Memphis History on a Budget

Memphis is an authentic city with a rich history worth exploring. Here are a few suggestions for a not-so-average history lesson.

Sure, our history is recorded in books, but we chose to press most of it into vinyl. See where rock ‘n’ roll and the blues was born. Follow its paths and experience it first-hand. Hold Elvis’ first microphone at Sun Studio. Walk in and out of the blues clubs on Beale. Make your way to the National Civil Rights and retrace the last steps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Friday night

Stow the luggage and make your way to the lobby of the South’s Grand Hotel, The Peabody Memphis. Order up a cocktail and witness the tradition that got its start in 1933 when two men – suffering the effects of too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey – decided to put their live duck decoys in the hotel’s fountain. To their surprise, the ducks were still there the next morning and the guests were thrilled. What started as a joke became the twice-daily routine as the duckmaster escorts the world-famous Peabody Ducks to the fountain at 11 a.m. and back to their penthouse suite at 5 p.m.

Open-Air Concert

Levitt Shell is located in Midtown’s Overton Square and was built in 1936. The Shell has had front-row seats at literally thousands of free concerts over the years. Rock ‘n’ roll history was made July 30, 1954 when Elvis Presley took center stage. Although Slim Whitman was the headliner that night, Elvis stole the show with his first professional performance and music has never been the same.

Burgers and Beer

Go where the locals go for a late night bite. Check out Earnestine & Hazel’s for the best soul burgers in town. This bar and grill is guaranteed to have cold beer, hot food and a spirit or two floating around. Once a brothel, the joint is claimed to have paranormal activity but don’t let that scare you away. Drop a coin in the juke box, play a game of pool and let the night wind down.

Saturday Morning

Breakfast – Fit for the King

For a traditional southern breakfast – or for something a little bit different, check out The Arcade. Built in 1919, this restaurant has held its own as a favorite for celebrities such as Rufus Thomas and Elvis Presley. It has been a favorite location for movies such as “The Firm,” “21 Grams,” Elizabethtown,” and “Walk the Line.” With favorites like bacon, eggs and grits or sweet potato pancakes, you can’t go wrong at The Arcade.

Absolutely Free Things to Do in Memphis

From shopping to attractions to recreations, Memphis has it all and on the cheap – some even free. Check out this page to find out more about free historic districts, antique shopping, art districts, city parks and even shuttle services. Plan carefully because there is definitely more to do than one afternoon will allow.

Music Meccas

Memphis is unquestionably the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. It has been said, “If music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem and Sun Studio its most holy shrine.” At Sun Studio, you will hear outtakes, get to touch the original microphone used by Elvis at his recording sessions. See the site of the impromptu jam session that included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash which today became the subject of the current Broadway play, “The Million Dollar Quartet. “ After just a few minutes, you’ll have a greater understanding of how this humble studio changed the way the world would listen to music.

Every music pilgrimage must include Elvis Presley’s Graceland – one of the most visited homes in America. Learn all things Elvis at the numerous exhibits, visit his private jets (yes, there are more than one) and tour the mansion complete with audio narrative. Afterwards, you will realize Elvis’ impact not only on his hometown, but on the world. 

Wet, Dry or Muddy

No trip to Memphis would be complete without sampling our world-famous barbecue. Smoky and sweet or dry and tangy, you can’t beat the ribs or pulled pork sandwiches at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous - a must-do for every visitor. It is located in the alley across the street from The Peabody. If you can’t see it, the smoky smell of barbecue will lead the way.

The Beat Goes On – All Night Long

Simply stated, Beale Street is home of the blues. It was born in 1909 when W.C. Handy penned his first blues song and it grew up on Beale Street as musicians like Muddy Waters and B.B. King learned at its knee. Now at 100+ years old, it is alive and well performing in and out of clubs every night. There is no limit of great music and food on Beale. 

Sunday Morning

A Beautiful Brunch

This 1940s beauty shop-turned-restaurant offers a unique dining experience. Sit in an authentic hairdryer chair (just like Priscilla Presley used to) at The Beauty Shop and enjoy a brunch by Chef Karen Carrier who creates eclectic American cuisine in her Midtown eatery.

Pay Tribute to another King

There seems to be a reverence when you step on the grounds of the Lorraine Motel where on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. To memorialize his efforts, the National Civil Rights Museum was built around this civil rights shrine and not only chronicled the struggle of equality for African Americans, but also inspires participation in today’s civil and human rights efforts globally.

This itinerary offers a mere sampling but, as you can see, Memphis is real. Come see for yourself.