Moon Memphis


By Margaret Littman

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From legendary barbecue to famous blues, soak up the best of Bluff City with Moon Memphis.
  • See the Sites: Immerse yourself in history at the National Civil Rights Museum or the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Pay respects to the King at Graceland, take an evening stroll down Beale Street where the Memphis blues were born, and watch the march of the ducks at the elegant Peabody Hotel
  • Get a Taste of the City: Feast on world-famous barbecue, fried chicken, and catfish, savor a homemade plate lunch with cornbread and fried green tomatoes, or opt for a multi-course meal at one of Memphis’s classic steakhouses
  • Bars and Nightlife: Listen to live blues at B.B. King’s, tour a brewery and sample a flight, and dance the night away at an old-school juke joint
  • Honest Advice from Tennessean Margaret Littman on the real Memphis, from local businesses to historic hotspots
  • Flexible, strategic itineraries including a five-day best of Memphis and tours of the art scene and Civil Rights history, plus day trips to the Mississippi Blues Trail, Tupelo, Little Rock, Hot Springs National Park, and more
  • Tips for Travelers including where to stay, how to safely bike the city, and more, plus advice for LGBTQ visitors, international travelers, and families with children
  • Maps and Tools like background information on the history and culture of Memphis, easy-to-read maps, full-color photos, and neighborhood guides from Downtown to Soulsville
With Moon Memphis’s practical tips and local know-how, you can experience the best of the city.

Hitting the road? Try Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip or Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip. Exploring more of the Volunteer State? Check out Moon Tennessee.












Take away music and Memphis would lose its soul. The Bluff City may owe its physical existence to the mighty Mississippi, but it is music that has defined it. The spirituals and work songs of the poor Mississippi Delta cotton farmers who migrated here formed the basis for a new sound known as the Memphis blues. The blues then spawned its own offspring: soul, R&B, country, and, of course, rock ’n’ roll, as performed by a former truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi, named Elvis Presley.

On any given night, you can find joints where the music flows as freely as the booze. Sitting still is not an option. On Beale Street, music wafts from lively bars and out onto the street, inviting you to come inside for a spell. And on Sundays, the sounds of old-fashioned spirituals and new gospel music can be heard at churches throughout the city.

While you’re here, you can sustain yourself on the city’s world-famous barbecue or its fried chicken and catfish, not to mention modern twists on Southern classics. Eating may not be why you come, but it might be why you stay.

Memphians are gregarious and proud of their city, so they will want to show you its beauty, from rich visual arts masterpieces to scenic vistas. You may even be invited over for some barbecue spaghetti.

Blues Hall of Fame

mural on South Main Street

Hot Springs National Park

Elvis Presley’s costumes

Monument to the Little Rock Nine

Memphis Streetcar


1 Listen to Live Music: Musical roots run deep here. Yes, the focus is on the blues, reflecting the city’s connection to the Mississippi Delta, but soul, gospel, and rock are played nightly, too. It isn’t a night out in Memphis until someone takes out a guitar.

2 Embrace the Legend of Elvis: He was born in Tupelo, but Memphis claims Elvis Presley as its own. Listen and learn about how he became the King, make a pilgrimage to Graceland, and learn which burger he loved best.

3 Honor Civil Rights Legacies: The fight for equality shaped the South physically and psychically. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is a good place to start understanding the movement. Dive deeper with a side trip to Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

4 Do the ’Cue: Barbecue, that is. Plan on plenty of helpings of the local specialty, including barbecue spaghetti. That said, the restaurant scene doesn’t end there. This is a foodie city with many ways to feast.

5 Taste Craft Brews: Toast to good times.

6 Explore Local Art: Thanks to a long fine arts tradition, Memphis is home to fascinating galleries and a thriving maker culture.

7 Follow the Missippippi Blues Trail: This multisensory road trip traces the roots of American music.

8 Soak in the Hot Springs: Naturally occurring mountain springs have made Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas a resort destination for generations.



The blues were born in Memphis, and they still call the city home in nightclubs on Beale Street. But the Bluff City isn’t just the blues. It’s gospel, Elvis Presley, Rev. Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Soulsville, Stax Records, and Sun Studio. And it’s more than music. Memphis is an urban center with fine dining, parks, significant historic sites, and the state’s best visual arts scene. Unwind by watching the ducks get the red-carpet treatment at The Peabody Hotel Memphis or fuel up with a plate of barbecue.


Memphis’s location nestled on the bluffs of the Mississippi River make it an ideal launching pad for excursions that will entertain you, whether you seek music, food, history, or the great outdoors. Jump in the car and wind through the towns of the Delta on the Mississippi Blues Trail. In Tupelo and Oxford, you can feast on Southern cooking, explore Civil War history, and see the former homes of two native icons: Elvis Presley and William Faulkner. In Arkansas, you can visit a presidential library and sample the world’s best cheese dip in Little Rock, then enjoy jaw-dropping scenery in Hot Springs National Park.


Summer is certainly the popular season for visiting—Elvis Week in August sees the most visitors—but the hot, humid Memphis summer is not for the faint of heart. If you like the energy of crowds, the best time to visit Memphis is May, when summer is still fresh and mild and the city puts on its annual Memphis in May celebration. Memphis in May includes the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the Beale Street Music Festival, and the Memphis International Festival. The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival held over Labor Day weekend is a great reason to come to Memphis, and probably the best choice for fans of traditional Memphis music.

Memphis is a city with four seasons. The average temperature in January is 50°F (10°C), and in July it hits 92°F (33°C). During spring, the weather is mild, flora is in bloom, and you can enjoy springtime festivals. During the fall, the trees change color and temperatures drop. Even in the South, where people are used to hot and humid, the summer humidity can be oppressive. Visitors in winter may encounter cold weather and rare snowstorms, but the cooler months can also be a nice time to tour because you’ll have many attractions to yourself. If you can’t come when the weather is temperate, don’t fret. Memphis attractions are open year-round, and the city continues to rock, day in and day out.

downtown yellow trolley


Memphis has an international airport. Visitors making a getaway to Memphis may be able to subsist on bicycles, public transportation, ride-hailing companies, and taxis. To explore beyond the city, a car is essential. If it’s practical, bring your own car. If you’re flying in, arrange a rental car ahead of time. A good road map or GPS is helpful to have before you set out.


A cell phone with a good roaming plan, GPS, and Wi-Fi should cover your basic needs. Prepare with maps and apps, particularly if you are likely to get off the interstate and out of the range of cell phone signals on excursions. Download a playlist’s worth of Memphis-appropriate tunes to get you in the mood: classic country, bluegrass, blues, or Elvis albums. Cowboy boots and an Elvis-style embroidered jacket aren’t required, but they’re certainly always appropriate. Grab some stylin’ sunglasses for all the photos you’ll take.



Follow in the footsteps of the King (that would be Elvis). Learn from the city’s civil rights struggles. Admire the Mississippi, eat tangy barbecue, and listen to the music that came up from the Delta. There’s no limit to how long you can spend getting to know the Bluff City’s charms, but this itinerary will give you a satisfying taste.


Arrive in Memphis and check into a centrally located downtown hotel, such as the historic Peabody Hotel Memphis or the modern Hu. Hotel. Grab barbecue ribs from Rendezvous for dinner, then stroll down to Beale Street in the evening.

cityscape over Beale Street

Barhop to get your bearings, and then settle in somewhere to listen to live music. You can hear them play the blues at Blues City Café, jazz at King’s Palace Café, or rock at Alfred’s… or just take it all in from the street, where you’ll be surrounded by many new friends.


Wake up with a cup of joe at Front Street Deli. Then take the Beale Street Walking Tour in the morning. Stop at the W. C. Handy Home and Museum, take your picture with the Elvis statue, and go treasure hunting at A. Schwab.

Elvis Presley, the king of rock ’n’ roll

Eat lunch, delivered by the kindest servers in town, at The Little Tea Shop, then head over to the Cotton Museum for the afternoon to learn what made this city thrive. Afterward, stroll along the banks of the Mississippi River at Tom Lee Park.

Eat poutine for dinner at Dirty Crow Inn. Stick around for low-key live music on the back porch or head to midtown to see a show at Minglewood Hall or B-SIDE.


This is Significant Sights Day: Go to the National Civil Rights Museum in the morning for an understanding of the fight for equality and the aftershocks that Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination had on the city. Process your experience as you eat lunch at Evelyn & Olive in the South Main Arts District.

Head to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Blues Hall of Fame for the afternoon, where you’ll learn about the music that makes the city sing.

Stax Museum of American Soul

Wash up and head to midtown for dinner at The Beauty Shop. Cap off the night with live music at Hi-Tone.


Make it Elvis Day: Start early at Graceland to avoid the crowds for a leisurely visit to the mansion, where you can see his airplanes, cars, and museum. Lunch at Coletta’s allows you to feast on Elvis’s favorite pizza. Then make an afternoon visit to Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first hit.

Return to downtown to Beale Street for dinner at Dyer’s, where you can eat a burger in memory of the King. End the evening with a great jukebox and even better people-watching at Earnestine and Hazel’s.


Head to midtown for a visit to Elmwood Cemetery. Take the audio tour to hear the stories of the city’s elite, and then keep the historical vibe going with lunch at The Four Way, a place both Elvis and Martin Luther King Jr. dined. The nearby Memphis Brooks Museum of Art gives you an excuse to frolic in Overton Park. Stick around midtown and stroll the cute retail boutiques, followed by dinner at Alchemy. Wrap it all up with a drink and a low-key live music experience at Bar DKDC.


If you have more time to spend, there are several enticing Southern side trips within two hours’ drive of Memphis.

The Mississippi Blues Trail

With two days, you have enough time for a 170-mile blues-themed road trip into the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

The Mississippi Blues Trail starts in Memphis.

Head south from Memphis to Tunica, Mississippi, where you’ll find the Gateway to the Blues Museum. Next, make your way to Clarksdale, where you’ll get a more in-depth overview at the Delta Blues Museum. Listen to music and eat and drink at Ground Zero Blues Club.

Keep heading south to Cleveland, where you want to devote time to the Grammy Museum Mississippi. Spend the night at the Cotton House and listen to more live music while you dine at Airport Grocery.

In Leland, you’ll get more blues education at the Highway 61 Blues Museum, and fine Southern hospitality at The Thompson House, plus some American history that isn’t specifically related to the genre when you stop at the Jim Henson Boyhood Home Museum.


A two-hour drive from Memphis, Tupelo makes a worthwhile side trip. Start your day in Tupelo at Connie’s Fried Chicken, where everyone in town goes for a chicken biscuit and a blueberry doughnut. Head next to Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield, which commemorates a bloody encounter in the U.S. Civil War. Lunch should be at Johnnie’s Drive-In, because that’s where Elvis liked to eat. The rest of the day is focused on the King: The Elvis Presley Birthplace gives insight into his humble beginnings. Tupelo Hardware Company, right downtown, is where he got his first guitar. Finish the day with live music and good beer and food at Blue Canoe.

blueberry doughnuts at Connie’s Fried Chicken


Built on land that once belonged to the Chickasaw Nation, the city of Oxford was founded to be a university town like its namesake in England. Mission accomplished: Oxford is home to University of Mississippi, affectionately called Ole Miss. Assuming you are not in town for an SEC football game, start with breakfast and coffee at Bottletree Bakery before heading to campus for a tour. Follow the Bailey’s Woods Trail to reach Rowan Oak, the home of celebrated author William Faulkner. Pay your respects at Saint Peter’s Cemetery, where he is buried. For dinner, enjoy a sustainable feast at Oxford Canteen. End the evening with an author reading at Off Square Books or a live music performance, such as the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.

Little Rock

Your first stop must be Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, with a moving tour that tells the story of the desegregation of public schools and the bravery of the Little Rock Nine who made it happen. Eat lunch at The Root Café, which sources most of its ingredients locally from within the state of Arkansas. Spend the afternoon strolling in SoMa, a charming neighborhood with restaurants, shops, and the ESSE Purse Museum, which documents women’s history through the contents of their handbags. Next head to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, repository of the archives of the city’s favorite son. Treat yourself to a fine dinner at One Eleven at The Capital, where you can take in the beauty of the Capital Hotel, even if you are not staying the night.

Hot Springs

Nicknamed “America’s First Resort,” Hot Springs still makes for a relaxing getaway, just three hours from Memphis. Soak in 143°F waters at Quapaw Baths and Spa on historic Bathhouse Row, which is part of Hot Springs National Park. Visit the museum and visitors center inside Fordyce Bathhouse Row. After walking and soaking, you can eat lunch and drink beer made with the thermal waters at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. Grab your empty water bottles and fill them with natural spring water from the taps all along Central Avenue. Grab a sweet from Fat Bottomed Girls Cupcakes—they’ve been featured on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars—for your drive back to Memphis.

Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park


Beale Street runs from the Mississippi River to Manassas Street in midtown Memphis, but it is the three blocks between 2nd and 4th Streets that really matter. In its heyday, the Beale Street commercial and entertainment district extended farther east and west, but it has since been condensed into a half-dozen blocks.

Welcome to Beale Street.

This walking tour begins at the intersection of Beale and Main Streets and heads eastward. While this is an area of nearly 24-hour activity, it is best to follow this walking tour in the later morning or early afternoon, should you want to stop, see the sights, and reflect. Come back at night for the live music and lively crowds. For more insight into Beale Street’s history, call the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery (333 Beale St., 901/523-2344, for a guided tour ($12).

1 Near the corner of Beale and Main Streets is the Orpheum Theatre (203 S. Main St., 901/525-3000, This site has been used for entertainment since 1890, when the Grand Opera House opened there with a production of Les Huguenots. Later, the opera house presented vaudeville shows and theater. Fire destroyed it in 1923, but in 1928 it reopened as the Orpheum, a movie theater and performing arts venue for the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bob Hope, and Mae West. The Orpheum remains one of the city’s premier venues for the performing arts, with Broadway productions, mainstream musical artists, and movies.

2 A block east of the Orpheum is Elvis Presley Plaza, home to a statue of Memphis’s most famous native son, Elvis Presley. Depicting the King during his early career, the statue is a popular photo op.

3 A. Schwab (163 Beale St., 901/523-9782, has served Memphis residents for more than 140 years, although it focuses now on odd, out-of-date, and hard-to-find items rather than traditional general store necessities. Some say this is the oldest store in the mid-South. Stop in for a souvenir or to visit the A. Schwab “museum,” a collection of old-fashioned household tools and implements

4 Make a quick stop at Rum Boogie Café (182 Beale St.) for a peek at the more than 200 guitars on display.

5 A few doors down from A. Schwab you can see what remains of one of Beale Street’s most magnificent old buildings. The facade of what was once the Gallina Exchange Building (183 Beale St.) is held up by six steel girders. From the 1860s until 1914, this facade kept watch on the business empire of Squire Charles Gallina, who operated a saloon, restaurant, and 20-room hotel, as well as a gambling room. Today, it’s the home of Irish pub Silky O’Sullivan’s.

6 For fuel to sustain you during your tour, stop at Dyer’s (205 Beale St.) and grab one of the city’s best burgers.

7 Beyond 3rd Street is Handy Park, named for famous blues composer and musician W. C. Handy. Beale Street’s Market House was torn down in 1930 to build the park. Since it opened, Handy Park has been a popular place for street musicians, peddlers, concerts, and community events, all of which are presided over by a life-size statue of W. C. Handy.

8 About midway up the southern side of the next block of Beale Street is the Daisy Theater (329 Beale St.), built in 1902 as a movie house. Much of the original interior remains. The theater is closed to the public but may be rented for private events.


On Sale
Jan 14, 2020
Page Count
232 pages
Moon Travel

Margaret Littman

About the Author

Margaret Littman is both an old-timer and a relative newcomer to Nashville. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, she left Tennessee for points north over the course of her writing career. But after 17 years she could no longer resist the siren song of the Parthenon, bluegrass music, or fried pickles, so she returned to Nashville, where she writes about Music City, Southeast travel, food, pets, and more. An avid stand-up paddler, she loves being a day trip away from the Tennessee River to the south, Reelfoot Lake to the west, and Norris Dam to the east.

There’s nothing Margaret loves more than telling natives something they didn’t know about their home state. And with 75,000 miles on her station wagon already, she has lots of ideas for little-known places to listen to music, eat barbecue, paddle a lake, hike to a waterfall, or buy works by local artists.

Margaret’s work has appeared in national and regional magazines, including Wine Enthusiast, Entrepreneur, The Tennessean, and many others. She is the author of several guidebooks as well as the Nashville Essential Guide.

Margaret has loved lots of places she’s lived, but the day she looked down and realized she was wearing cowboy boots in synagogue, she knew she had become a Nashvillian.

Learn more about this author