As a non-native Memphian, I constantly welcome family and friends to town. Even after two decades, we still haven’t run out of not-to-miss places in Memphis, especially since the city keeps making more! So my favorite way to plan a day is to pick an area in town and focus on two or three things in close proximity. This is an especially appealing strategy for holiday travelers who may already be road-weary, and it fills up the day without making a long-time commitment to any one activity. So as you welcome your own guests over the holidays, here are 11 multi-stop destinations that show off the spirit of Memphis.
11 Holiday Agendas for Showing Your Out-of-Town Guests the Best of Memphis
1. Outdoorsy Adventures
The average December temperature in Memphis is about 50 degrees, but as any local knows, that means it will either be 30 or 70. If we happen to be enjoying a warmer winter, head to Shelby Farms for a cookie calorie-burning walk, or if it’s chillier, skip right to a meal at The Kitchen and a drive through the amazing lights of Starry Nights. If you’d rather stroll through the display, there are holiday hikes on December 22 and 29. There are other outdoorsy adventures to be had at Memphis Botanic Garden, featuring a Holiday Wonders exhibit through the end of the year, and Lichterman Nature Center, which has year-round ecological education.
2. Around the UofM Campus
As the University of Memphis prepares for its December 30 appearance at the Liberty Bowl, check out classic favorites around campus like Brother Juniper’s award-winning breakfasts (with shorter lines while students are away), as well as the recently refurbished Highland Strip, featuring new retail, live music venue The Bluff and restaurants like Char and Casual Pint in the brand-new Highland Row development. The nearby Orange Mound neighborhood was one of the country’s first planned communities for African-American residents and is dotted with unique hometown favorites like Pop’s Hot Tamales (takeout and cash-only).
If your guests are visiting Memphis for the first time, then yes, y’all are going to Graceland. But if you haven’t been by in a while, this Memphis mainstay probably isn’t the way you remember it. The newly opened Guest House and Elvis Presley’s Memphis reshape the entire experience, and, of course, Graceland Mansion gets all decked out for the holidays. And don’t miss exploring the area around the neighborhood, either. Grab lunch at local favorite Valle’s Italian Rebel, which has been serving homemade subs, pasta and pizza (weekdays only) since Elvis left the building. You can also walk off your sequin blindness with a four-mile walk through the Chucalissa Indian Village and wetlands at historic T.O. Fuller State Park.
4. Broad Avenue Arts District
You could easily spend hours in the Broad Avenue Arts District, starting with coffee at City & State, perusing shops and galleries, taking a craft workshop at Five in One Social Club, playing a group video game on the big screen in one of the rental “living rooms” at Rec Room, getting dinner anywhere from Bounty on Broad (all gluten-free if you have wheat-averse guests) to brand-new hit The Liquor Store, and then wrapping up with a beer at Wiseacre Brewing’s tap room or oysters and a cocktail at The Cove.
5. Overton Square
Overton Square has reclaimed its 1970s glory as Memphis’ entertainment hub with Hattiloo Theatre — the only freestanding black repertory theater in five surrounding states — a new iteration of Playhouse on the Square and its sister Circuit Playhouse, as well as independent productions at Theatreworks. This area is clearly the live theater center of the city, but also features Ballet Memphis’ new headquarters, live music stand-outs like Lafayette’s Music Room and even a four-screen cinema playing both mainstream and art-house features. And you’ll have plenty of places to go before or after a show; the Cooper/Madison intersection hums with retail and restaurant activity, and Overton Park the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and The Memphis Zoo — and its holiday Zoo Lights programs — lie just to the north.
6. Around the Stax
Memphis music history goes far beyond Elvis, of course. Journey over to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the only one of its kind in the world. Although the original studio was torn down, the museum is built on the site where Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and many more made their marks on our national soul. You can also tour the home of Memphis Slim nearby, now a “collaboratory” for local artists. While it’s not open for tours, it’s also worth a drive by Royal Studios to soak in the vibe that inspired artists from Al Green to Bruno Mars. And for an even deeper history lesson, visit Elmwood Cemetery to get acquainted with Memphis’ long line of silver-tongued artists from politics to the pews.
7. Medical District
The heart of Memphis is known for medical miracles performed daily at its hospitals and research facilities, but the area known as the Medical District also features innovations in architecture and entertainment. Sun Studio, where Sam Phillips launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and more, may be more famous, but its successor, Sam Phillips Recording Service around the corner on Madison, is the one churning out GRAMMY-winning Americana these days. Phillips Recording isn’t open for tours, but it’s worth a drive by on the way to St. Blues Guitars. For even more artistic marvels, head to Victorian Village to explore a neighborhood of 19th century homes, two of which welcome visitors inside.
8. Beale Street
I know, I know. You’ve already “done” Beale Street. But I suggest you take one more walk down the cobblestones and catch a few things you may have missed, particularly if you’ve only seen Beale Street at night. A. Schwab may seem at first like a typical souvenir shop, but this general store, soda fountain and museum is so much more. This is a great stop for multi-generational groups, because there’s truly something for everyone, including a full bar to complement the locally made gelato and handmade tonics. Keep going east on Beale toward FedExForum (where the Grizzlies play the Clippers on December 23) and you’ll find the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery, displaying photography chronicling 60 years of Memphis history, including the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
9. National Civil Rights Museum
I made this list roughly from east to west, otherwise the National Civil Rights Museum would have been at the very top. This is a true must-see for every Memphian, American and human being. Set aside at least three hours and prepare yourself to absorb more truth, pain and inspiration than you thought possible. To see these struggles reborn as art, go across the street to the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. To get even closer to the sites that shaped this history, schedule A Tour of Possibilities, which makes stops at other historical and cultural gems that African Americans have contributed to Memphis, including Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum and Clayborn Temple.
10. The Great Mississippi River
Memphis begins and ends at the Mississippi River, and we’ve recently added a number of new ways to enjoy it. Opened in October, Confluence Park on the north end of Mud Island connects the riverfront to the Wolf River Greenway trail system. The park opened on the first anniversary of Big River Crossing, the longest pedestrian-bike-train bridge in the world that also happens to span two states and the continental divide. For more gorgeous views, both indoors and out, visit the National Ornamental Metal Museum on the city’s southern bluff, or go to the top of the country’s highest free-standing elevator at the Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid.
Whoops! Did you take a wrong turn downtown and end up in Arkansas? Don’t stress, just keep going until you get to Marion and make a stop at the tiny but fascinating Sultana Disaster Museum, chronicling the largest maritime disaster in U.S. history, and then take your time scanning the massive menu of sandwiches and ice cream options at Tacker’s Shake Shack. If you’re hungry but in a hurry to get back to the city, make a quick stop for the world’s best cheese dip at West Memphis’ Pancho’s.
Enjoy your time with your out-of-town guests and discover a new corner of our fair city while you’re at it!
Wait, don’t stop now! Did you know that we have 50% off vouchers being sold to local businesses RIGHT NOW? YES! SB Deals are still available, saving you 100s of dollars at Mona Esthetics, University Plastic Surgeons, Millstone Market & Nursery, Hot Yoga Plus, Solutions Medical Center, Pavo Salon Spa and Garner Picture Framing. These end today! See details HERE!