Memphis, Tennessee's largest city, sits on bluffs above the Mississippi River. Set on the edge of the state's Western Plains, the city has a musical flavor ranging from the blues of W.C. Handy to the rock and roll beat of Elvis Presley. From ducks marching through the lobby of the historic Peabody Hotel to its moniker "Pork Barbecue Capital", Memphis has a character (and flavor) all its own. Plan to spend some time in Memphis; you can't see everything in one day or even two.
The Memphis area was occupied as early as 3,000 years ago. In the early 1800s, settlers poured in with the Jackson Purchase. The Civil War didn't scar the area but bouts with cholera and yellow fever did and many fled the city. Prosperity returned when residents new and old flocked back to the city. S.H. Kress Five and Dime, Piggly Wiggly grocery store, Holiday Inn and Federal Express, all were born in Memphis.
Most attractions are in downtown Memphis so walking or riding the trolley is a convenient way to sightsee. There are several themed sightseeing tours which are good for in-depth looks at the city. When planning a visit, remember that summer heat is brutal in Memphis; May and October are the best times to visit.
Music lovers will want to visit Beale Street Historic District, lined with clubs such as B.B. King's Blues Club. Nearby is the Gibson Beale Street Showcase, a factory that produces guitars for music greats and the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, the only exhibition the Smithsonian Institution created outside of Washington, D.C.
Nearby, Soulsville, a museum and music academy, demonstrates that Memphis music is more than Elvis with exhibits including items from Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding. Tours are available also at Sun Studio where in 1954, Presley recorded his first song. A visit to Memphis without a visit to Graceland, Elvis Presley's mansion, might be close to unthinkable. Although born in Mississippi, Presley moved to Memphis when he was a teen and, other than touring and a stint in the army, spent most of his time in Memphis and in particular, Graceland. Several tours are available depending upon how much the visitor wants to see. Visitors can tour his mansion, gravesite, automobile museum, personal museum and custom jets. The complex includes shops and restaurants and is open year-round.
Delve into history at a Memphis museum. The Center for Southern Folklore documents the people and traditions of the South through films, exhibits, etc. W.C. Handy Museum is a tribute to the composer/bandleader who wrote "Memphis Blues" among other tunes. The National Civil Rights Museum, located in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, tells the story of the civil rights movement and discrimination through exhibits such as a lunch counter sit-in.
Memphis has a variety of art, science and "specialty" museums. The National Ornamental Metal Museum, located across the street from the Chickasaw Heritage Mounds, is a unique tribute to metalworking with artists working while visitors watch.
Take the Monorail to visit Mud Island, formed from sediments deposited in the early 1900s. The 52-acre park features the Mississippi River Museum--18 galleries of Memphis and area history plus scale models of riverboats. A special exhibit, River Walk, is a scale rendition of the Mississippi River, five blocks long with flowing water.
Other "Don't Miss" landmarks include the historic Peabody Memphis Hotel, where ducks parade through the lobby twice daily. St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, founded by Danny Thomas in 1962, treats pediatric cancer and other serious diseases regardless of ability to pay. A museum and tour are available.
Crystal Shrine Grotto, located in Memorial Park Cemetery, presents the landscapes of the book of Genesis through logs, benches, bridges, etc. fashioned from concrete. The actual grotto is a man-made cave cut 25 feet into a hillside with scenes from the life of Christ.
Outdoor recreation includes the 96-acre Memphis Botanic Garden, the Lichterman Nature Center, with four kinds of West Tennessee habitats and the Memphis Zoo. Located in 355-acre Overton Park, the zoo has new animal habitats including Cat Country and Animals of the Night. One unlikely outdoor experience is Shelby Farms, the largest urban park in the U.S., located on a former penal farm. Hiking trails, a 60-acre lake and a herd of bison make this an interesting stop.
Memphis professional sports include the Redbirds, AAA baseball; the Grizzlies, a National Basketball team; and the Riverkings, AA hockey. Nightlife is diverse in Memphis with much centering on music at spots such as the Blue Monkey and Wild Bill's Club.
Dining in Memphis runs the gamut but begins with barbecue and there are plenty of places to partake. Specially prepared dry ribs at the Rendezvous are as serious as religion with many patrons. Other options include grilled Jerk chicken at Glass Onion Bar & Grill or chitlins at Ellen's Soul Food Restaurant.
Memphis is located in southwestern Tennessee, bordering the states of Arkansas and Mississippi, at the junctions of I-40 and I-55 and about eight hours south of Chicago, IL.