Memphis Cheat Sheet: Must-Dos, Must-Sees, and Must-Eats
Coming to Memphis? Only have a few days or a weekend? Here’s your cheat sheet for things to do in Memphis, places to visit, and where to eat.
Five Things You Must Do In Memphis
I realize that this is technically more than five things, but bear with me. I’m distilling hundreds of options for things to do in Memphis down to five “categories”, if you will.
1. Get A Dose Of Memphis Music History
If you’re an Elvis fan, or you have an afternoon to spend, a pilgrimage to Graceland is the perfect choice.
If you don’t have the time or budget for Graceland, I recommend a visit to the hallowed ground of Sun Studio, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Soulsville, or the Smithsonian’s Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for a unique overview of Memphis
The Memphis Music Hall of Fame (just steps away from Beale Street) and the Blues Hall of Fame (on South Main near the National Civil Rights Museum) should be on your list if you’re a music buff; both museums opened in 2015.
2. Eat BBQ
Barbecue is the official cuisine of Memphis. Ask anyone “where is the best bbq in Memphis?” and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Here are a few to get you started:
-The quintessential, visitor-friendly spot is The Rendezvous downtown. Get ribs, sausage and cheese plate, and brisket.
– Locals love Central BBQ‘s four locations. Get ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, or BBQ nachos with house chips.
– The Bar-B-Q Shop in midtown. Order ribs, sandwiches on Texas toast, and a side of BBQ spaghetti.
– Tops BBQ for quick, beloved fast BBQ pork sandwiches or burgers topped with pulled pork.
– Payne’s BBQ try the pulled pork sandwich with slaw or ribs.
– Cozy Corner BBQ near downtown. Order ribs and Cornish game hens.
Plus many more. Some places might involve a wait (especially at the midtown Central BBQ location) during peak times.
3. Photo Ops and History
Stop by Beale Street Landing and Tom Lee Park to take in the views of the mighty Mississippi. Don’t forget to get a photo with the iconic bridge.
Mighty Lights is a nightly light show on the Hernando de Soto and Big River Crossing bridges. Catch these moving, colorful displays every hour at the top of the hour from sunset until 10 p.m.
The Big River Crossing allows you to walk all the way across the river from downtown Memphis to Arkansas on the Harahan Bridge. It’s about a mile long and a pretty easy walk, and offers up some amazing views. You can rent an Explore Bike Share bike (50+ stations around town) if you want to bike across.
The historic Peabody Hotel downtown has a beautiful lobby, a rooftop with a great view, and two daily duck marches that the kids will love.
Beale Street is the historic music and entertainment district. Take a daytime stroll past the shops and establishments, then stop in A. Schwab general store for sundaes. At night, it’s a big party – so enjoy all the live music, have a few drinks, and watch the Beale Street Flippers do their thing.
I may be biased, but checking out the I Love Memphis murals is fun and a great photo op. The two most popular murals are located near 768 Cooper Street and in the parking lot behind 422 N. Cleveland Street. Check out the full list here.
4. Attractions and Tours
The Memphis Zoo is consistently rated #1 or #2 in the country and is worth a visit, especially if you have kids with you.
The National Civil Rights Museum (located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968) is an engaging, comprehensive museum focused on the civil rights movement.
NBA team Memphis Grizzlies play their home games at FedExForum, adjacent to Beale Street in downtown Memphis. See the schedule and get tickets here. The Memphis Redbirds are the 2017 and 2018 Triple-A baseball Pacific League Champions and the 2018 Triple-A World Series Champs. They play at the award-winning AutoZone Park; see the schedule and get tickets here.
The Crosstown Concourse is a one-million-square-foot vertical urban village in a former Sears distribution center. It houses offices, schools, and apartments, but visitors can enjoy the picture-perfect atriums, a dozen restaurants and bars, the Crosstown Arts gallery (including a cafe and bar), and regular arts, film, and music events.
If you have transportation, head out to Shelby Farms Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. The state-of-the-art renovated park offers countless activities – hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, ropes adventure course, horseback riding, bike rental, the award-winning Woodland Discovery playground, a buffalo herd, and more. The Dixon Gallery & Gardens and the Memphis Botanic Gardens are in East Memphis, too.
You have lots of great options for tours of Memphis: Backbeat Tours offers musical sightseeing bus tours as well as walking “ghost tours”. The Memphis Hop is a hop-on, hop-off shuttle with 10 stops. Historical Haunts guides ghost tours, haunted pub crawls, and a Memphis Brew Bus for local breweries. A Tour Of Possibilities van tour focuses on civil rights and African American history. City Tasting Tours and Tastin’ Around Town offer culinary and cocktail adventures. Call ahead for schedules and to reserve your spot!
5. Wild Card
This one depends on your interests. Here are some options for your choose-your-own-adventure Memphis number five must-do.
– If you’re curious, go to the Bass Pro Pyramid. It’s the largest single retailer location in the world. Inside you can ride the nation’s tallest freestanding elevator to the top ($10 per person) for an incredible view of the city (and at night, the Mighty Lights).
– If you’re looking for the local live music scene, venues like Lafayette’s, the Hi-Tone, Minglewood Hall, and Bar DKDC regularly host local bands. During the spring, summer, and fall, you can catch a free concert at the Levitt Shell. Beale Street has a ton live music as well. All these venues have totally different vibes.
– If you’re into craft beer and local spirits, check out Memphis’ five microbreweries: Wiseacre, Memphis Made, High Cotton, Ghost River, Meddlesome, and Crosstown, plus Bosco’s Brewpub. Want a one-stop shop for all the local beer? Hammer & Ale in Cooper Young serves all the local brews, offer flights, and a small food menu. Old Dominick Distillery downtown (across the street from Gus’ Fried Chickens) offers tours and samples of their whiskey, vodka, and gin.
– If you have the kids with you, check out the Memphis Zoo, My Big Backyard play area at Memphis Botanic Gardens, Rainbow Lake Playground at Overton Park. The Children’s Museum of Memphis and the Pink Palace Museum are great indoor options (though CMOM has a great splash pad and playground open in warmer weather). A few fun, kid-friendly places to eat include Huey’s (multiple locations, burgers), Aldo’s (pizza, two locations), Soul Fish (fried catfish, etc., two locations), and Belly Acres (burgers, one location) which has a really fun atmosphere.
– If you’re into the arts, know that Memphis has a lively visual arts, theatre, film, and performing arts scene. From ballet to theatre to opera and more, there are many chances to see live performances while you’re in town. Check out this guide to performing arts. There’s plenty of public art in Memphis as well, plus museums and galleries like the Brooks, Dixon, David Lusk, Marshall Arts, Crosstown Arts, Metal Museum, and more. Check out ArtsMemphis for more.
Places To Eat And Drink In Memphis
Most restaurants in Memphis offer vegetarian options, there are quite a few that cater to those looking for healthy choices. Click here for a list of healthier dining ideas.
– Earnestine & Hazel’s offers up beer, soul burgers, and late-night music in the divey-est of dive bar atmospheres
– Majestic Grill is crowd-pleasing cuisine in an upscale, art deco atmosphere
– Gus’ Fried Chicken’s spicy, crispy chicken is world-famous for a reason
– For Southern fare in a white tablecloth atmosphere – plus a lovely courtyard – you can’t miss Felicia Suzanne’s.
– For bar hopping/late-night eating: SOB, Bardog Tavern, Local, Flying Saucer, Blind Bear (the latter allows smoking), plus all the places on Beale Street
– For breakfast: Arcade Restaurant, Bardog Tavern, Blue Plate Cafe, and Sunrise Memphis
– Cheesecake Corner is perfect for dessert and wine nights
– Loflin Yard and Carolina Watershed offer craft cocktails, casual eats, and spacious outdoor hangout areas.
– Alcenia’s offers soul food and the most hospitable atmosphere around; call-ahead your order and plan out a little extra time
– Maciel’s Tortas and Tacos excels at fresh, authentic Mexican food in a no-frills cafe
Midtown + Broad Avenue
– Beauty Shop serves fusion food in a swanky atmosphere for lunch, dinner, and brunch
– Second Line serves New Orleans-style food (especially po-boys) and craft cocktails
– For breakfast: Cafe Eclectic, The Liquor Store
– For bar hopping/late-night eating: Young Ave Deli, Alchemy, Sweet Grass Next Door, Local on the Square
– Soul Fish Cafe serves soul food in a casual atmosphere
– Aldo’s is a chill pizza joint next to Memphis Made Taproom (they also have a downtown location)
– Bounty is a farm-to-table upscale eatery on Broad Avenue with a lovely cocktail menu
– Hog & Hominy is a Memphis favorite that serves Southern-Italian cuisine family-style, plus craft cocktails
– One & Only BBQ has two East Memphis locations with tasty barbecue ribs, pulled pork, and more
– RP Tracks is a college bar with surprisingly great food; if you’re a vegetarian who wants barbecue, the BBQ tofu nachos there are A+
– For breakfast: Blue Plate Cafe, Brother Junipers (the latter is immensely popular, expect a wait)
– Elwood’s Shack is in a tiny, actual shack in a Lowe’s parking lot; folks love their bbq, fish tacos, and breakfast
– Gibson’s Donuts is open 24 hours and is a Memphis-must
Chances are, there will be a festival or event going on while you’re in Memphis. Check out the blog’s calendar, the Things To Do section, the weekend guide posted every Friday, or the seasonal event guide section.
This isn’t close to everything I could tell you about what to see, do, and eat in Memphis. Feel free to leave questions in the comments, or ask me on Twitter.