First and foremost, Memphis is a city of music and barbecue. Period. The history, culture, and various entertainment avenues are, of course, as fabulous as any you can find in the country's best cities but when you're looking for a city with personality, with joie de vivre as the French would say, you'll be wanting Memphis' charismatic, magnetic, eclectic collection of blues, soul, barbecue sauce, Elvis Presley, and rock 'n' roll. Park your Harley on Beale Street, pull up a chair, and experience Memphis on your next group trip.
1. Where New Orleans can be reduced to the French Quarter and Los Angeles to Hollywood, Memphis' charismatic arena of personality happens to revolve around music and most notably, the Beale Street Historic District. Voted America's Most Iconic Street by USA Today and one of Tennessee's top tourist attractions, Beale Street takes its fame by being the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the "official home of the blues." From the musicians who are memorialized in brass plaques along the sidewalks to the WC Handy Museum and a number of clubs featuring live music, Beale Street remains as devoted to music as it was in the roaring 20s. Visit the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum to get the most comprehensive look at the history and development of both rock 'n' roll and soul music in the city or hop over to the Beale Street Blues Museum for a closer look.
2. It would be criminal to list Memphis' defining attractions and not name the legendary estate of America's most legendary rock 'n' roll icon, Elvis Presley's Graceland. In 1937, when The King was only 22 years old, he bought the Memphis mansion for a little over $100,000. Unfortunately, it was here that Elvis died in 1977, leaving the estate to his father Vernon Presley and later to his daughter Lisa Marie. Today, you can tour the mansion, its rooms and exhibits like the Jungle Room with its green shag carpets and Hawaiian ambiance or the Trophy Building which holds all of Elvis' awards and records. The Meditation Garden is always the last stop on every tour where you can visit Elvis' grave and pay your respects to the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
3. One of the best zoos in the country, the Memphis Zoo is home for more than 3,500 animals from all over the world. Cheetahs, lions, tigers, African elephants, giraffes, polar bears, lemurs, lowland gorillas, orangutans, giant pandas...the list goes on and on with the animals you can see at this beautifully designed, wondrously captivating wildlife sanctuary. Special exhibits allow you to feed giraffes, pet live stingrays, and ride camels while interactive programs for children, adults, and whole families make for an exciting and educational visit.
4. When people visit Memphis, they often say they're coming for the music and the food. Downtown Memphis restaurants tend to center on southern cuisine and in particular, barbecue. The area is famous for messy, tender, delicious ribs slathered in the perfect amount of sauce with a side of cole slaw and a biscuit (or cornbread). Of course Memphis also has the fine dining options but what's better than grabbing a plastic basket filled to the brim with the best tasting BBQ this side of the Mississippi and listening to some live blues or rock 'n' roll music? I'll answer for you, nothing. That's as good as it gets. When your stomach is sated and you still find room for that fudge brownie a la mode coated in chocolate sauce, lean back in your booth and close your eyes listening to the soothing sounds of a BB King cover and smile. This is Memphis. (P.S. Try Central BBQ or Charlie Vergos' Redezvous.)
5. While Memphis earned a reputation as being the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and Elvis Presley's home base, Memphis' historical significance tracks to a formative but dark destination. From their involvement in the Civil War to being the city where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the city has a lot to tell. The Memphis National Civil Rights Museum was built to share information and experiences on the Civil Rights Movement. Permanent Exhibits focus on slavery in the states from the 17th-19th centuries, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, student sit-ins during the 1960s, and the Freedom Rides of 1961. How Long? Not Long is an interactive experience telling the story of the Selma voting rights campaign of 1965 and the dangers African Americans went through by attempting to exercise their American right to vote. Among these exhibits and special galleries, you will see the poignant evolution of our nation's history, the suffering those involved endured, and the successful outcome and continued development of civil rights in the United States.
6. How many times can you say you went to a hotel and saw a parade of ducks? Not many, I'd say. The Peabody Ducks at the Peabody Hotel, one of the grandest and oldest hotels in Memphis, is a city-wide iconic tradition for everyone to enjoy twice a day, even if you're not staying at the Peabody. Since 1933, a group of five ducks have been trained to march along the red carpeted corridors from their duck palace on the roof to the Peabody fountain everyday at 11 am. People line up to watch, children sit with their chins in their hands and their legs crossed, waiting impatiently for the unusual site to appear. Like clockwork, the Duckmaster walks behind the troop of four female mallard ducks and one male who leads the pack as they make their way through the laughing, cheering crowds. Celebrities like Lisa Marie Presley, Nicholas Cage, Oprah Winfrey, and Patrick Swayze among others have been honorary Duckmasters over the years. You can see the ducks at 11 am or when they go to bed at 5 pm.
Memphis is nothing if not interesting. Southern charm mixed with an obsession for good music and good food, who wouldn't love it? Whether you're in town for a student trip or you're with a group of friends, Memphis has everything you are looking for in spades.