I finally surprised George for his 30th birthday. Big time. With a trip. To Memphis. Because I’m the best wife ever. Surprising George was a huge feat for me. Something always happens and that little stinker somehow figures out his present. Not this time. Oh no. This time I waited until I could hardly stand it anymore (12:01 PM on his birthday) and whipped out those tickets with so much pride.
We had the best time. No stress. Just relaxing and sight seeing. And Memphis is perfect for that. Of course I learned a bunch along the way. And as I learn, I like to share it with you all. Learn from my triumphs and tribulations, folks.
Here’s what I learned along the trip, along with some phone photos because I remembered the camera, but forgot the charger. Story of my life.
1. Memphis is in on Central time (duh!).
I did a lot less planning on this trip because I had to keep it a secret. Much of this trip was loosely planned or not planned at all which was a little nerve-wracking for me. I didn’t even remember that Memphis is on Central time! We went to bed much earlier than many of our Memphis friends, but we got up earlier too and avoided some of the crowds.
2. A downtown trolley ride is a steal.
The downtown trolley in Memphis is a steal. The trolley doesn’t travel very far, just in a large loop around the downtown area and up and down the main drag, but it’s only $1 per ride or $3.50 for a day pass. The trolleys are heated, and beautifully restored. I was ready to move into one, they were that pretty. We even took a ride on the trolley at sunset right by the river. Gorgeous.
3. There are weird alcohol laws in Tennessee.
If you are a drinker, especially a wine drinker, be aware that the alcohol laws in Tennessee prohibit you from buying wine at a convenience or grocery store. You’ll have to visit a liquor store for to purchase wine. And the liquor stores, especially in the downtown area, where we stayed are not plentiful. But you are allowed to enjoy adult beverages on the street. I did some researching and the wine laws may change soon, but as of April 2014, you still can’t easily buy wine in Memphis.
4. There are weird smoking bans.
I’m not a smoker, but apparently in Memphis if the bar, restaurant or establishment is 21 years of age and up (even for breakfast!) people are allowed to smoke. This may have been more of a problem if we were traveling with kids.
5. Be careful if you have food allergies or intolerances.
The food allergy and intolerance wave hasn’t hit the south yet. I love the south, it’s my home, but people are still fairly clueless about food allergies and contamination. And it can be dangerous for folks like me. Almost every single thing was served with a biscuit or on toast. I would suggest doing your research and asking your waitstaff how your food is prepared. Some places surprised me with a gluten-free items that weren’t on the menu.
6. Visit Beale Street in the morning to avoid crowds.
Crowds don’t bother George and I, per say, but if we can avoid crowds, we will. Beale Street doesn’t get going until the late afternoon, but if you like to keep it a little quieter, visit Beale Street in the morning. We went about 11:00 am. The bars and restaurants were just opening. Beale Street didn’t get crowded (and obnoxious) until we swung through at 4:00 pm.
7. There’s no breakfast restaurants on Beale Street.
Really. It’s hard to imagine because breakfast food cures hangovers, but there are no restaurants serving breakfast on Beale Street. You’ll have to get a couple of blocks away to get your breakfast fix. We stopped at a little diner called the Bon Ton Cafe, just a short walk away.
8. You can walk from Beale Street to Sun Studios.
We had debated whether or not to get a car on this trip. It would have been convenient, but after doing the math, I decided against it. Parking fees can be steep and other than Graceland, you can walk to most attractions if you stay in the downtown area. Walking from Beale Street to Sun Studios, for example, was no problem.
9. Be prepared for crowds. Check local events.
I had booked a hotel and bought our plane tickets for this trip months ago. I’m also pretty oblivious to sports. Little did I know that Memphis was one of the hosts for the NCAA tournament. There was an insane amount of people in town for the games. It was also spring break for schools in Arkansas which is right across the river. Luckily I booked early so the hotel rates weren’t outrageous, but the restaurants and the streets were a little overwhelming at times.
10. Sun Studios does guided tours. The Graceland tours are self-guided.
I was a little disappointed that the Graceland tour was self-guided. We wore nerdy, Walkman-esque headsets and it was distracting trying to figure out if I was on the correct audio chapter. Sun Studios, on the other hand, had a guided tour. It was obvious that our tour guide had a passion and respect for music history. It made such a difference. She even played a bit of guitar for us! Just get to Sun Studios early. The tours fill up quick and the waiting area is cramped.
11. You can’t walk to Graceland from the downtown areas, but the taxis from Graceland are plentiful.
You’ll probably have to call for a taxi to Graceland, but the taxis will be waiting to whisk you back to your hotel. I considered staying at the Heartbreak Hotel for a night—its right across the street from Graceland, but it was more expensive for us to stay at the hotel than to commute via taxi from downtown.
12. Graceland isn’t open late and it’s smaller than you’d imagine.
I splurged and purchased the “platinum” tickets for Graceland. It was a good decision. In addition to the house, we also visited most of the exhibits. I think I would have been disappointed with the house-only pass. The platinum tickets gave us access to other exhibits where we saw boat loads of costumes, artifacts and videos. It’s also important to note that Graceland is only open 9:00-5:00 pm Monday-Saturday and 9:00-4:00 on Sunday. And the lines can be long.
13. Buy your Graceland tickets online first and pick them up at will-call.
In order to avoid the long lines, I would highly suggest purchasing Graceland tickets in advance. You will avoid the long ticket lines and you might even be able to find an online discount code like I did!
14. For souvenirs, get away from the tourist areas.
I try to stay away from souvenirs. Instead, I take a lot of pictures for mementos. If you must purchase souvenirs in Memphis and in other big cities, get away from tourist areas. The local drugstore or even Wal-Mart will carry similar souvenirs at half the price.
15. Check the weather report, especially if you are staying downtown. The streets fill with water pretty quickly and without boots, your feet will get wet.
I packed in such a hurry that I didn’t even check the weather report. I really wish I had packed boots. It was rainy for two days out of our trip and the older streets of downtown Memphis were filled with water in a matter of minutes. I genuinely thought I might get trench foot from this trip.
16. The highlights of Memphis can be seen in a long weekend, but the museums and sites are plentiful.
There’s plenty to see in Memphis. Memphis is steeped in music and civil rights history. And there’s plenty of museums to prove it. And although there’s much to see, if you get your priorities straight, Memphis can be seen in a long weekend. With just four days in the city, George and I felt like we saw almost everything we wanted to see, but also never felt rushed.
17. The view from the top of the Peabody Hotel is the best in the city.
The Peabody Hotel is a sight to see— especially if you appreciate architecture. It’s a seriously majestic hotel in the middle of the city that was built in the opulence of the 1920s. The hotel is also home to live ducks! The view from the top of the hotel is awe-inspiring. On a clear day, you can see all the way across the Mississippi river to Arkansas and most of the city’s sites. And the best part is that the view is free and open to the public!
18. If you want to see the ducks march at the Peabody, get there early.
The Peabody Hotel is home to a parade of ducks which at 11 am everyday march from the roof to the fountain in the lobby of the hotel. Then at 5 pm, the ducks are wrangled up and marched back up to the roof. The original ducks were put in the fountain by some boozed up guests who were going to use them as decoys on their fishing trip. Years later, a hotel employee, who was a former Ringling Circus animal trainer, trained the ducks to march on the red carpet and the tradition is carried on to this day. The march is super cute, but a bit crowded. We arrived 30 minutes early to the march and got a pretty good view. But we definitely weren’t the first folks there!
Have you ever been to Memphis? What kind of tips do you have? I’d love to hear them in the comments!