Tennessee Travel: Memphis on a Budget

Memphis, Tenn., is one of 19 travel destinations in Frommer’s “Best Places to Go in 2019” list. “Bluff City Law” debuted in September on NBC and is a legal drama addressing civil rights cases in the city. People love Bluff City, so nicknamed for its proximity to several bluffs along the Mississippi River, for its barbecue, music, and significance in the civil rights movement. Today, the new television series is introducing a new audience and new set of travelers. Following are tips to save during your trip to Memphis.

Beal Street in Memphis, Tenn. 2019
Beal Street in Memphis, Tenn. 2019

Hear the Sounds of Memphis

Memphis is Home of the Blues and Birthplace Rock and Roll and the city is mentioned in more than 1,000 recorded songs. Music is interwoven in the city’s culture and several museums celebrate its past, present, and future.

Sun Studio is where an 18-year-old Elvis recorded his first song. Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and others launched their musical careers at the legendary studio. Today, artists record in the studio during the evenings and by day, tours are available.

The exhibition at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum was curated by the Smithsonian Institution and shares the story of those who overcame barriers to create influential music from the mid-twentieth century through today. Through interactive exhibits, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music celebrates American soul music and specifically, the Stax sound. These and other museums charge an admission fee and are well worth it.

Get Your Blue Suede Shoes on Beale Street

A visit to the Beale Street Entertainment District can be easy on the budget. This is the official Home of the Blues and music from three blocks of nightclubs and restaurants fill the street. Add in shopping and people watching and a stroll down Beale Street is a stand-alone attraction. For a nominal cover charge, stop in one of the clubs to soak up the musical vibe and you may never know who’s on stage. Memphis native Justin Timberlake made a surprise appearance at B.B. King’s Blues Club earlier in the year.

Check out Silky O’Sullivan’s to mingle with the oftentimes beer-drinking goats in the open-air courtyard and listen to queen Barbara Blue belt out silky blues. Visit Handy Park and pay tribute to the Father of the Blues, William Christopher Handy. Snap a photo with the bronze statue of Elvis between S. Main Street and S. 2nd Street.

Elvis Presely's Meditation Garden at Graceland, Tenn., 2019
Elvis Presely’s Meditation Garden at Graceland, Tenn., 2019

The Meditation Garden at Graceland

Elvis Presley purchased Graceland in March 1957 and paid $102,500 for the 13.8 acres and home. True blue fans will have a burning desire to visit the estate he lived in until his death in 1977. Touring the mansion is $41 while a guided tour of the famous home, access to see the legend’s iconic pink Cadillac and signature jumpsuits, and personal Graceland archives show and tell session, is $174 with the Ultimate VIP tour.

For those minding the budget and looking for a glimpse of the singer’s life, visit the Meditation Garden between 7:30 and 8:30 each morning. The famed musical gates open free of charge to visitors. Walk up Graceland’s driveway and admire the mansion from a distance and see the kidney-shaped swimming pool the beloved entertainer had installed in June 1957.

Pay respects in the Meditation Garden which includes gravestones of Presley, his grandmother Minnie Mae Presley, and his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley. A memorial for the performer’s stillborn twin, Jesse Garon, is in the gardens along with a fountain, and eternal flame. The Wall at Graceland’s entrance is an attraction, too. Messages left by visitors from around the globe show how the King is always on their mind.

“Bluff City Law” wasn’t the only production over the summer. The Hallmark Channel filmed “Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays.” The movie debuted Nov. 23 and is one of 40 new holiday films for 2019 in the Hallmark franchise. It is also the third Hallmark movie filmed at Graceland in the last few years.

Inside Bass Pro at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn., 2019.
Inside Bass Pro at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn., 2019

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

Memphis was founded in 1819. Its three founders, future U.S. president Andrew Jackson, Nashville judge John Overton, and former brigadier general James Winchester, decided to name it for an ancient Egyptian city meaning “Place of Good Abode.” Memphis is located on the Nile River and home to Egypt’s famous pyramids. Did the founders name Memphis because of its location on the Mississippi River which could have made it a cultural and trade hub? Perhaps, but the history books are unclear on the reason.

During the 1950s, an artist thought Memphis needed three pyramids. More than three decades later, his son, Jon Brent Hartz, resurrected the concept and in 1991, the Great American Pyramid opened. Built of steel and glass and 28 stories tall, it initially served as home court for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and University of Memphis men’s basketball and entertainment venue. Over time, it was no longer suited for NBA play and eventually closed in 2004. Following lengthy negotiations with the City of Memphis, Bass Pro Shops moved in after extensive renovations and opened in 2015.

Today, the Memphis Pyramid is home to Bass Pro at the Pyramid. Find the world’s tallest freestanding elevator, 600,000 gallons of water with more than 1,800 fish, alligator pools, archery and pistol ranges, duck aviaries, bowling alley, 103-room rustic-luxury hotel called Big Cypress Lodge, Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center, dining, and one of the world’s largest collection of hunting and waterfowl equipment. While there is a fee for some of the experiences and shopping is encouraged, visitors are free to roam and explore the multi-level megastore including the exhibits in the Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center.

World-Famous Peabody Ducks with their Fans in Memphis, Tenn.
World-Famous Peabody Ducks with their Fans in Memphis, Tenn.

World-Famous Peabody Duck March

Absurd yet brilliant ideas are often inspired while sipping spirits. That is what happened in 1933 when the general manager of The Peabody Memphis returned from a duck hunting trip with a friend. Thinking it would be amusing, they placed live ducks in the hotel’s fountain. The response was overwhelmingly positive and began the Peabody tradition.

In 1940, Edward Pembroke, an animal trainer, taught the ducks to march to and from the fountain. For 50 years, he served as the Peabody Duckmaster.
Today, visitors can watch the five North American mallards walk during the Peabody Duck March along the red carpet. At 11 a.m., the duckmaster leads them from the elevator to the fountain, and at 5 p.m., they are led from the fountain, to the elevator, up to the rooftop, and to the comforts of their $200,000 Royal Duck Palace.

Watching the march is free but arrive at least 30 minutes early to grab a seat and cocktail. Enjoy lunch or dinner at the hotel but you will not see duck on the menu. Since 1981, none of the restaurant’s eateries have served it, including its French restaurant.

The Main Street Trolley in Memphis, Tenn.
The Main Street Trolley in Memphis, Tenn.

Travel Economically

Parking in Memphis can put a dent in your travel budget but there are options. Room rates for a downtown hotel are typically at a premium. Driving in and parking usually has a fee associated, even late in the evening. If planning on visiting Sun Studio and Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, hop on the complimentary Sun Studio Shuttle. It runs hourly beginning at 10:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 7 days a week. Although free, gratuities are appreciated. Another option is hopping aboard the Main Street Trolley. It offers $1 one-way fares per rider. Or, stay at a hotel set away from downtown but close enough they offer a complimentary shuttle to downtown.

Allegiant Air began nonstop service between Punta Gorda Airport and Memphis International Airport earlier in the month. Southwest Airlines offers nonstop service between Tampa International Airport and Memphis. American Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, and United also offer air service to Memphis.

This Tennessee city on the Mississippi River has countless stories and songs to be heard. Some can be enjoyed on a television screen or through a pair of headphones. Others should be experienced by walking your blue suede shoes down Beale Street.

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Nuts & Bolts About Visiting Memphis on a Budget

Memphis Tourism
Tel: 901-543-5333.
www.memphistravel.com
Find things to do, where to stay, and where to dine.

Attractions

Graceland
3734 Elvis Presley Blvd.
Memphis, Tenn. 38116
Tel: 901-332-3322
www.graceland.com

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid
1 Bass Pro Dr.
Memphis, Tenn. 38105
Tel: 901-291-8200
https://stores.basspro.com

The Peabody Memphis
149 Union Ave.
Memphis, Tenn. 38103
Tel: 901-529-4000
www.peabodymemphis.com
The Peabody Duck March is 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Arrive at least 30 minutes early. If seated in the lobby, no standing during the march is permitted.

Beale Street
203 Beale St., Suite 300
Memphis, Tenn. 389103
Tel: 901-526-0115
www.bealestreet.com

Stax Museum of American Soul Music
926 E. McLemore Ave.
Memphis, Tenn. 38106
Tel: 901-942-7685
https://staxmuseum.com
Admission: $13

Sun Studio
706 Union Ave.
Memphis, Tenn. 38103
Tel: 901- 521-0664
www.sunstudio.com
Admission: $14

Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
191 Beale St.
Suite 100
Memphis, Tenn. 38103
Tel: 901-205-2533
www.memphisrocknsoul.org
Admission: $13

Silky O’Sullivan’s
183 Beale St.
Memphis, Tenn. 38103
Tel: 901-522-9596
www.silkyosullivans.com

Memphis Main Street Trolley
www.matatransit.com

Where to Stay

Staybridge Suites Memphis – Poplar Ave. East
1070 Ridge Lake Blvd.
Memphis, Tenn. 38120Tel: 901-6821722
www.ihg.com

Disclosure

This post contains affiliate links to support this blog, my traveling habit, and my special-neeeds dogs.

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Author: Solo Travel Girl Admin

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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