Discovering Family Fun in Memphis
I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with the places they love to explore with their kids in tow. Lance from TripsByLance.com is diving into what makes his hometown of Memphis, TN the perfect spot for families to dig into a find a little soul.
Many words can be used to describe Memphis but the one above all others is soul. Whisper it slowly and let it sink in: Memphis. Has. A. Soul.
If you’ll let it, that soul will creep into your being after a visit to the Bluff City. It’s in the fall-off-the-bone goodness in the ribs enjoyed at dozens of barbecue joints around town. It drips off the walls from the canvases hanging in the city’s numerous art galleries. It runs deep with emotion at the music clubs around town, at the city’s finer restaurants and at its hallowed churches and music museums, where the magic continues to be created today.
When people ask what I like about Memphis I always say its dirty soul. There is a grit about Memphis that is rough around the edges but pure gold at its heart. It’s a dirty soul that calls to former Memphians who have moved away and decide at different points in life to come home.
And it beckons to visitors. Sometimes it’s the voice speaking from the gates of Graceland, where half a million visitors pass through every year to get a glimpse into the life of the legend. We welcome the Elvis masses, but Memphis is so much more than Graceland.
And to be clear: yes, Memphis is a city that can party with the best of them. But it’s family friendly at its core. If you’re looking for a place where a family can enjoy a few days together while learning a little bit about the soul that created so much in today’s pop culture, give Memphis a chance.
Feel the Music
Memphis is known for Elvis, and rightfully so. The king of rock called Memphis home for most of his life, and tours of his Graceland mansion remain popular more than 30 years after opening to the public.
But the Memphis music scene existed long before Elvis walked into Sun Studio to record “That’s All Right Mama” back in 1954. Discover the home of blues music in the clubs of Beale Street. The Hard Rock Café on Beale is also home to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
Taking the Sun Studio tour takes you into the room where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins launched rock ‘n’ roll. The tour is short, informative and packed with loads of great music and fun.
The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum gives visitors a glance at the soul and rock music that made Memphis famous with interactive exhibits children will find fun. The museum tells the story of the country, blues and gospel music that was brought from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis in the first half of the 20th century and was blended to create rock and soul.
And speaking of soul, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is possibly the best tour in the city. Stax was home to countless hits created by legends like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. When you leave, it will be with an understanding of the impact of the Memphis sound on the world’s music.
Feed Your Soul
Memphis has a great dining scene, from the cool spots in Midtown’s Cooper-Young and Overton Square neighborhoods to the numerous choices Downtown. Some family friendly spots that offer great food include South of Beale, Aldo’s Pizza, Huey’s, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and Oshi Burger Bur. That just covers downtown. If you’re traveling without children, some of the more sexy spots include Felicia Suzanne’s, Flight and Alchemy.
All of those new American cuisine restaurants are outstanding, but if you’re making a first trip to Memphis you must try some barbecue. The city is world famous for its pork barbecue and the best spots include Central BBQ, Cozy Corner, Interstate, Payne’s and The BBQ Shop. You won’t be disappointed in the atmosphere and service at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, either. We love our barbecue in Memphis. Pulled pork is king, and make sure your sandwich comes with slaw on top. That’s Memphis style.
Discover a Moment in Time
The National Civil Rights Museum is one of the more unique attractions in Memphis. The museum is on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum tells the story of the civil rights movement from the days of slavery to current times. Some children might not have a complete understanding of what they will see but that’s OK. The exhibits are set up in a way that works well for children to learn about what they’re experiencing.
Head to the River
Memphis exists because of its location on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. There are a number of places to enjoy the river, starting at the new Beale Street Landing at the foot of Beale Street. The Landing was built as a riverboat dock, but it’s also a great place for kids to enjoy a playground, spray park and amazing views of the river from the grassy top of the building. Next to Beale Street Landing is Tom Lee Park, and above the park along the top of the bluff is the River Walk.
Lance Wiedower is the editor and publisher of Trips By Lance, a site that provides inspiration for independent travel and cultural experiences for families and couples, whether it’s halfway around the world or close to home. Lance lives in Memphis, where he and his family regularly experience all the great fun the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll has to offer. Lance also is the managing editor of The Memphis Daily News where he writes a bimonthly travel column. Follow Lance on Twitter at @tripsbylance, Facebook or Instagram at @tripsbylance.