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Two Days in Memphis, Tennessee

A guide to two days well spent eating and experiencing Memphis, Tennessee.

 Like the flip of a coin, a rainy morning in Memphis made way for a gloriously warm weekend. I had gotten a warning text at urging me to bring a jacket, which was ill-timed considering I was already at the airport in sandals. But, as good travel-juju would have it, by the time we touched down six hours later, the dark clouds had lifted. Damp air and smell of soaked asphalt quickly morphed into 83°F of sunshine the next day. I didn’t need a jacket on this trip; what I really needed was stretchy pants and I can’t wait to tell you why. All opinions expressed are my own and have first appeared on The Petite Adventurer.
Memphis, Tennessee
Pink Palace craft fair and window display at the Gibson factory
While Memphis may not be the capital of the state of Tennessee (it’s Nashville), it certainly is the capital of blues music and rock n’ roll. I was determined to make the most of this 48-hour trip with my husband to visit a dear friend. She had made all sorts of promises of leading me to food glory but had forgotten to mention how truly hospitable Memphians are. You see, there is a distinct difference between service that I experience home in California (toothy smiles, promptness, concise communication) and hospitality (warmth, commitment, enthusiasm) that I was introduced to in Memphis. Perfect strangers strike up genuine conversations with you, drop pleasant addresses such as “darlin'” or “sugar”, and take the time to find out how things are really going. The act of active listening is a beautiful and forgotten art.
This is a place filled with rich history and die-hard appreciation for the sanctity of family and community. Maybe that’s the secret sauce to the proliferation of many notable artists such as Aretha Franklin, BB King, Morgan Freeman, Elvis, Justin Timberlake, and Tennessee Williams just to name a few. This place is a hotbed for inspiration and I recommend traveling by car and foot to unlock these gems around the city.
Memphis, Tennessee
The Peabody Hotel

Do

  • Something local! We found out about Pink Palace’s craft fair at Audubon Park through the ILoveMemphis blog and also found a number of other activities on TimeOut Memphis ranging from comedy shows to EDM music.
  • Embark on the Gibson factory tour while workers are present. This is a unique opportunity to see how these incredible guitars get crafted. I’d recommend planning your visit when the factory is in full swing, so check the schedule before planning your trip. For once, I was on the opposite side of the looking glass observing my husband bounce from piece to piece in a cadence of interest completely foreign to me. I began to realize how excruciating it must be to follow me around in a department store. *Cue a new sense of appreciation*
  • Consider spending a bit of time in downtown Memphis. There’s a lovely, haunting essence in the weathered brick buildings and abandoned factories that had once housed busy people long ago.
  • Beale Street is a great place to begin. Think of it as a warm introduction to the colorful narrative that has taken place in this city. Strangely enough, it reminds me of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco in that it is an amusing tourist trap with many redeeming qualities. Be that as it may, it’s a fun place to order food and (alcoholic drinks) curb-side, peruse through the souvenir shops with kitschy magnets, and saddle up inside one of the many live-music venues.  We were fortunate enough to catch a soulful band covering the musical stylings of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Ben E. King at BBKing’s. 
Memphis, Tennessee
Mississippi River Park and new friend at the craft fair
  • In case you need to take a break from the excitement of Beale street, the ever-famous The Peabody hotel is just a few minutes walk away. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you start seeing bronzed duck prints on the sidewalk in front of the entrance and abundance of duck paraphernalia inside. Despite a history of difficult circumstances, this hotel has always bravely opened its’ doors to the community, even during the yellow fever epidemic in 1878. Many people will tell you about the daily duck procession that happens, but no need to fret if you miss it. The hotel itself is a well-preserved marvel of history and is a lovely place worth visiting.
  • Before heading out of the downtown area, catch sights of the suns’ orange and golden rays  against the Mississippi River. I’m told this is the time when the river looks most blue. The combination of the stunning colors at the Mississippi River Park, the liveliness of dancing teenagers snapchatting on their phones, and ambitious runners transposes a sense of daily life in Memphis.
  • There is no shortage of live bands in this music mecca, so you should take advantage of it! Cafe Ole in midtown has a leafy outdoor patio, stage setup, and abundance of vacation-sized cocktails in all different colors. There are also several other restaurant and music venues at the intersection of Cooper and Young if you want to hop around.
  • Regretfully, I did not get the chance to experience the Civil Rights Museum, where minister and civil rights activist  Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The building facade and several areas remain preserved from its identity as the Lorraine Hotel. This is at the top of my list for my next visit to Memphis, as well as a stroll down the historic “Victorian Village” on Adams Street.
Memphis, Tennessee
BBKing’s crawfish poppers and fried spears and hushpuppies at Gus’s

Eat

Memphians love their BBQ and their fry; all at very reasonable prices. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn if there was a hidden geyser of BBQ sauce buried underneath the city. While you don’t have to attain the level of gluttony as I had on this trip, there are a few things I strongly encourage you to try. Time to break out the stretchy pants.
Memphis, Tennessee
Central BBQ
  • Deliciously messy pulled pork sandwich piled with slaw by Germantown Commissary.
  • Crusted fried sides such as okra, tomato, pickle chips/spears, and hushpuppies served up searing hot at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.
  • Sumptuous bread pudding (which I noticed popped up on quite a few menus). The cinnamon roll pudding at Porcellino’s is to die for.
Memphis, Tennessee
Mural at Central BBQ and Beale Street 

Memphis is a gentle blend of the familiar and the new. It is a place that can tell you about perseverance through adversity and why family and community are so important. There is an unspoken respect for great food and music, which I had the privilege of experiencing during my short visit. I know it won’t be long until I come back again.

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