Culture + Style

Think You’ve Seen Memphis? From River Crossings to Rockabilly, There’s Still More to Do.

So you’re traveling to Memphis. You know you want to hit the obvious must-do’s. Take that selfie at the gates of Graceland. Seek out the early rumblings of rock and soul at Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Reflect at the National Civil Rights Museum. Soak in the sounds of Beale Street and the smoky aroma of barbecue.

Do all of those things — then make time for these additional, can’t-miss Memphis musts.

Bag a Souvenir

Since 1876 Memphians have shopped for, well, almost anything at A. Schwab. Today the store honors that history in its random array of wares: hoodoo candles, Memphis-made music, dapper hats, vintage toys and more. Don’t leave without stopping at the soda fountain for a malt (or a cocktail).

For thoroughly modern souvenirs, shop Sachë in the South Main Historic Arts District for Memphis-centric T-shirts designed and printed in house.

Taste Beyond Barbecue

Once you’ve sated that barbecue craving, taste what else is cooking in Memphis. Locals are just as likely to champion the city’s haute cuisine as they are its down-home eats, so get ready for a delicious study in contrasts.

At Alcenia’s, B.J. Chester-Tamayo fries chicken till it’s golden-crisp and bakes sweet potato pie like her mama taught her. Order the daily lunch special for a sampling, and don’t be surprised if B.J. serves it with a hug.

For dinner reserve a table at ACRE, where the menu showcases the Asian heritage and Southern roots of acclaimed chef Wally Joe (imagine black bass with shiitake dumplings and acorn squash). With chic decor and serious cocktails, it’s 100 percent okay to visit ACRE for its bar alone.

Roll on the River

On its 100th birthday, Memphis’ Harahan Bridge got a new life as Big River Crossing. Where cars and trains once rattled for a mile across the Mississippi River, dog walkers, cyclists, baby strollers, joggers and sightseers now rule. Pause halfway for photos with the mighty Mississippi and downtown Memphis as your backdrop.

For a bird’s-eye view of the city, the $10 fee is worth it to zip up 28 stories to the top of Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Hang out on the glass-bottom observation deck and grab a drink and bite at The Lookout restaurant.

Get the Whole Music Story

things to do in memphis
Get the lowdown on Memphis music history at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. (Photo: Alamy)

Sun, Stax and Graceland share particular chapters of the Memphis music story. To trace the whole arc, plan a visit to the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate that documents every note that’s ever reverberated through Memphis. Expect instruments, handwritten lyrics, costumes and more related to musicians from W.C. Handy to Three 6 Mafia.

Time crunch? The Memphis Music Hall of Fame packs the story and artifacts from Jerry Lee Lewis, Justin Timberlake and others into a pocket-sized museum.

Take a Different Kind of Tour

Think guitar playing is an art? You should see how they’re made. For the iconic brand Gibson, Memphis’ Beale Street Showcase offers behind-the-scenes tours which showcase where luthiers carefully bind, paint and tune instruments.

For a quirky take on a city tour, hop in a classic car with Rockabilly Rides. Your guide is a Memphis musician who’ll take you to places you’ve heard of (and some you haven’t) while sharing stories from a local’s perspective.

Treat the Kids

things to do in memphis
See the city’s wild side on a trip to the zoo. (Photo: Getty Images)

My Big Backyard at Memphis Botanic Garden invites kiddos to crawl through giant worm tunnels, duck inside playhouses, splash beneath raindrops and so much more.

Natural light, picture-perfect landscaping and whimsical play structures create first-rate photo ops. Or pretend you’re on safari at the Memphis Zoo, where inhabitants include two giant pandas and a baby hippo named Winnie.