Drive south from downtown Memphis on Elvis Presley Boulevard to reach the King’s most famous home, Graceland (3717 Elvis Presley Blvd., 901/332-3322 or 800/238-2000, www.elvis.com , $25–70).
The Graceland complex blends into the strip malls and fast-food joints that line the boulevard in this part of Memphis . The ticket counter, shops, and restaurants are located on the west side of the boulevard, and here you board a shuttle van that drives across the highway and up the curved drive to the Graceland mansion.
Graceland managers may have taken full advantage of the commercial opportunities presented by the home that Elvis left behind, but they have not overdone it. The operation is laid-back, leaving the spotlight on Elvis and, of course, his fans, who travel around the world to visit.
Visitors can choose from three tour packages: The mansion-only tour takes about an hour and costs $25; the platinum tour includes the automobile museum, Elvis’s two airplanes, and other special perks for $40. Enthusiasts can choose the VIP package for $70, which gives you “front of the line” access, an all-day pass, keepsakes, and access to exclusive exhibits, such as one that features Elvis’s first-ever professional photographs, taken in 1955.
The mansion tour is conducted by audio guide. It includes the ground floor of the mansion (the upstairs remains closed to the public) and several outbuildings that now house exhibits about Elvis’s life and career. High points include watching the press conference Elvis gave after leaving the army, witnessing firsthand his audacious taste in decor, and visiting the meditation garden where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are buried.
There is also a plaque in memory of Elvis’s lost twin, Jesse Garon. The audio tour plays many of Elvis’s songs, family stories remembered by Lisa Marie Presley, and several clips of Elvis speaking. In 2008, Graceland opened two new exhibits: “Private Presley” focuses on the King’s service in the army and “Elvis ’68” is about the year 1968 in Presley’s life and musical career.
The exhibits gloss over some of the challenges Elvis faced in his life—his addiction to prescription drugs, his womanizing and failed marriage, and his unsettling affinity for firearms among them. But they showcase Elvis’s generosity, his dedication to family, and his fun-loving character. The portrait that emerges is sympathetic and remarkably human for a man who is so often larger than life.
The automobile museum features 33 vehicles, including his pink Cadillac, motorcycles, and a red MG from Blue Hawaii, as well as some of his favorite motorized toys, including a go-kart and dune buggy. His private planes include the Lisa Marie, which Elvis customized with gold-plated seat belts, suede chairs, and gold-flecked sinks.
Other special Graceland exhibits include “Sincerely Elvis,” which chronicles Elvis’s life in 1956, and “Elvis After Dark,” which describes some of Elvis’s late-night passions, like roller skating.
The Graceland mansion was declared a National Historic Site in 2006. It attracts some 600,000 visitors annually.
Graceland’s summer (Mar.–Oct.) hours are Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sun. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. In November it opens daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and from December to February it opens daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m., except Tuesday, when it is closed. Graceland is closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving Days, and sometimes on New Year’s Day. There is plenty of parking.