Memphis with Kids: A Rocking Good Time

Photo courtesy of Kees Wielemaker (pedaal)
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

Grown-ups know that Memphis is full of fun – but kids (and their parents) will find it equally full of attractions that entertain.

While many of Memphis's attractions - Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum and others - are appealing for children,  kids will discover that the city is full of attractions seemingly created just for them.

The Memphis Zoo is our absolute favorite spot to take the kids. With exhibits that let young ones get close up and personal with the animals, and everything from grizzly bears to panda bears and wolves, the zoo is a treat for the entire family. The Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid, opened in spring 2015, is an ultimate family destination that combines the outdoor and sporting goods retailer with a bowling alley, cypress swamp (seriously!), gun and archery ranges, an aquarium and more.

Kids of all ages can learn all about the history of the city - and the Mighty Mississippi - at the  the Mud Island River Park /Mississippi River Museum, ride around downtown on the historic trolley, explore the Wolf River on a greenline and visit buffalo at  Shelby Farms. No trip to Memphis is complete without a visit to the historic Peabody Hotel, where the resident ducks march to and from their rooftop palace every morning and afternoon. And there's no better place in town than the old-fashioned five-and-dime called A. Schwab's - right on Beale Street, and full of souvenirs from a trip the the Bluff City.

10. Fire Museum of Memphis
Photo courtesy of Fire Museum of Memphis

The Fire Museum of Memphis occupies the old Engine House Number One in downtown Memphis, built in 1910. The museum depicts the life of a firefighter and presents vintage equipment dating from the early 1900s, including a restored 1897 Hale Water Tower,which was actually used through 1973 to fight fires in buildings higher than two stories. The "Fire Room" exhibit uses advanced technology to deliver true-life effects of past fires and disasters. You'll actually feel the heat as you view firefighters tackling huge flames. Even better, a talking horse tells stories of yesteryear firefighting! Other exhibits include a 1910 horse-drawn steam engine, a pictorial history of the city's first African American firefighters, and interactive exhibits that teach fire safety and educate about emergency services, from EMS to 9-1-1. A beautiful memorial wall is dedicated the firefighters who died in the line of duty.

9. A. Schwab Dry Goods Store
Photo courtesy of Kees Wielemaker (pedaal)

Located on historic Beale Street since 1876, this general store is a Memphis institution that draws locals and visitors alike. The inventory includes everything from kitchen flatware to overalls and knick-knacks, vintage candy and loads of Elvis-themed items. Kids are fascinated by A. Schwab, and their parents or grandparents will feel as they have stepped back in time and are visiting the only store in a small town. For visitors, A. Schwab's is a great place for purchasing souvenirs to take back home to friends and family. You need to pay the old-fashioned way, too – A. Schwab does not accept credit cards!

8. Children's Museum of Memphis

Kids rejoice! At this museum, you're supposed to touch everything! Hands-on, interactive exhibits and activities for children are the focus here. Exhibit topics range from waterworks to health, recycling to house construction, money to transportation. The special theater area has costumes and puppets for performing plays, as well as painting, sculpting, and weaving. Recent additions include a dinosaur dig, and an outdoor play space featuring a bank-shot basketball area. Transportation exhibits have a motion simulator, hot air balloon, even a mini-van that kids can "drive" and "repair." A small cafe and brown bag area, and a gift shop are also on the premises.

7. 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.

6. Discovery Park of America
Photo courtesy of Discovery Park of America

A 50-acre wonderland of history and exploration in rural northwest Tennessee is the best way to describe Discovery Park, the brainchild of a local philanthropist. Located in Union City - the county seat of the agricultural Obion County - Discovery Park features indoor and outdoor exhibits and areas to explore, including natural history and regional museum areas, scientific and transportation areas, and pioneer and agricultural areas. Uniting everything about the Discovery Park is one thing - hands-on exploration. 50,000 square feet of exhibits inside and 50 acres of park-like grounds outside provide literally hours of exploration - for kids and adults alike. The park is closed on Mondays with the exception of Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July.

5. Mud Island River Park & Mississippi River Museum
Photo courtesy of Mud Island River Park

Mud Island is reached by an aerial tram (you may remember it from the Tom Cruise movie, The Firm) and features a to-scale model of the Mississippit River that one can walk along, noting the changing conditions of the river. The Mississippi River Museum explores the 10,000-year history of the Mississippi, noting how it developed and what the areas around it have drawn from the river. The Belle of the Bluffs, the reconstructed front half of an 1870s steamboat, complete with cotton bales stacked on the lower deck and water lapping at the hull. The Memphis Blues exhibit highlights the music of the Delta blues, New Orleans jazz, early rock 'n roll, and Elvis. Mud Island's pay-one-price package includes entry to the museum, a round-trip monorail ride, and a guided tour of the five-block scale model of the Mississippi.

4. Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid
Photo courtesy of Bass Pro Shops

The massive retail space combines a giant-sized version of a Bass Pro shop with a a giant cypress swamp filled with fish and alligators, a 13-lane bowling alley, a 28-story freestanding glass elevator, a 120-room hotel that resembles a swanky lodge, an observation deck at the tip of the Pyramid (visit for a fee), and all manner of boats, ATVs, and more to explore.Oh, and a gun range, an archery range, a shooting gallery, and a hotel spa. So, let's just call it Disney for outdoorsy types. Or anyone who wants to marvel at the marriage of a pyramid and a hunting lodge. Weirdly, it just works.

3. 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.

2. Shelby Farms
Photo courtesy of Shelby Farms Park

At five times larger than New York's Central Park, Shelby Farms is a recreational oasis at the far eastern reaches of the city, adjacent to the suburban communities of Germantown and Cordova. There are miles of winding hike and bike trails, boating and fishing, trail rides and horseback lessons, a field full of bison and even a shooting range. A huge re-imagining of the park was completed in 2017 and there's even more to love, including zip lining, new picnic areas, a larger lake for kayaking, and plenty of rentals. An excellent restaurant and gift shop add to experience. The farms are also home to the national headquarters of Ducks Unlimited, and the Agricenter International, which itself features seasonal events including a farmer's market, corn maze, and equine events. The Wolf River Greenway connects to Shelby Farms Greenline, creating a path from far east Memphis all the way to Midtown.

1. 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.