memphis tourism beale street sign

The Peabody Hotel, with its famous ducks and beautifully decorated lobby, was a moment of escape during an otherwise family-centric visit to Memphis recently.

Huge numbers crowded the Peabody Hotel, waiting for the nearby performance of the Nutcracker to begin. We, along with our unofficial Memphis ambassador, Drew’s cousin Beth, marveled at the opulence. It being after the ducks’ official working hours, we went up to the roof of the hotel to gape at the ducks in their evening residence, splashing and resting away from the gaze of visitors.

memphis tourism peabody

Memphis is a lovely southern city, home to Elvis, barbecue and African American history. But it’s also a place where some of our family lives, and during our swing around the Southern states, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we knew that Memphis was a definite destination to add to the itinerary.

Unfortunately for us, during the weekend of our visit, many of our family was out of town, leaving us in the hands of cousin Beth, her daughter Maggie and visiting dog, Bob Wiley. For those few of you not obsessed with the classic early 90’s film, What About Bob?, well, just note that nearly half of the conversation in Drew’s family is somehow tied back to the movie. A refresher before a holiday is never a bad idea.

Faaaayyyeeee, is this corn hand-shucked?

memphis tourism sign

I digress. We rolled into town just in time for happy hour and Beth promptly whisked us downtown for a drink. Unlike Drew who has visited Memphis many times over the years, I had never been, so was itching to see the famous Sun Studio where Elvis recorded and of course, those Peabody ducks.

The Peabody ducks, a staple of Memphis tourism and international fame, are ducks that spend six hours a day swimming in the indoor hotel fountain. They walk on a red carpet to and from the fountain each day, taking the hotel’s elevators. And when they’re off duty, you can find them in their rooftop duck mansion (no kidding, it’s a house on the roof with pools and nests and play structures). We arrived after their fountain swimming, but ventured to the roof to say hi.

I venture to say that the ducks have done more for Memphis tourism than nearly anything else, but don’t quote me on that.

memphis tourism peabody lobby

memphis tourism peabody fountain

We walked the lobby of the Peabody, and settled in for a drink at the Majestic Grille, where It’s a Wonderful Life was playing (silently) on the big screen. On our way home, we stopped by Central BBQ for our first taste of the eponymous Memphis style BBQ.

Memphis BBQ is almost 100% pork, and its crowning achievement is the pulled pork sandwich and ribs. The sauce is sweet and tomato-based, and coleslaw adds a bright finish to nearly every dish. If you don’t love sauce, you can also get ‘dry ribs’ which just feature a dry rub with no sauce. Either way, you will be eating well!

We tried an off-menu item at Central, pulled pork nachos served on BBQ chips (instead of the standard tortilla chips). It was a gut bomb for sure, but it was the best thing we ate all weekend.

For BBQ nuts, the other well-known venues in Memphis include A&R BBQ, The Bar-B-Q Shop, Leonard’s Pit BarbecueCozy Corner and Payne’s. Our family favors Central, and we were happy to oblige. We did have grand ideas about sampling our way around Memphis BBQ, but frankly, after a single decadent meal, we were hankering for salad and vegetables, so our plans were foiled.

BPC-10-min

During our evening out, we also ventured down Beale Street, the main drag of Memphis’ downtown and one of the most iconic streets in America. Here, the action picks up at night, when people spill into the street from the bars and restaurants lining the street.

Live music is on the agenda up and down the street and you’ll find plenty of people singing the lyrics to the song ‘Walking in Memphis’ when they have their ‘feet ten feet off of Beale.’

memphis tourism beale

Between playing with Bob Wiley and spending time chatting at home, another highlight of Memphis was our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The museum came highly recommended to us by several friends and on a Sunday morning we headed over.

The Lorraine Motel is where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, standing on the small balcony of his hotel room. When the hotel risked closure, some local businessmen thought it would be a good location for a museum showcasing the civil rights movement. A separate, attached, building as been added as the entrance hall, but much of the museum exists within the walls of the original motel.

Room 306 where King was staying has been perfectly preserved and is the final stop on the museum tour.

memphis tourism bus

memphis tourism MLK room

memphis tourism slaves museum

We found the museum equal parts powerful, horrifying and hopeful, sobering and proud.  When I was in elementary school, I memorized the entire ‘I Have A Dream’ speech during a project about national heroes, so I particularly enjoyed the room where a video of that speech was played in full, on a loop.

The words ring true, even fifty years later.

memphis tourism signs protest

memphis tourism magnets

memphis tourism quote museum

Memphis is an important city in America. It is the place where pivotal things happened, where our country shaped its identity. Go for the food and music and stay to be inspired and humbled by the civil rights museum. And don’t forget to say hi to the Peabody ducks!

Pro tip: We got a private tour of one of Memphis’ most impressive historical homes (owned by family friends). The James Lee House was completely restored and is now a luxurious B&B. It’s the location of my dream family reunion and the place I would stay the minute all of the guest rooms fill up around town. I was so in awe that I barely took any photos (nice one!) but check out the website and be dazzled.

memphis tourism james lee house

memphispin-min

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  • December 31, 2016

    The BBQ is def to die for. Beale street sounds like my kinda place too. Where are the ducks? I would’ve loved to see a pic of those cuties.. did you manage to capture any on camera?
    Jo recently posted…Have you planned your New Year Trip? Here are some tips!My Profile

    • January 1, 2017

      Unfortunately not…there were in their house and the lighting wasn’t great. Next time maybe!

  • December 31, 2016

    Wow- how gorgeous is that festive lobby? Glad you enjoyed some family time!

    • January 1, 2017

      Really impressive lobby that is always busy. Great place to visit during the holidays too because they do an amazing job with decorating the lobby area.

  • December 31, 2016

    What a stunning hotel and lobby, it is so festive and beautiful – I wouldn’t mind a stay there and to sample some delicious regional food from the area.
    noel recently posted…Eco luxury stay in Bocas del ToroMy Profile

    • January 1, 2017

      Really nice hotel and surrounded by lots of good bbq! Hard to not overeat when the ribs and pulled pork are so good!

  • January 1, 2017

    What a great tour of Memphis, and a fun read. The Peabody ducks are adorable – I’d like to walk a red carpet and swim in a fountain every day, too! So much history in that city. Happy holidays!

  • January 2, 2017

    I had never heard of the Peabody ducks, but after reading this I definitely want to see them. It certainly seems like they live a luxurious life! I’d love to visit the museum as well. Like you said, I’m sure there are parts that are horrifying, but I think it’s important that people are reminded so that it doesn’t happen again.
    Vicky and Buddy recently posted…Sloan’s Ice Cream In Delray Beach, FloridaMy Profile

  • January 3, 2017

    So much of history around the place. The pictures brought back memories of lessons learnt in school. This is the forst time I am reading a blog post on the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated.
    Indrani recently posted…2017! Happy New Year! and my Best Sunset Pictures of 2016My Profile

  • January 3, 2017

    Um, pulled pork nachos? Yes, please! Why haven’t I thought to make those before? I’ve never been to Memphis, but now I have a reason to go, because I have to see this duck fountain.
    Laura Lynch recently posted…Sydney Beach Cafe CultureMy Profile

    • January 3, 2017

      the nachos were crazy good…I had my doubts, but they were quickly squashed!

  • January 3, 2017

    It’s interesting how we take things for granted nowadays. The displays at the museum are very powerful and a good opportunity to make us stop and think for a moment.
    Pedro recently posted…Novotel Phuket Karon Beach ResortMy Profile

  • January 4, 2017

    Oh wow Memphis. African American history, great music and BBQ,100% pulled pork sandwich and ribs. Oh man It does not get any better than that. I can wait to get over to Memphis. Awesome post guys and great pictures……now I’m hungry.

    • January 7, 2017

      The Civil Rights Musuem is almost worth traveling for…it’s that good. One of the best (and most overlooked) museums in the US, for sure.

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