Memphis Cheat Sheet: Must-Dos, Must-Sees, and Must-Eats
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 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. Graceland is open with covid guidelines and they suggest to reserve your tour time in advance online to skip the ticketing line.
- 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.
- 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. You can even get a combo ticket with Rock 'n' Soul.
- The Blues Hall of Fame is another excellent stop for blues and music fans, but is temporarily closed.
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 (or maybe 100) different answers. Here are a few to get you started. Be sure to call ahead for hours and availability.
- The quintessential, visitor-friendly spot with a great atmosphere is The Rendezvous downtown. Get ribs, sausage and cheese plate, and brisket.
- Locals love Central BBQ's locations, especially the original on Central Ave. and the downtown location near the Civil Rights Museum. Get ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, or BBQ nachos with house chips...or fries if you're feeling frisky.
- The Bar-B-Q Shop in midtown is a top-rated local favorite as well. 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 an award-winning Memphis favorite. Order ribs and Cornish game hens.
There are many, many, many more. Some places might involve a wait (especially at the midtown Central BBQ location) during peak times.
3. Do Some Memphis Sightseeing
While Tom Lee Park is being renovated, I recommend to stop by the River Garden at Mississippi River Park to take in the views of the mighty Mississippi. Don't forget to get a photo of the iconic "M" 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 electric bikes from Explore Bike Share (dozens of stations around town) if you want to ride across.
- The historic Peabody Hotel downtown has a beautiful lobby and two daily duck marches that the kids will love. To manage crowds and maintain social distancing, from Friday evenings until Sunday mornings, 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 with 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, gardens, and indoor gallery spaces.
4. Pick Another Memphis Must-Do Or Take A Tour (or two or three...)
- The Memphis Zoo is consistently rated among the top zoo's 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. Purchase timed-entry tickets ahead of time for a socially-distanced experience.
- 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 two-time Triple-A baseball Pacific League Champions and the 2018 Triple-A World Series Champs. They play at the award-winning AutoZone Park from April through October. 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, restaurants and bars, the Crosstown Arts gallery (including a cafe and bar), and regular arts, film, and music events.
- Head out to Shelby Farms Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. The state-of-the-art 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.
- Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum offers a walk through history in a former home that was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad for people escaping slavery.
- You have wonderful options for tours of Memphis: Backbeat Tours offers musical sightseeing bus tours as well as walking "ghost tours". 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. The Memphis Hop is a hop-on, hop-off shuttle that operates on Saturdays. For a personalized experience, take a classic car around town with Rock 'n' Rides.
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).
- Check out the local live music scene at venues on Beale Street (Rum Boogie Cafe and B.B. King's especially) plus Lafayette's in Overton Square, the Hi-Tone, Hernando's Hide-A-Way in Whitehaven, and Railgarten and B-Side in midtown.
- During the summer and fall, you can catch a free concert at the Shell.
- 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) offers tours and samples of their whiskey, vodka, and gin.
- For kids and families, check out the Children's Museum of Memphis and the Museum of Science and History, My Big Backyard play area at Memphis Botanic Gardens, or Rainbow Lake Playground at Overton Park. A few fun, kid-friendly places to eat include Huey's (many locations, burgers), Aldo's (pizza, two locations), Soul Fish (fried catfish, etc., many locations), and Belly Acres (burgers, two locations) which has a really fun atmosphere.
- 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 and our arts calendar.
- 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.
Where 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.
Here are some of the best places to eat and drink while you're in town!
- Gus' Fried Chicken's spicy, crispy chicken is world-famous for a reason.
- For coffee: Comeback Coffee and Memphis Chess Club (good for breakfast and getting work done, too), Qahwa, Vice & Virtue in the ARRIVE hotel lobby, Crazy Gander on Madison, craft coffee at Boycott Coffee, grab some espresso at Bluff City Coffee, or Dr. Bean's on Main.
- For bar hopping: Barware, Bardog Tavern, Flying Saucer, Blind Bear, Slider Inn plus all the places on Beale Street.
- For breakfast: By The Brewery, Arcade Restaurant, Bardog Tavern, Sunrise Memphis.
- Loflin Yard, Carolina Watershed, and Slider Inn Downtown offer 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 or dine-in—or plan to spend a few hours there.
- 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 music in a dive bar atmospheres.
- Majestic Grill is crowd-pleasing cuisine in an upscale, art deco atmosphere.
- For dessert, stop by Cupcake Cutie, Primas Bakery & Boutique, or Butterific Bakery behind the National Civil Rights Museum.
- For brunch and soul-food-inspired food in an upscale casual lounge-like environment, head to Sage Memphis. Arrive early for best chance of getting a table.
- For date night (drinks, meals, or snacks): Eight & Sand at Central Station, Tailor's Union (hours vary), Barware, Curfew at the Canopy Hotel, or Beck & Call on the rooftop of the Hyatt Centric.
Midtown + Broad Avenue:
- The 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 inside and on the patio.
- Lafayette's has live music every day and two levels of patio.
- For breakfast: Cafe Eclectic or The Liquor Store, or go to Barksdale's for no-frills, down home country diner style breakfast and plate lunches.
- 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.
- For coffee, Cafe Eclectic on McLean, Otherlands, or City & State on Broad Avenue.
- For boba and ice cream, head to Sugar Ghost.
East Memphis and Whitehaven:
- Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen for fine dining, handmade pastas, and a heated patio—across the street is the trendy Hog & Hominy, but you'll need a reservation.
- One & Only BBQ has three East Memphis locations with tasty barbecue ribs, pulled pork, and more
- RP Tracks is a casual pub with underrated food; if you're a vegetarian who wants barbecue, the BBQ tofu nachos there are A+
- For breakfast: Brother Junipers (expect a wait on weekends) and Bryant's Breakfast (expect a line)
- 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 (but...go early for best selection) is a Memphis-must
- Hen House is a hip, Instagrammable wine bar.
- Dory's intimate dining room offers farm-to-table fare and a chef's tasting menus with wine pairings. Dory is a 10 Best top new restaurant in the U.S. for 2021!
- Magnolia & May offers a cozy atmosphere and cute patio with Southern-inspired plates.
- There is a Gus's Fried Chicken location in East Memphis if you're in a pinch.
- For coffee—Belltower Coffeehouse, drive through at Ugly Mugg, or City Silo.
Memphis Cheat …
Thank youn for these wonderful recommendations. My husband is currently on crutches so I was wondering if it is still possible for him to tour Graceland? In other words, is there a lot of walking to do there? We have never been there before.
Hi Stephanie—There is some walking through the Mansion, including some stairs, and in the museum spaces. It's not a long distance (you ride a shuttle bus to and from the Mansion) but it's not no walking. I would contact Graceland directly to get specific info and find out about accommodations.
We spent a 3-day weekend in Memphis. The first day was FABULOUS! But it rained HARD the other 2 days. 😔 I can hardly wait to get back to Memphis. But I will definitely check the forecast first. Your blog is pulling me in!
We are taking my mom to Graceland,the Grand Ol’ Opry and Dollywood for her 80th birthday (aiming for June 28 - July 2
Do you know of any events that are happening that timeframe?
also do you know any blogs like yours for Dollywood or Grand ol Opry area?
Hi Anna! I don't know of any Dollywood / Grand Old Opry area blogs, unfortunately. As for events you can check out the calendar here: https://ilovememphisblog.com/events/category/all-events and select your dates. We'll be publishing a Summer Events Guide soon!
Slave Haven should be added to the list! It’s a great tour and most locals don’t even know about it
You did a great job!!! Only one mistake. Where was Midtown Hueys? I don’t consider all the other Hureys real. Have been gone from Memphis for awhile