Driving across Tennessee from Nashville to Memphis, feels like stepping from bluegrass and country music to BBQ and rock n’ roll. With only 24 hours in Memphis and endless amounts of music and food, I only had time for the best.
While Nashville has hot chicken, Memphis has made an art form of BBQ, boasting 117 joints across the metro area.
Think about that. It would take you at least a quarter of a years worth of lunches to try them all. Your heart might explode if you tried to cover them for both lunch and dinner in under sixty days.
Naturally I was up for the challenge, but it requires strategy. By cutting down on the meat (OK, not really) and savoring the best this city really has to offer in short time, you’ll get a taste of what to do in Memphis.
Table of Contents
Memphis Restaurants: Breakfast
Every day in Memphis needs to start with a hearty breakfast. You have a few options, depending on how much you want to clog your arteries. There is no judgement here. I love chicken and waffles. If you find a good one, you should email me right away.
The Arcade, 540 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103.
Opened in 1919, it is the oldest café in Memphis, and proudly evokes that 1950s diner vibe. Still run by the Zepatos family, this restaurant is close to the Civil Rights Museum and right off the trolley line. Visit The Arcade if you are looking for a classic southern chicken, biscuits and gravy breakfast. Or maybe you are craving Sweet Potato Pancakes? Then again, it’s always better to eat like The King and order Elvis’s favorite, Peanut Butter ‘N’ Banana Sandwich (add bacon!).
Rizzos by Michael Patrick, 492 S. Main, Memphis, TN 38103.
While it’s hard to imagine, sometimes you might not want your breakfast smothered and deep-fried. When that happens, you head to Rizzos for Sunday brunch and $5 Bloody Marys. French Toast Bananas Foster should be your starter for the table only because you don’t want to fill up on anything else and miss a single bite. The Blackened Catfish or Southern Style Eggs Benedict are solid choices when you want something savory and packed with protein.
Memphis National Civil Rights Museum
Walk by the Lorraine Motel and you may not realize its significance if you haven’t read up on the Civil Rights Movement. Chances are, your kids will have no idea why this motel is still here. Their grandparents will. This is the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. And everyone needs to visit.
I visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA shortly after it opened. It was a powerful experience, oddly situated between the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola. Nonetheless, I was crying halfway through the museum.
Just like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the museum’s focus on Civil Rights in America, shows a side of our country that we should not be proud of. But we need to be reminded of the events, because sadly the fight is ongoing. This fact hits even closer to home at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
The National Civil Rights Museum is built into the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He had come to help with the African American city sanitation workers’ strike. His life was tragically cut short, thus ending his remarkable efforts to bring justice and equality to all.
The museum brings you through the history of African Americans in our country, from slavery until present day. Interactive exhibits demonstrate what it was like for Rosa Parks to get yelled at by a bus driver and told to sit in the back of the bus. This particular exhibit was so powerful that more than one little girl cried while the recording was played in the bus. While it’s understandably moving, it’s important for people to realize the pain individuals like Rosa Parks went through.
While we may not experience the same levels of segregation these days, plenty of U.S. citizens are being ostracized and oppressed in other ways by their neighbors for equally petty reasons.
The museum tour ends by walking past the two rooms MLK Jr. and his colleagues occupied until his assassination. You see how their rooms were set up, and the balcony he was shot on. You can see straight out to where they think the gunman stood as well. This is where I began to cry in the museum. So much history. So many men and women fighting for their basic right to live, and many whom are still fighting for these rights today. It’s not an easy thing to shut down when you come face to face with your nation’s chaotic history with race.
I Am A Man
After you have visited the National Civil Rights Museum, you will understand the “I Am A Man” artwork around town a bit more. Walk up to S Main Street to find the I Am A Man mural. The bright colors help the signs within the painting pop out declaring “I Am A Man” as African American men march through the art piece towards you.
You can then drive over to I Am A Man Plaza next to the Clayborn Temple. Opened on April 5, 2018, this park was set up to memorialize the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and Martin Luther King Jr. At its center is a bronze and stainless steel sculpture created by Cliff Garten Studio spelling out “I AM A MAN,” with words from the sanitation workers etched into the body of the piece. Behind the sculpture you will find a marble wall with the names of 1300 sanitation workers who participated in the strike to gain higher wages and better working conditions back in March of 1968.
Memphis Restaurants Options: Lunch
Lunch is the perfect time to dive into the staples of Memphis cuisine, BBQ and Hot Chicken. While most people know what BBQ is, many are less familiar with hot chicken.
I mean, isn’t most fried chicken hot? Well, yes, but in this case, “hot” is referring to a certain level of spice. It involves cayenne pepper, and is known as Nashville Hot Chicken, where this breed of bird was invented.
Central BBQ, 2249 Central Ave, Memphis, TN 38104.
Don’t be intimidated by the line outside. It moves fast and doesn’t reflect the crowds inside. You simply wait in that line to place your order, then find a seat and wait for your food. The Ribs are worth the wait, as are the nachos.
Get in line after you get your dose of history at the National Civil Rights Museum, and chat about what you learned over a good meal just across the street.
Gus’s Hot Chicken, 310 S Front St, Memphis, TN 38103.
Gus may be known for his hot chicken, but it was his fried pickles that had me loading up on seconds. This small establishment hasn’t changed much over the years. The lines get longer as the night wears on, so arrive early.
Keep in mind that everything is fried in peanut oil, so if you have a nut allergy, you will want to dine elsewhere. The menu is basic, with white and dark meat, potato salad, fried rice, baked beans, coleslaw and other sides to chose from.
Also, don’t skimp on dessert. The pecan and chess pies will provide you with the sugar rush you’ve been craving to balance out the salty meal.
I Love Memphis Murals
At last count, there were eight “I Love Memphis” murals across town. These are great spots to enjoy the local art, take your selfies and discover different areas around the city. Do not rely on Google Maps to tell you where the murals are. It doesn’t know.
The Ilovememphisblog.com has a full listing that tries to stay current on what murals have been demolished.
My favorites I Love Memphis mural is on Watkins Street. Designed by Kong Wee Pang and Jay Crum, it is a vibrant depiction of the cities connection to water, history and much more. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore these works of art, you will see more of the city than you thought possible.
Walk Beale Street Early
Just about the only equivalent to Beale Street I can give you is Bourbon Street in New Orleans. It has that same vibe of bars and music, but Beale Street isn’t quite as crazy. Do expect to go through security to get onto this strip after a certain time and to show I.D.
Walk Beale Street early in the evening just after sunset to see the neon lights of the old clubs and bars. That’s what this street is really known for. The crowds aren’t as rowdy yet, and if you have the kids with you, it is a safer time to be out and about.
Memphis Restaurants: Dinner
Loflin Yards, 7 W Carolina Ave, Memphis, TN 38103.
An indoor/outdoor space to enjoy cocktails, delicious food, a stage for bands to rock the house, corn hole and fire pits. What’s not to love? Oh, yes. There are brisket tacos. Check the website for hours and events before you show up, but show up you must because this fun space is where Memphis shows its local trendy side.
Memphis Hotels: Where to Stay
The Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Ave, Memphis, TN 38103.
The historic Peabody Hotel is one of the most sought-after hotel stays in Memphis, and for good reason. The rooms are deliciously updated about every six years, the staff is given the power to make sure your needs are met and the extra mile is taken to give you the best stay imaginable.
CLICK for the best rates and availability at the Peabody Hotel now!
Oh, and there are ducks in the lobby. Yes, real life ducks. Every day these ducks do their famous march from their penthouse on the roof down to the lobby. Each afternoon they march back home with the Duck Master keeping them in line. It is a twice daily event that brings in the crowds. Former president Jimmy Carter built his schedule around this march on several occasions. More than one celebrity has been known to stop to watch as well. History, service and a pool, all located in the center of Memphis’ favorite sights and some of the best restaurants in town, make this an easy hotel to book when you are in town.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links I will receive a small commission. Many thanks to Memphis Tourism, The Peabody Hotel and Mediavine for hosting me in Memphis, Tennessee as a mentor at BlogHouse Memphis 2018. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t, you will be the first to know.