From its perch on bluffs above the east bank of the Mississippi River, Memphis has given the world plenty to savor, from rock’n’roll and blues to delicious barbecue. This waterfront burg, and the largest city on the Mississippi, also played a pivotal role in American civil rights history.
What We Love
National Civil Rights Museum: The centuries-long and tumultuous struggle for racial equality in America is the theme of a collection set inside the Lorraine Motel, the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Interactive exhibits include a replica of the Supreme Court room where Brown v. the Board of Education was heard, and listening outposts that feature speeches such as those of Malcolm X.
Sun Studio: Now occupied by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, this celebrated studio is where Elvis made his first record in 1953. Roy Orbison, Isaac Hayes, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Otis Redding are among the other musical greats who cut tracks here.
Best Known For
Graceland: Home to Elvis Presley for more than 20 years, the mansion is a place of pilgrimage for music fans nearly four decades after The King's death. Guided iPad tours narrated by John Stamos lead visitors to the Jungle Room, Kitchen, Trophy Building, and Meditation Garden where Elvis is buried.
Beale Street: Starting on the banks of the Mississippi, this downtown thoroughfare is renowned for its lively music clubs, bars, and restaurants.
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Who It's Best For
Music Fans: From rock’n’roll and R&B to blues, soul, gospel, and funk, Memphis was a cradle for several genres of classic American music.
Foodies: Slow-cooked in a pit and slathered with sauce, Memphis-style barbecue is literally mouthwateringly good. And a new set of chefs, including “Chopped” judge Maneet Chauhan and Ryan Poli at the intimate Catbird Seat, are spicing up the already exciting dining scene. The iconic downtown barbecue joint is Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It Gets Sticky: Summer brings high temperatures and even higher humidity to the Bluff City.
Elvis Still Has a Scruffy Entourage: The area around Graceland is super tacky thanks to a cluster of fast-food joints, souvenir shops, and cheap motels.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.