When I told my husband I wanted to take a romantic weekend getaway to Memphis, Tennessee, he was like, “why?” I suppose Memphis isn’t exactly the first destination on the list of romantic weekend getaways in the USA. But, Memphis is a quick weekend trip from Louisville, Kentucky – which is my hometown, and also where we happened to be that week – and it has the kind of quirky charm and fascinating historical and cultural background that I find myself drawn to. I was curious. And besides, what could be more romantic than stuffing our faces with BBQ and hanging out with ducks in a hotel? (Yes, y’all, ducks. Also, those ducks were a crucial part of the greatest moment of my life. But more on that later.) So I convinced Jeremy that we needed to make a pit stop in Memphis before our week-long road trip across the USA. And as it turns out, Memphis is TOTALLY RAD. I can’t believe I lived a few hours away from it my whole life and never visited! And my husband? He’s changed his tune, too. We spent 48 hours in Memphis having the time of our lives and we can’t WAIT to go back. We’ve created a romantic weekend itinerary for Memphis that will have you dancing through Memphis all weekend long!
Table of Contents
- Things you should know about Memphis
- A Romantic Weekend in Memphis: 48 Hour Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Memphis, Tennessee
- Printable Memphis Itinerary
FAQ: Do I need to be in a relationship to enjoy this itinerary?
Honestly? No. Everything we did would be just as much fun by yourself or with your favorite travel companion or friend. It’s even family-friendly, with the exception of all of the drinks we drank, so just be less of a lush than us and skip that brunch mimosa and late-night drink and you’ll be fine. This is primarily a best of Memphis travel itinerary, so other than the looks of admiration you might get rolling up to a donut shop at 2am to buy yourself a giant, delicious donut, you’re totally good.
Things you should know about Memphis
I like to have some context before I visit places. And I’m gonna be honest: my context for Memphis was very, very limited before this trip. I knew Memphis was the home of Graceland, and I knew it was an important musical destination. That’s … about it. Now that I’ve visited, I can’t even tell you what a massive lack of knowledge I had about how completely rad & totally quirky Memphis is! Here’s what you need to know about Memphis. Like, not the useful stuff, but the important stuff. The useful stuff will come later, I promise.
- Memphis is weird. I say this in the best way and with the utmost affection. Louisville is weird, too. So is Austin. So is Portland. Our other home, San Francisco? It’s the capital of weirdness. So that means that Memphis fits right up there with all of my favorite places in the USA. I didn’t actually realize how weird Memphis was until this trip. But y’all, it’s a thing. And don’t just take my word for it. Locals will proudly tell you that Memphis is weird. How did it take me so long to visit this place?!
- Memphis is named after an ancient city in Egypt. Memphis, Egypt was a huge deal. It was located on the Nile River near the Giza Plateau and was incredibly powerful in its day. History is unclear about how good the music and BBQ were during this period, but we can only assume the best.
- Memphis sits in the Mississippi Delta, directly on the Mississippi River itself, which I guess is where the whole Egyptian thing came from. As a river girl myself – Ohio River, that is – I just feel that this is important. Historically speaking, the Mississippi River did pay a pivotal role in what made Memphis the hub of culture, music, and food that it has been for the past 100+ years. Romantically speaking, the Mississippi River plays a pivotal role in taking cute selfies and evening strolls along the waterfront underneath stunning sunset skies.
- There is a giant pyramid in Memphis. Because, Egypt. (I know, weird, right?) It’s this giant metal building and you can’t miss it because when you’re walking in Memphis (you just sang that in your head in Marc Cohn’s voice, didn’t you?) It will flash beckoningly at you like a giant, mirrored vision of Egyptianism. You won’t be able to not see it. So what is a giant chrome Pyramid doing in Memphis, Tennessee? Duh, it’s a huge Bass Pro Shop. And there are live animals and a viewing tower at the top! So pretty much what you’d expect, if what you were expecting was the exact opposite of what we were expecting.
- Memphis is one of the national homes of delicious BBQ. It is in that prized, elite group of USA cities smoking, grilling, and frying up that all-American flavor that just can’t be beat or replicated anywhere else. And oh my god, it’s so good. As a huge plus, Memphis specializes in dry ribs, so you can get away with wearing a cute shirt on your lunch date and not end up looking like an accident victim.
- Memphis is the birthplace of both rock n’ roll and soul music. But it’s also “Home of the Blues” and the blues is what started it all. That rockin’, feet-stomping, dance-inspiring sound came up out of the Mississippi Delta and blossomed in Memphis, and it’s the origin of both rock n’ roll AND soul music. Both genres are rooted in Memphis. Sun Studios created what we know and love as rock n’ roll: legend has it that a wad of newspaper stuffed into Ike Turner’s broken amp was what gave birth to that iconic distorted guitar sound. (Oh, and a talented young man you may have heard of, named Elvis.) Then there’s Stax Records, one of the originators of the soul sound and the heart of Memphis Soul. You can’t talk about rhythm & blues or soul without also talking about race, as these are black musical genres that evolved to give voice to a shared experience. We discovered the origin stories of both rock n’ roll and soul in Memphis, and were deeply fascinated and moved by both – but more on that later!
- Memphis is mentioned in more songs than any other place, ever. Yes, it’s true. No, it’s not New York (I was surprised, too). There are 1,000 songs and counting about Memphis. Here’s the list, if you’re curious, and here’s the top 100 if you just want the abridged version. Bonus creativity points to the 63 of them which are all just titled “Memphis”. We did listen to a Memphis Soundtrack during our entire trip to Memphis, and it turns out that there is a Memphis song for everything. We put on “Going to Memphis” as we left Louisville, then “Halfway to Memphis” when we hit Nashville. We switched to “Where the Hell is Memphis” when we took a wrong turn and got lost. Once we arrived, it was “Walking in Memphis” and, as we were going to Graceland, “Graceland.” We left Memphis to the tunes of “Headed Out of Memphis,” and “Leavin’ Memphis, Frisco Bound,” which was perfect because we were literally leaving to move cross-country to San Francisco. Amazing, right? If you’re the type to create a themed travel soundtrack for each of your trips (in which case, omg, we have so much to talk about, hit me up) you’re gonna love the fact that I included a soundtrack for each romantic stop in Memphis, AND created a soundtrack in Spotify too!
- There are ducks living in a luxury hotel in downtown Memphis. I did mention the ducks, didn’t I? Yes, y’all. Memphis is home to some ducks that live in a luxurious, historic hotel called the Peabody Hotel. The Peabody Ducks live on a roof in their own little Chateau du Canard (I don’t speak French, but I’m pretty sure that’s like the duck equivalent of the Chateau Marmont, right?) for only 3 months out of the year, so it’s like a little duck vacation. Every day, the ducks waddle into the elevator, bobble down to the lobby, and awkwardly flop their way into the fountain. Then they paddle around the fountain splashing water at each other and making cute little quacking noises and generally being the most adorable thing ever for a few hours, before flopping out of the fountain, waddling back into the elevator, and settling in for the night on the roof again. If it sounds like the most magical thing you’ve ever heard of, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. In fact, let’s just go ahead and skip to the part where I talk more about the Peabody Ducks.
The Peabody Ducks aka The Greatest Moment of my Life
Through some kind of glorious twist of magical fate, I was offered the opportunity to be the Honorary Duckmaster of the Peabody Ducks. This is the biggest of deals. The list of Honorary Duckmasters includes Oprah Winfrey, Paula Deen, Gene Simmons, The Cookie Monster, and apparently, me. I just wish we could all get together to have a dinner party. I think we’d have a lot to talk about.
Anyway, so following in the famous footsteps of some Extremely Famous People, I was the Honorary Duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel during our visit. And let me tell you: nothing that I do in life will ever be this legit again. There were crowds of people watching. Not like, a few people. Like, hundreds of people. The ducks had their own red carpet rolled out, and to help shepherd their journey, I was given what is now my most prized possession in life: a duck pimp cane. Guess what?! They sell these in the gift shop. Someone please go buy one so we can be Duck Pimp Cane twins!!
It was my job to help herd the ducks down the red carpet through the cheering throngs of people and flashing camera bulbs into the elevator and up to their duck mansion. Just read that sentence again and try to tell me that this was not the highlight of my entire life. It’s all downhill from here. That was it.
You can see the whole event, including my awkward herding attempt, in this video:
Not only did I get my 5 minutes of duck-filled fame (and some yummy duck-shaped cookies, too!), but for the rest of our trip to Memphis, people kept stopping me on the street like “oh my god, you’re HER! The Honorary Duckmaster!!!”
…Ok, fine: it happened one time, and the guy wasn’t anywhere near as excited to spot me as I was to be spotted, BUT STILL. I didn’t start a blog because I don’t like attention, y’all. Being the Honorary Duckmaster was EVERYTHING I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve never felt like a bigger deal in my life. A+ 100% would recommend to absolutely everyone.
Oh, and guess what? You can be the Honorary Duckmaster too, as long as you’ve some spare cash lying around to spend on fame, fortune, and fluffy waddling duck antics. Ahem: this is the top item on my Christmas list now, so. You know. Hint hint.
A Romantic Weekend in Memphis: 48 Hour Itinerary
Right, so. You didn’t come here to listen to me blather on about how cute the Peabody Ducks are and how nothing in my life matters now that I’ve peaked, did you? You came here to find out all about the most romantic thing to do in Memphis during a weekend getaway.
Well, here we are. 1500 words later, I’m finally starting the informative part of this post. Oh my god, is there an award for “wordiest travel blogger?” I’d win, hands down.
Pack your blue suede shoes and hop on the last train to Memphis, and let’s go! Note: our Memphis weekend itinerary works best if you’re able arrive on a Friday. You’ll want to take the day off so you can start driving or hop on a flight in the morning.
Arrival in Memphis: Friday Night Itinerary
You’ll want to arrive in Memphis before 4pm to give you plenty of time to check into your hotel and head to your first location!
Friday Stop #1: The Peabody Hotel for the 5pm Duck Parade
Yes, your very first stop in Memphis will be to catch the nightly parade of the adorable Peabody Ducks! I can’t imagine a better way to say hello to Memphis. Arrive early to snag a seat or standing room by the “red carpet” leading to the elevator, as the lobby WILL fill up.
After you watch the ducks hop into the elevator, follow them up to the roof to take in some amazing views of downtown Memphis!
- The Peabody Hotel | Address: 149 Union Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Friday Night Dinner & Drinks: Railgarten
This amazing spot is an adult playland! It’s HUGE. There’s a ping-pong bar. There’s an outdoor entertainment area. There’s an ice cream shop. And there’s an incredible restaurant, which is where you’ll be headed for dinner! We highly recommend the RG Poutine, which consists of duck fat fries (I recognized the hypocrisy as soon as I wrote it), coffee rubbed pulled pork, slaw, gravy, and cheese curds. Oh my god you guys it was so good. Just look at it. LOOK AT IT. You could definitely stay here all night and have an amazing night, but we’ve got another option…
- Railgarten | Address: 2166 Central Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Friday Night Date: Live Music in Memphis
There are endless opportunities to see live music in Memphis. Like, you’d actually have to TRY avoiding live music – chances are, just walking in Memphis (ehhhh? How many times can I make this joke before it gets old?! Let’s find out!) you’ll walk past several bars playing some of the best soul, jazz, or rock n’ roll you’ve ever heard, a couple of bands playing in a park somewhere, and maybe even a few people just singing to themselves. The music of Memphis is its heart and soul. So of course, you’ll spend your romantic Friday night date at a concert or a show in Memphis! You have a lot of options, so take your pick and check out this comprehensive Memphis Events Calendar see what’s happening in Memphis during your visit. (And look in advance so you know whether you need to buy tickets or switch your Friday & Saturday night plans!)
- Catch a FREE concert at Levitt Shell: There are always free concerts happening at this incredible historic open air music venue, whether it’s the FREE summer series or the FREE fall series. The mission of the Levitt Shell is all about making music widely available to anyone, so if you love what they’re doing, donate (or buy some snacks or whatever) to keep this amazing community staple going!
- Watch a Concert in the Memphis Botanic Garden: In August & September a wonderful outdoor summer concert series called Live at the Garden. Check the schedule and make sure to buy your tickets early.
- Jam to Soul Music at the National Civil Rights Museum: What could be more incredibly powerful than a soul concert at the very location where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered? During the month of September in 2017, there’s an MLKSoul Concert Series at the museum in honor of the 50th anniversary of the act of terrorism that killed MLK and set in motion the final events of the Civil Rights movement.
Friday Late Night Dessert: Gibson’s Donuts
It’s a bit of a drive, but the donuts at Gibson’s Donuts are well worth it. Plus, this amazing donut shop is open 24/7, so you can stop by to cure those late-night sugar cravings at 2am without judgement. Personally I like to think of mutual diet-enabling as one of the most romantic aspects of my marriage, and if stuffing your face with a Maple Bacon Donut or a Girl Scout Cookie Samoa donut isn’t the pinnacle of romance, I don’t want to know what is.
- Gibson’s Donuts | Address: 760 Mount Moriah Rd., Memphis, Tennessee
Romantic Saturday in Memphis: All About the Music
Your Saturday in Memphis is all about the stars and history of Memphis music. You’ll fuel up and knock out 3 different music-focused stops, so that by the end of the day, you’ll know a LOT more about the music of Memphis than you probably do now. By the time you roll up to Beale Street to hold hands as you stroll down the coolest street in Memphis, you’ll have a lot more appreciation for the history and music still pouring out of the windows lining both sides of the street.
Logistical Note: All 3 of your Memphis destinations for Saturday are on the FREE Sun Studio Shuttle, so you can leave your car at any of the 3 and take the free shuttle in between each. I recommend starting at Graceland (and leaving your car there) even though it costs $10 mostly because it’s outside of town and there’s a giant parking lot, while the other 2 are right in town which makes parking more of a challenge.
- Saturday Soundtrack: “Hello, Memphis,” “Graceland,” “Walking in Memphis,” “Memphis Soul Stew,” and “Beale Street on a Saturday Night”
Saturday Morning Coffee: Tamp & Tap
Tamp & Tap is our favorite coffee shop in Memphis, not only because of its delicious nitro cold brew and expertly crafted pour-overs, but also because they manage to expertly straddle the line between 2nd & 3rd wave coffee. Which, in layman’s terms, means that you can not only get a perfectly balanced cup of single-origin heaven (3rd wave) but that you can also get crazy fun coffee drinks like cold brew with cinnamon-chicory & cream or a dark chocolate & raspberry latte – the kind of sugary deliciousness that keeps us all coming back to 2nd wave shops like Starbucks. There’s something to please everyone! Plus, the coffee shop is right downtown, making it walking distance from our hotel. Perfect, because we are not good at driving before we’ve had our coffee.
- Tamp & Tap | Address: 122 Gayoso Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Saturday Breakfast: Choose Your Own Adventure
There are a ton of amazing places to get weekend brunch or breakfast in Memphis (like these), but the downside is that many of them are at least a 15 minute drive away from the city center. Luckily, you’re heading out of downtown anyway, since your first stop of the day is Graceland! So take your pick from Hog & Hominy, The Beauty Shop Restaurant, and Brother Junipers – they’re all well worth the schlep.
Eat a filling breakfast because you’ll need to stay full until dinner – so bring a Clif bar or something in case your sweetheart gets hangry. Hanger is the #1 cause of relationship problems! Household chores are #2. Of course, these are facts that I just made up based on my own marriage, so your mileage may vary.
- Hog & Hominy | Address: 707 W Brookhaven Cir., Memphis, Tennessee
- The Beauty Shop Restaurant | Address: 966 Cooper St., Memphis, Tennessee
- Brother Junipers | Address: 3519 Walker Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Saturday Stop #1: Graceland
That coffee and giant breakfast better have fueled you up, because your first stop is Graceland! Obviously, on the way there you’ll be listening to “Graceland” by Paul Simon. You’ll be touring Elvis Presley’s home, which is exactly the type of mansion you’d expect from a nice young man who suddenly became very famous. (I imagine Justin Bieber’s home looks similar). Without giving away the many secrets of Graceland, I just want to say that I have mad respect for anyone with enough self-love to decorate using both self-portraits AND mirrors, so that everywhere you turn, you see your own gorgeous face. I’m taking décor notes. Allow yourself a few hours to see all that Graceland has to offer.
Saturday Stop #2: Rock ‘N Soul Museum
Elvis and Rock n’ Roll are only one half of the Memphis music equation: soul is the other half. Well OK, there’s the Memphis blues too, but they led to soul. You’ll learn about them both at the Rock ‘N Soul Museum. Curated by the Smithsonian Institute, the museum tells the complete story of both sides of the Memphis whole, which are intertwined musically, politically, and racially. While most of your stops today are focused more on rock n’ roll than soul, don’t worry: you’ll be getting plenty more soul tomorrow at STAX. The Rock ‘N Soul museum will give you a great context for tomorrow’s itinerary. Almost like we planned it that way. Muahaha.
- Rock ‘N Soul Museum | Address: 191 Beale St., Memphis, Tennessee
Saturday Stop #3: Sun Studio
Sun Studio is where rock greats like Elvis and Johnny Cash got their start. Also, Jerry Lee Lewis, a dude who once married his 13-year-old cousin while he was still married to someone else, is currently on his 7th wife – 2 of them died mysteriously – and is nicknamed Killer because he tried to strangle one of his teachers in high school. Sadly, none of that was mentioned on the tour, so if you’re curious, do your research beforehand. But anyway, you’ll get to tour Sun Studio and imagine hanging out and listening to some of the very first rock ‘n roll greats. It’s a fun, short tour that you can do in about 30 minutes, which is perfect because by now you’re probably getting very close to hanger time.
- Sun Studio | Address: 706 Union Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Saturday Night Dinner: Blues City Café
I know we kept you hungry all day, but Blues City Café on Beale Street is worth the wait. Oh my GOD you guys it’s so good. From the smoky, succulent ribs to the flaky, crunchy fried catfish to the magical spice they provide at the table (we covered our food with about half the container and then bought our own to take home. ADDICTED) everything here is so, so, so good. We both got combo platters so we could try ribs and catfish, which was perfect. We also got a bowl of Memphis Soul Stew, mostly just so we could listen to the song. My one great regret in life is that we were too full to try an apple dumpling or slice of pecan pie for dessert. #firstworldproblems
- Blues City Café | Address: 138 Beale St, Memphis, Tennessee
Saturday Night Date: Beale Street
America’s most iconic street since the 1800’s, the history of Beale Street is fascinating. From its earliest days it was the site of activism, home to the radical anti-segregation newspaper Free Speech, co-owned and edited by NAACP founder Ida B. Wells (one of the most badass babes in history). It was also home to musicians, artists, brothels, and the most fun bars and clubs in town, of course.
The first black millionaire of the south was Robert Church, who purchased the land around Beale Street, a saavy investment after a yellow fever epidemic left the city scrambling for funds. Since its early days, Beale Street was a place where you could be freely black. You could open a business. You could sing and write the about the challenges of being black in a racist country. The creativity flowing from this mecca of black talent even attracted white folk, like Elvis Presley, whose style was deeply influenced by the music created by black artists on Beale Street. Today, you’ll hear many an optimist describe Beale Street as one of the first truly de-segregated places in the south.
Beale Street is still an amazing place to visit, though we think knowing its history makes it even more fascinating. If you show up around sunset, Beale Street will just be coming alive with the sights and sounds of Memphis. You’ll see the incredible Beale Street Flippers, a street performer group that should be our next Olympic gymnastics team. If you watch NBA basketball, you’ve probably seen them in the half-time show. Yep, they’re from Memphis – and they still perform live right on Beale Street!
Walking down Beale Street is like flipping through channels on a radio: each brightly lit, neon-signed door has a new sound coming from it, a different genre, a different era. Our favorite act by far was in Handy Park, where a band was playing soul to a small but enthusiastic audience, all dancing, singing along, and having a blast. The vibe of Beale Street is alive and well and can be find right here on the street and in the locals who still feel the soul of Memphis running through their veins!
- Beale Street | Address: Beale St., Memphis, Tennessee
Sunday in Memphis: Soul, Civil Rights, and BBQ
Saturday’s itinerary was all about the music; Sunday’s is all about the history and culture that made Memphis so unique and famous. Memphis played an integral role in the Civil Rights Movement, both as an epicenter of black culture and progress, and as the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. You can’t credit Memphis with creating Rock ‘N Roll without also crediting Soul for and Blues for inspiring Rock ‘N Roll, and you can’t talk about soul and blues without talking about race.
These musical genres were born from a shared experience of blackness, a shared experience felt by a displaced population who did not speak one another’s language but felt the universal language of suffering way back when they were enslaved and sang field songs that spoke to the depth of their pain as they worked under whip and lash in the hot sun. Those field songs later became gospel and blues, which became Soul and Motown, which in turn jumped the fence and became Rock ‘N Roll: a genre rooted in black rhythm but no longer a black musical genre.
To speak about the music of Memphis without addressing its racial history head-on would be doing a disservice to many talented musicians who paved the way. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a badass babe known as the grandmother of Rock ‘N Roll: a black woman of the church with a rockin’ guitar who was the first to develop and influenced what would later become Rock ‘N Roll. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of her either. Memphis schooled me.
And so your Sunday in Memphis itinerary focuses on race, politics, Civil Rights, and soul music. You are diving right into the heart of Memphis, looking it straight in the eye, acknowledging it, feeling it, learning from it, and gaining a deep, loving appreciation for it.
Sunday Morning Brunch: Arcade Restaurant
Grab a coffee to go and head to Arcade Restaurant, Memphis’ oldest café. Dating back to 1919, this classic diner serves up breakfast staples like Country Fried Steak and Sweet Potato Pancakes. And because we’re gluttons (we like to refer to ourselves as “foodies” but let’s just be honest) my favorite breakfast dish is the Eggs Redneck: “biscuits and sausage smothered in gravy with eggs and hash browns.” Yes.
- Arcade Restaurant | Address: 540 S Main St., Memphis, Tennessee
Sunday Stop #1: National Civil Rights Museum
Without hyperbole, I can say without hesitation that the National Civil Rights Museum is hand down one of the best museums I have ever visited in my life, if not THE best, anywhere in the world. It is a museum capable of reducing you to tears and then building you back up again. The detail, the depth of information, the meticulous design and immersive displays set this museum a cut above any other museum I’ve ever visited. You will leave this museum feeling moved.
It’s not just that the museum is in the Lorraine Motel, the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. It’s not just that you’ll read about his final moments while standing where he stood, or walk across the street to trace the steps of his killer, and then trace the conspiracy theories surrounding the mysterious events that led an unmotivated man to murder the most influential black man of that time. No, that’s not all that makes the National Civil Rights Museum so powerful.
It is the entire museum. It is every moment of the Civil Rights Movement, laid bare and without the fast-forwarding that we did in history class, where we talked only about the “highlights.” The Museum talks about the moments in between. The daily struggle and acts of heroism of regular black folk. The incredible drive, organization, and strength of both adults… and students.
Yes, students: high school students and college students, who organized and mobilized to create SNCC: the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. These amazing young people got together to learn to fight, to rebel, to resist, to protest. They were as much a part of the Freedom Rides, of sit-ins in the face of angry mobs of white terrorists, and of mobilizing black voters as the group of fully grown adults led by Martin Luther King Jr. Children as young as 14 signed their wills and chose to participate in dangerous activism activities daily, fully knowing that they risked their lives every single day. They were beaten, jailed, expelled, and murdered.
Let that sink in for a minute.
My husband is a high school teacher in Oakland, California, and the vast majority of his students are urban youth of color. We could not help but think of his kids as we read about the incredible bravery and integrity of the students, black and white, who organized and participated in SNCC. Their strength. Their courage. Their determination.
God damn, you guys, it was f**king powerful.
If there is 1 thing you do in Memphis, only one, you must visit the National Civil Rights Museum.
It is hands down the most important, impactful, meaningful, and powerful thing we did during our entire trip. That visit has stayed with us. And as anti-racist activists ourselves, it has inspired us and challenged us to stay mobilized, to stay active, to never let our fear or our laziness stand in the way of doing what is right to fight the racism that is still alive and prevalent in the United States of America today. Because if children can give their f**king lives so that their peers can have basic human rights, how the hell can we possibly justify sitting around and doing nothing?
I hope I’ve gotten my point across because I feel like I could write about this amazing museum for pages. Go. Now!!
- National Civil Rights Museum | Address: 450 Mulberry St., Memphis, Tennessee
Sunday Lunch: Central BBQ & Makeda’s Cookies
Directly across from the National Civil Rights Museum is Central BBQ, one of the best BBQ restaurants in Memphis. There’s pretty much always a line, which is OK because you’re going to have a LOT to talk about after the Civil Rights Museum. We recommend the ribs, because it’s Memphis and of course the ribs are amazing, right?
Just down the street from Central BBQ you’ll find Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies, a tiny hole-in-the-wall cookie shop serving up the best butter cookies we’ve ever had in our lives. Makeda’s Cookies is named after Makeda Denise Hill, the owner’s niece, who lost her battle with leukemia at the age of 7. The shop was created to keep her memory alive and well. We were fortunate enough to meet the owner, who was working on a few new amazing butter cookie recipes and was generous enough to let us try every single one of them. We were instantly hooked! No lie, we went back for a bag of cookies like every day of our trip. They’re that good.
- Central BBQ | Address: 149 E Butler Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
- Makeda’s Cookies | Address: 488 S. Second, Memphis, Tennessee
Sunday Stop #2: Stax Museum
After lunch, it’s time to head to your last stop in Memphis: Stax Museum! If you’re unfamiliar with Stax, it was basically THE recording studio for soul musicians from the 60’s to the mid 70’s. Detroit had Motown; Memphis had Stax. Artists like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding (of “Sitting by the Dock of the Bay” fame, one of San Francisco’s favorite songs and the last he ever recorded before being killed in a plane crash), Booker T. And the MGs, Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla Thomas (if you’ve seen Baby Driver, you’ve heard one of Carla Thomas’ songs, “B-A-B-Y”) and more. And of course, because this was the 60’s and soul music is a black musical genre, the music at STAX was intertwined with racial tension.
Our experience at the Stax Museum was definitely enhanced by touring the Civil Rights Museum beforehand, as many of the impactful events affecting Stax were key moments in the Civil Rights Movement as well. Stax Records was described as a “race-free” zone (in the tearful words of one of its white musicians, to which I raise an eyebrow skeptically) where blacks and whites integrated freely and it was all about the music … until it couldn’t be all about the music anymore, because the black musicians at Stax couldn’t leave their race at the door and walk inside to record carefree songs while their friends and families were being murdered and beaten daily on the streets.
Race crept into Stax, and the musicians who couldn’t embrace that change left. And as the music became more revolutionary and less pleasing to the white ear, the money began to leave, too. You can guess what happened next. Stax Records was as much a victim of racism as its musicians.
The story at Stax is every bit as fascinating and inspiring as the story of the country as a whole at that time. This is exactly why we were so intrigued by Memphis: its history, its culture, its music, and its politics are all intertwined, which it what makes it both so interesting and so meaningful. It’s one thing to tour some recording studios and think “oh, that’s cool, I like that music.” It is another to connect the dots between a recording studio, real moments in recent history that made huge and impactful change, and racial, political, and socioeconomic ramifications that are still at play today.
Our favorite part of touring the Stax Museum was that there is STILL live music pouring out of this musical mecca! We had the chance to sit and watch an absolutely INCREDIBLE free live concert by local soul/pop artist Nick Black, who not only covered some of the most famous songs from Stax musicians, but also NAILED a Justin Timberlake song (another talented Memphis musician, did you know?). No shame, Jeremy and I both left with total man crushes. This dude can sing like a damn angel AND he rocks long hair with the kind of man-bun-free panache that makes me want to know all of his haircare secrets. Dear Nick Black: please tell me what conditioner you use, and also how you got so fly. Love, Lia & Jeremy. PS can we go on a karaoke double date with you and your adorable wife? Seriously, check out his awesome Youtube Channel and just try not to swoon (or laugh). It’s legit impossible.
The other thing we LOVED about Stax is the Stax Music Academy, An incredible music program for talented young people – particularly youth of color – the Stax Music Academy continues the legend of Stax to nurture, foster, and educate talented musicians right here in Memphis, in the neighborhood that has long been called Soulsville. How awesome is that?! As a fellow educator, Jeremy was stoked to find out about the Stax Music Academy and its incredible mission, particularly as their focus on at-risk youth and college preparedness directly aligns with the mission of Jeremy’s school. You can support the Stax Music Academy by donating or by visiting and catching one of their amazing performances!
- Stax Museum | Address: 926 E McLemore Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Sadly, your amazing weekend in Memphis has to come to an end. Stock up on butter cookies for the ride (or flight) back home, but don’t worry – you’ll be transported right back to Memphis every time you listen to its incredible music!
Where to Stay in Memphis, Tennessee
There are lots of options for where to stay in Memphis. We stayed right in downtown, which was super convenient thanks to its proximity to Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Peabody Ducks. We’ve compiled the best places to stay in downtown Memphis for you and your sweetheart on any budget.
On a Budget
- The Vista Inn & Suites Beale Street| Address: 265 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
- The Hotel Napoleon | Address: 179 Madison Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
- Sleep Inn at Court Square | Address: 40 N. Front St., Memphis, Tennessee
There is only 1 choice if you’re willing to splurge for your romantic trip to Memphis: The Peabody Hotel. This is THE place to stay in Memphis. Like, yes, because ducks, but also, this hotel is a destination in and of itself. From the history of Memphis on display throughout the hotel, to the delicious restaurants, to the luxury of it all, to the amazing rooftop views, this is the coolest place to stay and I wish we’d taken the plunge and stayed here too. Let us live vicariously through you!
- The Peabody Hotel | Address: 149 Union Ave., Memphis, Tennessee
Printable Memphis Itinerary
I know, I know – this is a long AF post. Y’all, don’t ever say we aren’t thorough. Luckily for you, we’ve compiled our itinerary into a super handy, 1-page downloadable and printable map! Load it up on your phone so you can easily navigate from place to place, or print it out and make notes on it if you’re my mom/me/my sister/anyone else in my family of obsessive note-takers.
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We hope you enjoy your romantic/educational/historical/inspiring trip to Memphis. We’re dying to go back, so maybe we’ll see you there!
What are you most excited to explore in Memphis? Leave us a comment below!
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Disclaimer: We partnered with Memphis Travel for our trip to Memphis. Special thanks to Hotel Napolean, The Peabody Hotel, Graceland, Stax Museum, Sun Studios, and the National Civil Rights Museum for their support and partnership. Our itinerary was 100% our own, as are our opinions, political leanings, terrible jokes, and references to the “Duck Pimp Cane” which probably has a very respectable name.
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