performers on your stroll down this legendary street—many are very talented.
You can’t come to Beale Street without feasting on a tasty appetizer or hearty meal. You’ll have oodles of choices for dining, from BB King’s Blues Club to Dyer’s Burgers, Hard Rock Cafe to Blues City Cafe, and many more.
Note: You must be 21 years old and have a valid ID to be on Beale Street after 11 PM.
6. Explore Memphis’s Historic Markers and Colorful Murals
Memphis has an excellent array of historical markers and murals and sculptures that make a nice addition to the already famous landscape. I like to visit Handy Park and see the W.C. Handy sculpture and often free performances in the park.
I’m also a fan of the hand-painted guitars that dot the landscape with super cool artwork or tribute to your favorite musicians. Twenty guitars are giant replicas of B.B. King’s “Lucille” style guitars and are part of the Gibson GuitarTown Public Art Display.
Many of the markers tell a story about what you see, including quotes and famous stories. Then there are the vibrant murals that just make people happy. If you haven’t joined the selfies in front of these clever, original art pieces, please do so. They make fantastic reminders of your trip and are super fun to post on social media.
7. Visit a National Civil War Site
I was in tears from the moment I turned the corner at the Lorraine Hotel and set foot on the National Civil Rights Museum site in downtown Memphis. The property where life was taken from Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4th, 1968, is a powerful place and evokes so much emotion— be prepared.
The meticulously preserved Lorraine Motel and the setting, staged just as it was that April 4th day, is stunning. You can tour the inside of the National Civil Rights Museum and the historic buildings on the property with an $18 ticket.
Timed tickets are available online, or you can chance it by walking up to the museum entrance. Expect to spend about 90 minutes at this site. The museum shares stories of African Americans who experienced and resisted discrimination so that the material may be sensitive to some.
8. See the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel
A joyous Memphis tradition is watching the beloved Peabody Ducks (of the Peabody Hotel) work their magic in a performance that has delighted children and adults since the early 1900s. Every day, the ducks are marched into the lobby and proceed across a red carpet to their “stage,” an Italian travertine marble fountain where they splash, bathe and show off. Besides watching the ducks splash around and get photographed a million times, the historic hotel lobby and decor are top-notch and jaw-dropping.
Ever wonder what the ducks do in their off time? The Royal Duck Palace, aka the hotel rooftop, features a 12×24 foot enclosure made of glass and marble, with ceiling fans and granite floors. A wide window allows guests to take a peek at them during their off-hours.
Fun Fact: The Peabody is a member of Historic Hotels of America, a designation that recognizes and stresses the importance of preserving historic architecture.
9. See a Sporting Event
Years ago, my daughters saw a Memphis Redbirds game with their grandparents, and I was glad to see the team still delighting fans. The Memphis Redbirds are a Minor League Baseball team of the Triple-A East and the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Games are held at AutoZone Park, the most expensive minor league structure in the country. AutoZone Park has a seating capacity of 10,000.
Another awesome sporting event to attend is the Memphis Grizzlies games, played at FedExForum. The Grizzlies are an NBA team with ten playoff appearances that relocated to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001. Famous players include Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph, to name a few.
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