Make Time for Memphis


words: Marcus Coker
images: Marcus Coker; courtesy Tennessee Department of Tourist Development; The Peabody Hotel; Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

When I visited Memphis a few years ago, I stayed at the Peabody Hotel and saw their famous ducks march into the grand lobby where Elvis himself used to socialize. I ate barbeque and strolled down Beale Street, the avenue that literally gave the Beale Street Blues Boy (B.B. King) his name. Sadly, I took these things for granted. But recently I revisited Memphis and saw it in a whole new, soulful light.


This time, while a guest of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, I stayed at the Hotel Napoleon. This gorgeous boutique hotel is downtown, the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Memphis itself is hot and gritty, a place where people have always struggled for a better life, where the Civil Rights Movement dug its heels in. Walking along Main Street, I came upon the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on April 4, 1968, just outside Room 306. Now the home of The National Civil Rights Museum, it is hallowed ground.


My favorite attraction was Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the house he bought as a twenty-two-year-old. Now it’s one of the most visited homes in America. I didn’t realize Elvis was just nineteen when he recorded his first hit, “That’s Alright Mama,” at Memphis’s Sun Studio, where Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis also sang.


I could go on, but to fall in love with Memphis like I did, you’ll need to go there yourself. Let it wrap you in its big southern arms and transform you with its music and comfort food. Plus, it’s only a five-hour drive from Fort Smith. Here are my top recommendations for visiting Memphis and Western Tennessee, a trip I’m sure you’ll never forget.





 Graceland Mansion

Graceland Mansion

Graceland, The Home of Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis

901.443.3000 |


Graceland is preserved just as it was when Elvis lived there. Recently added is the nearby forty-acre museum that houses Elvis’s gold records, car collection, wardrobe, and even a television that Elvis shot with a pistol. Stay at the newly opened Guest House at Graceland. Consider going during Elvis Week (this year it’s August 11-18), which commemorates The King’s death.


Sun Studio

Sun Studio

Sun Studio

706 Union Avenue, Memphis

800.441.6249 |


This is where young Elvis got his start and where the Million Dollar Quartet sang. Go. Get the tour, stand where Elvis stood, sing into the microphone he used. Ask for Tiffany, the most entertaining tour guide in the South.


Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis, TN

Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis, TN

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

926 E. McLemore Avenue, Memphis

901.261.6338 |


Stax was a recording studio during the heyday of soul music. At first a scrappy operation, it became home to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Jean Knight. Now a museum dedicated to the history of soul music, it’s a place not to be missed. (You can see the organ that Booker T. & the M.G.’s used to record “Green Onions.”) Proceeds go to support Stax Music Academy, a program that uses the language of music to educate and uplift underprivileged youth.


National Civil Rights Museum

450 Mulberry Street, Memphis

901.521.9699 |


Tracing the history of the Civil Rights Movement from slavery to today, this is a beautiful tribute to the fight for equality. Located where Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically shot, it brings hope for a better tomorrow.


Botanical Garden

Botanical Garden

Memphis Botanic Garden

750 Cherry Road, Memphis

901.636.4100 |


For a relaxing afternoon, go to the gardens, a ninety-six-acre getaway in the heart of town. There’s a traditional Japanese garden, a sensory garden, and countless places to get married if you want to. There’s even a charming play area for children, complete with whimsical treehouses and flower “beds” with actual twin-sized headboards.


Memphis Zoo

Memphis Zoo

Memphis Zoo

2000 Prentiss Place, Memphis

901.333.6568 |


Oh my gosh, go to the zoo. There are polar bears, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and even a monkey with a rainbow-colored behind. This is a must for families and animal-lovers.




Huey’s Downtown

77 S. 2nd Street, Memphis

901.527.2700 |


The best place to get a burger and shoot toothpicks through a straw into the ceiling! Go here to chill out, grab a drink, and quench your hunger.


Blue's City Eats

Blue’s City Eats

Blues City Café

138 Beale Street, Memphis

901.526.3637 |


Put Some South in Your Mouth! If you love barbeque and good southern eatin’, this is the place for you. Here you can get a tasty meal and listen to live music. Reserve the Cadillac Room for your private party.


Majestic Grille

Majestic Grille

Majestic Grille

145 S. Main Street, Memphis

901.522.8555 |


Located in an old silent-movie theater, here you’ll find delicious food and impeccable service. I had one of the best steaks of my life, topped off with a chocolate cheesecake dessert that came in a shot glass. Ask for Wesley.


Gray Canary

Gray Canary

The Gray Canary

301 S. Front Street, Memphis

901.249.2932 |


The perfect blend of swank and whimsical, this is one of Memphis’s newest and hottest restaurants. Located on the river in an old distillery, The Gray Canary is where you’ll want to spend your special occasions. A new twist on seafood and fine dining.




Drive east for more adventures, and be sure to stop in Jackson, the city that’s the subject of a famous Johnny Cash song. Whether you’re into history or food, it has something for everyone. Check out the West Tennessee Farmer’s Market then walk over to The Local, a collection of small businesses where you’re sure to find the perfect souvenir.


If spirits are your thing, visit these two family-owned businesses, Century Farm Winery and Samuel T. Bryant Distillery. Get a tour. Drink up. Century Farm often has live music in the evenings, so watch their calendar online. When it’s time for dinner, Rock’n Dough, located close to the Farmer’s Market, boasts local beer and pizza so big you’ll need both hands to hold it. For finer dining, go to Chandelier, an eclectic restaurant located in an old whistle-stop hotel. The fried green tomatoes and chocolate crème brûlée are second to none!


Samuel T Bryant Distillery

Samuel T Bryant Distillery

Samuel T. Bryant Distillery

1331 Lower Brownsville Road, Jackson

731.467.1221 |


Century Farm Winery

1548 Lower Brownsville Road, Jackson

731.424.7437 |


Rock N Dough

Rock N Dough

Rock’n Dough Pizza & Brew Company

16 Jackson Walk Plaza, Jackson

731.300.0404 |



575 S. Royal Street, Jackson

731.554.2221 |


For history lovers, the Carnegie Center for Arts and History features an entire room dedicated to Carl Perkins, the man who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes,” as well as a tribute to the Jackson native who started Hard Rock Café. Then head to the Casey Jones Museum and learn about the famous railway man who gave his life to save his passengers. If you like all-you-can-eat downhome cookin’, walk across the parking lot to The Old Country Store. You won’t go away hungry!


Carnegie Center for Arts & History

305 E. College Street, Jackson



Casey Jones Museum & Village

30 Casey Jones Lane, Jackson

731.668.1222 |



For more information, visit & If you’re willing to go exploring between Memphis and Jackson, I suggest the Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, which hosts a Tina Turner exhibit. 

For a day on the lake or to see live bald eagles, go to Reelfoot Lake State Park in Tiptonville, and for a fabulous family outing, Discovery Park of America in Union City is worth the drive. They have one of the fastest slides in the world!


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