48 Hours in Memphis

48 Hours in Memphis

Our recent weekend stay in Downtown Memphis was centered on attending a Memphis Grizzlies game as part of the third installment of our NBA Road Trip Series. But we discovered so much more than just NBA fun during our 48 hours in Memphis experience. And on the surface, that might seem hard to believe, considering we’re residents of the Memphis area. But staying in a downtown hotel helped us enjoy 48 hours in Memphis like we’ve never done before.

I work in Downtown Memphis, so we had a major advantage over others visiting Downtown Memphis for the first time. I know the lay of the land very well, I’m familiar with all the restaurants and bars, and the ins and outs of attending an NBA game at FedExForum. I’ve even visited several of the tourist attractions (Beale Street, Sun Studio, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and National Civil Rights Museum). But what I’ve never done is stay overnight. In fact, in my more than 20 years of living in the Memphis area, I’ve never spent one night downtown. So this portion of our NBA Road Trip, experiencing 48 hours in Memphis, allowed us to experience the city like visitors.

What We Did:

48 Hours in Memphis

B.B. King is one of several artists to make their mark at Sun Studio.

So what did we do? Well, I can say what we didn’t do. We did not visit Graceland. In fact, we never left Downtown Memphis. I know most Memphis visitors are going to spend at least a couple of hours in the Whitehaven neighborhood visiting Elvis’ former home. But this trip was all about Downtown Memphis.

There are several museums and attractions downtown. We only visited two museums: Sun Studio and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. We also spent time at the Memphis Farmers Market, exploring the shops of the South Main Historic Arts District and playing at the river.

 

48 Hours in Memphis

The wind didn’t keep us from enjoying some Frisbee throwing next to the Mississippi River on Mud Island.

In fact, we spent a lot of time playing at the Mississippi River. The spring weather was perfect to enjoy the parks fronting the Mississippi River on Mud Island, as well as Tom Lee Park and the River Walk along the bluff overlooking the river.

We started out on Saturday shopping the stalls of the Memphis Farmers Market in the South Main Historic Arts District.

48 Hours in Memphis

Memphis Farmers Market

After the market, the shops and galleries of South Main were calling our name. There are lots of finds here, especially at Stacey’s favorite store, Hoot+Louise.

48 Hours in Memphis

After lunch, we decided to get in the car and drive to Sun Studio. It’s technically walkable, but Memphis is an easy city to drive in. Street parking is free at night and on the weekends, and Downtown usually isn’t too crowded during the day on weekends. Plus, we really did need our car to get across the Memphis Harbor onto Mud Island.

Sun Studio is one of my Memphis favorites. In case you aren’t familiar with your rock ‘n’ roll history, this is where the magic happened. Elvis Presley was discovered at Sun Studio.

48 Hours in Memphis

Other rock pioneers, including Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, launched their careers at Sun.

48 Hours in Memphis

And more modern artists, including U2, have recorded albums at Sun.

The tour isn’t long, but it packs power in its quick punch. It starts out in the upstairs part of the two-story building with an overview of the magic that happened at Sun, all while seeing displays on the studio’s great artists. There is also the radio studio that Dewey Phillips first played Elvis’ record to the young ears of Memphis.

48 Hours in Memphis

This is the studio where all the magic happened. The tour guide is standing near the X where Elvis stood to record his first songs.

The tour moves downstairs and into the studio, which is still in use today. Clips of music recorded at Sun is played throughout the tour with stories behind the artist are told.

48 Hours in Memphis

Sun Studio remains an active recording studio.

You even get the chance to stand on the X and sing into the microphone that Elvis used.

48 Hours in Memphis

Yes, this really is the microphone Elvis used.

Pretty cool.

We had time to visit a couple of more museums, but we decided to just tour the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum on Sunday. Its location across from our hotel was perfect.

48 Hours in Memphis

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is in a great location. It’s part of the FedExForum complex, just across Third Street from the Gibson Guitar Factory and the Westin Memphis Beale Street hotel. And Beale Street is just about 30 yards to the right.

We spent nearly two hours at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. And as any parent traveling with children knows, being able to spend nearly two hours in a museum with kids means it must be pretty interesting. I wasn’t sure how much Colby would enjoy the Rock ‘n’ Soul, but I was hopeful. He does have an interest in music, and living in Memphis he is aware of Elvis. But beyond that, he doesn’t know much about the role Memphis has played in creating some of the great music of the past 50-plus years.

48 Hours in Memphis

The museum chronicles the creation of rock ‘n’ roll and later, soul music, starting in the farmland in the Memphis region with the country, blues and gospel songs that farmers and sharecroppers listened to and sang in the fields. That music went with them as they moved to Memphis for jobs following the Great Depression and World War II years.

48 Hours in Memphis

And what was created in Memphis was magic, from B.B. King’s blues to Elvis and Carl Perkins’ rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll to the soul magic of Sam and Dave, Otis Redding and Al Green.

48 Hours in memphis

Signs like this are spread throughout the museum giving song selections to punch into the audio tour guide to get a taste of all the music created in Memphis.

I find that this is the best site for visitors to Memphis to get an overall understanding of the music scene in Memphis. Sure, lots of people want to see Elvis’ Graceland. And as mentioned above, the Sun Studio tour is really cool. I also think a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music near Downtown is a wonderful museum. But to get an overall appreciation for all of that magic, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum touches it all.

48 Hours in memphis

And again, this place held the attention of our 7-year-old son. It might have had something to do with all the fun music he could punch into his audio tour guide. But I think he really listened to the tour, and enjoyed the displays.

Where We Ate:

48 Hours in Memphis

The Australian Lamb dish at Bleu Restaurant proves that know all Memphis food is barbecue.

Memphis is a great food town, and we experienced a mix of old favorites and new-to-us locations. Our pregame meal before attending the Memphis Grizzlies game was at South of Beale. The restaurant is probably a half mile or so from FedExForum. SOB is a mix of great food at good prices and a great bar scene. Plus, it’s run by big Grizzlies fans, and everyone — staff and customers — gets into the act on game night.

 

48 Hours in Memphis

The menu at Café Keough.

We enjoyed snacking our way through the Memphis Farmers Market Saturday morning, followed by lunch at a new Memphis restaurant in the core of Downtown along the Main Street trolley line: Café Keough.

48 Hours in Memphis

The dining room at Bleu.

Saturday evening we enjoyed the wonderful dinner prepared at Bleu Restaurant and Lounge, which is in the Westin Memphis Beale Street. We had been to the restaurant recently — for Valentine’s dinner, actually — so we knew the food here would be good. Bleu is more of a special occasion or date night-type spot, but we did not feel out of place having Colby there with us. The restaurant is welcoming to children. We actually visited the restaurant after the Grizzlies game the previous night. Being located across the street from FedExForum makes this a prime pre- and post-game spot. We enjoyed our late-night snack there Friday night.

48 Hours in Memphis

There are lots of brunch options in Downtown, and I’d happily recommend several (South of Beale and Majestic Grille are great with good patios, and the Arcade in the South Main district has a really good breakfast).

48 Hours in Memphis

We decided to check out Tamp and Tap, a newer restaurant located between Main and Second streets just north of Peabody Place. Tamp and Tap is a drink spot; the tamp is for the coffee drinkers and the tap for the beer drinkers. We enjoyed Nutella toast and drinks while listening to a bluegrass duo. It’s a relaxing spot for a late Sunday morning.

Where We Stayed:

48 Hours in Memphis

I’ll have a full review of The Westin Memphis Beale Street soon, but I’ll give a few thoughts here. Downtown Memphis is continuing to see a growth in lodging options. Considering I live in the city, I don’t get out much to stay in hotels. This was the first time since our wedding night nearly 15 years ago to stay in a Memphis hotel. But I will say for the type of weekend we had in Memphis, the Westin Memphis Beale Street is really hard to beat.

48 Hours in Memphis

FedExForum sits just across from The Westin.

Our visit was centered on attending the Memphis Grizzlies game. Being across the street from FedExForum, the Westin has an unbeatable location for games. Being located across from the arena and just behind the fun of Beale Street did raise a concern for me about street noise at night. But even with our room that faced the backside of Beale, we never heard the music from the clubs there. That is an important factor for us.

48 Hours in Memphis

The view north looking at the backside of Beale Street.

The room was spacious enough for the three of us, and I enjoyed the view out to the Memphis skyline.

48 Hours in Memphis

If you want to consider the Westin Memphis Beale Street, I do recommend checking ahead as far in advance as possible. During the spring and summer, Downtown Memphis gets busy. I mean, really busy. May is especially a busy time. And with the Memphis Grizzlies making deep runs in the postseason, it means hotel rooms fill up even quicker.

Taking in a Game:

48 Hours in Memphis

So our NBA Road Trip series is about visiting a city with an NBA team, and enjoying everything in the city near the arena. But it’s the game that makes the trip. It obviously helps that the Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA over the past four seasons. They are in select company of teams that have made the NBA playoffs every year in that stretch. So having good players and a fun product on the court makes games a good experience for sports fans.

48 Hours in Memphis

But the Grizzlies set themselves apart. Games at FedExForum are more cultural experience than just basketball. In a city historically divided by race, those old lines don’t exist at FedExForum. The city’s obsession with being unique can be seen in the stands when five people are decked out in five different versions of some unique homemade T-shirt. The music is local and unique. And as chronicled recently here, the team’s staff goes to great lengths to ensure fans leave with a memorable experience.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have one of the most affordable tickets in the NBA. Concessions and beer choices have plenty of the usual suspects, but there are local touches such as Ghost River beer and the oh-so-Memphis staple of barbecue nachos.

Conclusion:

For Elvis and blues fans, the secret has been out about Memphis for a long time. I worked as a tour guide at Graceland during college and met so many visitors from Europe and Asia who were obsessed with seeing not only Elvis’ world, but tracing the history of blues and soul music. When we visited Sun Studio this trip, we had a nice conversation with a couple from the northeast of England who were in the States only visiting Memphis. I’m not sure how many Americans realize how cool Memphis is. You want music history? Yeah, Memphis is an obvious winner in that category. But there are plenty of great outdoors opportunities, an amazing restaurant scene found throughout the city, great parks, cool neighborhoods and some great art and shopping options. We choose to live in Memphis. It makes me happy knowing I can spend lots of 48 hours in Memphis.

We were hosted by the Westin Memphis Beale Street hotel and graciously given passes to several Memphis attractions by the Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. I was in no way swayed by the beautiful dirty soul of Memphis, the awesome food and service at Bleu, the hot and powerful shower at the Westin or its wonderful location. As always, opinions are my own.

19 thoughts on “48 Hours in Memphis

  1. Well they say great minds think alike – just today I published a story about our visit to the iconic Sun Studio in Memphis! We didn’t know anything about it before our tour and we really had a great time. We also did “not” visit Graceland, but we drove by just to get a glimpse. And a glimpse was all we wanted, it seemed to be such a tourist trap – and pricey – so we took a pass. We only had 1 full day in Memphis, but we made the most of it and had a great time, we found the Civil Rights Museum to be very moving – and the BBQ, oh my! We were there in mid December 2013 and it was cold!
    Patti recently posted…The Birthplace of Rock & Roll ~My Profile

  2. Raul, we are always enjoying the weekend in Memphis. But this was the first time to stay in a hotel. I’d happily do it again. Downtown Memphis is so much fun. It’s crazy, though, because my office is down there. So I spend a lot of time downtown.

  3. Patti, I remember your visit. I will say Graceland is a lot of fun. It’s a bit overpriced, but for Elvis fans it’s a cool place to visit. But Sun is where the magic happened, and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum gives a great overview of it all.

  4. Francesca, Memphis is known for its barbecue, and rightfully so. But there are so many other food options in the city. We didn’t have barbecue the whole weekend and had great food. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had barbecue in two months and we go out in this city all the time.

  5. Memphis has changed so much in the past 10 to 15 years. I’m not sure what visitors to the city did pre-2000 besides visit Graceland and Sun. It’s unbelievable how fun the city is, especially downtown and midtown neighborhoods.

  6. I admit I’ve always wanted to visit Memphis to get my Elvis fix, for Graceland and to eat barbecue. I’m glad there’s so much more to Memphis when we make it there. What a great and fun weekend you had right in your own backyard. It’s always wonderful to be a tourist in your town sometimes. I’ve always been hesitant to take the kids to music museums (despite them playing instruments). I’m glad these were family friendly and held your son’s attention.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…Visiting Where Time Begins in Greenwich EnglandMy Profile

  7. Mary, it is important to note that my son is interesting in music. He’s played drums since he was 3, and we always have music playing in our house. We never played “toddler tunes” for him as a young child. While my wife played classical music on the radio when she was pregnant, I tried to play as much U2 as possible! I am an Elvis fan, and so I’ve felt it important to teach him the basics of Elvis. And Memphis is has such a thriving music scene. We take him to lots of concerts and festivals. But, I do believe the music attractions in Memphis are fun even for those who aren’t into it like we are!

  8. I went to Game 3. Actually, I’ve realized that since 2011 playoffs every game I’ve taken my son to (at least one game per series) the Grizzlies have won. Every game I’ve gone to without him the Grizzlies have lost. We stayed home last night because tickets were too hard to get. I had a friend who is aware of Colby’s playoff winning streak who was a little furious with me for not taking him to the game!

  9. Looks like a great 48 hours to me – minus the basketball game, of course! 😉

    In all seriousness though, I must make my way to Memphis, I actually cannot believe I haven’t been there yet. My only time in Tennessee was for Bonnaroo – amazing, as you know, but I didn’t get to see enough of the state. Thanks for motivating me to make my way down there!
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted…A Stylish Solution to a Rainy Day: GoGoGolosh.My Profile

  10. Erin, I don’t think I knew you’ve been to Bonnaroo. I love Bonnaroo! I type this as I just returned home from an exhausting day at the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.

  11. Craig, there are so many great places in our country. I love going out of the U.S., but with a school-aged child, it’s just more economical and makes more sense with his school and sports schedule to visit destinations closer to home.

  12. Britany, I’m really excited that you are excited about Memphis. I take a lot of pride in living here, and I believe there is so much fun to be had here.

  13. Fabulous article and great photos. I have just booked to go to Memphis later this year and can not wait. I heard other day that Graceland just opened a new expansion too. I hope I get time to see everything, seems to be so much to do. I think this is going to be one tiring holiday lol.

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