Tie on your walking shoes and discover the many sides of Memphis.
By Deborah Reinhardt
Visitors to Memphis can tour the city by trolley, bus, carriage, pedicab–even a 1955 Cadillac. But each time I visit this fun spot in western Tennessee, I realize how much fun it is to walk around town.
In Title: The Memphis Botanic Garden is one of the city’s outdoor gems that call out to be explored. ©Baxter Buck/Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau photo
Above: Walk Beale Street at night and you may see street entertainers. ©Phillip Parker/Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau photo
Below: On Mud Island, walkers can stroll the Riverwalk, which is a five-block-long model of the Mississippi River, plus tour a museum. ©Riverfront Development Corporation
Walking a city gives the visitor a real sense of place. You can discover a town’s many layers through exploring neighborhoods, entertainment, and historical districts. So strap on your blue suede walking shoes and let’s start exploring.
I’ve visited Memphis several times and never grow tired of the human parade that’s found along Beale Street. Touristy? Yes. Tacky? Of course. It’s also sometimes raw and grungy, but it’s never boring. No matter what time of day or night, this street is fascinating to walk.
Start at the top of the street where you’ll find B.B. King’s Restaurant and Blues Club (143 Beale St.) and then mosey down the street to Rum Boogie Cafe (182 Beale St.) that just has a great vibe to it. There’s also a Hard Rock Café and everything in between.
Obviously it’s less crowded during the day, but the music heats up after the sun goes down. On busy weekends in May, be prepared to walk nearly shoulder-to-shoulder along Beale.
If you walk Beale during the day, have lunch at one of the restaurants (I like the seafood gumbo or hot wings at Rum Boogie) and then stroll over to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum on South Third Street, between Beale and Linden Avenue. After seeing this little gem of a museum, check out Gibson Beale Street Showcase off Beale on Lt. George W. Lee Avenue to see how these legendary guitars are made.
Other urban legends
Downtown Memphis has plenty of other walking venues. If you’re still standing after checking out Beale Street, walk over to Union Avenue and see a few of the 64 historical plaques that tell of an event that happened along that downtown Memphis block. Other streets that are part of the Downtown Memphis Commission Sidewalk Stories project include Monroe, Madison and Court Square. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself saying, “I didn’t know that.”
Baseball buffs can make a trek to Union and Third Street for a tour of AutoZone Park, a pretty and tidy ball yard that’s home to the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple A club for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Walk two or three blocks west on Union toward the Mississippi River, take a right onto Front Street to find the monorail tram. A $2 fare will take you across the harbor and over to Mud Island River Park. Here, you can stroll the five-block-long Mud Island Riverwalk that’s a model of the Mississippi River. Check out the Mississippi River Museum, too, and rent a bicycle or kayak.
Civil War history fans may want to visit the museum on June 9 and 10, when costumed interpreters will retell the stories of the Naval Battle of Memphis, which happened June 6, 1862.
Walking and running trails along Riverside Drive are always a popular way to pass part of a spring afternoon. Access these from Jefferson Davis Park or Tom Lee Park, which is home to the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, as well as many other festivals.
Don’t feel like heading out on your own? Join local historian Jimmy Ogle every Tuesday and some Saturdays during summer months for free walking tours that meet around noon at various downtown locations.
One Memphis attraction everybody should see is the National Civil Rights Museum that’s inside the Lorraine Hotel on Mulberry Street. When you visit–and you will do a lot of walking inside this fantastic museum–save some energy to explore a bit of the South Main Historic Arts District.
The railroad lines that poured in Central Station once fueled this neighborhood. Many GI’s came into or left Memphis through Central Station, including Elvis Presley after his U.S. Army service in Germany. South Main has cycled through lean years and now is making a comeback as a trendy urban enclave.
Grab a bite to eat at The Arcade, 540 S. Main, and in homage to The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, try the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. There’s always the monster breakfasts served any time of day, sandwiches, pizza, or daily plate specials. It’s totally vintage, completely fun, so check it out.
There’s also a Main Street trolley line that’ll save your feet if you start to tire.
Garden variety walks
Downtown Memphis doesn’t have a lock on walking venues. Gardens and parks are available for visitors to explore, including the Memphis Botanic Garden and the Memphis Zoo.
In April, stroll the garden’s Madlinger Azalea Trail to marvel at the many shades of pink, coral, purple, red–even white–blooms. The Meyer/McDonald Dogwood Trail is in bloom April through May. Some of the 300 trees that are part of the Michie Magnolia Trail flower in May and bloom throughout the summer. The Memphis Botanic Garden is located in east Memphis in Audubon Park.
The Memphis Zoo in Overton Park has 70 acres to explore, so you’ll get plenty of exercise here. Home to 3,500 animals representing more than 500 species–you have to see the giant pandas in the newer CHINA exhibit–a morning or afternoon at the zoo is a great addition to your Memphis visit.
And this year, visitors can see 15 animatronic dinosaurs set in a prehistoric habitat from March 10–July 8. Children will have so much fun at the Dino Dig Site that they won’t know they’re learning something new. Visitors also can view a life-sized replica of an allosaurus skull and hear about the work being done by the zoo’s conservation researchers at the DinoVision Amphitheatre.
Zoo trivia nugget: the lion that roars at the beginning of classic MGM movies was recorded at the Memphis Zoo. The lion, known as Volney, died in 1944.
It’s rare you’ll see a habitat for American bison in the middle of an urban county, but it’s here in Memphis. Shelby Farms Greenline is a 4,500-acre park with a lake, trails, playground, disc golf, dog park, and more. The 6.5-mile Greenline is an urban trail that connects Midtown to Shelby Farms Park. Visitors can park at Shelby Farms to access the trail at Farm Road.
Much more than barbecue and blues, Memphis waits to be discovered by its many visitors–one step at a time.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler and AAA Southern Traveler magazines.
Mar/Apr 2012 Issue
|BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.memphistravel.com or (901) 543-5300.
To visit Memphis, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.