My Favorite Things: Memphis, TN
Depending on who you ask, people sometimes characterize Memphis as Nasvhille’s less interesting step-cousin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If I’m being honest (and willing to risk some serious hate mail), I might actually admit that I like Memphis more than Nashville. There, I said it and I meant it. While there is no doubt that Nashville has the glitz and glamour of being the center of the country music scene, Memphis has a more organic and historical feel. However, the fact that they’re so geographically close means that your vacation probably has room for both!
I would probably lose all credibility if I didn’t start this post out with something Elvis related. While Elvis certainly spent time in Nashville, his iconic home, Graceland, is in Memphis and has secured its spot as the true home of the King. While it probably won’t surprise you that entry tickets aren’t cheap, I was impressed with the guest experience, especially considering how many visitors the home gets. A base ticket gets you a home tour including a tablet and headphones so your tour guide John Stamos can take you through the house at something akin to your own pace. Timed tickets ensure that the groups in the house are small and there was adequate time and space to see and photograph each room. Depending on how big of an Elvis fan you are, it might be worth getting a ticket with added bonus experiences. Regardless of which ticket you want, I highly recommend buying in advance online – Graceland is a popular place!
*It is customary to sign the wall/cement outside the gates, so feel free to bring a sharpie or some other writing utensil.
Similar to RCA Studio B in Nashville, my lack of knowledge and true interest in music history left me a little hesitant about this stop. However, also similar to Studio B, I was proven completely wrong. The Sun Studio tour not only offered a run-down of the famous artists and songs that graced it microphones, but a general history of the music scene in Memphis. This tour checked off both of my tour necessities – I laughed and I learned something. They also let you touch a microphone that Elvis once sang into, so there’s that.
National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum was what originally drew me to Memphis. Housed in two buildings, the museum begins in what used to be the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther, King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Exhibits in the Lorraine document the fight for civil rights in America starting with slavery and ending with a preserved version of Room 306, where Dr. King was staying. Across the street, the boarding house where his assassin stood is now called the Legacy Building and recounts the investigation into the killing of Dr. King and ends with a more global look at human rights. Make sure to carve out enough time in your schedule to truly enjoy this museum - it probably needs a good three hours.
(If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on the history of race in Memphis, check out my Stories from the Road post about Elvis, Civil Rights, and Memphis today.)
Regardless of anything else you do, you need to walk around Beale Street and see what all the hype is about. Due to my limited time and exhausting travel schedule, I opted to see Beale Street in the early afternoon, when the bars are populated, but not as crowded as later in the evening. A must on Beale Street is a stop for a treat (whether it be mid-afternoon or any other time of day) at A. Schwab Trading Co.’s soda fountain. Personally, I recommend a milkshake.
*If you still want more of the king, there is also a statue of crooning and shaking Elvis on Beale Street for your photograph taking pleasure.
Earnestine and Hazel’s
Earnestine and Hazel’s is my favorite place in Memphis, no question. While it may be a bit of a dive bar, their ambiance is somewhere between eerie and antique and their Soul Burgers are second to none. After you’re done enjoying your burger, venture upstairs to the second level bar and the remaining rooms of what used to be a brothel – rumor has it that you may just see an apparition from times gone by.
*In case you’re like me and are sometimes a little shy to show up as an outsider to a local haunt, don’t be. The people at E and H’s are nothing but friendly and will be more than happy to dust off a stool for an out-of-towner, or, in my case, a Yankee.
If you’re into beer, you probably already know what you like and will scan the online beer list to choose a location accordingly. If you’re not into beer, then you’re more interested in the experience. For those like me, who are more interested in the aesthetic than the brews, I’ve rated the four breweries we’ve been to on categories other than beer.
Memphis Made Brewing – Best Neighborhood (Located in Cooper-Young)
High Cotton Brewing – Most Beautiful Space
Wiseacre Brewing – Funkiest Vibe
Ghost River Brewing – Most Unique Selection
Wish List - Stax Records
I’ve been to Memphis twice now, and both times the scheduling has not aligned for a visit the Stax Museum. An important force in the history of soul music, I have a sneaking feeling that this museum is one of Memphis’ hidden gems. Fingers crossed for next time!
Just like Nashville, I have an absolutely dear friend to thank for guidance and generosity during our trips to Memphis. Hannah is the angel of the weary traveler, and, if you’re looking for some quick and delicious barbecue, she recommends Central BBQ.