Make it Memphis!

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Posted by Cheryl-Anne Millsap on Dec. 20, 2018, midnight

Memphis, Tenn., sits on the Mississippi River and is a classic Southern destination to explore. As the birthplace of the Blues and what came to be known as the “Memphis Sound,” the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement and home to a delicious culinary heritage, the city’s fascinating history and unique culture draw you in. Spend a few days in Memphis and you’ll be glad you did.

See the Sights

Music is in the soul of Memphis, and tours of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the Sun Recording Studio and Stax Museum of American Soul Music put you right in the center of that legacy. But there are plenty of other ways to spend a few hours in the city without leaving the heart of the downtown area.

Memphis, Tenn.

Another small museum highlighting a big part of the musical mystique of Memphis, the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the South Main Arts District brings to life the musical legacies of Blues greats as varied as Muddy Waters, Doctor John, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bonnie Raitt. Filled with costumes, instruments and memorabilia, the Hall of Fame has an impressive archive of recordings that can be accessed in soundproof listening booths as well as a library of reference books.

The Memphis Cotton Museum highlights a key industry in the fascinating history of Memphis. Cotton, as the saying goes, was King. One of the most interesting exhibits is the collection of video oral histories sharing the personal accounts of those who worked in the industry. The video screens are housed in vintage phone booths.

The Lorraine Motel, the location where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, is now memorialized as the National Civil Rights Museum. With hundreds of artifacts, dozens of films, as well as recorded oral histories, the museum takes visitors through slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow in the South and the contemporary movement for equality.

The elegant and historic Peabody Hotel is the city’s hospitality crown jewel. Built in 1925 and home of the world-famous parading lobby ducks for 83 years, the Peabody is over-the-top elegant in every way. And Northwesterners with a discerning eye will notice strikingly similarities to our very own Historic Davenport Hotel, built in 1914. For a memorable experience take a cocktail to the roof and peek into the rooftop duck palace where the lobby ducks spend their off hours, then toast your vacation as you watch the sunset on the mighty Mississippi.

Good Eats

There is no shortage of great places to eat in Memphis, but a few standouts shouldn’t be missed.

Charlie Vergos’ recipe for his famous Memphis dry rub ribs has made Rondezvous BBQ into a true foodie destination. A landmark since 1948, the historic building full of Memphis history and memorabilia is easy to find. Just follow your nose to the sign above a door in an alley across from the Peabody Hotel. Seasoned and cooked to perfection, Rondezvous ribs and brisket melt in your mouth. The vinegar-based coleslaw and (vegan) red beans and rice are tangy and delicious.

Basket of fried chicken

Gus’s Fried Chicken is an institution. There might be a line at the front door, but it’s definitely worth the wait. The service is friendly and fast, the atmosphere is no-frills (paper napkins, paper plates) and the food is fantastic. A wall of fryers in the kitchen serve up hot, crispy, spicy chicken and the side dishes — mac and cheese, fried okra, fried green tomatoes and greens — are all authentic down-home classics.

Feed your inner flapper with cocktails and dinner at Majestic Grill in a refurbished silent movie house. The high ceiling and flickering images on the giant screen add to the vintage atmosphere as you enjoy classic drinks and a crowd-pleasing menu featuring everything from burgers and salad to steak and seafood pasta.

Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis has two personalities. Funky and mild during the day, the neon-lit street is raucous after the sun goes down. Plan accordingly and enjoy live music at venues like the original B.B. King’s Blues Club, superb Southern staples like shrimp étouffée and gumbo, not to mention booze by the bucket full, on your own terms.

Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn.

Getting Around

Some notable Memphis attractions –  Graceland, the Memphis Zoo and Memphis Botanic Gardens, to name a few –  are just an Uber away from downtown, but many highlights can be reached by a $1 ride on a Memphis Area Transit Authority Trolley. The north/south Main Street Rail line takes you from above the Memphis Cook Convention Center to the burgeoning South Main Arts District where the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the National Civil Rights Museum are located.