Take it from a local- A Weekend in Memphis is a MUST DO.
Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock and Roll, and perfecter of BBQ: Memphis, TN is a place of grit, passion and a long, complicated history that’s just waiting for you to explore. Shelly grew up in Memphis, TN and got her undergrad from the University of Memphis. It’s also where Bruce visited Shelly when they were in a long distance relationship. So, we have done our fare share of exploring this BBQ capital of the South. The problem is, there is so much to do in this city, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where we come in! In this article, we are going to give you not 1, not 2, but 3 itineraries to choose from. That way, you can have your own perfect weekend in Memphis.
Where to Stay During a Weekend in Memphis
Where to stay: You have to stay on your toes when you’re in Memphis. We’re not trying to scare you, but we do want you to know to be careful when walking the city at night. If you’re on a tight budget, check out Hostel Memphis. They have private rooms, if you’re not into dorm style living, and it is right in the heart of midtown. If you’re considering the “Memphis like a Local” itinerary, this is a GREAT option. If you’re going to try a hotel or AirBnB, make sure to read the reviews and definitely read about the location. We don’t want you to get stuck in a less than perfect part of town.
Per usual, we don’t like to plan much for Friday because we assume that Friday is a travel day. However, we hope that you’ll have to time to check out some food before crashing for the night. We suggest you head to the Overton Square area for a quick bite and some local music. If you are there in the afternoon, Local on the Square has one of the best happy hours in town. For live music and some good food, check out Layfette’s Music Room. They have a rotation of some of the best local artists around and its a great introduction to this city of music. After you get your fill of Memphis nightlife, head in so you can be well rested for tomorrow.
Saturday- Choose Your Own Adventure
Everyday in Memphis should start out at Brother Juniper’s. This Memphis staple is a must do for breakfast. It is not well kept secret and typically has a bit of a wait, especially if you are not an early riser. Just keep that in mind while planning your day. Here’s where the real fun begins. Depending on what kind of vacation you are looking for, you choose the itinerary.
After breakfast at Brother Juniper’s head to the STAX Museum for the first leg of your Memphis music tour. This museum features America soul music and celebrates some of STAX record’s most famous recording artists including Otis Redding, Issac Hayes and The Staple Singers.
Next you’ll head over to the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum. The Rock n Soul is actually a Smithsonian museum that walks you through the history of delta music. It focuses on the musicians that battled growing racial tensions and overcame barriers to create the iconic music we know today. Because you will take a shuttle to the next few stops, plan to leave your car here.
Plan to eat lunch before you go to Sun Studio because you won’t have a car after this. Downtown has plenty of options for food but we would suggest Hueys (for burgers and beer) or the Pig (best BBQ on Beale).
Take the free shuttle to Sun Studio and experience the magic of the million dollar quartet. In this quick tour around the famous Sun Studio, you will get the chance to stand in the room where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins became the million dollar quartet. You can even sit at the piano where Jerry Lee Lewis played and hold Elvis’ mic! It is a short tour, but can’t be missed.
Now, depending on how deep your Memphis music love runs, the last stop on your Memphis tour is Graceland. Although it is heralded as a must do, this is the one stop I would cut out if I had limited time. This is another shuttle stop so you won’t have to drive. Although there is a certain magic in walking around the King of Rock n Roll’s house, it is not much more than that. While the other museum’s boast some amazing history, in Graceland you can marvel at Elvis’ most famous outfits and wall of records. If you are an Elvis fan, this is a required stop but otherwise its a hit or miss.
**Pro Tip: If you plan to check out all 4 music attractions, you can save some money by buying the “Backstage Pass” which saves you $17. The pass costs $84 and is available through the Rock n Soul Museum, but you may be able to buy it at other places as well. Find more info here.
After you’ve done your final music tour, you’ll probably be wondering where to get some dinner. Thankfully, Memphis is a food city and it’s more than just BBQ. You really can’t go wrong here. Stop by World Famous Dyer’s Burger to get an amazing hamburger, the Tin Roof to hear local musicians or class it up a bit and head to South of Beale for some of our favorite food in the city. Let the night take you as you discover that Memphis music is not slowing down anytime soon.
After breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, head downtown to begin your tour through Memphis history. First stop, National Civil Rights Museum. The Civil Rights museum has been recently updated and is a beautiful retelling of one of the worst moments of American History. The museum is at the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It is definitely a heavy way to start your day, but it is a required stop for any history lover.
After your stop at the Civil Rights Museum, go by the Arcade restaurant. It is right down the street and Memphis’ Oldest Restaurant. Stop here for a quick bite to eat before heading on to your walking tour.
We usually like to do free or self guided tours but there is so much to see in Memphis that we recommend booking a Backbeat history tour. They offer two, a historic Memphis tour and a Beale St tour. The Historic Memphis walking tour will give you the most bang for your buck and includes some of the best stops in the city. This is a two-hour walking tour, so wear comfortable shoes! This tour also includes a stop at the Peabody Hotel to watch the famous duck parade!
After you finish the walking tour, head down to Beale St to visit some of the most iconic shops in Memphis. Must visits include:
- A Schwab- Old fashioned soda fountain and oldest store on Beale
- Old Lansky Bros- Made some iconic Elvis outfits
- W. C Handy Park- A meeting places for musicians dedicated to the Father of the Blues
After your self guided tour down Beale St, you’re probably getting hungry. Don’t be fooled by the flashy lights of Beale St. While there are some good eats there, you’ll be paying tourist prices for them. Instead, if you haven’t gotten your fill of history yet, head to Ernestine and Hazel’s, a famous dive bar with great food. It is also rumored to be one of the most haunted places in Memphis. If you’ve had enough and just want some good, local food, check out Flight. Flight is ranked one of the best restaurants in downtown Memphis and for good reason. Here you will get 3 small plates (flights) of your entree, which you can pair with a flight of wine or liquor. A cool concept that is executed perfectly for a great night out during a weekend in Memphis.
While there are many things to do in during a weekend in Memphis, there’s nothing like exploring a city like a local. After breakfast at Brother Junipers, head over to Overton Park to check out the Memphis Zoo. The Memphis Zoo is consistently ranked one of the best zoos in the country, and for good reason. We might be a little biased because Shelly worked there as a seasonal zookeeper, but it really is a great zoo. Definitely plan on spending a few hours here, and don’t forget to visit the Pandas!
Head to Central BBQ (a favorite for BBQ) or The Cupboard (Amazing meat and three place) for lunch before heading back to the heart of midtown.
Pro Tip: If you have a sweet tooth, check out Muddy’s Bake Shop to get a cupcake and a coffee.
A Night on the Town
After lunch, head back to the hostel to park your car and rent a bike from Revolution. It is conveniently located next to the hostel and is a great way to get around while checking out the local nightlife scene. If you don’t have a designated driver, you’ll want to either rent the bike or Uber to these places. Gotta stay safe friends!
First on your night/afternoon life list should be to check out Memphis Made Brewery for some local drafts.
Once you’ve had your fill of Memphis brews (if that’s even a thing!), walk across the street to the Railgarten. This has got to be one of the coolest places in all of Memphis. It has a great outdoor patio, live music and lots of ping pong. Spend some time here chatting with the locals, getting a cocktail or two and take it all in.
Once you’ve ping ponged your heart out, head to the Cooper Young area for some dinner, and to continue Memphis nightlife. For dinner, check out Soul Fish Cafe. Its a local favorite for some great cajun/southern style catfish and shrimp.
After this, the night is yours. Stop by Young Avenue Deli for some beers and music, or Celtic Crossing for nice outdoor seating with a great drink selection. Or if you’re feeling fancy, get a nice cocktail from Alchemy. All in all, you can’t go wrong with the nightlife in Cooper Young and you’ll definitely be rubbing elbows with the locals as you take in all midtown has to offer.
After the packed day you had on Saturday, you’ll start with a much slower Sunday. Sleep in late, sip your coffee and get ready for one of my favorite parts to any weekend: Brunch. You know that in a foodie city like Memphis, there are some great brunch places. While there are many articles written on this topic alone, we’re going to keep it simple and suggest three, highly recommended spots to try. One is Hog and Hominy, which has a fairly limited menu but is consistently ranked one of the best. Two is The Beauty Shop, which offers an upscale, different approach to typical brunch menus. And last, but not least, is Char, which offers live Jazz with its own take on the classics. All of which, of course, offer boozy brunch drinks. A perfect addition to any weekend in Memphis.
After brunch, head to one of Memphis’ newest additions, the Crosstown Concourse. This newly redeveloped Sear’s building is a mix of art, speciality shops, galleries, and upscale housing that cannot be missed. It is literally a tiny city in and of itself. Take a couple of hours to explore the little nooks and crannies in this one of a kind space.
Unfortunately weekends do have to end, and it is time to get on the road (or to the airport) to return home. If at all possible, swing by Gibson’s Donuts on the way out as your last Memphis treat. When Alton Brown says its the best donut there is, its hard to make excuses for passing this one up! Even though your weekend in Memphis is over, we’re sure the lingering smell of BBQ and sounds of the delta blues will have you planning your next trip in no time. And when you do, come back and try out one of the other itineraries for a completely different view of the city. In a city of grit and grind, there’s always something calling you back!
Of all the itineraries, which one sounds best to you? Have you been to Memphis? What were your favorite parts?
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