Why Memphis Is the Hottest Southern Destination of 2019
Memphis seems to be on everyone’s radar right now. Here’s what’s making this Southern city known for shaking hips, quacking ducks, and all things pink a must-go in 2019.
Photo By: Alex Shansky / Memphis Tourism
Photo By: Andrea Zucker / Memphis CVB
Photo By: Craig Thompson / Memphis CVB
Photo By: The Peabody Memphis / Memphis CVB
Photo By: Andrea Zucker / Memphis CVB
Photo By: Logan Young / Memphis CVB
Photo By: Holly Whitfield / Memphis Tourism
Photo By: Dan Ball / Memphis CVB
Photo By: Dustin Williams / Memphis CVB
In honor of this year’s bicentennial celebration, the Memphis riverfront is getting a fresh new look. The first phase, the River Line Trail, was completed in November, connecting five miles of riverfront, allowing walkers and bikers to more fully enjoy the public green spaces situated along the Mississippi River. In the center of the River Line Trail is the new River Garden Park with kid-friendly fun like life-size birds’ nests to climb in and a playful treehouse. The 30-acre Tom Lee Park, home to popular festivals throughout the year, will get a refresh beginning in May.
All Things Elvis
If you went to Memphis and didn’t visit Graceland, home to the King of Rock and Roll, did it really happen? At $41 per adult for the mansion-only tour, a visit to Graceland is kind of pricey, but it’s pretty cool to see Elvis’ music room, dining room, and the fabled Jungle Room, a tropical-themed man cave that later became his final recording studio. Fans of romantic holiday movies may want to stop in to tour the filming location of Christmas at Graceland, the Hallmark Channel’s most popular holiday movie in 2018. Grab a bite at The Arcade, which has Elvis' favorite peanut butter and banana sandwich (deep fried, to boot) on the menu.
In Memphis, you’ll be surrounded by some of the most finger-licking delicious barbecue joints in the country. Whether you prefer brisket, pulled pork, or a slab of baby back ribs, more than 100 barbecue joints across town are ready to wow you (mostly with pork since that’s what Memphis-style is all about). The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest each May draws more than 75,000 barbeque-loving attendees. While in town, sign up for a class with Memphis Barbecue Supply, including free classes on how to cook competition-quality pulled pork and pork ribs. Yum.
Red Carpet Ducks
Book a historic stay at The Peabody, a grand local hotel icon that celebrates 150 years in 2019. One-hour hotel history tours set off at 11:30 each day ($10 per person), captivating with the rich legacy of the "South’s Grand Hotel." Led by the Peabody Duckmaster, the legend of the red carpet-strutting ducks is a favorite part of the tour. Dating back to 1933, guests come from far and wide to watch five beloved mallard ducks exit the guest elevator and march to the hotel fountain twice-daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. It’s not uncommon for crowds to be two-deep for a glimpse of the ducks.
Civil Rights History
The National Civil Rights Museum is a must-see while in Memphis. This complex of historic buildings includes the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, which took place 50 years ago this past April. Inside, permanent exhibitions showcase five centuries of civil rights history, including Rosa Parks and the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, as well as the student sit-ins of the 1960s. More than 40 short films and 260 cultural artifacts bring the civil rights movement to life at this museum.
Vintage Trolley Service
The Main Street Trolley service shut down in 2014, but it’s back, welcomed with open arms by lovers of vintage trolleys all across town. Three restored trolleys traverse the downtown area and the pedestrian mall. Not only is it now a snap to get around Memphis, but at just $1 each way, it’s budget-friendly, too. Needed safety and electrical upgrades on the trolleys ensure the trolleys won’t be going anywhere for some time, helping to revitalize the downtown area.
The Color Pink
After years of renovation, the Pink Palace Museum (actually a family of museums celebrating science, nature, and history) has re-opened the Pink Palace Mansion. Clarence Saunders, founder of the famed Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, began building the mansion in the 1920s, but soon declared bankruptcy and was forced to turn the house over to the city. New and refurbished exhibits include a Piggly Wiggly store replica (where children can "shop" with grocery carts) and a Memphis streetscape designed to illustrate the junction of black and white culture in the early-20th century. The mansion’s second floor has also been re-opened for the first time in 40 years.
Museum-Quality Street Art
Artist Julien de Casabianca has enlivened Memphis with the Outings Project, a partnership with the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art that has led to the creation of sophisticated larger-than-life paper murals on buildings across the city, in neighborhoods such as the Broad Avenue Arts District, Midtown, and the area around the University of Memphis. Works include characters inspired by Renaissance Italy and those created by Carroll Cloar, a nationally-recognized Memphis painter know for artworks depicting the American South. Since the murals are made of paper, the weather may determine how long they will be on display, so check them out early and often.
Legendary Music Studios
Memphis has a long and fascinating music history. Take a tour of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, a movie-theatre-turned-recording-studio-turned-soul-music-museum. Here, soul music was born and thanks to Stax, the world was introduced to such musicians as Otis Redding, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and Isaac Hayes. Today, more than 2,000 artifacts and memorabilia items tell the story of soul. Make Sun Studio on Union Avenue your next stop. It’s where a then-unknown Elvis first took the mic and made Sun Studio the most famous recording studio in the world.
Historic Beale Street
Historic Beale Street may be the most well-known street in America thanks to its vibrant multi-colored neon signs and heart-pumping music. It's squarely at the heart of the local music scene and even has its own app whether you want a historic tour or need help finding live music, including blues, jazz, gospel, and of course, rock and roll. In fact, on New Year’s Eve, rather than drop a ball, a massive guitar is dropped to ring in the new year.