The blues-inspired city of Memphis, Tennessee rests along the Mississippi River and is situated right outside rural Arkansas. This city is the perfect dose of southern blues, jazz, and rock ’n’ roll culture and urban excitement. The southern BBQ and soul food are must-haves and the local breweries will top off your taste buds after a delicious southern-cooked meal. If you’re thinking about traveling to the mid-south sometime soon, I suggest you make a stop and visit the home of the blues and birthplace of Rock ’n’ Roll. Here are a few of my recommendations that I’ve gathered and experienced from my year living outside of the city:
Tour the various neighborhoods that comprise Memphis
Contrary to the tourist-y photos you may see of Memphis, there’s a lot more to the city than midtown and Beale Street (although those are definitely areas to visit). My favorite neighborhood is Cooper-Young. This neighborhood’s tagline is “historically hip” – need I explain more? Their restaurants range from trendy and vintage-esque coffee shops to traditional pubs and hip vegetarian and vegan spots. Their “historically hip” vibe definitely does not go unnoticed as you walk by a funky used book store, a creative little coffeeshop that serves the majority of their beverages in mason jars, and old-time beauty shop inspired restaurants where the dining room seats are antique salon chairs. If you’re looking for a district with young and trendy vibe, I highly recommend making a visit to Cooper-Young.
Although I am a vegetarian and can’t fully appreciate the southern-style BBQ and soul food, I have found plenty of places that still cater to that southern-cooked style and my dietary restrictions. If you’re looking for some authentic BBQ, Rendezvous is a must and highly recommended by many. If you’re in search of southern-style fried chicken then Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is your go-to place. Bluefin sushi is some of the best sushi I’ve had while living down south (which I know kind of seems like an oxymoron) and South of Beale is my personal favorite place to enjoy the funky atmosphere and have local beer and a vegetarian burger.
The Unique History
If you set foot in Memphis, one of the first places you need to go to gain a fuller and more appreciative understanding of the city is the National Civil Rights Museum which is located in the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine Motel is where MLK Jr. was tragically assassinated in 1968 and the city of Memphis has preserved the motel in its original state. Seeing the motel and balcony where the beloved and admired activist and civil rights leader was shot is a humbling reminder of the south’s historical and present-day struggle with racism, prejudice, and civil rights.
Not too far away from the museum is Sun Studio’s where artists like Johnny Cash and Elvis started their pathway to fame. You can tour the studio with their vibrant tour guides and staff and step foot in the recording room where some of the most famous blues and rock ’n’ roll hits have been sung and recorded.
These suggestions and many more are reasons enough to head down to the city of blues, rock ’n’ roll, southern-style cooking, and unique southern-urban culture. After touring the city for the day and appreciating its historical sites and city views, head on down to Beale Street to indulge in a traditional Memphis night-out! The post-cards and Google images of Beale Street don’t lie – it’s just as exciting, lit-up, and fun as it looks!