Planning a Memphis Vacation Post-Pandemic: Tips from a Former Local
As COVID-19 cases have reached an all-time high here in the U.S., I reiterate what I’ve been saying all year: be safe and stay home! That said, as the first vaccines have begun to be administered, there’s good reason to believe the end is near. And that means now is an excellent time to begin planning out future travel. Though it’s hard to predict when I’ll be back on the road, I’m particularly looking forward to exploring more of the cities I’ve never seen right here in the U.S. One that I’d love to visit one day? Memphis, Tennessee.
Before the pandemic hit, I spoke with Brandon of Bazar Travels about the city he used to call home. Brandon is a travel enthusiast and UI/UX designer by day. He relocated to Memphis for work and lived there for about three years before returning to his home state of Texas. According to Brandon, “I enjoy a good adventure, experiencing new cultures, and trying new types of food and beers.” In this interview, he shared with us just why Memphis, Tennessee is such a great destination for those activities.
Many of these spots may currently be closed, but here’s what you have to look forward to on future trips to Memphis!
Thanks for joining me, Brandon! What is it that you love about Memphis?
Memphis is a cool city that had a bad reputation – which is unfortunate because it has lot to offer. I think what makes it unique and special to me is its food, history and the fact that it’s a relatively small city. The people of Memphis are really proud of their city, so sporting events such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Redbirds or Memphis FC have great turnouts and really support their city.
What’s your all-time favorite sight, attraction, or spot in Memphis?
The National Civil Rights museum is a must see. It’s really well curated, and it’s something everyone should experience and learn more about. As far as spots go, I like hanging out in the South Main area. It’s full of art galleries, shopping, bars and unique restaurants.
If a traveler only had 24 hours to visit Memphis, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?
I think I would start out by having some good breakfast at a spot located in the downtown Main St area such as The Blue Plate or The Arcade; both are delicious. Then I would head over to the Civil Rights Museum before the lines and crowds get too large. After that, I would take a stroll to the nearby shops and art galleries located on South Main.
Then, it’ll be lunch time, and the BBQ in Memphis is a must-try. My favorite BBQ spot is the Bar-B-Q Shop, which is located in the midtown area. Most people will say Central or Rendezvous, but from someone who has tried just about every BBQ joint in Memphis, stick with the Bar-B-Q Shop. If you are into craft beer, there are a few micro-breweries in midtown. Memphis Made and High Cotton are my favorites in this part of town.
After that, if you are into music, history or Elvis, I think Graceland is worth checking out. It’s a little touristy and pricey, but they do a really good job making the tour interactive. If that’s not your thing, maybe substitute that for taking a stroll on Beale Street. This area will have live music, bars, and a couple of music museums, such as the Gibson guitar museum and the Rock n’ Soul museum. Located just up the street is Sun Studios, which was the recording studio who produced artists such as Elvis and Johnny Cash.
If you want to see more museums, I would also check out the Stax museum or the Pink Palace museum. I’ve done a few charity events with the Pink Palace Museum; it’s a great place for kids and the staff is excellent.
That all sounds fantastic! What should travelers know about the locals of Memphis?
Memphians are very proud of their city, and they seem to take pride in trying to make their city a better place. There are always tons of festivals, charity events, etc. going on. I would also say to be prepared to experience Southern culture at its height.
Any cool historical tidbits or important history that visitors should be aware of?
Memphis is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the home of the blues. There are so many musicians that got their start in Memphis including: Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash. It was also the location of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which makes the city a very significant place for the civil rights movement.
What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?
For the outdoor enthusiast, I would say to check out Shelby Farms. It’s a massive park that is about 900 acres and is located on the outskirts of the city. There’s hiking trails, bike trails, kayaking, horseback riding, zip lining, animals and so much more. There’s something for everyone out there.
What’s a cool neighborhood you’d recommend to visitors looking for something a little different?
I would check out the Cooper-Young area. It’s the “hip” part of town and has tons of trendy little restaurants, bars, etc. It’s where most the locals go to hang out.
Tell me about your favorite restaurant (or a few of them!) in this city.
I’ll list 5 must-try places:
- The Bar-B-Q Shop that I mentioned above
- Gus’s Chicken
- Gibson’s Donuts – a 24 hour donut shop. Try the red velvet or the maple bacon donut.
- The Brass Door (more of a bar but they do have a solid pub menu – say hi to the owner for me!)
- Germantown Commissary – this hidden gem is just outside Memphis in Germantown, TN. It’s worth the 20 minute drive because the BBQ is excellent (try the ribs).
Bonus: Dyer’s Burgers – known for their deep fried hamburgers that are cooked in over a hundred year old grease.
That all sounds delectable! Is there any food, dish, or cuisine that you MUST try when you’re there? Where’s the best place to try it?
Yes, the BBQ! The Bar-B-Q Shop and Germantown Commissary are my go to places. Memphis also has a lot of soul food which is good as well.
Where would you recommend tourists stay when visiting?
Memphis can be a rough city. I would stay in the downtown corridor area. I would try to stay on the south side of downtown, as the north side can get a little sketchy at night. An Airbnb in downtown or on south main would be good too. And it’s right close to the Mississippi River. I wouldn’t stay near the airport or by Graceland because that area is a bad part of town.
What are the most photo-worthy or Instagrammable spots? Any fantastic lookouts or otherwise photogenic spots?
Yes, Beale Street at night with all the neon signs. Also, try to catch the sunset over the Mississippi river from Beale Street landing. I’ve seen some amazing sunsets in this area.
Sounds beautiful! Are there any must-see museums or monuments?
National Civil Rights Museums, Sun Studio, and any of the parks located on the Mississippi River are must-sees in my opinion.
What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?
The good thing about Memphis is you won’t face that many huge crowds. If you want the city to yourself, come in the late fall, winter or early spring. The summertime can get a little busy at tourist attractions such as Graceland, Sun Studio and the National Civil Rights Museum.
What should visitors know about transportation around Memphis?
If you are staying downtown, Memphis has a really cool trolley system which can get you to most of the best spots in downtown and goes almost to mid-town. The city is fairly small, so ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber are easy and inexpensive to use to get from place to place. Downtown is also very walkable.
Anything else you’d like to share about visiting Memphis?
If you are into festivals and can make it to Memphis for Memphis in May, you should visit then. It’s an awesome time to be in Memphis for live music and great BBQ cookoffs. If you want more specific details about Memphis be sure to check out my Memphis Travel Guide I wrote on the city.