Top Things to Do in Memphis - Intentional Travelers

12 May Top Things to Do in Memphis

Update: I’m delighted by the great response from Memphians to this post! I want to encourage readers to check out all of their additional recommendations in the comments section at the bottom of the page, and feel free to add your own. Thanks!


Most of us have misconceptions of a city before we actually visit. I honestly didn’t know much about Memphis but my expectations were not too high. The reason for making it a stop on our road trip was because my brother and his girlfriend are doing their residencies there.

What we’ve discovered throughout this road trip is the great value in knowing a local who can show you around. They’ve already put in the time to discover what is worthwhile and what’s not. So in a place like Memphis, which has been slowly revitalizing itself, we were able to skip ahead to the places that outshone the rest. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised.

Below, I’m sharing my brother’s top recommendations for things to see and do in Memphis. Some we saw for ourselves and others we didn’t have time for.


Top BBQ: Central BBQ

Central BBQ is the cream of the crop when it comes to BBQ in Memphis. Their slow smoked, dry rub flavors paired with fun decor is worth the trip.


Can’t Miss Community Venture: Tennessee Brewery Untapped

We at Intentional Travelers are suckers for community-led initiatives that make something amazing out of nothing. That’s why we couldn’t get enough of Tennessee Brewery Untapped.

To discover the untapped potential of an abandoned, historic property, some folks in Memphis got together and transformed an empty space into a truly unique venue. It’s open Thursday through Sunday with a simple bar inside, a food truck in the terrace, a few games like darts and air hockey, and plenty of open space to hang out in an unexpected setting with old friends or new acquaintances. We spent a good half hour just walking around in admiration of it all.Untapped, Memphis | Intentional Travelers

If you’re around Memphis, check this out soon- it may not be permanent!


Best Downtown Restaurant: Rizzo’s Diner

High quality restaurants are relatively scarce in Memphis, but Rizzo’s southern-inspired cuisine does not fall short. In fact, it was absolutely delightful. We always like to share dishes so everybody in our group got to try everything that was ordered. The restaurant itself is bigger than it looks, so don’t be dissuaded if the front room looks full. It wouldn’t hurt to call ahead for a reservation just in case.


Best Food Midtown: Fuel Cafe

The forward-thinking Fuel Cafe serves up delicious, all-natural American fare which includes sustainable meat and seafood as well as vegan or vegetarian options. (You can also check out their food truck location.)


Best Pizza: Pyro’s

It was a close race but Pyro’s Pizza came out on top, according to our local experts. They’re known for their fun atmosphere, quick service, and delicious, customizable gourmet pizzas.


Best View: Twilight Sky Terrace

Experience beautiful views of the Mississippi River at sunset from this downtown rooftop bar. With its sophisticated-yet-casual vibe, the Twilight Sky Terrace pairs the best of Memphis’s urban flavor with natural beauty.Madison rooftop, Memphis | Intentional Travelers

Madison rooftop, Memphis | Intentional Travelers

Honorable Mention: For a more exciting rooftop experience, check out The Peabody‘s rooftop parties on Thursday nights throughout the summer. The hotel (made famous for the ducks that march through its lobby) hosts a series of open air concerts which include a snack buffet, drink specials, and a big dance party.


Must Do Cultural Experience: National Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, the tragic site of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, is now part of the renowned National Civil Rights Museum. Exhibits cover the era of slavery through the non-violent protests in the South up to a recreation of MLK’s last hours in the Lorraine Motel. Well worth the visit.


For a Funky Time: Earnestine & Hazel’s

Earnestine & Hazel’s is one of those quirky dive bars that brings the phrase “hole in the wall” to life. On the surface, the place looks like it’s falling apart and you get the sense that the upstairs might be haunted. But this diamond in the rough in the South Main Street district is living up to its potential as a great place to bring the community together.


Top Pick for the 4am Crowd: Paula & Raiford’s Disco

Raiford‘s is the place to be for late night dancing in downtown Memphis. They feature handprints on the walls, a fog machine, light-up dance floor, and true boogie music from the 70’s and 80’s.


Nicest Place to Run or Walk: Mud Island

Whether you want to follow along the Mississippi via Island Drive, watching barges float by, or weave your way through nice neighborhoods of Harbortown, Mud Island is the prime location for a safe and enjoyable jog. While there, you can also check out the park and museum which features a cool outdoor re-creation of the Mississippi River.Mud Island, Memphis | Intentional Travelers


Cool Alternative to Beale St: South Main

Most visitors flock to Beale Street, known for its live music and neon lights. There is, however, much more that the city has to offer when it comes to night life, good restaurants, fun bars, and hip galleries.

Beale St, Memphis | Intentional Traveelers

Perhaps the best way to experience the South Main district is on Trolley Night. The last Friday of every month from 6 to 9pm, shops along South Main Street set up an outdoor festival with live music and even free wine! But you don’t have to wait for the last Friday to discover what this area has to offer. Just stroll around or take a trolley ride to get a more leisurely view.

I was fascinated by the mix of colors and textures along South Main, especially in the doorways. It really shows the contrast that is so apparent in Memphis between the worn-out and abandoned and the emerging, creative revitalization.

Doors of Memphis | Intentional Travelers

Since Memphis is not an area we normally would be passing through, we’re really glad we had the chance to visit at a time when my brother was living there and could show us the ropes!


Have you been to Memphis? What other sights do you recommend to visitors?

 

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43 Comments
  • A Post-Peace Corps Road Trip | Intentional Travelers
    Posted at 12:30h, 12 May

    […] Stops: Birmingham, Memphis, and Chicago. Stay […]

  • Ray Laskowitz
    Posted at 13:28h, 12 May

    Hmmm…. Mud Island has a wonderful concert venue. Small, but big enough that major acts like Eric Clapton and Norah Jones have played there. I don’t see Sun Studios listed. if you are a music fan, going there is like going to church. BBQ? Central is fine, but people come from all over the world to eat at the Rendezvous. There’s more, but… 🙂

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 16:48h, 13 May

      Hi Ray. Thanks for visiting our blog and thanks especially for adding your input. Really appreciate it!

  • wendybird15
    Posted at 15:12h, 12 May

    SO glad y’all went to Central BBQ. Memphis is one of my favorite cities, I wanna go back 😀

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 16:49h, 13 May

      Central BBQ was pretty cool. I didn’t know you were such a fan of Memphis- I guess we were just out of touch being from the West Coast. Hope you’re doing well in JA!

      • Bill
        Posted at 16:02h, 15 May

        You completely left out Paulettes on the river, one of the finest dining experience s you wil ever have.

  • T. Ferguson
    Posted at 16:57h, 12 May

    Glad you guys enjoyed your visit here. Loved the article. Major kudos on picking Central BBQ and avoiding the tourist trap mentioned in one of the aforementioned posts. Hope you have the chance to come back.

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 16:50h, 13 May

      Thanks, T. Really appreciate that!

  • Amanda Hill
    Posted at 17:12h, 12 May

    Glad you got to visit! Some other great places to visit are the newly revitalized Overton Square, Broad Avenue, Cooper Young areas, La Michoacana on Summer Ave, Jerry’s Sno Cones, Sun Studios, Wiseacre’s tap room, The Growler, Kwik Chek, and so many more. Contact us if you’d like more ideas!

    • Jimmy Cornfoot (@jcorn819)
      Posted at 17:57h, 12 May

      Ditto that to my friend Amanda!

      For your next trip to the 901, make your reservation to Restaurant Iris by Chef Kelly English. Make it about 2 weeks in advance – that’s about as early as you can make it.

      Also, you need to:
      -Ride the Greenline
      -Eat some tacos at Chiwawas – and have the best guacamole in the city (This coming from a native San Antonian)
      -Explore the gothic architecture of Rhodes College
      -Get the best burger in town at Local (a highly contested claim, to be sure)
      -Catch a FREE SHOW at The Levitt Shell
      -And before you watch that show, check out art at nearby Brooks Art Museum – the oldest and largest art museum in Tennessee

      • intentionalmc
        Posted at 16:54h, 13 May

        Wow, thanks for your great recommendations, Jimmy! I’m definitely going to pass this along to my brother so he can take advantage while he’s still in residency there.

      • Cary Vaughn
        Posted at 11:26h, 15 May

        So glad you added The Levitt Shell. 🙂

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 16:51h, 13 May

      Hi Amanda. Thanks so much for your suggestions. I just might have to add a “reader’s recommendation list” to this post. I love to hear Memphians so pumped about their city.

      • Amanda Hill
        Posted at 13:58h, 26 May

        Let me know if you do, I have so many more 🙂

  • Sheri D
    Posted at 17:24h, 12 May

    next time you’re in town visit Kooky Canuck on S. 2nd Street – right across from the Peabody Hotel – it’s my brother’s place and it’s always super fun!

  • phill123
    Posted at 17:57h, 12 May

    Come back and visit again! My only correction is that there are many, many fine places to eat in Memphis ranging from stand-and-dribble on your shirt food trucks to black tie dinners. You picked some good ones. Make sure you catch some local music next time. Travel safe

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 16:58h, 13 May

      Thanks, Phill. I didn’t mean to diminish the great restaurants that are there in Memphis. We were very impressed with the few that we did see in person.

  • J.B.
    Posted at 18:16h, 12 May

    Glad to hear you had fun downtown! Tell your friends they need to start researching Midtown and East Memphis for the next time you’re here. There’s a lot more to Memphis than what you can throw a rock at from the river!

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 17:00h, 13 May

      Thanks, J.B. Glad to hear people are passionate about their city. I’ll encourage my brother to keep expanding their horizons. 😉

  • CA
    Posted at 18:38h, 12 May

    I always recommend Stax. It’s easily one of Memphis’ best attractions. The zoo is fantastic too.

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 17:00h, 13 May

      Cool. Thanks for your suggestions!

  • Wilo Reign
    Posted at 19:52h, 12 May

    You rock! Thanks for the #goodStuff you posted about Memphis.

  • Camille
    Posted at 20:57h, 12 May

    We have the Best Zoo in the country. I second the thanks for the great article. We came in second to New Orleans in Southern Living for the best restaurants in the south.

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 17:01h, 13 May

      Camille, that’s awesome. We love zoos so hopefully we’ll get the chance to go back and see that some day.

  • Weronika
    Posted at 18:09h, 13 May

    Hog & Hominy- amazing restaurant. I have been doing my residency down here for the last 4 years and somehow missed this place until last month- unbelievable.
    Also BBQ Shop has some d@mn good barbecue that rivals Central 🙂

    Next time you visit go to Mollie Fontaine Lounge, since I first moved here my favorite place for cocktails and people watching in a very unique space.

    Thanks for the post! I’ve grown to love this city and I will miss it when I return to the Midwest

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 19:10h, 13 May

      Thanks so much for your suggestions! Sounds like some great places to add to the list.

  • Scarlett
    Posted at 23:05h, 13 May

    Thanks for all of the positive remarks about Memphis! It is my hometown, that is used to getting a lot of negative feedback if you don’t take the time to check out all of the great things this city has to offer. I love living here & the people are great!!! My favorite place you mentioned was Rizzo’s Diner — incredible food & service, with a cool location of the South Main Arts district! Thank you!!!! That is one of my favorite restaurants & feel it isn’t mentioned enough! Hope you tried the lobster pronto pups featured on the Food Network’s, Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives!!!!!!! 🙂 They are incredibly delicious! Hope you visit again!

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 23:34h, 13 May

      Hi Scarlett. Thanks so much for your feedback. Rizzo’s Diner was awesome!

  • Susan
    Posted at 01:20h, 14 May

    Fine dining? Memphis has some top notch restaurants like:
    Erling Jensen’s
    Iris
    Andrew Michael Kitchen
    McEwen’s
    River Oaks

    BBQ is a tough one. Everyone has a fave. Other tasty options: Corky’s, Tops, BBQ Shop come to mind. Hole in the wall spots sometimes sport some amazing smoked morsels.

    Places to walk, hike, get sporty. Overton Park, Shelby Forest. Shelby Farms is one of the largest, multi-use parks in the US.

    Memphis is home to the National Ornamental Metal Museum. It overlooks the Mississippi and is at the southern end of downtown.

    St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital calls Memphis home. This facility treats childhood cancers. Patients come from around the world. No one is turned away for inability to pay. They offer tours.

    Memphis is home to a lot of funky, off best restaurants. Kwik Chek in Midtown has the ambience of a convenience store. They serve up some tasty Korean and Mediterranean fare. That is not a mistyping. Where else can I get a kick ass bi bim bop and a fab mufaletta? And buy a six pack of quality brew to wash it down with? The food rocks. The ambience… What ambience? I was busy eating my bi bim bop.

    Chucalisa, the Blues Highway…. Gosh. So much to offer.

    Memphis is an interesting place. It’s been my home for 16 years now. I’m glad I came and stayed.

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 07:36h, 14 May

      Susan. Wow, awesome recommendations. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Kristi Mountford
    Posted at 06:52h, 14 May

    More things to check out!

    SIDE STREET BAR & GRILL- (off of overton square) the BEST martinis ever! Huge selection and they’re $5 on Mondays

    ABSINTHE ROOM- (hidden upstairs on beale street by kings palace) the best small mellow place to shoot pool and conversate without as much of the beale street crowd. (And yes they do sell absinthe there!)

    HAVANA MIX- (right next to beale street, next to the Peabody parking garage) Cigar shop/ smoke shop

    OUTLOOK- (Mississippi river, Tom lee park) newly built outlook hill to look over the river with a gift shop underneath 🙂

    SPIN STREET- (poplar/highland) one of the best music memorabilia/merch stores around! Wide a range of cds, movies, records, band merch, and random things!

    OVERTON PARK-(poplar/Memphis zoo) The BEST playground to take your kids! Newly built it has many many different activities for the kids to interact with. It’s big, fenced in and right next to the zoo! Highly recommend anyone with kids to go there.

    HAPPY MEXICAN-(south 2nd street downtown) looking for the only authentic Mexican restaurant downtown? Here ya go! I work downtown and i always hear questions of the closest Mexican restaurant.. they’re delicious!

    WET WILLIES-(beale street) the south is horrible in the summer with the heat. So go here and you can choose from 17 flavors of alcoholic daiquiris/slushes. You can ask the bar bartenders what they suggest because you are able to mix as many as you want together for one flat rate price. So look at the menu and pick a suggested mixed slush concoction or come up with your own! They are delicious!
    My favorites: “Bob Marley” strawberry, mango, sour apple, “Summertime Rehab” margarita, sour apple, shock treatment (lemonade), and… “the Superwoman” (their strongest drink) Callacab, attitude improvement, shock treatment, (all three of these flavors have 190 proof grain alcohol… be careful!)

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 07:37h, 14 May

      Kristi, thanks so much for adding your suggestions. They sound amazing!

  • Charlene Sheehan
    Posted at 14:27h, 14 May

    Memphis is a great town with a rich music history! For delicious food at reasonable rates and a great patio bar, try Bhan Thai Restaurant on Peabody. Molly, Aaron and the gang will show you a great time!!

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 14:30h, 14 May

      Hi Charlene. Thanks for your suggestion!

  • Holly
    Posted at 17:13h, 14 May

    What a lovely article! I’m glad you decided to keep an open mind and hang out for a while. If you (or your brother since he’s living here) need help finding some great restaurants next time, just follow any of the wonderful suggestions here from my fellow “Memphibians” or drop me a line or Tweet @ilovememphis. Thanks again for stopping by our fair city and taking the time to write a post.

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 17:39h, 14 May

      No problem, Holly. And thanks for your offer.

  • Cary Vaughn
    Posted at 11:27h, 15 May

    This is an awesome article. Thanks for posting. Now I gotta share it with my friends.

  • Clayton Hurley
    Posted at 10:47h, 16 May

    Mollie Fontaine’s is my favorite place in Memphis — Love that place!

  • April Proveaux
    Posted at 21:30h, 17 May

    Thanks for checking out Fuel Cafe!! 🙂

  • Stuart Allen
    Posted at 10:59h, 18 May

    Great article and so wonderful to see other “Memphians” both resident and non be proud of their town and all that it has to offer. All the restaurants mentioned are great and you will get a different answer about BBQ from everyone. As a Memphian who comes home to visit often I have to give kudos to the best place to stay while your visiting, the Talbot heirs Guest House!! Right across the street form the Peabody, excellent art work and the most knowledgeable host in all the mid-south!

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 16:43h, 18 May

      Thanks for your recommendation, Stuart! We’ve had really great feedback from Memphians on this post.

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