Memphis Family Field Trip: Weekend Getaway

Ed. Note: Guest blogger Erin Austen Abbott came back to Memphis for a weekend getaway with her family. Here's what she recommends for a busy, fun, and school-age kid appropriate visit to Memphis. 

It’s so fun to return to a city that you basically grew up in and play tourist for a weekend. I have moved all over the country and Memphis continues to be a consistent place for me, more than anywhere else, regardless of where I’ve lived, Seattle or Boston, San Francisco or Tampa, Los Angeles or New York.  
 
Memphis is the place where I never want to be too far from and I always seem to return to. It’s the city where I opted for my son, Tom, to be born as well. I wanted him to have a connection to the city in the same way that all my family does, even if we don’t live there.

Kid on Beale Street
Erin Austen Abbott

A Weekend Getaway To Memphis

We live just a little over an hour away, but we get to Memphis any chance we get, usually just for the day. But recently we changed that and stayed for the weekend. It was the type of weekend where we wished that we lived there and could soak up the magic of the city, all the time. I want to take you along on our family field trip weekend so you can recreate your own getaway weekend in the bluff city. 
 
Downtown Memphis has made great strides to reinvent itself and they have more than succeeded. It’s so alive, with music pouring out of storefronts and bars, to the smells of some of that classic Memphis cooking that they are known for drifting through the streets. People are everywhere, pulsating like a rhythmic heartbeat.
 
 Jump below for our three-day family field trip, filled with art, design, culture, nature, architecture, food, and more… your children will be learning without even realizing it! We did the planning for you. All you have to do is show up for a fun visit. 
 

Kid at Dixon Gallery & Gardens
Erin Austen Abbott
The Dixon has indoor and outdoor art and sculpture in addition to amazing gardens.

Memphis Weekend Getaway Day One:

Walk Through The Gardens

My husband and I each took a couple of hours off of work on Friday so we could hit the road early. As soon as we got to town, we headed to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. There was an exhibit with local artist Brittney Boyd Bullock that I didn’t want to miss. Her use of color and mixed media is just so wonderful. 
 
After we wandered through the permanent collection, we made sure to visit the gardens. If you’d never been, I highly suggest not missing this little gem. You will quickly forget that you are in the city and right off of a busy road. The winding trails take you through the trees, and so many varieties of plants and flowers as well. There are spots to sit and meditate, they offer yoga in the garden, host annual native plant sales, and more. Then there is the incredible collection of art in the sculpture garden placed throughout the grounds. It’s unlike anything else in the city. 

Head Downtown For Sweet Treats and Trolley Rides

After packing in a lot to a late afternoon, we headed to the hotel. We stayed at The Hilton Garden Inn, just across the street from Auto Zone Park, which is home to Triple-A Baseball’s Memphis Redbirds and also United Soccer League’s 901 FC. The NBA team, The Memphis Grizzlies play within walking distance as well. It was the perfect location if your family are avid sports fans. If you prefer to people watch, their street-side patio at The Greyhound would be the spot for you. Just off the hotel lobby, order a few small plates to share, and take in all the foot traffic passing by. 
 
Wanting a little sweet treat after dinner, we decided to walk to an ice cream spot a few blocks away, Margie’s 901. It. Was. Delicious. All made in-house and the owner Velmo Bobo was a character! She was so friendly and welcoming to everyone. We sat outside and watched the streetcars go by.

Trolley South Main
Erin Austen Abbott
You can ride a trolley up and down Main Street in downtown Memphis.

After we finished up, we decided that riding the streetcars would be fun. We climbed onto the vintage, wooden streetcar and took it from one end of Main Street to the other. Pro tip: get the all-day pass if you plan on riding more than just once, one way. You end up saving a few dollars. We got to get a view of Beale Street at night, all lit up, without actually getting into the mix of the nighttime crowd, with a child in tow. You also get a great view of the bridge all lit up at night as well. 
 
Even though I lived in Memphis for several years, at one point in my life, I’d never ridden the streetcar at night. I loved getting to ride with both locals and visitors alike. There are a few other lines too, that I’d like to ride with my son next time. Time to head back to the hotel and rest up for the packed Saturday we had planned.  (Ed. Note: The Riverfront and Madison Ave. lines are serviced by trolley-style buses, not the cabled trolleys on tracks.)

school aged boy sipping from hot chocolate cup at ARRIVE hotel
Erin Austen Abbott
Tom at Hustle & Dough in the ARRIVE hotel.

Memphis Weekend Getaway Day Two:

Breakfast In Style

We started out our morning by visiting another hotel in the neighborhood, Arrive Hotel. Their street-level cafe, Hustle & Dough is not to be missed. They are a counter service breakfast spot where you can grab and go pastries or get made-to-order toasts, like french or avocado toast. My husband and son opted for the perfectly sweet french toast while I ordered the mushroom toast. I’m here to tell you that I’d drive the hour one way back up to Memphis just to have that toast again. It was incredible. 
 
The cafe was full of young families with their children, early in the morning, so it's certainly very family-friendly. Tom got a hot chocolate and it was served in a latte mug, which made him feel very fancy. His exact words were, I’ve never felt so grown up before. He’s eight. The design of the cafe and from what I’ve seen of Arrive, it’s certainly a place I want to go back to and maybe stay next time. Very design forward.

Kid in NCRM
Erin Austen Abbott
National Civil Rights Museum: A Moving Piece of History

Next, we went right across the street to the National Civil Rights Museum. My husband, Sean, and Tom had never been before and so it was like seeing it for the first time again, through their eyes. Talking through everything with Tom was such a moving, educational piece of the trip. 
 
I know that we will return many times in the future, as we continue to learn and understand the past. If you aren’t familiar with the museum, it’s built on the site of the Black-only motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was staying when he was assassinated in 1968. It’s a very moving piece of history and one that was not lost on us.

green grass, white Memphis sign, downtown skyline
Erin Austen Abbott
Lunch at Evelyn & Olive

After our journey learning about the civil rights movement, we headed to lunch. Craving a little Caribbean food, we opted for Evelyn and Olive, just outside of downtown, which is assessable from the Madison Street trolly shuttle line. Oh my! So good! Get the jerk chicken and plantains. It has spice but is not overwhelming, yet so much flavor. It was delicious and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer chef. He greeted us at the table and made sure everything was to our liking.

Evelyn & Olive
Erin Austen Abbott
Evelyn & Olive in the Edge District near downtown.

Mud Island and the MEMPHIS Sign!

We walked off our lunch with a visit to Mud Island Riverwalk afterward. Now, I hadn’t been there since I was a child when my grandparents took me the week that it opened. I remember playing in the water of the Mississippi River replica and loved it so much. It hasn’t been kept up in the same way that I remembered, but it’s still a fun and educational visit. All the port towns along the river are represented and there’s a lot to learn from the walk. Aside from that though, Tom was able to get some energy out after a morning at the museum and then after a large lunch. 
 
We also got to take pictures at the lovely MEMPHIS sign! So fun. Then, Tom who is a nature boy to the core, found wild blackberries growing and was able to have a small feast. He’s always looking for adventure and finding berries growing in the downtown of the city was a highlight he will remember for years to come.

Kid Running by River
Erin Austen Abbott
Shopping In South Main

After our afternoon in the sun and walking off lunch, we decided to head to South Main to pop into Paper & Clay, a sweet handmade goods studio that is also the working studio of Memphis artist, Brit McDaniel. I couldn’t leave empty-handed, so of course, I picked up a new mug and a few gifts. There’s a good bit of shopping to be done right around that area, so I highly suggest walking up one side of the street and then back down the other so as not to miss any of the local shops.

Little Italy Pizza
Erin Austen Abbott
Little Italy makes some of the best pie in town.

Next, it was time to take in one of the many breweries that Memphis has to offer. We decided on the very kid-friendly, Wiseacre. Grab a table and order a pizza or small bites like pretzel nuggets from Bettie’s Pizza inside the brewery, which is an Andrew Michael Group Restaurant. The design alone is enough to make you want to visit. The brewery, as a whole, is like stepping foot onto the set of a Nickelodeon show from the 80s. Kids will love it! 
 
We ordered the pretzels, a couple of beers, and a soda and had a family game of Uno while we relaxed a little. Feeling a bit tired, although we never felt rushed throughout the day, we opted for a quick dinner of New York-style pizza from Little Italy that I had heard so much about. It was really good and more food than we needed. Once back at the hotel for the night, we ended the night with a swim in the hotel pool.

boy in front of A. Schwab general store
Erin Austen Abbott

Memphis Weekend Getaway Day Three

Beale Street Family Field Trip

I will admit, large crowds overwhelm me in non-Covid times, so the thought of being in one now really makes me uneasy. With that said, you can’t leave Memphis without at least walking down Beale Street. It’s honestly such a piece of history, so we decided to take a peek during the wee morning hours on Sunday of the weekend. 
 
I’ve taken Tom to the classic trading company/general store, A. Schwab in the past and gotten him ice cream there, but to see the street early, before it’s alive is a different type of magic. The neon signs are all lit, but not another soul is around. It feels like walking through a working carnival that only belongs to you. I certainly want to return sometime and take him to see the Beale Street Flippers, to the Memphis Rock 'n’ Soul Museum, and maybe get a treat at the Beale Sweets Sugar Shack.

Kid w/ Book on Beale
Erin Austen Abbott

After wandering Beale St. we had brunch at the very brand new, Latin-inspired Cimas restaurant inside the Hyatt Centric Hotel. It felt like something out of Mad Men meets Mexico City. I felt transported. The food was delicious and the views of the river were like nothing you can see anywhere else from a restaurant. It was the perfect start to our last day in Memphis.

Kid in STAX hallway
Erin Austen Abbott
We visited the incredible Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Soul Music History and Crosstown Concourse

After fueling up, we headed to the Stax Museum. If you aren’t familiar with the history of soul music in Memphis and its impact on all the music that we still listen to today, then make sure that you add Stax to your must-visit places. You really get a sense of how music was approached in Memphis and the South during the start of the Civil Rights Movement. There’s just so much history that goes well beyond the music of Memphis.

Kid at Crosstown Stairs
Erin Austen Abbott
The Crosstown Concourse has plenty of places to explore—or just hang out and read!

We rounded out our trip with a stop by Crosstown Concourse. This converted, former Sears distribution center towers over the neighborhood, in Midtown. Oddly, my grandfather used to work in this building when he and my grandmother first married. After many years sitting empty and abandoned, it’s since been transformed to house a school, an art gallery, offices, restaurants, a radio station, a small grocery, apartments, a brewery, and more. 
 
You just have to see it for yourself and do us all a favor and eat at The Global Cafe. It’s one of our favorite restaurants in town. While you are at Crosstown, also pop into The Curb Market and pick up some locally made, edible goods like a box of My Cup of Tea or Vice & Virtue Coffee. The owner can tell you about all the brands that they stock and make suggestions depending on what you are looking for. 
 
That sums up Memphis. People everywhere you go, willing to help you out, show you kindness, and offer up great suggestions. It’s a big city with a small-town feel. We can’t wait to return and plan a completely different weekend next time, although it will be hard to pass on that mushroom toast next time I’m in town.

people taking a selfie at the Memphis Sign
Erin Austen Abbott
We met some friends at the MEMPHIS sign on Mud Island

About the Author

Erin Austen Abbott is a freelance writer and photographer, living in Water Valley, Mississippi with her husband, son, and their four animals. She is also an author, currently working on her third book. 
 
When she and her family aren't traveling and looking for their next family field trip, they can be found close to home, exploring the hills of North Mississippi and enjoying their small-town living. Follow her family field trips, travel fun, and writing at @erinaustenabbott on Instagram or on her website.

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