This post is shared in partnership with Memphis Travel
In the past few years I’ve fallen pretty hard for the state of Tennessee. I moved to Nashville officially two summers ago, wrote the entire first draft of my book Wanderful in Tennessee and of course included Tennessee as the starting point in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway road trip in the book! I've spent many days exploring the State Parks, vintage shops and music venues all along the way and if I'm honest, those are three of the things that really pushed me over the edge when making a decision to move here.
One place I hadn’t spent much time was Memphis. Until now. What was I waiting for?! Memphis is way more than just a stopover city en route to bigger destinations - it’s deserving of a weekend of your time, and more if you can make it happen (and I seriously suggest you do!). It’s a destination with sharp contrasts of the old and new. It’s famous for its historical and cultural contributions to the South - it's the mama city of soul and the blues - aaand rock ‘n roll wouldn't be what it is without the studios and artists hailing from Memphis.
There's a deep history in regards to the Civil Rights Movement too, and it's worth a visit just to experience the National Civil Rights Museum. Travelers can spend hours hopping from one museum, studio tour and historic location to another, stopping to sample the best BBQ America has to offer along the way. I can't wait to share my favorites of the trip with you below! And you better bet, we're starting with a playlist.
Memphis Playlist Vibes:
“Big River” Jonny Cash, “Graceland” Paul Simon, "Blue Moon" Elvis Presley, “Back to Memphis” The Band, "Walking In Memphis" Marc Cohn, “Love and Happiness” Al Green, “Midnight Train to Memphis” Chris Stapleton, "Workin' Woman Blues" Valerie June and anything from Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids of course! (There are sooo many more amazing choices, but this should get you started!)
Where to Stay:
There are lots of fantastic options from hotels to super cute Airbnbs too. On this particular trip we stayed at the Hotel Napoleon, an adorable boutique hotel situated downtown, near Beale Street, amongst the trolly stops and a few blocks from the Mississippi River. Other hotels that I’ll certainly be back for: The Peabody and the Guest House at Graceland (because, confessing now - we didn't visit Graceland on this trip, I know - the sacrilege! but I'll certainly be back to devote an entire weekend to just that!)
Where to Eat
There was a moment about ½ way through the weekend that I was certain I couldn’t eat another bite, because all the food was that good and authentic. Well that moment occurred just before trying Memphis’ famous BBQ and then I was like "okay, keep bringing it on!". My recommendation: take it slow and sample as much as you can! Here were my personal favorites:
Breakfast at the Arcade
We sat in Elvis’ booth, yes, there are locals that will fully confirm that this booth was truly his. When I was traveling and writing Wanderful I’d often pick a character that had a history in the place I was visiting - I’d imagine what they would be wearing, listening to, eating, etc. The character was sometimes a literary one and sometimes a real life person too — like Jackie Kennedy, for example when road tripping through Maine! On this trip to Memphis Elvis was my guy. Can you imagine the conversations had at this table... and the amount of deep fried French toast consumed?!
The Food Trucks at the Levitt Shell
There are some things that can make you feel 16 again ... nights that never end, when you’re on top of the world, with the music too loud, sneaking sips of beer from the grown ups. Nights like the one we had at the Levitt Shell gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling. Don't just go to the Shell for the food trucks, but when you do go don't skip the Frito Pie!
Other places we loved:
Otherlands Coffee Bar and Cafe Keough for breakfast and Second Line for dinner!
Want to Play Outside?
You know I do! On our itinerary the first stop on our second day was to meet Doug at Shelby Forest General Store. Do not skip this stop, I repeat do not skip this stop! We were given three little pieces of information before arriving: 1 - your phone will lose service 2 - Doug will point you in the right direction of a good spot to hike in the forest and then 3 - Doug will serve up cheeseburgers after your hike. When I read this on the itinerary I was super intrigued. After the visit, well I could truly write an entire post about the visit to Doug’s store (and believe me I will).
This afternoon looked like this: sharing stories (and fried bologna sandwiches) with Doug, trailing a family of butterflies on a hike through the hardwood forest and then soaking up some sunshine on the bank of the Mississippi. It was a constant reminder that life offers up so much sweetness when you really look for it.
I have to add - both Al Green and Justin Timberlake used to hang out at the General Store. JT even mentioned it on the Grammys some years back. It’s not the reason to visit, but there’s a little buzz around the store that surely those guys felt the second they first sat on the porch soaking it all in.
For My Music Lovers
Truly isn’t the music half the reason people make the pilgrimage to Memphis? Okay so we didn't visit Graceland but what we DID do is not to be missed. My favorite was the tour of Sun Studio. "Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine” said Elvis Presley and he should know! He was one of the biggest stars of Sun Studio. The history and spirit in this building can be felt just approaching that guitar in the sky and the neon lights in the windows.
We also took in a Blind Boys of Alabama show at the Levitt Shell. Here's a little more about the Levitt Shell: It's an open air amphitheatre in Overton Park located in the heart of Midtown Memphis. The Shell was built in 1939 by the City of Memphis and the depression era Works Progress Act. 27 band Shells were built across the country during this time and the Levitt Shell is one of only a handful that remain standing. It's also worth noting - on July 30, 1954 Elvis took the Shell stage for what some historians call the “first ever rock ‘n’ roll show.” Okay - see? Don't miss it.
There’s also record shops and bars with killer live music to add to your list: The Cove and Bar DKDC plus Shangri La Records and Goner Records for you vinyl lovers.
Other Can't Miss Places
Old Dominick: We ended our weekend at an event at Old Dominick Distillery as they launched a new line of small batch spirits, straight from the lab of their head distiller, Alex Castle. She's a serious badass too and one of the only female distillers at this level in the country. There's a long family history in the distillery and it's worth a visit for a tour and a tasting! After the event the team from Old Dominick took us out for a night at Earnestine & Hazels and between the juke box and the ghost stories I'm so glad we spent our last evening here.
The Crystal Shrine Grotto at Memorial Park Cemetery: This is one of those you have to see it to believe it. Thousands and thousands of crystals line the walls, floors and ceilings of the absolutely stunning monument.
Crosstown Concourse: This one is for your history buffs and art aficionados too. It's a mixed use center with so much history. This building was The Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog order plant and retail store and opened in 1927. The building has undergone a massive renovation, however the story of it's origin is told throughout. The preservation of the building is incredible. The gallery space in the building is massive, and there's tons of restaurant and shopping options too!
I"m so incredibly grateful for trips like this one. Memphis doesn't just attract tourists, it truly draws in people looking for a soul connection to a place. Whether you're worshipping at the shrine of Johnny Cash or Elvis or meeting the spirit of Dr. King at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel there's so many ways to spend time here. Of course, as always, if you go be sure to tag me over on instagram! I love following along on your Wanderful adventures too!
big thanks to Lauren for taking the photos on this adventure!