Went to Memphis at the end of May (May 27-June 2) and just wanted to share some experiences:
First, we intentionally planned our trip to be just after the Memorial holiday because we figured that it would be less crowded than weekend stuff. We were right about that. My wife, 5 year old son, and I stayed at the Springhill Suites on Main Street, which was quite nice. We had a double queen room overlooking the park and the trolley line. Convenient location for us and the staff was helpful. My sister in law’s family lives in Memphis, so we had some inside information for different things, so that plus this forum made things very easy for us.
We arrived late Sunday night, so in the morning (Memorial Day) we went down for breakfast. Of course it was rather crowded being “free” but it was not bad. We took a trolley ride around the Riverfront and got a good overall view of the area. It was quite hot and humid but relatively tolerable. We took a daytime walk down Beale St. and lunched at Huey’s for a quick bite. We dashed over to the Riverboat Tours and hopped on a paddle boat for an informative little tour. It was nice to sit outside in the shade and sip a beer while the tour guide told us all about the flood the year before and a plethora of river history. I would say it was worth it. I was impressed by the tow boats and the size of the loads they can handle. Another impression I had was how fast the river actually flows. I think it was 5 mph, which seems significant.
After that we went to the Peabody Hotel in time to see the ducks. I guess you have to do it once, and we had a good crowd on hand. One duck escaped early and had to be herded back for the show. They swam in the fountain while they waited for their time to take the elevator. From what action I saw in the fountain, I predict a healthy flock of new little ducklings very soon. We ate dinner at Tugs on Mud Island, which is where my sister in law’s family lives. It was pretty good and a good atmosphere for a neighborhood restaurant. I’d probably spend a lot of time there if I lived where they live.
Next day we skipped breakfast and my sister in law’s husband drove us around Memphis to see the various neighborhoods. We saw the various tracts on Mud Island, then into some of the older areas of Memphis with some large residences. All of it was pretty nice. We had lunch on the campus of Rhodes College where the sister in law work, and they made a pretty good burger. The campus is all stone buildings and looks a lot like some sort of university campus in England, except for the heat. We spent the afternoon at the Riverwalk and my son walked the entire length of the model river in his bare feet. I did not realize how long the model was until we were well into the walk, but my son would not be stopped until he reached the Gulf of Mexico. We took the monorail back to the mainland, then went to Gus’s for fried chicken that night via trolley. My son was so worn out from the Riverwalk that he slept at the table for the entire meal. He woke up in time to go down Beale St. afterward, and hung out like a local on one of the sidewalks eating the fries from Gus’s and a drink we bought him.
Beale St. at night was far more interesting than during the day. Music spilling out from the bars and people milling around the closed street figuring out where to go next. We felt very safe in that block even though it was not all that late (10 PM). We even walked all the way back to the hotel to give you an idea how comfortable we were. I enjoyed all the neon signs on Beale St. but didn’t go in anywhere.
Graceland was on tap for Day 3, and we opted to use the free Sun Studios shuttle van to get there. This was a good deal and since it was a Wednesday there was no crowd. Just 5 of us from downtown to Graceland on the van and no wait to get on the shuttle to the mansion itself, except for the souvenir photo studio. It would have been harder to smile if we had known they would try to charge us $25 to take the photo home with us at the end of the tour. Graceland was more interesting than I thought it would be, not being a rabid Elvis fan or anything. It seemed rather normal, even though in the 70’s it must have been a pretty big deal. My favorite room was the basement lounge, with the 3 TVs and a bar. The wife liked the pool room with the fabric ceiling. The son liked the pool itself, and the horses. The grave site was tasteful, which is probably a fine line for a burial place at someone’s house, where it could have been over the top or something.
The bus from the mansion dropped us off at the booth where they try to complete the sale of that $25 souvenir photo, but we decided our money was better spent on lunch so we ate at one of the restaurants at the Graceland plaza. It was mediocre but hit the spot. Just burgers and a hot dog, with no free refills. We had the Platinum tickets which gave us the airplanes and cars. The airplanes were interesting, and I suppose we are not the only ones that are amused at the seatbelt on the bed in the plane. The smaller jet’s color scheme was not at all to our liking, with a gaudy green and yellow combo. A pretty hefty rainstorm moved in in the afternoon, so we stayed inside and toured the car collection. I liked the cars and some of the history on the notecards at each display. The boy liked the tractor, and we got a laugh at some of the movie clips they were playing inside. We also went into the Elvis Icon exhibit, which I thought was a bit lame. This was mostly displays of other artists’ stuff and some commentary they made on Elvis. But who really cares what some American Idol winner thought of Elvis?
I was a bit concerned that the boy would not do well at the Sun Studios Tour because it seemed like it would be boring for him and after all the walking he might be too tired to tolerate it. But the shuttle driver implied it was a requirement, which did not really bother me. We took the tour, and I showed the boy what a record player looked like along with some other stuff in the first room of the tour. Then we went into the studio itself, and it was surprisingly low budget. Still, it was interesting to note all of the famous musicians that had come through there, and interesting that it is still used to make recordings today. The boy fared well through the tour and was rewarded with souvenir drumsticks we bought for him at the end. I am not the starstruck type, but I would recommend this tour along with Graceland.
Dinner that night was at the sister in law’s house, while I watched my Los Angeles Kings win the first game of the Stanley Cup finals in overtime. A good way to wrap up the day. I would recommend my sister in law’s as a great place for you to get dinner, especially the grilled salmon, but I don’t think she wants a bunch of Trip Advisor people traipsing through her place. Still, it was delicious.
Day 4 (Thursday) was the Fire Museum, where we were again almost all alone. The history of firefighting was well displayed, and there turned out to be some great features for kids, with a fire truck they could climb on, a simulated fire fighting drill in a bucket lift, and an ambulance. Good couple of hours if you have kids that like that stuff, and some extra historical perspective. The horses from the early fire brigades turned out to be quite well trained, and had automatic gates that opened when the fire alarm rang. they would run to their positions and then the harnesses would be lowered onto them from above. It was all very efficient and clever.
We had lunch at Cozy Corner for BBQ. This is not a typical tourist spot but more of a local spot. The outside was not much at all to look at, and the inside was about the same. But I will say the food was great and the price was right, so I would recommend it. The wife had the BBQ cornish hen, while I had the 6 rib plate. Mine was better than hers, if you ask me, but it was all good. If you just look at the food and don’t expect much else, you will like it. If you want ambience you need to go elsewhere, but I will say that the staff was friendly and accommodating since my son is a picky eater and we had to make some special requests. A thunderstorm came upon while we were inside, and my sister in law came to pick us up at the height of the storm. We didn’t have our umbrellas with us so we stood there trying to figure out how we were going to get to the car without getting drenched. Just then lightning struck the power pole across the street, which is as close to a lightning strike as I ever want to be. A tremendous crack and a puff of smoke on top of the pole. Just after that, the power inside the Cozy Corner went out, instantly improving the look of their interior decor. We decided to make a run for it, figuring lightning would not strike twice. A little scary, but the boy seemed enthralled. That’s okay by me.
Later on we went over the bridge to Arkansas to shop at Wal Mart. Same as any other Wal Mart, except we were told that they had just taken out the McDonalds they had inside because they wanted to serve healthier food (!). But the boy and I checked Arkansas off our list of states to visit (mom had been there before). Speaking of healthy, the sister in law made a salad with leftover salmon that was top notch.
On our last full day (Friday) we went to the Memphis Trolley and Train Museum which is housed in the Amtrak train station area. The boy and I both like trains, so we decided to check it out. They had only just opened a few weeks earlier so they’re still going through some teething, but they were very friendly and accomodating. There were a variety of model trains, one of which kids could control themselves, which is a welcome feature. There were a few different signaling devices on display as well. They showed us the long tunnel under the train station they hoped to expand into in the future, so it will be interesting to see what they do with the space down the line.
After that we went to the Arcade Restaurant across the street for lunch. This was a pleasant surprise because we chose it solely due to the location and the level of our hunger. The food was pretty good. I had fried catfish, which by appearance I thought was going to be dry but it was actually tender and flavorful. The wife had chicken dumplings, and these were also delicious.
Later that afternoon we drove to Mississippi so I could get a Mississippi River Kings hockey jersey. Their season was over, but the lady in charge had arranged to open the shop to sell us a jersey, which was great. The boy and his mom got to check Mississippi off their state list (I had been there before). We even got to experience getting pulled over by the Memphis Police Department on the way back (expired tag) and they seemed to be very professional. If you need to get pulled over and cited, I can recommend them to any Trip Advisor member. My driver (sister in law’s husband) even did everything wrong as the officer approached, like reaching into the glove compartment, keeping his hands from sight, etc. and still the officer did not taser him. Would almost have been as good as the lightning strike, though!
Since he wasn’t subject to non-lethal force, my sister in law’s husband participated in a 5K on Mud Island that evening, which was a rather big deal. A good turnout, live band, free beer, free stuff (I even got a T shirt and I was just standing there) and a fun gathering. Dinner that night was at the Flying Fish downtown, where I had the BBQ shrimp. It was a little heavy on the sauce, but good. The wife had the whole fried fish, which I tried and it was tasty. Lots of Billy Bass things on the wall. Luckily they don’t turn them on. If I never see another one I will be okay.
After that our week was done, with a few things we did not really get to on this trip. I was not sure what to expect in Memphis, but it had a small town feel that seemed welcoming. Even if we did not have a hostess in the form of my sister in law, we would not have needed a car for what we did, and we appreciated the ease of getting around. The city has a lot to offer and we were glad to have gotten a taste of it.
Link to some of my Memphis Photos: