Whether you’re planning a trip to visit Memphis, Tennessee, or a local in need of a staycation, you’re in luck—according to The Scout Guide Memphis & Oxford editor Stephanie Stephens, the thriving city with a small-town vibe, deep history, and culture is open for business. Visitors and locals alike will enjoy the opportunity to learn about Memphis’s role in the American Civil Rights Movement and Black history, plus find ample opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities at a safe social distance. Here, Stephanie shares her favorite local finds and tips for taking in her city.
Where to Stay
Arrive Hotel (477 S Main Street) is a hip boutique destination with an amazing lobby. During your stay, be sure to visit the on-premise bakery, Hustle + Dough, a local favorite. Looking for an option with a little history? The Peabody Hotel (118 South 2nd Street) is on the National Register of Historic Places—plus it has famous resident ducks that march through the lobby every day at 11 a.m. and 5 pm. The iconic lobby bar is open, with plenty of room to enjoy a cocktail while waiting for the wildlife. Last but not least, Central Station Memphis (545 South Main Street), a Curio by Hilton hotel, is a newer place to stay with a unique “listening lounge” and the locally famous Bishop restaurant, which Stephanie recommends visiting regardless of where you stay.
What to Do
Memphis played a pivotal part in the nation’s civil rights movement and Black history, and you cannot come to town without taking in the significance of its role. Begin your visit to Memphis at the National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry Street), located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968. This museum brings the stories of civil rights in America to life through a series of interactive exhibitions, tours, and speakers. Guests must purchase timed tickets online prior to visiting the museum to maintain social distancing guidelines while the museum maintains 30% capacity.
A trip to Memphis would not be complete without a walk down famous Beale Street, known as “Home of the Blues.” This iconic city street is lined with historic music venues, restaurants, bars, and shops. Stephanie recommends making a dinner reservation at the upscale “bluesy” restaurant Itta Bena (145 Beale Street), a hidden gem that provides the perfect vantage point from which to watch the Beale Street magic.
There’s plenty to enjoy outdoors in Memphis any time of year. Don’t miss the chance to walk across the longest pedestrian bridge in the nation—Big River Crossing crosses the mighty Mississippi River and allows pedestrians and bicyclists to walk into Arkansas from Main Street in Memphis. Stephanie recommends trying the walk in the evening, when thousands of lights illuminate the bridge, making for a festive evening stroll. Looking for a longer ride? Big River Crossing connects to the Big River Trail, a 70-mile graded path atop the Mississippi River levees.
Where to Have a Drink
While you’re in the South Main Historic Arts District, where the Civil Rights Museum is located, Stephanie recommends stopping at Old Dominick Distillery (305 South Front Street), a 150-year-old distillery with fantastic vibes where you can get a taste of their hand crafted spirits and a tour. Book your visit in advance for a social-distance approved experience.
If you’re not in the mood for the hard stuff, don’t fret. “There is something for everybody in the South Main,” says Stephanie. Check out her favorite coffee shop, Low Fi Coffee (387 South Main Street), which happens to be attached to her favorite lifestyle store, Stock & Belle, which sells art and jewelry from local artists as well as trendy clothes.
For something off the beaten path, Stephanie recommends visiting the Mollie Fontaine Lounge (679 Adams Avenue), a little spot located in the Victorian Village, which features many old mansions—many of which are claimed to be haunted and stay open from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. for a visit. Stephanie suggests touring these gorgeous historic homes and grabbing a craft cocktail at Mollie Fontaine while telling some ghost stories.
Where to Enjoy a Meal
“Memphis has plenty of options for outdoor dining, but I always take my out-of-town visitors to Loflin Yard,” Stephanie says of the eatery located at 7 West Carolina Avenue. “This local haunt features wide open outdoor spaces, fire pits, and a fantastic view, plus a diverse menu of food and drinks.”
For a healthy lunch, try City Silo Table and Pantry (5101 Sanderlin Avenue, Suite 104), a vegan-friendly restaurant where you can fuel up on acai bowls or a big salad. Stephanie suggests going mid-day so you can indulge later at her favorite place for dinner. Catherine and Mary’s (272 South Main Street, Suite 105), which features a Southern take on Sicilian and Tuscan grandmother cooking.
Barbecue is a big deal in Memphis. Stephanie’s personal pick is Corky’s (5259 Poplar Avenue), where she recommends saving room for their fried chicken “drummies” with special sauce and barbecue nachos if you’re feeling a little untraditional.
For breakfast, visitors to Memphis can choose between local favorite Brother Juniper’s (3519 Walker Avenue) or the classic tourist destination—and oldest restaurant in town—Arcade Restaurant (540 South Main Street).
Where to Shop
According to Stephanie, locals tend to go East to shop. The high-end Laurelwood Shopping Center (422 S Grove Park Road) is Stephanie’s go-to destination, where there are plenty of women’s boutiques to fill an afternoon of browsing. Stephanie’s favorites include Joseph, Kittie Kyle, and Lori James. Stovall is a beautiful stationery boutique located at Laurelwood, and for men’s clothing, Memphis has two beloved staples: James Davis (at Laurelwood) and Oak Hall (6150 Poplar Avenue).
For unique gifts, art galleries, and goods made by local artisans, Stephanie loves to stroll the Broad Avenue Arts District. “There are just so many different stores, each with its own unique vibe,” says Stephanie. Stop into her favorite, City and State (2625 Broad Avenue) for some Memphis-made souvenirs and a cup of coffee to help you focus and stay energized to explore all the options along the avenue.
Photography by Elizabeth Looney Photography. For additional recommends for what to do, see, and experience in Memphis, follow The Scout Guide Memphis & Oxford on Instagram.