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.

Rockabilly Rides at Sun Studio
Dad and daughter at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
The Traveling Child

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
Central BBQ Nachos
Alex Shansky

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.

 

Explore Bike Share Big River Crossing Skyline / Craig Thompson

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 and two daily duck marches that the kids will love. As of April 2021, 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 even 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, gardens, and indoor gallery spaces.
Crosstown Concourse / Phillip Van Zandt

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. 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 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 (temp. closed for covid), 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 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!
Exterior of Bass Pro Pyramid and Big Cypress Lodge
Alex Shansky

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 (check out Rum Boogie Cafe and B.B. King's especially) Lafayette's in Overton Square, the Hi-Tone, Hernando's Hide-A-Way in Whitehaven, and B-Side in midtown.
  • During the summer and fall, you can catch a free concert at the Levitt 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, 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. 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 locationx) 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.

Four friends dine-in at Gus's Fried Chicken
David Meany

Downtown:

Po-boys at Second Line
Alex Shansky

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—open for takeout only.
  • For breakfast: Cafe Eclectic, The Liquor Store, or 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
Exterior of Gibsons Donuts
Alex Shansky

East Memphis and Whitehaven:

  • Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen for fine dining, handmade pastas, and a heated patio.
  • 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 (immensely popular, expect a wait), Southall Cafe, 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 is open 24 hours (but...go early for best selection) and 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. 
  • 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.

 

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.

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Memphis Cheat …
[…] Barbecue is the official cuisine of Memphis. The quintessential, visitor-friendly spot is The Rendezvous downtown (get ribs or the sausage and cheese plate). Locals love Central BBQ (which has three locations -get ribs, a …read more […]
January 12, 2016 11:30pm

Tim
No mention of the Metal Museum?! One of the coolest things going!
February 26, 2016 1:18pm

Anita
Thank you so much for "compiling" all these events for us!! Great Job!!
February 26, 2016 2:24pm

Memphis Family…
[…] 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. […]
July 6, 2016 10:12pm

Mark Silva
Thanks. You have been my go to guide during my first trip to Memphis. Today's my last day and I miss the city already. Will try Alcenia's as I loved that picture of you and the owner. In future trips I hope to bring my Mom and Dad from where I live in Olton, Texas. Keep up your labor of love. Mark Silva
July 16, 2016 4:46am

Holly Whitfield
I'm so glad this has been helpful to you, Mark! Hopefully you'll be back with Mom and Dad soon. :)
July 18, 2016 9:22am

Mark Silva
Hopefully I can bring them to see Memphis. Keep up the good work. You can look up Olton Isd principal page for Webb Elementary to see who I am. Take care.
July 18, 2016 8:10pm

Jennifer
THANK you so much for info. Next question, area to stay? 15 to 20 minute commute to Beal street area is fine. Don't need the "Ritz " just clean and comfy. Must have porch/balcony open to room a ling with a fridge. A breakfast buffet inclused would be an awesome perk. Planning our trip for March 2018. Any special events generally during this time. We are very flexible with dates. THANK you again.
August 2, 2017 10:30am

Holly Whitfield
There are plenty of hotels in downtown Memphis, almost all within reasonable walking distance from Beale Street. You can take a look here and see which fits your budget: http://www.memphistravel.com/memphis-hotels?f[0]=mem_listings_neighborhood%3A128&f[1]=mmg_sapi_solr_categories%3A208&date_group=1&date_group=1 As for special events, you can see the following 2 posts for examples of what we had going on this year in March. We should have more announcements and specific dates set in early 2018, but as long as you're following I Love Memphis blog and/or Facebook page, you'll be kept informed! I hope you have a great trip! https://ilovememphisblog.com/2017/03/i-love-memphis-guide-to-spring-festivals-and-events-2017/ https://ilovememphisblog.com/2016/12/a-huge-list-of-2017-festivals-and-events/
August 2, 2017 11:02am

Jay Gibbs
Don’t forget Fox Ridge Pizza which has been serving MEMPHIS for forty years now and Cajun Catfish in Collierville for Cajun Fried Catfish and Crawfish!
April 2, 2019 11:50am

Carmen
I love the way you broke everything down. I can't wait to try a lot of these places. Traveling from California!
May 21, 2019 12:40pm

Pat Jackson
Memphis is the city, I was born and grew up. Wherever I travel ...East Coast, West Coast, Florida Panhandle, "Big D" (Dallas), Louisianna and outside of the country...I let the other travelers know, "Memphis " is my home. I am the "mouth piece " for Memphis, TN. The banks of the Mighty Mississippi is where, I was born and reared. YES, my roots are deep..."Down in Ole Memphis Town." So, all of you ...traveling down South, don't forget, the real "Home of the Blues".... Beale Street....Memphis, Tennessee .
November 26, 2019 5:13pm

David Haywood
Gotta disagree with all these articles that insist Rendezvous is a must visit. Their quality has fallen far in recent years and it's nothing more than a tourist trap.
November 26, 2019 6:53pm

Holly Whitfield
To each their own! It's a Memphis institution, but if folks aren't interested in something like it, they can try some of the others mentioned.
December 16, 2019 12:45pm

LaShae Miller
Roxie’s Is a great southern comfort food also, do not forget about our mom and pops store/ restaurant.
December 29, 2019 11:04pm

Holly Whitfield
It's amazing! Love Roxie's. Luckily, there are hundreds of great, locally owned restaurants to choose from! https://ilovememphisblog.com/2012/02/roxies-burgers/
December 30, 2019 1:39pm

Stephanie Jordan

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

April 27, 2021 2:25pm

Holly Whitfield

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. 

May 5, 2021 4:45pm

Nancy Daniel

Slave Haven should be added to the list!  It’s a great tour and most locals don’t even know about it 

May 22, 2021 10:14am