The best ribs on Beale Street can be found at Blues City Cafe — Photo courtesy of Rory Doyle
Considered "The Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll," Memphis has been making music history for two centuries. Elvis called the city home, and legends like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Mavis Staples provided the soundtrack.
But there’s so much more to the city and this is the year to experience it. For its bicentennial, the Memphis in May festival will take the annual celebration to a whole new level, reflecting the city's pride in its "grit and grind."
As Memphis prepares for a new century of soul, here are 10 things you can’t miss.
National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum is built around the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968 — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Built around the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, this world-class museum is a must-visit.
Interactive exhibits and historic collections put you right in the middle of the civil rights movement, showing you how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. The whole experience is thought-provoking and emotional, but nothing is as moving as seeing Dr. King’s actual motel room and the balcony where the life of the great civil rights leader was cut short.
The Peabody Memphis
The Peabody Duck March is a Memphis tradition — Photo courtesy of The Peabody Memphis
The "South’s Grand Hotel," winner of the 10Best Readers' Choice Award for Best Historic Hotel in 2018, celebrates its own birthday this year. Turning 150, The Peabody is offering lots of special packages that are causes for celebration themselves.
Opt for "A Ducky Day," which gives you bragging rights as an Honorary Duckmaster at the iconic Duck March. Held twice-daily for almost 90 years, this beloved red carpet event is a joy to behold as the Official Duckmaster leads his feathered charges across the lobby from the elevator to the fountain, where they happily spend the day until turning around and heading back up to their rooftop Palace at 5 pm.
You’ll probably want to stay downstairs to indulge in a John Collins, a refreshing cocktail created in 1869, the same year the Peabody opened.
The Beauty Shop
The hair dryers are the best seats in the house at The Beauty Shop restaurant — Photo courtesy of The Beauty Shop
Grab a seat under one of the hooded Belvedere hair dryers in this vintage beauty parlor-turned modern eatery, and get ready for a meal to dye for.
Priscilla Presley was a client here before beauty shops were called salons, when the sinks were used to wash hair rather than bar glasses. Although the mood is playful, the one thing The Beauty Shop is serious about is its food.
The menu is original and delightful; try the Watermelon & Wings or B,L,FGT (the tomatoes are fried green; this is the South, after all) & A (for avocado) sandwich. Surrounded by soul-filling dishes and nostalgic decor, don’t be surprised to find yourself pouring out your heart to your server.
Graceland is everything Elvis — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Second only to the White House, Elvis Presley’s home is the most famous in the world, welcoming more than 600,000 guests a year.
Enjoy a self-guided tour of the mansion – including the infamous Jungle Room – care of an interactive iPad and headphones you receive when you board the shuttle. Check out the most recent addition to the home: the return of the original, white baby grand piano the King bought for Graceland on display in the music room. And treat yourself to a musical souvenir from the gift shop’s extensive collection of Elvis goodies.
If you come in August, you can join tens of thousands of fans who make the pilgrimage for Elvis Week.
The Hall of Records at Stax Museum of American Soul — Photo courtesy of Stax Museum
So much music history has been made in Memphis, and it’s documented in a variety of innovative and fascinating museums throughout the city, including the Blues Hall of Fame Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul, located in the former home of Stax Records.
Developed in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum lets you listen to more than 100 classic songs while reminiscing over memorabilia and costumes. And, at the legendary Sun Studio, you can stand on the spot where Elvis first recorded.
The General Tso cauliflower at Sweet Grass is simply amazing — Photo courtesy of Across The Board Hospitality
Of course, Memphis is synonymous with great barbecue, and you can’t leave without treating yourself to a rack of ribs at Blues City Cafe.
Start the day with a biscuits and gravy bowl at Sunrise Memphis or biscuit beignets at The Liquor Store. For a real Memphis surprise, make a reservation at the farm-to-table Sweet Grass, where I promise you will be blown away by the General Tso cauliflower.
The historic Beale Street is home to the blues – and some amazing bars and restaurants — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
You can’t visit Memphis without walking, as Marc Cohn famously sang, with your feet "ten feet off of Beale." The official home of the blues, Beale Street is one of the country’s most iconic streets and the place to be at night.
This almost two-mile stretch is filled with music venues, restaurants and acrobatic flippers, not to mention a rich history as an underworld haunt inhabited by saloons and brothels. Oh, if Beale Street could talk...
Old Dominick Distillery
The perfect way to end a tour at Old Dominick Distillery — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
This hometown favorite has a storied history, which you can experience with all your senses during a highly-spirited tour of its grain-to-glass facility.
Learn about Old Dominick’s traditions and end with a curated tasting, where you’ll sample their vodkas, their Huling Station Bourbon Whiskey and, in a nod to pre-Prohibition Memphis, their signature Memphis Toddy.
Spend the day like a local at Crosstown Concourse — Photo courtesy of Crosstown Concourse
The product of nearly five generations of innovators, dreamers and builders, Crosstown Concourse is a visionary project based on the idea, "Together, we are better."
This unique public space houses 13 restaurants, 8 medical institutions, half a dozen retail shops, a sprawling contemporary arts organization, a boutique hotel and more. It’s a welcoming place to eat, shop, hang out, participate in the building’s entertainment and art, and just feel like part of a very special community.
Memphis Botanic Garden
Take a nature break at the Memphis Botanic Garden — Photo courtesy of Memphis Botanic Garden
Take some time to connect with nature on this beautiful 96-acre property, featuring 31 specialty gardens.
Explore the Butterfly Garden, walk along the colorful Azalea Trail and take a selfie at the Red Bridge in the Japanese Garden, one of the most photographed spots in the city.