12 May Top Things to Do in Memphis
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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