Where we’re at: I’m covering my road trip in the American South in May of 2022.
It was the end of the road — trip. We’d been surprised by Alabama’s charming coastal city Mobile, soaked up peak small town southern charm in Mississippi’s Tupelo, and finally had some time, after the whirlwind that was TravelCon’s closeout conference, to explore our final stop, Tennessee’s home of blues, Memphis.
Unlike the other states on our itinerary, I’d been to Tennessee before. I’ve taken a few spins around famous Nashville, and been lucky to travel twice to Manchester for Bonnaroo, including a memorable edition with my mom. But still, Memphis was brand new — and felt totally unique from the other parts of the state I’d seen.
And I’m so glad I had some real time to explore it. Always tack on a few days to a conference, if you can! When I’m in speaking, networking and learning mode I’m totally in the zone — I get totally immersed and basically never leave the conference center, ha. So while some ducked out and juggled sightseeing in there, I knew I wouldn’t.
Thankfully my co-pilot Katie from Traveling Spud was on the same page, so after hugging goodbye to all our blogger friends we headed to a super cute Airbnb and spent a couple days co-working and sightseeing. For once, we did a really great job of strictly scheduling ourselves for working mornings and sightseeing afternoons. While we didn’t get any exercise in beside walking, which would have just been perhaps too many gold stars awarded, I feel this was one of my better examples of a work/travel balanced trip.
Our Airbnb was in trendy Midtown, and we were drawn to the locally-inspired decor and the cute cozy vibes we planned to recharge in at the end of a busy trip.
We’d been alternating Airbnbs and hotels, my fave combo for balancing that feeling of being spoiled with great service and then having some privacy and practical comforts like a washing machine and the ability to heat up leftovers (am I the only one obsessed with leftovers? Anyone? Anyone?)
Before we could check into our adorable home for the next few nights, we were in that dreaded zone between late checkout and early check in — which we really made the most of! We stored our bags downtown and set off for a power walk to Mud Island, a small peninsula we’d been looking out at from our downtown hotel all weekend.
Katie talked me into one particularly entertaining stop en route — The Bass Pro Shop. Yup, it’s in a giant pyramid. No, after hearing and reading many excellent explanations, I don’t totally get why. I was a heavy skeptic of visiting but I figured as a gal who spends a month every year in Egypt lately, I couldn’t miss this tie in, no?! Memphis is named after a city in Egypt, y’all.
It was pretty trippy to go inside — had we had more time, we might have bought a ticket to the viewpoint at the top. Or, more likely, now that I know it exists, I’ll round up whomever I’m with after one too many drinks on Beale Street and bring them to the onsite underwater-themed bowling alley (honestly, my entire trip was almost ruined by my too-late discovery of this attraction.)
The island itself, and its colorful Memphis sign, were delightful — we particularly loved the scaled model of the Mississippi River we were able to walk along. I’d call this a must do for anyone who needs some fresh air in Memphis!
After, we grabbed some laptop time and treats at Vice and Virtue Coffee — they had endless yummy nibbles and a bunch of seating configurations for the girl who can’t sit still, ha. If you need a caffeine hit or a couple of moments to catch up on screen time downtown, you’ve gotta pop in here.
However, once we were all tucked into our Airbnb, we were pretty excited to explore some Memphis attractions and eateries further afield! We started with The Memphis Botanic Garden, a ninety-six acre explosion of fauna, which was hosting a special press preview for an Alice in Wonderland themed show that evening.
I think we can all agree I was legally required to attend, no? It was so whimsically fun, and a reminder that for me, special events like these are the best time to visit museums, gardens, and other city institutions.
This show in particular was originally designed by the Atlanta Botanic Garden, and the primary exhibits were created by filling large steel frames with soil and planting them with thousands of flowers and plants in a greenhouse in Georgia before they were shipped in climate-controlled trucks to Memphis!
Upon arrival, they were put together using cranes and forklifts and trimmed and watered daily to keep them looking fresh. The exhibit’s calendar was filled with highlights like dog-friendly evening events to succulent planting parties to crafternoons to nights with food trucks and “curious cocktails!” Check the botanical garden’s calendar for what they might have going on when you visit.
I loved taking a breather after four days in a windowless conference center to spend a day largely outside! Walking through this whimsical show with some amazing ladies was just the dose of inspiration I needed.
They have disco balls hanging from the ceiling — need I say more?
The next day, we happily worked away under the watchful eye of the tasteful Elvis art in our Airbnb until it was time to emerge for our afternoon adventure.
We switched gears officially with a late lunch at Beauty Shop, a recommendation we’d bothb been given endless times. With actual vintage salon stuff turned into a restaurant seating, this spot is super retro chic — plus it had an amazing array of salads after a week of heavy southern food. Make sure to reserve the salon seating, if you can!
And with that, we were headed out to Graceland, the infamous home of Elvis Presley. I’m going to be totally honest and tell you that had we not been to Tupelo, Elvis’s birthplace, the prior week, I’m not sure Graceland would have been on my list.
But I’m so glad we did. It was wild to follow Elvis’s journey from the humble, electricity-free home he grew up in to touring his private planes and see where his life ended far too soon. One thing that struck me is that while outlandish in style, Graceland is quite modest in size and scale compared to some of wildly excessive homes we see today.
Visiting Graceland is surprisingly expensive — tickets start at $77 and go up from there; however, it is more than just a house tour. That portion is well done and iPad guided, though you are not permitted upstairs, some say to prevent gawkers at the site of Elvis’s untimely death.
Alongside the house itself you are able to tour his private planes, which us two travelers were blown away by, as well as an extensive museum with exhibits on many facets of Elvis’s life and career, which I enjoyed too.
I’m grateful I can now say I’ve experienced this wild piece of quirky Americana. From the tributes still being left at this man’s memorial on the property, it’s obvious his music touched the world and I enjoyed learning a bit more about him beyond his caricatured persona.
But, hot tip — Graceland is pretty remote so call an Uber a bit before you’re ready to go. We waited nearly fifteen minutes. Pre-schedule that ride, if unlike Elvis you’ve yet to reach private jet status!
That night, we indulged in a time-honored tradition of any long road trip through the South — or if it’s not one already, I’m making it one — takeout BBQ on the floor in front of Netflix and giggles about the trip. Try it, people! (If only the Elvis movie had been out by then — you know ya girl loves a theme night.)
I’m glad we rested up because we really needed a clear head and an open heart for the next afternoon. After a few days exploring the outskirts of Memphis we were back downtown, and ready to dive into the most important part of our trip — The Civil Rights Museum.
This is a must for every American, I think. This museum, set in the motel where Dr. MLK Jr was assassinated, tells the simultaneously devastating and inspiring story of the American civil rights movement. Take that open heart and prepare for it to be broken. The history of the American South is brutal and it’s important to learn it so we can be inspired by the tenacity of the people who have changed our world for the better and not repeat the mistakes of those who looked the other way.
I’m glad we had an open schedule for our last evening, after. Katie is one of my favorite people to travel with because we can really dig in and have the big conversations and process the good, the bad and the ugly that can come up along our travels. And that’s exactly what we did as we walked and talked around downtown, absorbing the visit.
Eventually, we were ready for a good meal, and a stiff drink to toast to an incredible trip.
While fried chicken is like, 97% of why I wanted to go to Memphis in the first place, we were ready for something a little different. Good Fortune Co. was a breath of fresh air after a week of BBQ with yummy ramen and Asian-inspired cocktails in a cute stretch of downtown. And we couldn’t leave without a drink at Old Dominick, a local distillery around the corner.
And that’s a wrap on Memphis! If you’re headed there yourself, don’t miss my TravelCon post for some of my favorite restaurants and nightlife — because while I might have been all business those days, a girl’s still gotta eat (and drink!)
With this trip, I officially pushed my state count to twenty-six — just over half! I wanted to understand more about the modern American South from this trip, and I can confidently say after twelve days on the road, I do. And I can’t wait to see what part of this wild, wild country I am lucky enough to explore next.
Have you been to Memphis? What can’t I miss next time?
Thank you to Memphis Travel for hosting us for some meals and attractions. Your hospitality was wonderful!