Ducks spend the day playing in fountain and delighting hotel guests at The Peabody Memphis. // © 2016 The Peabody Memphis
Feature image (above): Beale Street in the early evening before the crowds. // © 2016 Josephine Parr
Memphis offers up its soul — if you follow the right itinerary. Following are attractions that give insight into the city’s rock ‘n’ roll and blues history, its important role in the Civil Rights Movement and its famous southern hospitality (and barbecue!).
Beale Street is the birthplace of the blues. In its heyday of the 1920s, Beale Street was a prosperous and raucous combination of nightclubs, gambling halls, theaters and prostitutes. Many of the big stars performed on the street, including B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Bessie Smith.
Though the Great Depression hit Beale Street hard, it was revived in the 1980s, and the street is a mecca for the blues once again. Rum Boogie Cafe is a good place to start: The bar and grill offers its own band and has guitars from visiting musicians hanging from its walls.
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs
Barbeque is synonymous with Memphis, and Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs is among the best spots, serving dry-rub, Memphis-style ribs. Don’t be fooled by its location down an unassuming alley — the flavor sensations coming out of the kitchen are serious.
There are plenty of other things on the menu, but go for the ribs. They come with vinegar-style coleslaw, creamy potato salad and smoky baked beans with a touch of pork.
The restaurant is closed on Sundays.
The legendary, colonial revival-style mansion of Elvis Presley has been lovingly maintained since his death. From the infamous Jungle Room to the room with three televisions, Elvis comes alive through Graceland’s self-guided tour that’s narrated by John Stamos. Memorabilia and gold records harken back the time when Elvis was considered The King.
The car museum showcases Elvis’ automobiles, including his pink Cadillac. His customized plane, the Lisa Marie, is also available to tour. The Meditation Garden, where Elvis and his family are buried, is free to visit from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then only available through the tour the rest of the day. Hours change seasonally, and ticket packages range from $39 to $80.
Also, a new, $75 million resort-style hotel with 450 rooms, called The Guest House at Graceland, is expected to open in October 2016, just steps from the home’s famous gates.
National Civil Rights Museum
Built within the Lorraine Motel, National Civil Rights Museum is a historical and riveting tribute to the Civil Rights Movement. Just walking up to the museum and seeing the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot is an emotional introduction to the museum. This feeling grows as you experience the Rosa Parks bus event and burned bus and the testimonials of the freedom fighters. With a $27.5 million renovation in 2014, the museum does an excellent job connecting the early days of Civil Rights to today’s continued struggle.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and closed on Tuesdays. Admission is $15 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students and children.
Rock N’ Soul Museum
Created by the Smithsonian Institution, the Rock N’ Soul Museum offers a comprehensive history of rock and soul music starting with the sharecroppers of the 1930s to Memphis’ influential 1970s period to its continued international impact today. More than 100 songs highlight the style and culture shifts of the changing times.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and admission is $12 for adults and $9 for youth ages 5 to 17.
This unassuming building is where Sam Phillips changed American music. Recording the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, Phillips introduced the new sound of rock ‘n’ roll. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides lead visitors through the genre’s history in the very studio where the music legends recorded.
A free shuttle bus runs from Sun Studio to Graceland and the Rock N’ Soul Museum. Sun Studio is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and tickets cost $12 for adults.
The Peabody Memphis
The Peabody Memphis welcomes you like a stately and refined old friend. Whether staying as a guest, just visiting to see the famed ducks, enjoying the high tea or envisioning the moment when Elvis signed his RCA contract, the Peabody is a beautiful link to the past that also offers modern luxury.
The lobby encourages relaxation, while the beautiful bar offers tempting cocktails. Priscilla Presley still comes to enjoy the ambiance when she’s in town. Don’t miss the ducks march down the red carpet twice a day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Also, be sure to get a complimentary shoe shine when staying as a guest at the hotel.