Memphis Tennessee: Where To Stay And What To Do
We've lived just a short 4-hour drive from Memphis for quite a while. But neither one of us had ever spent more than a day there. We recently spent a long weekend in Memphis and had a fantastic time. We were impressed with the food, the history and the awesome people we met. Keep reading for our recommendations on where to stay and what to do.
1. The Peabody Hotel
The Peabody Hotel is world famous, and it's where we stayed on our trip. We like staying in unique hotels when we travel, and The Peabody is definitely that. It's located just steps from Beale St, Elvis spent his senior prom here, and they have a daily Duck March in the lobby. More on the ducks in a minute. The hotel has just gone through a significant renovation, and the rooms are decorated beautifully. The service and staff were excellent. Plus the new beds were super comfortable. What about that Duck March?
The Ducks started as a practical joke in the 1930's by the then general manager of the hotel. After a day of hunting, they thought it would be funny to place some ducks in the lobby fountain. The guests loved it. Since 1940 the hotel has employed "Duckmasters" to train and lead the daily duck marches from the roof to the central fountain. Even if you can't stay at The Peabody, you should stop by to see the performance and have a drink. The march is twice a day at 11 am and 5 pm. It's incredibly popular so show up early to have a place to sit.
The Peabody has a few different bars that you can relax in and have a drink. Our favorite was at Chez Philippe. Jordan, the bartender there, is a fourth-generation bartender going back to his great-grandfather. He takes his craft seriously, and it shows. He made us their two most popular drinks, the smoked old-fashioned and the french kiss. The old-fashioned was something we would typically order. It's a classic old-fashioned, made with fresh ingredients like brandy soaked cherries. The twist is that after it's made it spends a little time in a glass smoker. The smoke isn't just a gimmick. It added a lot to the flavor and the spectacle. The French kiss was more of a dessert drink, made with flavored vodka and topped with fresh cream. It was a great way to finish up our time at Chez Philippe.
The Peabody is more than a hotel; it's an attraction in and of itself. Pop in for the Duck March, have dinner or drinks, head up the roof for some views and check out the memorabilia room for some amazing artifacts.
2. Eat Barbecue
The food in Memphis is so good. We didn't have a bad meal the entire time we were there. When you visit Memphis though, you have to have Barbeque at least once. While we didn't do an extensive tour of all the barbeque places in Memphis, we absolutely loved Charles Vergo's Rendezvous. It's also just a half block from the Peabody. To be honest, though, we were nervous about it. Rendezvous is one of the most popular and famous restaurants in Memphis. We wondered if it could live up to the hype. It did and more so.
Rendezvous was by far our favorite meal. The menu was even great for our resident vegetarian, Charise. I got the rib and shoulder plate, and Charise got the meatless red beans and rice. The ribs are dry cooked, with sauce on the side. Everything was perfect. Each plate came with a great German slaw and cheese and pickles sprinkled with their signature seasoning. Sometimes things are popular for a reason. There's a reason this place is so packed. Don't think about it, just go.
3. Visit The Shelby Forest General Store
Some places are greater than the sum of their parts. From the outside, the Shelby Forest General Store is just a small burger joint on the outskirts of Memphis. But once you spend a little time here, you'll find a place that could only exist in the south. If you come here, eat and just leave, you'll be missing out. The real draws here are the owners and the colorful regulars you might encounter.
In the booth right next to us was a Memphis historian, named Jimmy. He spent so much time telling us obscure historical facts that I don't think he ever ate. The owners beamed as they told us about how Justin Timberlake grew up down the street and allowed us to touch a piece of foil from the Apollo 11 moon landing. You need to go here. You need to tell them your from out of town, and you need to plan to spend some time hanging out. They will definitely make you feel welcome.
4. Stop By Sun Studios
Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and more were discovered and recorded at Sun Studios. Memphis is known for the music it helped create, and Sun Studios is a great experience for anyone who loves the history of blues and rock music. The tour itself is short but very popular. Buses regularly unload tourists right in front. Try to call ahead and reserve a spot. If you don't call ahead, you will probably have to wait at least 30 min for a time slot.
To be completely honest, the tour itself is a little corny. They have you imitate Elvis and yell, "Rock and Roll!" as a group a few times. It's fun but a little over the top. It's cool to see the recording studio and all the memorabilia though. The whole tour will only take you about an hour so we'd recommend it for sure.
5. Experience The Civil Rights Museum
On the complete opposite end of the museum spectrum is the Civil Rights Museum. Located inside the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered, it takes you through the history of slavery and civil rights in America. The museum is incredibly well done and moving. If you can only do one museum in Memphis, this is the one you have to do. It's amazing. Plan a half day to see everything.
Crosstown Concourse - Hip shops and food stands, located in an old renovated Sears warehouse.
Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe - Great chicken and waffles on Beale St.
The Majestic Grille - Upscale dining in a vintage movie theater. The big screen is still there playing classic black and white movies.
Pho Bihn - Sadly this place was closed both times we tried to visit, but it was recommended to us by several people.
Memphis surprised us because we tend to overlook places that are close to home. We're always trying to travel to new and obscure places, but Memphis was terrific. We had a fantastic time. Plan to spend some time exploring when you go because we barely scratched the surface of what Memphis has to offer.