Memphis is my first major city to visit in the South, and will certainly not be the last. It is an area of the country and world that I hope to spend more time in, because of how vastly it differs from the northeast (my stomping ground) and how deeply its historical roots run. If I had my druthers, travel there would be any time, save summer. But family vacation this year worked out in being towards the end of the summer, when the weather could have been a lot worse than it was.
I have also never written a three day itinerary, so here goes nothing!
As a disclaimer, I am by no means a seasoned Memphian. What we planned in three days is what worked for us, and proved successful. Memphis’ history runs deeply, being the soul capital of America; make sure to catch all of those things that makes it such a unique city!
Make your way over to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The obstacles faced and victories won in the Civil Rights movement are chronicled in depth, concluding with the room Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed in before his tragic murder on the landing outside. Testimonies from those more than willing to die for the inequalities imposed on African Americans fill the rooms, and the museum is haunting, poignant and provoking. It’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that our society was, and in ways continues to be, so outright hateful, which makes it all the more important to visit. To break the cycle, we need to shed light.
Walk around the Historic District to window shop, watch the trolleys roll by and enjoy public art gracing exterior walls. We had a late lunch of a thin crust cheesy wonder at Aldo’s Pizza Pies. It was spitting rain, but the heat was bearable, so we sat outside under the awning and watched a lazy Thursday afternoon roll away.
Dinner at the Arcade Restaurant on Main Street. Boasting a menu of classic favorites, this is Memphis’ oldest café and was Elvis’ former haunt. Try their grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich–the King of Rock’s favorite–or their sweet potato pancakes, served all day.
Take a day trip to Little Rock, Arkansas! Two hours from Memphis is the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. The main gallery is structured in the style of Trinity College’s library in Dublin. The first level exhibits include Clinton’s policies, Hillary’s work as First Lady, and a replica of the Oval Office. The upper floor shows off spoof-y videos made by the Clintons, dinner party to-dos, and gifts sent to the former President. And if you’re like me and were born within Clinton’s presidency, you can find his schedule of events for the exact day you entered the world! Special exhibits included the winter and summer Olympics.
Grab lunch at 42, the restaurant in the basement of the library. Don’t be put off by its black tie look: meals are inexpensive, and most every patron there is a casual diner. And save room for dessert, because their treats change daily and once that cart makes its way into your periphery, you won’t be able to help yourself. Their Oreo cream pie was to die for!
Stop by the Arkansas State Capitol to see the Little Rock Nine monument.
Surrounded by plaques of quotes and facing the capitol to symbolize their facing social and unlawful discrimination, it is a testament of courage and one not to be missed.
Come back to Memphis for an evening of nightlife fun. Beale Street is a lively block, with restaurants, gift shops and street performers to keep you entertained for nights. Along the street are outdoor bars (which is novel for this Bostonian), so pick up some beer or cider and hang out. You can pop in and out of shops and meander along with drink in hand, which is really freaking cool.
At The King’s Palace, barbecue and blues meet in the sweetest matrimony. Sit near the stage, where a performer will almost always be, and order their barbecue pulled pork. The coleslaw on the side is another little luxury.
What would a trip to Memphis be without Elvis Presley’s Graceland? Get tickets for the first slot at 9:30am, and spend the morning taking an intimate look at the King’s life. The leaps and bounds he made as a performer continue to resonate today, but his personal story and early death are somber. His is one of paradox, sad in nature and beautiful in landmark music. With a VIP ticket, you can also see the Car Museum, the Archives Experience, Sincerely Elvis (a series of photos shot of him), Elvis’ Hawaii and Elvis’ Tupelo. The tour of his home is now an audio tour, narrated by none other than John Stamos.
In the afternoon, take a tour of Sun Studios, where singers as Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, among others, made their big break. It’s a forty five minute tour of the birthplace mainstream rock and roll, with the extra perk of posing with an original microphone used by the greats listed above and more.
Experience a Dinner and Music Cruise with Memphis Riverboats. Be whisked away on the Mississippi River with home-style Southern cooking and a live band. But spend most of the evening outside, on one of the upper decks. Watch the sun shift behind the trees and steal away into a moonlit night. Which is even more spectacular on a steamboat. It’s the perfect place to end your time in Memphis.
What would you do with more time in Memphis? Tell me in the comments!