Explore The South Main Arts District

Blending history (and historic attractions) with original restaurants, shops and nightlife, the South Main Arts District creates an authentically Memphis way to spend a few hours, an entire day—or a memorable night out.

National Civil Rights Museum / Raphael Tenschert

National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is an interactive learning center where you can dig into the movement that changed our country and continue the conversation about human rights and equality. Named "Top Museum" by TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice, the National Civil Rights Museum is also a place to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who frequented the site during his civil rights campaigns in Memphis.

Walking along the trolley line on Memphis' South Main Street

Trolley Night

The last Friday of every month, art galleries and shops on South Main stay open late, the restaurants serve up killer specials, and live music sounds off along the street. Walk it, or catch a free ride on the vintage trolley along South Main Street from Beale Street to G.E. Patterson Avenue, hopping on and off wherever you want to join the party.

Blues Hall of Fame, Memphis

The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame

The Blues Foundation opened the Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. You'll be greeted by the statue of blues legend Little Milton outside, memorialized with his six-string. Explore 10 individualized galleries inside with interactive touch-screen displays alongside master databases that let you hear music, watch videos and read stories illuminating each of the inductees. 

Central Station Hotel Lobby / Alex Shansky

Local Restaurants & Bars

Whether it's one of the best known and oldest diners in the country, a bar with a ghostly history, the newest bar and restaurant from a pair of James Beard-nominated chefs, a food hall filled with food and drinks purveyors, or a coffee shop named for the Bluff, you'll discover locally owned restaurants and bars on every block of the South Main Arts District. For more recommendations, scroll down after the slideshow. 

Stock & Belle, a shop in Memphis' South Main Arts District

Shopping & Galleries

They don't call this neighborhood an arts district for nothing. Find local art for your walls, fashion from local style curators and music-themed souvenirs from t-shirts to vinyl. What won't you find in the South Main Arts District? Chains and big-box stores. 

Inside ARRIVE Memphis, a new boutique hotel in the South Main Arts District

Hotel Hangs

You'll also discover two new boutique hotels in the South Main Arts District: ARRIVE Memphis and Central Station. While both are known as much for their accommodations as they are for their buzzy amenities—like Central Station's DJ lounge and ARRIVE's coffee enclave and shuffleboard bar—they're also known for their design: Both hotels are historic adaptive reuse projects with design details that mix the old with the new in intriguing ways.  

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Want to discover more of Memphis’ South Main Historic Arts District? Start with this quick orientation:

 

Where is the South Main Arts District?

It’s in downtown Memphis. (If you’re looking at a map of downtown Memphis, it’s the southwest section.) South Main Street is the main thoroughfare, and it’s about a mile long from Beale Street on the north end to Crump Boulevard on the south end. The district extends a few blocks west from South Main Street to the Mississippi River and east to about South 2nd Street. Scroll down for parking info.

What should you do in the South Main Arts District? We’re glad you asked:

 

Enjoy one of South Main’s signature events

When’s the best time to visit South Main? Spring’s an especially lively one. You might catch opening day of the Memphis Farmers Market (typically the first Saturday in April), when local makers, farmers and food trucks set up to sell arts and crafts, fresh foods and ready-to-eat goodies. April 23-24, 2021, get tickets to Spirits & Soul Fest, when 25 Tennessee distilleries will transform South Main into a whiskey-sipping block party. But any time of year—as long as it’s the last Friday of the month—you can join a free block party on South Main called Trolley Night. Galleries, restaurants and shops stay open late, feature specials or complimentary drinks, host live music, art shows and more.
 

See a show, from Broadway to the big screen to a singer-songwriter showcase

Whether you nab tickets to the most-talked-about Broadway shows at the historic Orpheum Theatre, catch an intimate concert at the sleek new Halloran Centre, catch an even more intimate singer-songwriter night at South Main Sounds or see a movie from the comfort of your reclining seat at the brand-new Powerhouse Cinema, you’ll find entertainment for any mood on South Main. 

The Arcade / Oui Oui Girl
Spirits & Soul Fest in South Main Arts District / Kristin Luna
Singer at Old Dominick Distillery / Craig Thompson
South Main Street Art / Alex Shansky

Sample some of Memphis’ favorite fare (including barbecue)

South Main is also known for its strong concentration of locally owned, original restaurants, so what are you in the mood for?

  • Barbecue? Head to Central.
  • Fried chicken? Get to Gus’s, the hole in the wall with the hottest chicken.
  • Diner food, plus Southern-style plate lunches? Hit The Arcade for an authentic jolt of nostalgia (ask to sit in the Elvis booth and order a fried peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwich just like the King might have).
  • Can’t decide? Stroll Puck Food Hall for artisanal sandwiches, Asian eats, gelato and more. Or, book a tour with City Tasting Tours and sample a little bit of everything.
  • Don’t forget this is also the district that’s home to Rizzo’s (a chef-driven, farmers market-fueled spot) and three restaurants by James Beard Award-nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman: BishopCatherine & Mary’s and The Gray Canary

 

Soak in the history with retro architecture & interactive museums

The retro vibe comes from South Main’s concentration of preserved architecture. Most of its buildings date to 1910 and 1925, when the district was the city’s railroad hub (wait ’til you see what’s become of one of those stations). 

In the mid-20th century, a couple turned one of South Main’s original hotels into the Lorraine Motel. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists were frequent guests, and it was on the motel balcony where Dr. King was assassinated. Today, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is a multimedia experience tracing the civil rights movement from slavery to the present. (Tip: Take a half-mile walk from the museum to Tom Lee Park for more African American history in Memphis, plus Mississippi River views.)

A parallel history to the civil rights movement can be found across the street at The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame. Clothing, art and other memorabilia surround touchscreen displays that connect you to deep archives of songs, photos, film and video of blues musicians from B.B. King to Bonnie Raitt. Even if you only have an hour, you’ll leave with a solid understanding of the blues’ role in shaping American culture. 

For coffee, craft beer or cocktails, go where the locals go

That means Bluff City Coffee for an espresso-only approach to your morning or Hustle & Dough (inside the ARRIVE Memphis hotel) for drinks crafted with locally roasted beans. Both spots offer delicious house-made breakfast options, too. For something stronger, try the following, and check this full list of options

  • Ghost River Brewing, one of Memphis’ first craft breweries, with a tap room, tours and food truck events
  • Old Dominick Distillery, a century-old Memphis brand that was recently revived to craft and serve spirits once again
  • BarWare, a cozy hang for artisan cocktails and fancy bar snacks 
  • The Green Beetle, Memphis’ oldest tavern, with a classic bar menu to soak it all up
  • WKND: Pop in on a whim or book a "hang suite" and order bubbly, punches and other libations with friends
  • Earnestine & Hazel's, the OG on this list: a former brothel that’s known for its jukebox, eclectic vibe and soul burgers

Stay overnight in a new boutique hotel
The Central Station Memphis is one of them. Though it remains an active railway station, the majority of the site has been transformed into a boutique hotel. Stay overnight or just hang out: Eight & Sand is a chill spot for a drink and live DJ music (and you have to see the hotel's collection of Memphis vinyl); Bishop is a French fine-dining concept from some of Memphis' most award-winning chefs.

At ARRIVE Memphis hotel, meet for coffee or cocktails. (If you go for the latter, be ready to shoot some shuffleboard between rounds, and arrive hungry: The menu here is full of comfort, well executed.) 

Get an eye-ful of local art with galleries and murals

Artists helped lead South Main's renaissance in the 1990s, and a creative energy still flows through the neighborhood. Stroll the street for a DIY public art tour featuring murals and mosaics, and duck into creative showcases including globally focused Art Village Gallery, photography-forward Jack Robinson Gallery and folk art-inspired Edge Gallery.
 

Shop locally owned boutiques

Local art, fashion, candles, books, vinyl, home decor–with options small enough to take home as authentic souvenirs of your Memphis getaway–they're all available in South Main boutiques and shops. Make your shopping list with help from this guide
 

Bring the kids 

Book time for your crew at Memphis Escape Rooms. Each room here is locally engineered, and many have Memphis-y themes. All will put your wits to the test in an unforgettable, heart-pounding hour of fun. Families should also keep an eye out for the reopening of the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum at the Central Station Memphis hotel.

 

Where should I park to explore South Main? 

You'll find metered street parking throughout the district, but some attractions have their own paid or unpaid lots, including The Orpheum and Halloran Centre and the National Civil Rights Museum. The district is compact enough that you can park once and walk, hop on the vintage trolley or grab an electric scooter or Explore Bike Share cycle