Memphis for a day - what to do, where to camp?
July 23, 2012 7:05 PM   Subscribe

The last Memphis travel question was two years ago; anything to add or change from then?

I'm going to be passing through Memphis, TN this week, and planning on spending a day sightseeing. Any suggestions? I'm interested in Memphis primarily because it gets mentioned in songs a lot. Of course there's Graceland, though I generally prefer more modern rockabilly. Anything quirky or countercultural that you'd recommend in Memphis? Good mid-week live music venues (maybe on the not yet recognized major talent end of the cost scale)? Anything typical or emblematic of the city that isn't part of it's stereotype? Interesting civil rights history? Unfortunately, I'm on a budget, so need to avoid the big ticket sights.

Which lead me to: any recommendations for public campgrounds in the area? (Tent sites sufficient, potable water a must, shower availability would be nice.) My old 2004 Rand McNally says there's T.O. Fuller State Park to the southwest, and Meeman-Shelby State Forest a little ways to the north. Parks on the Arkansas side of the river seem to be a bit further away.

Some previous AskMes about Memphis:
August, 2010
January, 2007
October, 2006
August, 2006
posted by eviemath to Travel & Transportation around Memphis, TN (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Two years? Mine was from May 2011, it hasn't been that long!

The Civil Rights museum is built on the site of where Dr. King was shot. I'm not sure if the $13 admission qualifies as "big ticket" but it was worth it IMO.

Food-wise, the Germantown Commissary was the highlight of my trip.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 7:13 PM on July 23, 2012

Response by poster: Huh, search didn't come up with that -- sorry!
posted by eviemath at 7:15 PM on July 23, 2012

Response by poster: Free is best! $13 and really worth it is potentially in my budget. Other possibly useful info: I'm interested in regional architecture and social movements, in addition to music. (I like food too, but I'm vegetarian so don't expect to be sampling much local cuisine.)
posted by eviemath at 7:21 PM on July 23, 2012

I demand that you go to Gus' Fried Chicken.
posted by lalex at 7:22 PM on July 23, 2012

on non-preview....they have great fried pickles?

posted by lalex at 7:23 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: :P Thanks!
posted by eviemath at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2012

I'm interested in regional architecture

Victorian Village is an interesting area.
posted by kimdog at 7:41 PM on July 23, 2012

The I Love Memphis blog is a great resource for upcoming events, reviews, and finding more quirky, less well-known touristy ideas.

According to their websites, both Meeman-Shelby State Park and TO Fuller have camping facilities with showers. I've never camped at either, but TO Fuller looks a bit easier to get to, as it seems to be pretty easily accessible from I-55. The one time I went to Meeman-Shelby I got lost trying to get home, though YMMV.

In addition to Victorian Village, the midtown area is interesting architecturally, with the mansions in the Central Gardens area and around Overton Park, and the 1930s bungalows in Cooper-Young.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:20 PM on July 23, 2012

Response by poster: The lodging part of my question has been resolved. Thanks for replies!
posted by eviemath at 8:26 PM on July 23, 2012

Best answer: From a member who would like to remain geo-anonymous:
I live in Memphis and have a few suggestions for you.

There's an exhibit showing at Brooks Museum that sounds really interesting, "Soul of a City: Memphis Collects African Art." Brooks Museum is on Poplar Avenue, where it intersects Tucker Street, in Midtown Memphis. The Museum is located in Overton Park, which is located in an old-growth forest near Rhodes College (an architectural landmark in its own right).

If you're interested in singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, he lived less than a block from Overton Park, at 91 North Rembert Street. Supposedly he loved this house so much he tried to buy it from the landlord.

The Soul of a City exhibition looks interesting to me especially because it features artwork of Wash Harris, who built a bizarre, legendary temple in South Memphis that is called St. Paul's Spiritual Holy Temple (nicknamed "Voodoo Village"). Apparently it is Masonically inspired, but there may actually be elements of other faith traditions reflected in its structures. (If you're really brave and have a car it would be worth going to the temple to peer over the wall. I've been; it's worth it.)

Brooks Museum info about the Soul of a City exhibition

Memphis Flyer article about the exhibition

The Cooper-Young area is a good place to find hip coffee shops and restaurants, plus there's a good bookstore (Burke's). Central Gardens is a Midtown neighborhood with nice old homes/mansions. If you're interested in seeing the poorer parts of Memphis, it's worth driving down Lamar, Hollywood, Jackson Avenue, Park Avenue. Those streets tend to be time capsules of Memphis' past -- they haven't changed as much as other areas, because they are not redeveloped, but they also call for some basic safety precautions. I like Summer Avenue, as well, between East Parkway and Perkins Extended.

Orange Mound is an area of Memphis that is interesting because it is the first neighborhood to be built by African Americans for African Americans. I find Orange Mound to be a world of its own, with lots of shotgun houses that you don't see in other areas. Its residential streets just feel different from other areas, perhaps because of smaller lots. You'll see some very interesting makeshift conversions of homes into businesses. Some of the streets in "the Mound" are very well-tended, others are blighted by poverty, abandoned properties, and drugs.

If you watch Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train" or the movie "Hustle and Flow" (can't remember the director), you will get two fairly accurate glimpses of Memphis life. I particularly like Jarmusch's depiction ... I think it's pretty accurate even thought it's a romanticized, gritty, noir look at Memphis. "Mystery Train" is set mostly down in the South Main area (right by Earnestine & Hazel's and the Arcade Restaurant). The Arcade Hotel that figures in the movie has been torn down. That particular spot of South Main is also a central location in Wong Kar-Wai's film "My Blueberry Nights"; in fact some major scenes are set in Earnestine & Hazel's and I believe the Arcade Restarant across the street).

For blues, I hear that a pretty authentic spot to go is Wild Bill's. (I've never been but it gets discussed a lot by people in the know.)

Here's a video of a performance there.

Here's the Yelp listing for Wild Bills.

For live indie-type music, check the listings for the Hi-Tone lounge.

If anyone is plugged into the local live music scene, it is this guy Bully Rook. I'm linking to his Flickr "sets" because that's the only good way to navigate his enormous number of photos, and seeing the various venues where he goes to see shows, you'll get a sense of what's out there on the Memphis music scene.
posted by taz at 10:37 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding Wild Bill's. It's really the only place in town I'd recommend for good blues music. It's cheap ($10 cover), though it does usually get started pretty late (11:30ish) with the live music. Also, if you're looking for cheap, the zoo is free on Tuesday afternoons, and it might be nice to work in with the Brooks Museum (again, seconding that recommendation from above). Also, riverboat cruises are pretty cheap and totally worth it, both for the history lesson and for the fun of being out on the water.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 10:43 PM on July 23, 2012

Elmwood Cemetery is pretty interesting, and free if you don't rent the audio tour. But the audio tour is $10 and worth it. I personally like Beale Street, but most folks don't because it's so touristy. Wednesday night is Bike Night, with motorcycles and scooters lining the street. My scooter club will be parked in front of The Absinthe Room on Wednesday. My husband is a blues musician and will be playing at Mr. Handy's Blues Hall with a pretty nice group of guys, the Brandon Santini Band, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Kudzu's is a cool little bar, and they have a Thursday night Pickin' Party that's good, if you like singer/songwriters with guitars in smokey little dive bars. They have a Blues Jam on Tuesday night that's usually really good and no tourists.

If I had only one day, using the info you posted, I think I would do the Civil Rights Museum and then walk up South Main from there and hit Beale Street just to say you were there. Vegetarian options are kinda limited, but Westy's is a neat little place that has lots of choices. It's on the north side of downtown, but it IS walkable from Beale Street and would give you a nice sidewalk view of the river and downtown. Then take the tour at Sun Studios, which is pretty neat, and maybe also within your price range. Then I would drive up Peabody Avenue to get a sense of our old historic neighborhood, and stop in Cooper Young to take a little walk around, and then hit Kudzu's later.

Memail me with specific info and maybe we can meet up.
posted by raisingsand at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lot's of great suggestions so far! I'll try to add some suggestions that may not have been mentioned here or in previous threads.

First, there are plenty of places to eat here as a vegetarian! What types of cuisines are you into? There's a new diner on Broad Ave. (an up-and-coming arts district in its own right, and home to my favorite neighborhood bar, The Cove) called Three Angel's Diner. Their menu isn't huge, but they do vegetables really well (as opposed to a lot of southern fare where they cook veggies until they're mush) and offer a few vegetarian entrees. There's also Pho Hoa Binh, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Affordable with HUGE portions. Get the lemongrass tofu. GET THE LEMONGRASS TOFU. Just trust me on that. Memail me if you want suggestions for other types of restaurants, or restaurants within a specific area.

I'm sure the Stax Museum of American Soul Music has been mentioned in previous threads, but I'm adding it again just in case, since you mentioned music.

There's this weird castle that you can't get into but it's worth a drive-by if you're in the Central Gardens neighborhood, which I think someone mentioned above (that wiki page has some info on the area's architecture). It's called Ashler Hall, but that isn't widely known.

Let me know if you have any more questions about specific types of quirky or countercultural things. Also seconding the I Love Memphis blog as a great resource for things to do and places to eat. Have fun!
posted by a.steele at 6:18 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My report-back: I have been staying at the Pilgrim House Hostel which was been very comfortable (I like the communal, everyone do a small chore each day aspect; some random internet review that I found while searching for hostels online strongly disagreed). I went to an excellent blues show with raisingsand (many thanks!).

I walked past the Lorraine Hotel (National Civil Rights Museum), stopped in the Southern Folklore Center, used the water fountain in the Museum of Rock and Soul, and generally wandered around the area between the Civil Rights Museum and Union Street for a bit. I poked my head into Sun Records, but beforehand I had stopped in at St. Blues Guitars, where one of the guys recommended the Stax Museum as his recommendation for anyone who only made one stop in Memphis, so I didn't stay for the studio tour. I did go to the Stax Museum, which was quite good (and a good cause to support, since they do a lot of educational and community development work). It also tied back in nicely with the beginning of my day, with a connection to the Lorraine Hotel. I ate dinner at the 3 Angels Diner (which was delicious, thanks a.steele!). And I drove around about half of the areas that taz' friend recommended (didn't make it to Orange Mound:( -- I had to detour around a stopped train, and ended up going the wrong direction on Southern and thus missed Pendleton and got back to Cooper instead, so just stopped at a store for ice for my cooler and ice cream for my desert instead).

My final stop on the way out of town will likely be Graceland Too. The Lonely Planet website says there's a gourmet popsicle place (in the southwest corner of town, down near the Mississippi border), but I have to look at my map and figure out if it's a reasonable detour or too far out of my way.
posted by eviemath at 8:25 PM on July 26, 2012

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