The Lover's Guide to Memphis – with Music

Photo courtesy of MemphisTravel.com
Photo courtesy of MemphisTravel.com
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

Memphis is a city known for its music. . . but when you stop and think about all the romantic - dare we say sexy? -  music that has come from this city, it's not hard to make a leap to Memphis being a town that's big on romance.

Memphis is home to romantic (again, sexy) crooning of Elvis Presley and Justin Timberlake, Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", the go-to slow dance song recorded right here, and dozens of songs that speak of love.

For Valentine's Day - or any romantic occasion - we've got your guide to the most romantic things to do in Memphis, set to an editor-suggested soundtrack brought to you by this city's favorite musicians.

"Let's Stay Together" by Al Green: Celebrate your relationship with a picnic and stroll through the Japanese garden  at the Memphis Botanic Garden

"(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" by Elvis Presley: Take your love to the Memphis Zoo, where you can see pandas and polar bears - and take a ride on a whimsical carousel.

"Suit and Tie" by Justin Timberlake:Go dressy with a tour of the Brooks Museum of Art followed by drinks and canoodling at the Madison Hotel's Twilight Sky Terrace.

"Try a Little Tenderness" by Otis Redding: Take a horse-drawn carriage ride down to the river- and board the American Queen Steamboat for a romantic getaway.

We've provided you with the ideas - and the soundtrack - for romantic outings in Memphis. The rest is up to you.

10. Memphis Grizzlies Basketball (NBA)
Photo courtesy of Mark Runyon / BasketballSchedule.net

The Memphis Grizzlies bring a unique style of basketball to the FedEx Forum - and win or lose (but they mostly win) - they are a blast to watch. Led by Zach Randolph, affectionately known as Z-Bo, and Marc Gasol, the team focuses on ball-intense defense and scoring inside the paint; they're definite contenders in the NBA's Western Division, and offer a star-studded ownership lineup including tech gazillionaire Robert Pera, local musical icon Justin Timberlake, and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. Tickets are among some of the best, price-wise, in the NBA, starting at $10 per game up to over $200 per game.

9. Carriage Tours of Memphis
Photo courtesy of Carriage Tours of Memphis

The clip-clopping of horse hooves can be heard throughout downtown Memphis, thanks to a robust carriage tour industry. Kids certainly delight in these tours, which wind around downtown, form the Peabody Hotel area through the main business district, with a drive-by of Beale Street, South Main, and along the river. The horse-drawn tours operate day and night, and often run late into the evening, when the run by Beale becomes way more interesting. Many of the carriages feature fanciful lights for the evening, whether decorated as Cinderella's pumpkin carriage or a more sinister-looking ride; tours generally start at the Peabody Hotel (or call for an advance reservation / location).

8. American Queen Steamboat
Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company

Luxury paddle-wheeling on the Mississippi returned to Memphis in 2012, when the American Queen Steamboat company added cruises from the city to New Orleans, St. Louis. In true Memphis style, there's an Elvis connection; Priscilla Presley is the ship's 'godmother' and Elvis-themed cruises will be offered through the season. Voyage typically run nine days and include stops (dependent on the theme) in Vicksburg,MS, Helena, AR, Paducah, KY and other river towns. Fares range from $1900 per person to almost $6,000, and include all shore excursions and meals.

7. Beale Street Historic District
Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser Photography

Once the center of black-owned businesses and nightclubs, Beale became the home of the blues at the turn of the 20th century - a waypoint along the trail from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. W.C. Handy lived - and performed - here, and anyone who was anyone on the blues scene has performed in the clubs here, from Blind Mississippi Morris to B.B. King to Robert Johnson. Today, the clubs and restaurants on Beale proper still move to the beat of the blues. The FedEx Forum - home to the NBA's Grizzlies - sits just off Beale, and a variety of hotels, museums and eateries are within a short walk from the famous street. Blues fans can pay homage to W.C. Handy at the home and museum at the east end of the street, or visit the Center for Southern Folklore to explore storytelling and folk art in the South. Also nearby is the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and Gibson Guitar Factory. In Handy Park, a small stage is home to lunchtime and weekend concerts including some unscheduled jam sessions. For the best blues music, try B.B. King's, Rum Boogie or Alfred's.

6. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Fire Museum of Memphis

Located in a 1916 building that was given a space-expanding, award-winning addition, Memphis Brooks Museum features collections of fine and decorative arts from antiquity to the present. You'll find works representing French Impressionists, the Italian Renaissance, and Baroque masters, along with 20th-century American and modernist works. Exhibitions tend to be smaller, given the space, but that doesn't make them any less worthy - and actually is part of the appeal of the museum. The excellent Brushmark Restaurant is open for lunch daily and is a lovely setting, offering some of the best bites around. The museum and museum store are open on Thursday evenings until 8, and the Brushmark seats diners until 8 p.m. - the only night it is open for dinner.

5. March of the Peabody Ducks
Photo courtesy of Peabody Hotel

The tradition of the duck march started following a hunting trip in 1932. The story goes that then-general manager of the hotel and his hunting buddies, along with their live decoy ducks, stopped in the Peabody's ornate lobby bar for a glass or three of Jack Daniels. The guys thought it would be a hoot to let the decoys paddle around in the fountain of the lobby bar while they relived the hunt. A tradition was born. Anthony Petrina is the fifth duck master at the hotel; the job was created in the 1940's when a former Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus animal trainer named Edward Pembroke offered to help deliver the ducks to and from the fountain each day. That delivery soon turned into a full-fledged spectacle, with the ducks marching from their rooftop abode, into the elevator, down to the lobby, and across a red carpet into their watery daytime home. The ducks process at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. The ducks have appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Sesame Street and have been featured in numerous publications, from Sports Illustrated to People.

4. Wolf River Greenway
Photo courtesy of Wolf River Conservancy

Wolf River Greenway runs through Memphis and Germantown, and is part of the longer Greater Memphis Greenline that will eventually connect Collierville to downtown Memphis. The Wolf runs along the Wold River, and includes a wide paved path for non-motorized activity. IN east Memphis, access to the greenway is off Walnut Grove Road and Humphreys Boulevard, across from Baptist Hopsital, or from Shady Grove Road / Shelby Farms Park via pedestrian bridge over the Wolf River. Restroom facilities are along the Humphreys Boulevard side of the greenway, and look for benches and other relaxation spaces throughout this well-designed section of the greenway.

3. Memphis Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of MemphisTravel.com

With almost 100 acres of gardens set in the middle of East Memphis, there's something for any lover of the outdoors at MBG, including the serenity of a Japanese garden, a huge herb garden and a sensory garden. And there's 'My Big Backyard' - a children's garden / playground that's as popular with parents as it is with little ones. With a myriad of picnic tables and spaces, a natural play structure, a cabin, and plenty of colorful flowers and plants for children to discover, My Big Backyard has become an instant hit with families. And during the holiday season, some nights are extra-special, with a snow machine creating a winter wonderland, and hot chocolate served for all. During the spring and summer, a weekend concert series under the stars brings big names to the gardens, and concertgoers can pack picnic dinners and enjoy the music on the lawn.

2. Dixon Gallery and Gardens
Photo courtesy of MemphisTravel.com

Since 1976, this museum has housed a spectacular Impressionist collection including Degas, Monet and Pisarro, and the collection of art is rivaled only by the gorgeous gardens surrounding what was once one of Memphis' finest estates. The late Hugo and Margaret Dixon willed the house and grounds to the people of Memphis in order to establish this museum. The original Dixon collection included works by French and American Impressionists. Traveling exhibits are usually exquisite collections based on a certain theme or time period, and while small in scope are rich with offerings. Special concerts and picnic opportunities are offered from spring through fall in the gardens, many with no admission required.

1. Memphis Zoo
Photo courtesy of Memphis Zoo

The Memphis Zoo is consistently rated one of the top zoos in the country, both for its breadth of exhibits in an easy-to-navigate layout, and for the sheer fact that one can get pretty close to the animals in almost every habitat. With giant pandas from China, a Teton ecosystem replete with grizzly bears and wolves, and a Northwest Passage habitat filled with polar bears and river otters, this is a top-notch zoo that will enchant both kids and their parents. During the winter, a skating tent and festive lights bring the holiday spirit to the zoo, and it is open for select evening visits.