“Put on my blue suede shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain…”
—Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn
Just as lines from Swingers run through my mind when traveling to Las Vegas, the lyrics from Walking in Memphis were playing on loop as Emily and I flew to Memphis for 48 hours in the Bluff City. For the second year in a row we were there to run in St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, the largest single day fundraiser for the kids of St. Jude where fundraising efforts by Heroes like us ensure that families never have to pay for treatment, housing, food, or transportation. It would be a whirlwind mother-daughter weekend primarily centered around race events but we looked forward to eating at favorite places and experiencing some new sights
Even though we were without blue suede shoes for our visit, we had access to a storm blue 2017 Toyota Corolla during an unseasonably warm December weekend that we took to our first stop, Central BBQ. If you sense a theme about our family trips revolving around food, you are not mistaken!
Where to Eat in Memphis: Central BBQ
Central BBQ is a place that my son and barbecue aficionado, Thomas, dreams about. He often asks to return to Memphis just to eat at Central and even though this seems crazy, once you open the door, you’ll understand why. The smell of smoke and sauce is heavy in the air as you peruse the menu on the wall. The scent is like a sedative, slowing down brain functions and making it difficult to wrap your head around the possibilities of meaty goodness until you give in and decide you want it all. My advice: Have everyone in your party order something different or select the combo plate that features 4 ounces of any three meats. Note: The combo plate was large enough for me and Emily to share.
Pay for your meal, find a table, and while you wait, and help yourself to sauce along the back wall. While the service is fast, the wait for your platter can still be excruciating as you glance around at tables heaped with sandwiches and fries occupying blue plastic baskets lined with paper and generous piles of meat heaped on blue plates. Just when you think you can’t stand the wait any longer, your food arrives with a smile. Dig in to the holy grail of slow smoked goodness before you and you’ll understand exactly why Central BBQ has consistently ranked the #1 BBQ in Memphis since 2005.
Other favorite Memphis eateries include:
- Flying Fish— If you still have a Billy Bass hanging on your wall, take it with you when you go to Memphis and Flying Fish will give it a new home on the wall in the front room of the restaurant where thankfully, only some of them work. Emily highly recommends the gumbo while the rest of the family likes fried catfish platters with the 2 sides. Note: If you choose fried okra as a side, it comes in its own basket and is plenty to share.
- Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies— If you’re still hungry after leaving Central BBQ or want to pick up a snack for later, exit the restaurant, turn right, walk to the end of the block and be ready to inhale some serious butter at Makeda’s where you’ll find room to taste a sample and will find it hard to leave without buying something to enjoy later. If you’re still hungry or want to pick up a snack for later, turn right, walk to the end of the block and be ready to inhale some serious butter.
Restaurants on our Must-Try List:
- Rendevous— The South Second Street storefront may not look like much but if you go around the back to the alley behind the restaurant, you’ll catch a whiff of their famous dry rub ribs served in the basement since 1948.
- Huey’s— Their tagline may be “blues, brews, & burgers” and since 1970, Huey’s has been serving up delicious food and letting patrons shoot toothpicks from their straws into the ceiling.
Favorite Things to Do in Memphis
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
Having sufficiently meated it up before our race the following day, Emily and I left the restaurant and paid our respects to Dr. Martin Luther King. From the sidewalk outside Central you’ll see a sign for the Lorraine Motel to the left. It was on the Lorraine Motel’s balcony that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The wreath on the balcony of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel indicates where Dr. King was slain. The interactive museum is a powerful place and for advice about visiting with your kids, visit my post: Age Appropriate Ways to Teach Kids about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
Run a Race for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
For the past two years, our family has spent the first weekend in December in Memphis for St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend is a fundraising event for St. Jude with a marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K and 1-mile family race. Unlike other races where distance and personal best may matter, for me, this race is all about raising money for the kids and families at St. Jude.
This past December Emily and I were among a record 25,000 runners from 49 states and 19 countries raised $10.3 million for St. Jude. If you think you could never run a race, I am here to tell you that you can. I was never a long distance runner. I trained to run my first half marathon as a St. Jude Hero two years ago and was hooked because St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend is one of very few times where the money you raise matters more than the distance you run and every dollar helps. To read about my past race experiences, read my past posts:
- 9 Reasons to Run as a St. Jude Hero During St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend
- Why I’m Running 13.1 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
- St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend: The Rare Time When Money Means Everything
- The Tough Road to 13.1: Why I Pushed Myself to Run My First Half Marathon
Other favorite things to do in Memphis include:
Sun Studios Tour ($14, kids 5-11 are free)— Founded in 1952 and called the birthplace of rock and roll, Sun Studios was the first company to record Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. Rolling Stone Magazine recognized U2 as a Sun Records Studio: 18 Musical Milestones for the four days the band spent recording three songs that were later featured on Rattle & Hum. Music and history lovers will enjoy the tour of this working recording studio, rock ‘n roll museum, and National Historic Landmark. Note: St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend routes run right by Sun Studios. Listen for the music as you approach AutoZone Park.
Gibson Guitar Factory Tours ($10)— Take the hour long tour through the factory to watch guitars being built by hand. It’s worth it! Or if you happen to miss the tour (Gibson is closed on Sundays), you can also peek in the windows on South Second Street.
Beale Street— Years ago when I visited Memphis as a college student, I loved the live music scene at the bars where the sound spilled out on the street but it’s also possible to enjoy Beale Street with your kids. Emily and I love shopping for vintage posters at Memphis Music and the old school soda counter at A. Schwab. For more ideas, visit 10 Things to Do on Beale Street if You’re Underage on MemphisTravel.com
The Peabody Memphis Ducks— You can plan a day around catching the infamous Peabody Ducks waddle to or from their fountain in the middle of the Peabody Hotel daily at 11 am or 5 pm. Or if you’re short on time, just stop by to see them swimming in the lobby and honor this 90 year old tradition. Note: It does get very crowded at 11 am and 5 pm so be sure to get there early if you want a prime spot. The upstairs balcony is also a good place to watch the ducks. Don’t miss the giant gingerbread house off to the side of the lobby!
Memphis Botanic Gardens ($10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for children ages 2 and older. Children under the age of 2 get in free) — 96 acres of open space means that there’s plenty of room to meander, run, or just roam throughout the year and if you’re thinking that a botanical garden wouldn’t be so great in the winter, we found otherwise. During the day, the children’s garden is fun for all ages thanks to whimsical structures and musical instruments in the children’s garden and many different areas that are worth exploring. At nights in December the gardens come alive with lights that I’ve heard are absolutely spectacular.
Bass Pro Pyramid— A pyramid in the middle of Memphis? Yes, this black pyramid used to be the home of Memphis’ NBA team and now it’s a Bass Pro Shop and The Big Cypress Lodge hotel. The hotel has rooms with balconies that open to the Bass Pro Shop and there’s also an outdoor observation deck ($10 for adults, $5 for kids) that provides a 360 degree view of Memphis and the adjacent Mississippi River. Note: Dude Perfect fans will know that the guys filmed a YouTube video inside the Bass Pro Pyramid!
Memphis Attractions on the list for our next visit:
- Baseball game at AutoZone Park— Located in the heart of downtown Memphis, AutoZone park is the finish line for St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend and would be a fun place to catch a minor league Memphis Redbirds game during baseball season.
- Memphis Zoo ($15 adults, $10 kids, $5 parking)— Even though the Smithsonian National Zoo is in our backyard, our family loves visiting other zoos and with over 4,500 animals representing over 500 different species occupying 70 acres, we hope to visit Memphis Zoo next December when we’re back for St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend.
- Graceland— 2 years of visiting Memphis and I still haven’t taken the family to Graceland though I did pay homage to The King during a college cross country road trip years ago.
Memphis Travel Tip: Where to Stay
While it’s possible to stay downtown (we’ve stayed at the Hilton Memphis Downtown and Doubletree Memphis Downtown) and walk to many of the attractions and restaurants listed above, having a car provides much needed flexibility to get outside the city to explore and convenience to get to places like Sun Studios, Central BBQ, and The National Civil Rights Museum, that are a bit on the far side from walking from downtown, especially if you’ve run a half marathon the same day.
Toyota loaned us a 2017 Corolla Hatchback for our time in Memphis that was the perfect vehicle for driving around town when needed and parallel parking on downtown streets. While the Corolla iM model we borrowed didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, it did seem like a perfect car for a young driver.
At age 14, Emily will be taking drivers education classes soon as she looks towards getting her license. While we’re not planning on purchasing her a new car right off the bat, spending the weekend driving the Corolla helped me better understand budget friendly options that had key features that would keep my daughter safe on the road. With a solid history of performance, models starting at $18,850 (the model we is priced at $19,490), and an estimated annual fuel cost of $1,200, the Toyota Corolla would be a fine choice.
Toyota loaned us the Corolla during our time in Memphis. All other travel expenses during St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend were personally paid for.