driving from nashville to austin
June 22, 2016 7:00 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are driving from Nashville to Austin via Memphis. The plan is to spend one night in Nashville, one in Memphis, and then end up in Austin. A few questions: 1.) Lodging recommendations in Nashville (between $100-$150 a night and centrally located) 2.) Is it possible to drive from Memphis to Austin in one day? I saw this post detailing the horrors of I-35. Is there an alternative? Google maps says it will take approximately 10 hours. Is that accurate? 3.) Is it better to split the drive between Memphis and Austin into 2 days? If so, where should be stop for the night? 3.) Lodging recommendations in Memphis. 4.) If you could spend an additional night in either Nashville or Memphis, which would be preferable? We are a young couple who like spicy local food, cheap outings, scenic views, and live music.
posted by allthingsconsidered to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (18 answers total)
It is possible to drive from Memphis to Austin in one day. It is, however, quite a long drive. Budget 12 hours and pack meals, snacks, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Source: Memphis is my stopping point when I attempt the PA-TX cross-country drive in two days.
posted by dinnerdance at 7:19 PM on June 22, 2016

1) and 3) I'd go with an AirBnB - you can check general area of town before you book. We did this in Nashville and Austin and it's a great, affordable option. Lots of folks have studios they rent for this purpose.

2) Yes, it's possible. But it's definitely a long day - 12 hours is more likely, given you'll be stopping for bathroom breaks, etc. Re: the I-35, we took it without issues.

4) Definitely Nashville, but both cities are great for live music and spicy food.

Have fun!
posted by too bad you're not me at 7:30 PM on June 22, 2016

We visited Memphis two years ago and using AAA's ratings, chose the Sleep Inn At Court Square and were very pleased. Good management, nice room, next door to a beautiful town square (the one shown in The Firm movie), and within walking distance of
  • Beale Street (many restaurants and live music venues),
  • the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum,
  • the Lorraine Motel (site of MLK's assassination; about a mile away — we enjoy walking),
  • the Gibson guitar factory,
  • the Mississippi River, and
  • downtown.

posted by davcoo at 7:30 PM on June 22, 2016

Memphis is easy to get around, if you have an extra night I recommend it. Lots to do and it's pretty much all close together. Of course, I'm biased, because I live here. If you'll let me know when you're coming through,I can give you some recommendations.
posted by raisingsand at 8:19 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I will never stop yearning for the lemongrass tofu we were informed of in Memphis. Also those local nacho chips (you'll find them in grocery stores) are to die for as well.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:41 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Memphis is a gritty river town. Great music, great riverwalk. The MLK memorial is quite moving and powerful.
Nashville has terrific music too, but it's a more bland city (probably safer, of course!). As far as museums go, however, the Country Music one is pretty good!

I like them both and visit each year, but Memphis is the one that really draws me.
posted by my-sharona at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think for your $150ish budget you'll have to do Airbnb in Nashville, hotel prices are crazy here, I don't think you can get anywhere close to centrally located for under $200.
posted by ghharr at 9:10 PM on June 22, 2016

35 is frequently a hot mess, but the biggest problem is it's erratic. You never know whether today is going to be clear sailing or if they're going to have 2 lanes closed because of construction and the 18-wheelers (who are frequently pretty aggressive) are clogging up the remaining lane. There's not a lot of options once you're on it, so if you get bogged down you'll be bogged down. I've been in standstills in the middle of the country (nearest town: Italy, population 1,863) so bad people were taking their dogs for walks along the side of the road while we waited for whatever mysterious problem there was to clear. It is the most direct and straightforward route from Dallas to Austin, but decidedly unlovely and under a lot of construction lately, especially between about Temple and Waco. I'd recommend using Waze or similar to keep you posted about what's ahead so you can know whether to take a detour or just stop and have some kolaches while you wait for a wreck to clear. Also if you do take that route be aware that there are lots of cops trying to catch speeders, and with as many construction zones as there are tickets are really expensive. It's really nice for a small town's budget, less nice for the people passing through who get soaked by the cops.
posted by katemonster at 11:17 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Memphis to ATX in a day shouldn't be a problem. I've done it without a partner to share driving duties, shared will be easy.

I-35 really is a toss of the dice. I have made great time on it, ATX to Dallas, Dallas to ATX. But the last time I was on it was an absolute nightmare. Construction zones. Everybody frustrated by the slowdowns and then they're driving insane behind that, and semi drivers that were out of their minds. I've driven I-35 any number of times prior to this last trip and never had run into it, quite a surprise, and not a good one.

Google maps shows a couple of alternates from Texarkana to Austin that are close to the same amount of driving time. I can't vouch for them, not traveled them, but if I were headed out tomorrow morning I'd be on one of them rather than I-35 after the horror show I ran into last time I traveled it.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:44 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

We spent two nights in Memphis and one in Nashville on our trip up to Louisville and have no regrets. Memphis is an incredible city that I would love to revisit. The MLK memorial was powerful and deepened the way I thought about the Civil Rights movement. Beale St. has great food, live music, and great people watching. There is a bunch of parks and museums along the Mississippi that we only scratched the surface of.

We never felt unsafe in Memphis but we are not night owls.

Doing the reverse trip, we drove from San Antonio to Texarkana, then got into Memphis early enough the next day to do some sightseeing.
posted by muddgirl at 3:39 AM on June 23, 2016

For what little it's worth, a coworker reported losing about an hour to construction on 35 between Waco and Austin last weekend. I think it was smooth sailing until then. (She was coming from the northeast, so probably roughly your route.)

(I think someone in the other post mentioned about people driving slowly in the left lane. Driving below the speed limit seems to be endemic to Texas. I don't think avoiding 35 will save you. It's better not on the interstate. I think some of the slow driving in the right lane is due to the entrance ramps often being really short, so you have to slow down for people merging 10mph below the speed of traffic. But I drive on 35 in Austin late enough for there to be little to no traffic and the left lane is often going roughly the speed limit, which was mind-blowing for me, who learned to drive in Chicago.)
posted by hoyland at 4:30 AM on June 23, 2016

Definitely ask Waze and Google Maps about the best routes, and leave them running while you drive so they can recalculate based on traffic. I recently drove from Raleigh to Austin via Mobile. Once I got into Texas, Waze took me off I-10 and onto various state highways that were empty even around rush hour and had speed limits of 75 mph and almost no stop lights. You may not have to take I-35 all the way down.

Note that Google Maps thought each leg of my trip would take 10 hours, but that assumes no potty breaks, meal stops, etc. Nor does it really factor in traffic. I'd add a solid 2-3 hours to that estimate. If you can split it up, I would. 12 hours of driving is a long day, as I know from very recent experience. I did it safely, but it was not pleasant. It would be easier if the two of you can take turns driving, of course.
posted by snowmentality at 5:19 AM on June 23, 2016

Just nthing that 35 between Waco and Austin had been even more terrible than usual the last few times I drove it, particularly the southbound that you'd be taking. I tried driving it late night to skip the traffic in January and they'd literally closed the whole interstate for construction. But past Waco, my experience has been, things are much better. So you could try and reroute the whole thing from Texarkana, or just that last 100 miles, with pretty much the same result.
posted by theweasel at 6:40 AM on June 23, 2016

You can definitely do Memphis-Austin in one day.

If you really want to avoid I-35 (which, it is true, sucks), you could patch together a route of I-40 to I-30 to US-59 to US-79. According to Google, that would add about an hour to your drive time. For that matter, you could take US-79 all the way from Memphis. That would add another hour or two. US-79 brings you just north of Austin, and there are a few roads other than I-35 that can get you into town. SH-130 is a toll road that's fast and connects directly to US-79.
posted by adamrice at 7:55 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I will never stop yearning for the lemongrass tofu we were informed of in Memphis.

Siagon Le burned down a couple of months ago in a vent-a-hood grease fire. Midtown is still in mourning. Now the best lemongrass tofu in town is on the buffet of Pho Hoa Binh in Madison, but it's so covered over in locals that the lemongrass tofu is snatched up almost instantly. Seriously, people are like vultures. But the tofu is just that good.

If you're into barbecue (and you should be, if you're going to be in Memphis, I love the BBQ Shop on Madison, but there's also Central Barbecue both Downtown and in Midtown, Cozy Corner on North Parkway downtown, and Paynes, a local favorite. Can't miss with any of those. Avoid The Rendezvous.

While in Memphis, there's Graceland, of course, which is great if you've never been before. The basic tour is enough for newbies and those who are not Elvis fanatics. The National Civil Rights Museum is incredible, moving, and informative. But to me, the single don't miss attraction for out-of-towners in Memphis is the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which is the only museum I've ever been too with a dance floor.

DM me and I can recommend a very reasonably priced AirBnB that is centrally located right next to the Overton Square theater district.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I stayed at the Pilgrim House Hostel in Memphis when I passed through a few years ago. If you don't mind hostels, it was absolutely lovely. That might leave more in your budget for a place to stay in Nashville, if getting a decent room there is expensive as mentioned upthread. The Stax Museum was indeed excellent, and raisingsand will definitely steer you in the right direction for your musical experience, as well!
posted by eviemath at 3:24 PM on June 23, 2016

It's at the top of your preferred rate for Nashville, but depending on your travel date I saw a rate of $149 for Aloft, which is centrally located, and fairly nice, but small rooms. One problem I have is that they charge $30 a day for parking. Now, there is some parking on the street, if you can find it and feel comfortable parking your car on the street. I would park there no trouble, but then would feel terrible if something happened to your car...

Other than that, since you are heading to Memphis afterwards you could stay at a hotel in that price range in the Bellevue area (west of town). However, I agree with the idea of Airbnb, with all the condo build-up downtown and near downtown I bet you could find a fun and cheap place to stay.

Nashville is known for it's hot chicken, Prince's is the local place, been there forever, and with that you get grouchy staff and long lines (that sounds super negative, but I really don't mean to be.) Hattie B's is a newcomer on the scene and not as colorful, but affords a more mainstream venue for hot chicken. They now have two locations, one more downtown and the other in fairly close driving distance, with more parking and a little less busy. This second location on Charlotte is also next door to Bobbie's Dairy Dip (closed on Sunday), another Nashville institution.

Lots of live music options, both on Broadway downtown and nearby, like 12th and Porter and 3rd and Lindsley, for example.
posted by dawg-proud at 4:47 PM on June 23, 2016

We recently drove from Houston to Nashville. We found Little Rock to be a great half way break. It is a great town with some really great people and food. I suggest Aibnb for your stay in Nashville. We had a really nice place off of Gallatin in East Nashville for about $110 a night.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:09 PM on June 23, 2016

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