Children's Museum of Memphis / Jacob Geyer

Grand Carousel at Children's Museum of Memphis / Jacob Geyer

Samantha Crespo | April, 2019

Kid-Friendly Things to Do

Hi there, sunshine. You’re so close to warm weather and no school. In fact, you’re probably already dreaming of summer vacation. Maybe you’re dreaming of Memphis. The city’s a hit with families chasing big smiles, blue skies and together time. Mix your own itinerary out of these Memphis family-favorites for a summer vacay that’ll have everyone beaming.
 

GET A HANDS-ON HISTORY LESSON

Music:
In the home of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, take your pick of kid-friendly music attractions. Downtown, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame feature tightly curated displays of music memorabilia and lots of listening stations—just right for shorter attention spans. On the edge of downtown, a guided tour of Sun Studio—culminating in a photo op with Elvis’ microphone—takes just an hour. The tour of this birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll is open to visitors age 6 and up.
Civil rights:
Civil rights history is everywhere in Memphis. Start at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel downtown, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked and was martyred. Listening stations, touchscreens and interactive exhibits make it easy for younger visitors to connect with the stories of MLK and other upstanders. Then, learn how Dr. King fits into Memphis’—and America’s—vital civil rights story by booking a tour with A Tour of Possibilities or Heritage Tours. These guided van/bus tours crisscross the city to showcase landmark civil rights sites and can accommodate the entire family. 
The river & other local lore:
Take a 90-minute sightseeing cruise on the mighty Mississippi River with Memphis Riverboats. Cruises depart daily in summer from colorful Beale Street Landing downtown, where kids can run up and down the grassy “roof” and charge through a riverfront sprayground. For an indoor lesson in local history—and plenty of fun—visit the Pink Palace near the University of Memphis. In addition to animatronic dinosaurs and a replica of the first Piggly Wiggly (invented in Memphis!), the museum hosts digital planetarium shows and 3D giant-screen movies. 
Interactive:
Known as the "hottest Memphis attraction" (see what they did there?), all kids love the Fire Museum of Memphis.  This educational museum located in the legendary Fire Engine House No.1 on Adams Ave in Downtown Memphis is part of the National Register of Historic Places and dedicated to fire safety and history. Get into fire gear and slide down a real fire pole, fight a simulated fire and test your ability to escape real flames.

Hungry?

Order a meal or treat with a side of history at any of these downtown Memphis spots: 

The Arcade, Memphis’ oldest cafe, serves hearty breakfast platters, Southern-style lunch specials and dinner (Thursday through Saturday evenings).
The Peabody Memphis may be the South’s grandest hotel, but this 150-year-old gem isn’t too fancy to serve ice cream cones. In fact, the hotel’s pastry team creates unique flavors from scratch every summer. Order in the deli. 
• On Beale Street, locals love Dyer’s Burgers (they say the secret’s in the 100-year-old grease). Save room for a milkshake or sundae from the soda fountain inside A. Schwab, Beale Street’s general store since 1876.  
 

MAKE SOME MEMORIES

• Sit in a bubble that bulges into the water where sea lions swim. Ride a camel. Observe elephant behavior during a keeper chat. Put your nose to the glass where hippos glide. Or pose with pandas—two of the rare few on view in the U.S.—at award-winning Memphis Zoo in midtown Memphis’ Overton Park. (Kids love the zoo’s playground, miniature train and amusement rides, two carousels, geyser and splash areas, too.)
• Admission to Memphis Botanic Garden in east Memphis includes entrance to My Big Backyard, a 2.5-acre children’s garden filled with playhouses, giant wormholes and spider webs to crawl in, splash areas and a lawn for running, hula-hooping and the like. Bonus: the creative play spaces and blooming landscape make for gorgeous family pics. 
• Daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., ducks march to and from the lobby of The Peabody Memphis downtown—and kids get a front-row seat along the red carpet. Catch the march, then take the elevator to the roof to view the duck palace, where your new feathered friends live when not splashing about the hotel’s marble fountain. 
• Stay downtown and take a $1 ride on a vintage trolley to Mississippi River Garden. With climbing nets, hammock swings and a nest-like perch for viewing the Mississippi River, the park is a scenic place to let the kids run out some energy—and an ideal vantage point for viewing Mighty Lights, a new nightly light show featuring two iconic Memphis bridges.

Hungry? 

• Downtown, order something out of the ordinary—from sweet potato fries drizzled with honey to burgers made famous on Man v. Food—at Kooky Canuck
• Or, try venerated burger joint Huey’s, where it’s perfectly acceptable to shoot the frill pick from your burger at the ceiling. Ask a local for tips on getting yours to stick. (Locations include downtown, midtown and east Memphis.)
• Soul food at the Four Way Grill—think fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes—is comforting and the atmosphere is legendary: for 70-plus years, this fixture in Memphis’ Soulsville neighborhood has served MLK, Stax recording artists and visiting musicians in addition to the local community.  

My Big Backyard memphis
Sea animals at Memphis Zoo
Children's Museum Zipline
Memphis Fire Museum / Craig Thompson

GET CREATIVE

• Check the calendar of the Dixon Gallery & Gardens in east Memphis for periodic free Saturday events for families. 
• At the Brooks Museum, build and play dress up in the permanent family gallery, then check out what’s new on view—curators make sure the museum’s main exhibit includes kid-friendly, touchable activities. Bonus: the Brooks is located in midtown Memphis’ Overton Park, home to playgrounds and the Memphis Zoo.
• Let your kid make a mess—er, make art—at The Art Project and someone else will clean up afterward. Admission buys you time and supplies so you can exercise your creativity together at this studio in midtown Memphis’ Overton Square entertainment district. 
• The Children’s Museum also offers a drop-in art-making space with daily craft projects (free with museum admission). Just make time for other exhibits and add-on activities, such as a FedEx cockpit kids can “pilot,” a splash pad and an antique carousel.

Hungry?

• In Overton Square, Belly Acres serves farm-fresh burgers and hand-cut fries, and the decor is crafty-clever. Play cornhole in the adjacent courtyard while you wait. 
• For dessert, try Belly Acres’ ice cream sandwich, or explore Overton Square to discover other sweet treats—try Sweet Noshings or 17 Berkshire—as well as fun public art.  
• For convenience, both the Brooks Museum and the Dixon Gallery & Gardens operate cafes onsite. 
 

GET YOUR GAME ON

• With gamers of just about any kind, hit the Broad Avenue Arts District in midtown Memphis. On one end of the district, you’ll find 901 Games, where, for a few bucks, you can play popular board, role-playing and collectible card games. On the other end, hang out at Rec Room for air hockey, pinball, classic arcade games and console gaming.
• Near the Broad Avenue Arts District on Summer Avenue, combine arcade games with go-karts, putt-putt, bumper cars, batting cages, laser tag and virtual reality at Golf & Games Family Adventure Park
• In downtown or east Memphis, challenge the family to Memphis Escape Rooms. All rooms were masterminded in Memphis, and several feature Memphis themes, so you’re sure to have a unique experience.

Hungry? 

• In midtown, eat and play at Railgarten. In addition to casual-yet-creative pub fare and an ice cream counter, you’ll find ping pong, sand volleyball, climbing structures and room for kids to run while you sip a Memphis craft brew. 
• In the Broad Avenue Arts District, share pizza at Rec Room or scope out family-friendly Wiseacre Brewing Co. for a food truck. 
• Slip over to Jerry’s Sno Cones near Golf & Games Family Adventure Park. Jerry’s serves burgers and such, but the masses are gathered for the sno cones in 70-plus flavors. Make yours a “supreme” to add a tunnel of soft-serve ice cream. 
• Back downtown, Lunchbox Eats charms with retro-schoolhouse decor, updated comfort foods and hearty sandwiches served on bright trays, and board games so you can play while you wait. 
 

GO PLAY OUTSIDE 

• Maybe take a family vote before exploring Shelby Farms Park in east Memphis. The country’s largest urban park is all about choosing your own adventure, whether that’s zip-lining, horseback riding, paddleboarding, biking (rentals available), playing disc golf, skipping through a sprayground or discovering an award-winning playground.
• Have a climber? Take your pick of two climbing gyms: High Point Climbing and Fitness in east Memphis (featuring an outdoor wall) and Memphis Rox in the Soulsville neighborhood, across from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music
• Have a skater? Society Memphis Skatepark in midtown Memphis’ Broad Avenue Arts District is a must. Skateboarders, rollerbladers, roller skaters—and their caffeine-seeking parents, thanks to a local-coffee outpost in the lobby—are welcome.
• Catch a game downtown. Picture-perfect AutoZone Park hosts the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds as well as Memphis 901 FC, the city’s new United Soccer League team. Tip: check the Redbirds calendar for special events like Kids • Run the bases and post-game fireworks.
• Walk across the Mississippi on Big River Crossing, a century-old bridge reborn as a pedestrian path between downtown Memphis and West Memphis, Arkansas. 

Hungry? 

• Refuel at Juice Almighty, a juice bar and cafe inside Memphis Rox. 
•  See that pyramid on the Mississippi riverfront downtown? That’s Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, and it’s open for bowling, dinner and much more. 
• Downtown’s also an easy place to get your barbecue fix. Share dry-rubbed, char-grilled ribs with a sausage and cheese plate at The Rendezvous, or head to Central BBQ for sandwiches and nachos piled high with pulled pork.