Everywhere you go in Memphis, there are places to see and people to meet. In fact, most areas of the city are like people themselves – people with their own personalities, from the trendsetting South Main Historic Arts District to Harbor Town, a master-planned community on Mud Island.
Right in the heart of downtown is South Main, an artsy neighborhood home to hip art galleries, boutiques and restaurants, as well as some of Memphis’ most popular cultural attractions. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is here, as is the Orpheum Theatre.
Spend the morning perusing paintings and sculptures by local, national and international artists that rival the works of galleries in major U.S. cities, then stop into the Arcade Restaurant. “Memphis’ oldest café” has been around since 1919, and it’s still serving up breakfast favorites like sweet potato pancakes and Eggs Redneck.
After a hearty meal, visit the National Civil Rights Museum to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of civil rights movements.
Across the river from South Main and the rest of downtown Memphis is Mud Island, where you can splash in a scale-model replica of the mighty Mississippi and visit some shops in Harbor Town.
Harbor Town is actually its own neighborhood complete with classic architecture, its own school and a shopping district. Walking trails and natural areas connect the community, which even has its own marina. There’s a location of Café Eclectic (another one is in Midtown), where you can pick up a coffee or tea before dropping into Miss Cordelia’s Grocery to pick up fresh local beef or cheese.
Back on the mainland, pass under the trestle with a sculpture of nearby buildings on it, and you’ll know you’re in Cooper-Young. The Cooper-Young Trestle is a source of pride for this historic, eclectic part of Midtown, where businesses range from Young Avenue Deli – one of the best places to hear live music in the city.
Also in Cooper-Young are Goner Records, a record store with its own label; the popular Burke’s Book Store; and restaurants with names like The Beauty Shop (Priscilla used to get her hair done there!) to Celtic Crossing.
Nearby is Overton Park, which gets its name from the 342-acre park in the neighborhood. Within the actual park are the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and Memphis Zoo, which houses more than 3,500 animals on 70 acres. See the giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le in the China exhibit, and in the new Teton Trek section are grizzly bears (watch how they play in the water features), timber wolves and elk.
Have a picnic on the Overton Park grounds. If you plan it right, there might be a concert at Levitt Shell. The site of Elvis’ first concert, today’s shows are free.
Not far from Overton Park is Chickasaw Gradens, an older upscale neighborhood in Midtown. You’ll know you’re in Chickasaw Gardens when you see street signs with the names of Native American tribes on them: Iroquois Road, Natchez Lane and Catawba Lane are a few.
The University of Memphis is here, and so is the Pink Palace. This building was supposed to be the dream home of Piggly Wiggly founder Clarence Saunders, and now it’s where you can walk through a replica of the country’s first self-service grocery store. There also are exhibits that show how Memphis became the city it is today, from the time Spanish explorers were here through the yellow fever epidemic of the late 19th century. Also on the Pink Palace’s grounds are an IMAX theater and the Sharpe Planetarium.
These are just a few of the many distinct neighborhoods that make up this great city, so once you’ve checked out the areas above, explore the rest of the city to get the authentic Memphis experience.
Download a Memphis neighborhood map.