Memphis Cheat Sheet: Must-Dos, Must-Sees, and Must-Eats
Check out the “What’s Open In Memphis” list here. Expect changes and variations in hours and availability due to covid.
Coming to Memphis? Only have a few days or a weekend? Here’s your cheat sheet for the best things to do in Memphis, the best places to visit in Memphis, and where to eat in Memphis.
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. Pick A Memphis Music History Attraction (or two or three…)
- If you’re an Elvis fan or you have an afternoon to spend, a pilgrimage to Graceland is the perfect choice. Right now, Graceland is open with limited capacity, so be sure to reserve your tickets ahead of time.
- 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 or the Smithsonian’s Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for a unique overview of Memphis. Both are offering limited tours with covid safety guidelines.
- The Memphis Music Hall of Fame (just steps away from Beale Street) should be on your list if you’re a music buff, for sure. The Blues Hall of Fame is closed until further notice
2. Eat Memphis Barbecue
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. (Be sure to call ahead for takeout or dine-in availability.)
- 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.
- For a beloved hole-in-the-wall, eat like a local and go to Payne’s BBQ for pulled pork sandwich with slaw or ribs.
- Cozy Corner is a local favorite. Order ribs and Cornish game hens.
There are many, many more. Some places might involve a wait (especially at the midtown Central BBQ location) during peak times.
3. Do Some Memphis Sightseeing
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. As of 12/28, Peabody Duck Marches are open to hotel guests only.
- Beale Street is our historic music and entertainment district. Take a daytime stroll past the shops and establishments, stop in A. Schwab general store for sundaes. At night, it’s usually a big party—but these days, Beale Street keeps it chill with socially-distanced dining and live music.
- I may be biased, but checking out the I Love Memphis murals is fun and a great photo opp—and a socially distanced, outdoor activity! The most popular murals are located near 768 Cooper Street, in the parking lot behind 422 N. Cleveland Street, and on Beale Street by Wet Willy’s. Check out the full list here.
- The Dixon Gallery & Gardens and the Memphis Botanic Gardens offer plenty of outdoor strolling and indoor gallery spaces.
4. Pick Another Memphis Must-Do Or Take A Tour (or two or three…)
- The Memphis Zoo is consistently rated #1 or #2 in the country and is worth a visit, especially if you have kids with you. There are capacity limitations and mask requirements.
- 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. As of 12/28, the Museum is closed until further notice.
- 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, paddle-boarding, ropes adventure course, horseback riding, bike rental, the award-winning Woodland Discovery playground, a buffalo herd, and more.
- 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. Pick a “Wild Card” Activity
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).
- In normal times, check out the local live music scene at venues like Lafayette’s, the Hi-Tone, Minglewood Hall, or Bar DKDC. Lafayette’s is currently open, but the other venues are currently closed due to covid.
- During the spring, summer, and fall, you can catch a free concert at the Levitt Shell. The concerts are on pause indefinitely due to covid.
- If you’re into craft beer and local spirits, check out Memphis’ microbreweries: Guide To Memphis Breweries and Taprooms. 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) in normal times offers tours and samples of their whiskey, vodka, and gin. Old Dominick is currently closed for tours.
- For kids, I would normally suggest to check out the Children’s Museum of Memphis and the Pink Palace Museum, My Big Backyard play area at Memphis Botanic Gardens, or Rainbow Lake Playground at Overton Park. Unfortunately, these spots are closed until Jan. 22 due to Shelby Co. Health Directive No. 16. 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 during “normal times”. 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
Make reservations anywhere you can, especially for brunch. Speaking of brunch: 80 Places to Eat Brunch In Memphis Guide. Most restaurants in Memphis do offer vegetarian options, there are quite a few that cater to those looking for healthy choices.
– Gus’ Fried Chicken’s spicy, crispy chicken is world-famous for a reason
– For Southern fare in a white tablecloth atmosphere with a lovely heated patio, you can’t miss Felicia Suzanne’s.
– For bar hopping/late-night eating: SOB, Bardog Tavern, Flying Saucer, Blind Bear, plus all the places on Beale Street
– For breakfast: Arcade Restaurant, Bardog Tavern, Blue Plate Cafe, and Sunrise Memphis.
– Loflin Yard offers craft cocktails, casual eats, and spacious outdoor hangout areas.
– Alcenia’s offers soul food and the most hospitable atmosphere around; call-ahead your order for takeout.
– Maciel’s Tortas and Tacos excels at fresh, authentic Mexican food in a no-frills cafe downtown
– Earnestine & Hazel’s offers up beer, soul burgers, and late-night music in the divey-est of dive bar atmospheres Earnestine & Hazel’s is currently closed
– Majestic Grill is crowd-pleasing cuisine in an upscale, art deco atmosphere. Majestic is currently closed; in its place, Majestic owners have opened an Italian American takeout restaurant called Cocozza.
– Cheesecake Corner is perfect for dessert and wine nights (temporarily closed)
Midtown + Broad Avenue:
– Beauty Shop serves fusion food in a swanky atmosphere for lunch, dinner, and brunch. Patio dining with greenhouses and igloos are available.
– Second Line serves New Orleans-style food (especially po-boys) and craft cocktails—open for takeout only.
– For breakfast: Cafe Eclectic, The Liquor Store
– Soul Fish Cafe serves soul food in a casual atmosphere
– Aldo’s is a chill pizza joint next to Memphis Made Taproom
– Bounty is a farm-to-table upscale eatery on Broad Avenue with a lovely cocktail menu
– Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen for fine dining, handmade pastas, and a heated patio.
– 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
– Hog & Hominy is a Memphis favorite that serves Southern-Italian cuisine family-style, plus craft cocktails temporarily closed
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.