Most Memphians have a short list of “things to do with visitors”—and we absolutely want you to trust your friends when visiting the Bluff City. However, for those of you who have trust issues or don’t have friends in town, see below for our suggestions for an action-packed weekend trip with lots and lots of food stops.
Our guide focuses on activities in the heart of the city. All of our suggestions, save a few late-night ones, are kid-friendly but not exactly kid-centric. We also make sure to note the barbecue hot spots, best coffee shops and local breweries for those of you who appreciate the finer things in life.
Booking a room
We suggest getting a hotel room downtown or an Airbnb in Midtown. (The Cooper-Young neighborhood is centrally located and especially walkable.)
In Memphis, we like to drive, though anyone from a big city will find us quite walkable. In addition to Lyft and Uber, we have a city-wide bike share program, scooters from three different companies scattered around town, various people who will transport you in a golf cart in exchange for tips in both Midtown and downtown, and a trolley on Main Street.
Head straight to the Rendezvous and get your barbecue fix. They open for lunch only one day a week, Friday. You’ll find mostly locals, not tourists, before the weekend kicks into high gear. Head over anytime after 11 a.m. for a free starter of rice and beans. (Keep in mind that you have a lot of eating to do on this trip!) We recommend the ribs, the Greek salad and the sausage and cheese plate. If you’ve never had barbecue nachos, go ahead and try those too. (Vegetarians can enjoy the bean and rice nachos.) Dining alone? Head to the bar and join the regulars.
OK, time to do some walking! (Or you can take a nap—we won’t judge.) Things to check out between meals: the famous Peabody hotel ducks, the Ernest Withers photography collection on Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum. On Mud Island you can follow the “mini Mississippi,” a scale replica of the lower Mississippi River, and take a selfie with the “Memphis” sign. Then get up close with the real Mighty Mississippi as you rent a kayak at the River Garden; rest up there afterwards with a locally roasted Dr. Beans cold brew. Follow it up with Main Street shopping, or walk to Arkansas along the Harahan Bridge—known officially as Big River Crossing.
Ready for a drink? Ghost River Brewing was the first locally owned craft brewery in Memphis. Stop by their taproom on South Main for their signature Ghost River Gold golden ale or something a little more bold, like the Midnight Magic. Beale Street isn’t for everyone, but if you time it just right, a cocktail at the bar inside Itta Bena above BB King’s Blues Club around sunset is pretty magical, thanks to the blue windows. If whiskey is your thing, head over to Old Dominick Distillery for a tasting of locally distilled spirits.
Foodies in search of fine dining should make dinner reservations at Catherine & Mary’s or The Gray Canary, both of which are owned and operated by James Beard nominees Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. For more casual fare, try another locally owned restaurant like The Grecian Gourmet, Central BBQ, Loflin Yard, Maciel’s Tortas and Tacos, Cozy Corner or Puck Food Hall.
Music lovers can catch the last tour at the legendary Sun Studio at 5:30 p.m. and then walk to Edge Alley for a delicious meal made from scratch, a signature cocktail, a glass of wine, a beer from the adjacent High Cotton Brewery, and/or an incredible house-roasted cup of coffee.
If it’s the last Friday of the month, check out Trolley Night on South Main. Many businesses stay open late and have specials. Depending on the time of year, you may also catch outdoor music as part of “Soulin' on the River” at Mud Island or a Redbirds baseball game.
Find a spot along the river and catch the Mighty Lights on the I-240 bridge—a 10-minute light show on the hour and half hour (unless a barge turns the lights off). Late-night party people can dance the night away at Paula & Raiford’s Disco, Earnestine & Hazel’s or anywhere on Beale Street.
Early birds should absolutely hit one of the Saturday farmers markets—we suggest the year-round Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market or the downtown Memphis Farmers Market, open April to October. Each has so much more than produce; you can meet the locals, chat with a farmer, pick up a loaf of bread or a bouquet of flowers, and enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee from Vice & Virtue or Something True.
If you are in Cooper-Young, you can easily walk to the newly erected Johnny Cash statue, local record label Goner Records, Cooper-Young Gallery + Gift Shop, and Memphis Made Brewing. You are also awfully close to Payne’s Bar-B-Q (best known for their mustard slaw and fried bologna) and to Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe (best known for hearty Southern fare like muddy mac-n-cheese and peach cobbler nachos).
Keep going down Cooper, and you’ll pass a couple of other coffee shops (Otherlands and Muddy’s) and a ton of dining options, including the Raw Girls truck, The Second Line and the multitude of restaurants in Overton Square.
Or you could head on over to the Crosstown Concourse so you can tell your friends all about our “vertical urban village.” In addition to just nosing around and exploring, you’ll find lots of places to eat and drink at Crosstown. Global Café, MEMPopS, the Art Bar and Crosstown Brewing Company are a few of our favorites.
Either way, it’s a short walk or bike ride to Overton Park, where you can explore the Old Forest, see art on display in the Brooks museum, visit the Levitt Shell where Elvis once played, or just sip a $2.50 can of local beer on the patio of the Abe Goodman Golf Clubhouse.
Continue walking (or biking) through the park to the Broad Avenue Arts District. Here you’ll find lots of locally owned shops for Memphis-made-and-approved souvenirs. (City & State has a great selection of local and regional goods and an excellent coffee program to boot.) Along the road you’ll also find Society Memphis, an indoor skate park with a coffee shop; the Rec Room, an indoor arcade; Civil Axe Throwing lounge; artist studios; and several watering holes, including Wiseacre Brewing, The Liquor Store, The Cove and Lucky Cat ramen (all solid choices).
Don’t want to explore on your own? Book a City Tasting Tour and let foodie guide extraordinaire Cristina McCarter show you around!
Late-night Midtown hot spots include Bar DKDC in Cooper-Young, B-Side just past Overton Square, and the Hi Tone in the Crosstown area. Live music can be found at any of the three on any given night. Find dive bar heaven replete with late night snacks at Slider Inn in Cooper-Young or Alex’s Tavern in Vollintine Evergreen. Slider has lots of little burgers, perfect French fries, a year-round patio and a full bar. Alex’s has two juke boxes, beer, shuffleboard and Greek-flavored “Rocky burgers.”
Sunday: South Memphis/Whitehaven
If you’ve followed our advice at all, you should wake up totally exhausted. If that’s the case, have one more meal and call it a trip! Sip a perfect pour-over at Low Fi; then stuff your face with sweet potato pancakes in Elvis’s booth at the Arcade Restaurant or hit Cooper-Young’s stylish Beauty Shop for their A+ brunch including giant mimosas and bloodys.
However, if you’ve got some energy left, hit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at 10 a.m. for a self-guided tour and load up on records, tees and books in the gift shop. Then do a drive-by of Graceland (maybe stop for a selfie outside the gates) and check out the service at Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church. (He takes the pulpit around noon.) End your trip with a bellyful of soul food at the iconic The Four Way, the friendly Jim & Samella’s House or the famous Gay Hawk Restaurant buffet.