Dreaming of Travel: Memphis, Tennessee
A kid-friendly, music and food lover's paradise that is known for a spirit of hospitality and a fresh air lifestyle.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, I have been privileged to experience all that the city has to offer in every phase of my life. While the places I frequent have slightly changed, the Memphis culture and warm hospitality always preside in all the best spots in town.
With beautiful weather year-round, whether playing by the Mississippi River during the annual Memphis in May festival or challenging others to a game of corn hole at a local indoor/outdoor restaurant, Memphis caters to young and old every season of the year.
Where to Eat?
If there is anything Memphis takes the most pride in, it is their food. As home to the international BBQ festival that takes place each May, Memphis works hard to ensure that it remains a top foodie destination for people all over.
While there are plenty of incredible BBQ places all over the city, my personal favorite is Central BBQ. With several locations around town, it isn’t hard to find their legendary pulled pork nachos or home-baked seasoned chips dipped in ranch.
It is kid-friendly and there are options for everyone, even those who aren’t BBQ fans! I recommend going to the original downtown location by the Civil Rights Museum to get the full experience with occasional live music and a classic Memphis atmosphere.
Another Memphis classic that has grown to over eight locations, this family-owned staple is known for its burgers, blues, and unique personality. These memorable features include Huey’s tradition of shooting toothpicks into the ceiling, as well as writing on the graffiti walls.
Each location is a little different and showcases a collection of hometown memorabilia hanging from the walls and the ceilings. Huey’s has classic American food and a great kids menu. The Huey’s burger has been voted Best in Memphis since 1984 by the Memphis Magazine Reader’s Poll and is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
If you are looking for an old school vibe, look no further than the oldest cafe in Memphis. Their slogan, “Eat Like The King”, is a nod to Elvis’ affinity for the place, and entering The Arcade is like taking a trip back in time. The nostalgic charm runs deep, though they have expanded and modernized with additional seating, a bar, and a waiting area.
Their Sweet Potato Pancakes are a Food Network Favorite and The Travel Channel highlighted the Eggs Redneck. If you are still around for lunch, grab a Peanut Butter N’Banana in honor of Elvis himself. Afterward, take a ride through downtown on the South Main Trolley!
If you are craving something sweet, look no further than Beale Sweets Sugar Shack. This candy store could blow any child’s mind, so consider yourself warned! They offer sodas, fudge, popsicles, and a huge variety of candy and local sweets. Full of nostalgia it is appropriately located on historic Beale Street downtown.
For something a bit more subdued, Muddy’s Bake Shop is an absolute must. They are home to the best cupcakes, pies, and cakes in the entire city. All baked from scratch, they use organic whole milk, cage-free eggs, real fruit, pure extracts, and wholesome, high-quality ingredients to create their mouth-watering treats.
I highly recommend making a stop here and trying at least one of their baked goods. Owner Kat Gordon works hard to serve her community and actively spreads love and joy through her bakeshop. Memphis loves Muddy’s and “Muddy’s loves Memphis!”
Where to Play?
This is a newer local favorite known for great entertainment, food, and a lively atmosphere. Settled in Midtown in an old rail yard, Railgarten has transformed the 1.5 acres into a mini-metropolis with a diner, ice cream parlor, ping pong area, outdoor space, and stage for live music for all ages to enjoy. You truly can’t go wrong at Railgarten, where your options seem endless. They even have a tiki-themed bar outside for the adults to enjoy while the kids run loose or play sand volleyball.
It is a fun spot for the entire family, and you don’t have to worry about getting a table because it is so expansive. If there isn’t live music, there is always something playing on the old school projector outside whether it be an 80’s classic movie, sports, or a live music fest. Pets are welcome, and there is rarely a cost to get in unless a band is charging cover. The building and yard are open to all ages until 8 pm when it turns 21 and over. Check the website for their events calendar.
Shelby Farms Park sits on 4,500 acres in the heart of Memphis and is the largest urban park in the country. It is a vibrant hub of activity and a great way to escape the hustle of the city. The Park not only has twenty bodies of water for fishing, paddle boarding, and kayaking, it also has more than forty miles of paved and unpaved trails for biking, running, strolling, and rollerblading.
The farm has a bike rental shop, a waterplay Sprayground, horse stables, a ropes course, boat rentals, pavilions, one of the coolest playgrounds in Memphis, the Woodland Discovery Playground and so much more. I suggest renting a paddleboarda on the lake and then eating a salad or sandwich at Cheffie’s Cafe. Alternatively, step it up a notch and enjoy a cocktail and an appetizer at Coastal Fish Company during sunset to enjoy the view over the lake. A herd of bison call Shelby Farms home and roam their own special 50 acres. The park is a staple to Memphians who like to spread out and get some fresh air.
Memphis Greenline (Shelby Farms Park Greenline)
If you want to go on a nice walk, bike, or stroller run, look no further than the Memphis Greenline. Built on a former railroad line, this project began in 2004 to encourage healthier lifestyles and give all neighborhoods easier access to exercise trails especially those of Shelby Farms Park.
The Greenline is 10.65 miles long and connects from Midtown Memphis through Shelby Farms Park to Cordova. It also connects to the Wolf River Greenway, which is an expansion to eventually encompass 36 miles of paved pathway. The trails are shaded and you pass a lot of wildlife, lakes, and the Wolf River. You can go from Midtown through East Memphis all the way to Collierville and explore the murals, food, and various amenities along the way.
A really fun spot to play and learn about the landscape of Memphis is Mud Island Park located right in the middle of the Mississippi River. To get there, you can take the sky bridge, walk, bike or scooter. There is an available bike share so you can easily cruise over to the park.
The park hosts two free concert series in the Mud Island Amphitheatre, and it is also just a great place to relax and people watch. You can kayak, play frisbee, or just chill out with a book in a hammock while the kiddos run and play. Guided paddleboard tours are available or join a yoga class with SUP here. There are several cafes onsight and the Mississippi River Museum.
On the riverfront just opposite Mud Island, Beale Street Landing offers an interactive splash pad and play area where families can cool off in a carved out area of the Mississippi River. The splash park is great fun and in an ideal location for watching barges and steamboats cruise along the river. Attached to Tom Lee Park it features an outdoor fitness area, playgrounds, and tons of grassy areas to run and play.
If you want to escape the heat and enjoy some indoor fun, the Children’s Museum of Memphis is full of interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and unique and memorable features. The little ones can even gear up like a firefighter and climb inside a real fire truck! Go grocery shopping and check-out at the cash register, explore a real FedEx plane, and even learn how to land it in a flight simulator. There is even a full-sized carousel inside!
The CMOM emphasizes educational play designed to stimulate all the senses. Play in the splash park, explore the bank, learn about the Mississippi River, or climb in the skyscraper tower. You can easily spend hours in this museum, and it is well worth the trip and the price of admission feels quite reasonable for all it entails. Admission for all ages 1-100 is $15 and babies under one are free. The targeted age range is 2-10, but all children are welcome. Admission for all ages 1-100 is $15 and younger than 1 is free.
If you are interested in embarking on an all-day outdoor adventure, consider kayaking or floating down the Wolf River. The upper Wolf River is home to the Ghost River area and has some of the most beautiful water channels in the region and country.
There are spots perfect for any skill level, and there are several shuttle and rental services to make your trip as easy as possible. I would only recommend the Ghost River section of the water to experienced paddlers, or those who hire a guide.
If you want a more leisurely experience with your kiddos, stick to the bottom half and plan ahead and get a sense of the strength of the current that you can expect that day
Make sure to pack water, food, and sunscreen!
Where to Stay?
The Peabody Hotel is a beautiful and historic Memphis landmark, as well-known for the ducks who inhabit it as it’s elegance and grandeur. Ducks have been known to relax in the Peabody fountain since the 1930s. In 1940 a bellman offered to help deliver the ducks from their rooftop home down to the fountain every day and taught them the now-famous Peabody duck march. This bellman, Edward Pembroke, became the Peabody Duckmaster until he retired and passed along the title.
The ducks march down to the lobby from the roof to visit the fountain every day from 11 am to 5 pm. Kids absolutely love sitting on the sides and watching the five ducks walk from the elevator across the red carpet to the fountain, accompanied by the duckmaster. The Peabody ducks have appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Sesame Street, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and in both People Magazine and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Each team of ducks only lives at the hotel for three months before retiring and returning to the farm where they live as free wild animals. While they are there, they live a charmed life at the Peabody in a $200,000 marble and glass structure on the roof, that even features a bronze duck fountain.
Located inside the Memphis Pyramid (also home to Bass Pro Shop) on the Mississippi River, Big Cypress Lodge is definitely one of the most unique hotels in Memphis. Inside you will find a wilderness themed wonderland with all kinds of activities for all ages.
Kids will love eating at Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl, an underwater themed bowling alley and diner, and riding the country’s tallest free-standing elevator to the top of the Pyramid for the best view of the Mississippi.
Learn all about the native fish in the aquarium during their fish feeding and informational demonstrations throughout the day, or dine on the top level at the glass observation deck. Regardless of what you do, you definitely won’t be bored!
For something more rustic, camping is available around twenty-five minutes north of the city at Meeman Shelby-Forest State Park. The park has six two bedroom cabins located on Poplar Tree Lake, and also has at least 49 sites with water and electrical hookups.
There are 20 miles of hiking trails, and five for bikes. The lake is perfect for boating and paddling (watercraft are for rent), and the fishing is good for bass, bluegill and catfish. The trees and bluffs are impressive, and the wildlife is plentiful. The birdwatching is impressive - keep an eye out for Bald Eagles!
Maintaining a deep and significant role in music history and a people that foster a passionate love for cuisine (especially barbecue) Memphis has so much to offer. It’s standing as the largest city on the Mississippi and the second-largest cargo airport in the world (it is the FedEx base), are for good reason.
It is a truly unique place that is referred to as Bluff City because of the high bluffs along the beautiful riverbank. They draw the people of Memphis outside who are known to enjoy most of their pastimes outside taking in the fresh air along the river. It’s really hard not to fall in love with Memphis, Tennessee the moment you arrive and it deserves a solid spot on your travel bucket list.
Let us help you get outdoors with Hiking WIth Kids: Tips & Tricks, Ten Tips For Hiking Responsibly in the days of COVID-19 or seek inspiration from the safety of your home in Dreaming Up Your Next Adventure.
Explore more of our Dreaming of Travel series in Bear Lake: An Adventurer’s Oasis, Make Nature Your Focus in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Plan Your Next Adventure in Savannah, Georgia, Explore Grand Teton or Yellowstone, or check out the recent blogs by Colin Boyd to further fuel your wanderlust - Dreaming of Safe Travel: Dry Tortugas and Why Mojave National Preserve is Our Favorite Park.
If you have a perfect getaway or a favorite landscape, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be excited to cover it! Share your highlights with us on Instagram @gethappyly.