Other than Graceland, barbecue, and music on Beale Street, what are the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend with you kids?
A better question is, what else do you need?
Memphis, Tennessee is a culturally iconic town on the banks of the Mississippi River. Known as the birthplace of Soul music and Rock & Roll, Memphis oversaw the early careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, and many other storied musicians.
Music is central to the Memphis experience.
Once upon a time, this small Tennessee town was a world-wide sensation.
Memphis is also the site of MLK’s final “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” speech and subsequent assassination in 1968.
“…I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land…”
This includes the music of Beale Street, and in the many soul music museums around town.
Beale Street has hosted lionized black musicians for decades. The legendary street was also the site of some of the first Black-owned businesses in the South. So if you’re looking for something to do in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend, a historical music museum is a key part of the experience.
The character of Memphis is pained and profound, passionate of heart, and trod with grit. The town showcases the struggle of a people: To rise out of poverty; to obtain God-given rights; and to express themselves as few others have in the gallery of America’s history.
We respect the hell out of Memphis.
The following are what we found to be the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee.
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Must-Do attractions are typically the reason we’ve decided to visit.
Graceland was named after the daughter of Stephen Toof, the owner of a commercial printing firm in Memphis. The house was built on a 13.8 acre plot of relatively unremarkable land, not far from the road outside downtown Memphis.
Elvis is buried here, as are his parents, paternal grandmother, grandson, and daughter. Tours of this historical residence — perhaps the most famous non-governmental residence in the entire USA — cost a whopping $80. You’ll receive an I-Pad-type device with the voice of John Stamos to guide you through the tour. Tours last about 1.5 hours, but you can stay longer.
The house is funky and we absolutely loved it. Elvis and the “Memphis Mafia”, his hangers-on, were like a clubhouse of teenagers fooling around. They drove golf carts, go-carts, fishing boats, and any motorized vehicle you can imagine all over the town.
Spend the rest of the day working your way through the Elvis museums across the street. Learn about every facet of his life. The man was endlessly interesting; the coolest cat to ever walk on two legs.
And don’t forget to indulge Elvis’s favorite snack: A peanut butter and banana sandwich, from one of several restaurants on the Graceland campus.
Any trip to Memphis simply has to include a visit to Graceland. The museums are free to enter, but if you’re going to see Graceland you’ll have to pony up the dough. We strongly recommend you don’t cheap out. It is the best thing to do in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the 20th century, Beale was a bustling street, and the Beale Street lifestyle was often a dangerous blend of seedy characters, easy money, and rivulets of liquor. This was the atmosphere that gave birth to the Blues. Beale Street music filled the air day and night, and the town became a Mecca for young musicians.
Beale Street is to Memphis is what Bourbon Street is to New Orleans; what Duvall Street is to Key West; what Las Vegas Boulevard is to Hell.
This is the historical hotspot of those hallowed blues musicians: BB King, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Rufus Thomas. Notorious haunts continue to promote good blues music; places like Rum Boogie Cafe, Silky O’Sullivan’s, and BB King’s Blues Club continue to thrive on the same street that invented the classic American sound.
Listening to live music on Beale Street is a must-do thing in Memphis, Tennessee.
Should-Do attractions receive a strong recommend, but fall short of must-do.
This may fall into the nerd bucket, like learning someone discovered a new planet called N193344033288. Regardless, the chances are that if you’re reading a travel blog you are fully capable of “nerding out”.
Some genius carved an exact replica of the Mississippi River into brick and cement, at the scale of 30 inches to a mile. The replica spans almost a half-mile of riverfront space, where every sandbar, oxbow, and topographic contour is faithfully reproduced. Dozens of placards tell countless historical accounts of life on this quintessential American river. We recommend you read them all.
This is not only one of the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend, it is one of the coolest, most obscure things to do anywhere in the United States.
To say this is an accomplishment of extraordinary magnitude is an understatement. We’ve never seen anything like it.
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Sam Phillips opened his Memphis Recording Service on January 3rd, 1950. Anyone — Anyone! — could record a two-song record for a measly four bucks. Elvis Presley was discovered at Sun Studios, along with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and others. Elvis worked all summer to afford that recording. They play a few seconds of him singing. Young Elvis sounded nervous.
The photo below is called “The Million Dollar Quartet”. We strongly recommend the one-hour tour of Sun Studio for $15. It is precisely why we are here, and one of the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee.
The musical history of Memphis and the Mississippi South is well chronicled at the Memphis Rock & Soul Museum (Smithsonian affialiate). Here you can follow this history of soul, from the musically inclined share croppers who migrated for work opportunities, to the musical genius of Beale Street, to the pioneer recording studios that laid these incredible sounds on wax.
1950/60’s Memphis occupies a special place in the annals of American history, and learning all about it is one of the best things to do in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend.
The Civil Rights Museum is located at the Lorraine Hotel, the very place that Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. The facility is a complex of museums and historic buildings that trace the history of the civil rights movement in the U.S. from the 17th century to the present.
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You will find a multitude of internet hyped restaurants in Memphis. We ate at a few of them: Central BBQ, Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken, Dyer’s Burgers (cooked in 100-year-old grease, allegedly), The Arcade, etc. They were all pretty decent, but we wouldn’t necessarily “recommend” them.
The one place we would absolutely recommend is Charles Vergos Rendezvous. The dry-rubbed ribs were incredibly tasty. The beans, slaw, and potato salad were perfectly on point. When asked what to do in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend… go to Charles Vergos Rendezvous.
By the way, the entrance is in a back alley. We weren’t sure if googlemaps was taking us for a ride, or what. Turns out the joint is a little bit hidden.
Memphis was the most pleasantly surprising town we visited in the past year. What a cool place! Our expectations were completely reversed: We thought the history would be dull, the crime would be scary, Elvis would leave us wanting, and the food would be amazing… And none of it was correct!
Beale Street and downtown was clean and we felt safe. The music and civil rights history was highly interesting. Elvis was larger-than-life incredible. And the BBQ was supremely disappointing! I guess you can’t win them all, but Memphis, Tennessee comes out a winner nonetheless.
If you don’t know where to take your next vacation, at least you know what to do in Memphis, Tennessee. Maybe put those two things together… I don’t know. It’s up to you.
And if you’re into historic, southern towns, be sure to check out: Downtown Charleston Things to Do.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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