This post has been sitting in my drafts for WEEKS waiting to be finished, and I am so excited that I finally get to share the first part of our second-annual Labor Day Weekend road trip through the south with you today. Last LDW, in the ~before times~, my best friend Emma and I went on a five day road trip, hitting up Jackson, Nachez, Oxford, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Atlanta. We had such a great trip—I loved being able to explore a new-to-me part of our country while eating my way through some of the best restaurants in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
Fast forward to 2020, and I don’t think 2019 us could have predicted the state of the world. I’ve always been a worrier, but I don’t think I ever once worried about how my life could be impacted by a global pandemic. When we planned this year’s trip, we always knew there was a chance we would have to cancel, but luckily we were able to go. We spent one day in Memphis, Tennessee, then drove to Oxford, Mississippi for two nights (you can read about that here!), and then spent one final night in Memphis. Today’s post I’m sharing everything we did in the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, and I’ll share a little bit about our trip to Oxford soon.
I mentioned this in my Charleston post, but obviously short of staying home, you can’t be 100% safe. However, we felt very safe on our trip—I honestly felt safer from a COVID perspective in Memphis than I did in DC just because there are way less people around! And the city is taking it very seriously—there’s a mandatory mask rule and places do a great job enforcing it, tables at restaurants are spaced really far apart, and stores really limited the number of people allowed in at once. There’s also a 10pm curfew, meaning bars and restaurants have to shut down then, which I think really helps people from congregating. (You tend to let your guard down after a few cold ones!) Regardless of when you choose to travel again, I wanted to share a little bit about what we did on this trip to Memphis in case you want recs for a socially distanced visit or after we (fingers crossed it’s soon!) have a vaccine.
Memphis was on my bucket list in the sense that everywhere is on my bucket list—but I wouldn’t say I was dying to go. I had pretty low expectations going into it, but I had the best time in Memphis. Staying at The Peabody was definitely a highlight of the weekend—and my summer, and to be honest, my year—and I really enjoyed our time exploring the city. If you’re looking for a spot for a bachelorette party that is like Nashville but not as Nashville, definitely add Memphis to your list: there’s great food, great bars, and a lot of fun activities to do! But regardless of whatever brings you there, if you get the chance to go, I’d definitely recommend it.
We were in town for about 48 hours when all was said and done, and I think that was enough time to do what we wanted to do, but we also could have stayed for more time and still had plenty to explore. So, without further ado, let me show you around Memphis!
WHERE WE STAYED /
Ok if you go to Memphis, YOU HAVE TO stay at The Peabody Hotel. I first learned about this hotel on an episode of 19 Kids and Counting (lol, a guilty pleasure!) years ago, and ever since then, I wanted to go see the world-famous Peabody ducks. For those of you unfamiliar, The Peabody is known for their ducks—yes, real, live, mallard ducks—that live at the hotel and hang out each day from 11am to 5pm in the hotel lobby fountain. Every day at 11am, the Duck Master takes the five ducks in the elevator down from their Duck Palace on the roof to the lobby fountain via their own red carpet, and everyday at 5pm, the ducks run back up their red carpet, into the elevator, to be taken back to the Duck Palace. There’s a ceremony twice a day to accompany the running of the ducks, and even if you aren’t a hotel guest, I’d recommend going to The Peabody to watch—it’s really neat.
We watched the 5pm ceremonial running of the ducks and got to the lobby around 4:40pm. By that point, the last table had been taken—as a COVID-precaution, the bar will only serve you if you are seated. So my advice would be if you want to get a seat, get there on the earlier side—I’d say at least half an hour before. Our mis-timing actually turned out to be serendipitous, though, because we got a great spot right near the elevator that the ducks run down their red carpet into, so we had a perfect view of the whole thing. The other piece of advice I’ll give is that the Duck Master starts his programming around 4:45pm and gives a great overview of the hotel and the history of the ducks—and then the ducks run to the elevator right at 5pm and the show is pretty much over. So this is definitely something you do not want to be late for!
After the running of the ducks, the lobby bar really clears out, so we were able to grab a table and enjoy the hotel’s cocktail in honor of the ducks—which comes complete with a small rubber ducky for you to take home. Regardless of what cocktail you order, make sure you check out the cocktail stirrers—they have ducks on top and webbed feet on the bottom. We loved the lobby bar so much—it’s anchored by a beautiful marble fountain that was hand-carved in Italy in the 1920s—we went back for a night cap.
If you haven’t caught on yet—The Peabody loves its ducks, and they are a motif used throughout the hotel. Our room itself was so clean and comfortable—despite being an old hotel, it’s got all the modern amenities and luxuries—and there were ducks embroidered on the bedding and bath towels.
The other thing at The Peabody we absolutely loved was the sunset happy hour on the roof. They’ve got a bar up there and plenty of tables that are spaced out so you can take in the stunning views of the city skyline, the mighty Mississippi, and the hotel’s famous sign. The Duck Palace is up there, too, so you can also go say goodnight to the ducks. We caught one of the best sunsets of the summer!
On our last night in Memphis—the one we spent after we had spent two nights in Oxford—we stayed at The Moxy Memphis. The only reason we didn’t stay at The Peabody again was because I had Marriott points to cover a free night, so it was kind of a no-brainer. We also really enjoyed our time at The Moxy! If you’ve never been to one before—I used to work at a real estate developer and we built one, so I was familiar—they really are a hotel designed with the millennial traveler in mind. The rooms are smaller to encourage you to spend as much time enjoying the city you’re in or socializing in their lobby, which is built around a bar. COVID, obviously, impacts this a little bit—but they still offer a free drink at check-in and just spaced out the seating in their lobby. The location was also very central to everything, just like The Peabody, and it’s right off Court Square, a really beautiful park. I would still highly recommend spending a night at The Peabody, but if you need a hotel that’s a bit cheaper to move to after getting the full duck experience, add The Moxy to your list.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK /
In addition to getting drinks at The Peabody Hotel Lobby Bar, here’s where we ate and drank:
- Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous—you can’t go to Memphis without getting BBQ, and no one does it better than Rendezvous. Because of COVID, they just set up a really nice patio in their alley, and Emma and I were actually the first people to enjoy it! Their main dining room is open at limited capacity if you want that experience, but we loved eating outside. This is some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had and my only regret was eating lunch a few hours before…come hungry! I got the pork shoulder sandwich and the potato salad and Emma got the ribs, which were melt-in-your-mouth good.
- Silky O’Sullivan’s—this is a bar on Beale Street, which is the main drag of bars in Memphis; it reminds me a lot of Sixth Street in Austin or Bourbon Street in New Orleans since it is closed to auto-traffic and there are no open container laws. Because of COVID, it wasn’t as lively as I imagine it is in normal times, all the bars on Beale Street are taking things so seriously. You sign in for contract tracing before you’re sat at any bar, they offer hand sanitizer, and when you’re not at your table, masks are required. We went to Silky O’Sullivan’s twice while we were in town because we loved their outdoor patio and they had live music, something we really missed over the last few months!
- Porch & Parlor—our last meal in town, Porch & Parlor did not disappoint and was so good! Everything on their menu looked amazing; I opted for a chopped salad and some loaded potatoes. Definitely not the healthiest of meals, but it was a great vacation splurge. This would be a great special occasion meal—the service and hospitality was great. They also had a great patio and there are a few restaurants on the strip, so it’s really lively.
WHAT TO DO /
You guys will laugh because this is so off brand for me, but the first place we went when we got into town was the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid. The inside of the pyramid is open, and on the ground floor, there’s a huge Bass Pro Shop that’s so well done (it felt like a Bass Pro Shops Disney World) and then there’s a hotel above—some of the hotel rooms are open to the inside of the pyramid, similar to how an Embassy Suites is set up. There are also several restaurants and a rooftop observation deck that has an amazing view of Memphis. It’s free to go in the store and look around, and even if you’re not a huge Bass Pro fan, I’d definitely recommend it. The observation deck is $7, but I thought it was worth it for the views! At the top of the observation deck, there’s also a restaurant and bar, which would be a great place to catch views of the sunset, but it wasn’t open when we went because of COVID.
Besides seeing the ducks at The Peabody Hotel, the highlight of our time in Memphis was going to Graceland. I like Elvis and his music, but I wouldn’t consider myself a super fan and I still loved it. (If you are an Elvis super fan, you’ll be in heaven—and you could definitely spend all day there!) We opted for the Elvis Experience Tour because it was the cheapest ticket ($75 for adults) that also included a tour of the mansion, which IMO, is the whole point you go to Graceland!
When you arrive at Graceland, you start your tour in the visitor’s center, which has a guest check-in where they took our temperatures and collected info for contact tracing, an Elvis-themed diner, and a large gift shop. The tour kicks off with a video about Elvis and his life, and then you’re given your own iPad and headset to guide you through the Graceland mansion, which is right across the street from the visitor’s center. (They bus you over and bus you back!) Want to know the best part? THE NARRATOR OF THE HOUSE TOUR IS JOHN STAMOS! They could not have picked a better person for the job if they tried!
Graceland itself is still privately owned by Lisa Marie, so the upstairs is off limit—but the tour takes you all around the ground floor, the basement, the world famous Jungle Room, the pool, and several other buildings on the property before ending at Elvis’s gravesite. You enter the house with a group, but since the tour is self-guided with your iPad and headset, you can definitely move at your own pace and take your time to look at all the memorabilia they had throughout. After you’re done at the mansion, they bus you back over to the visitor’s center, which is surrounded by several large Elvis museums—one has all his cars, another has a lot of his costumes. It’s truly remarkable how much they have on display! We spent about three hours at Graceland, but it would have been easy to spend all day.
The other thing we did that I would recommend is visiting The Lorraine Motel, which is now home of The National Civil Rights Museum. Unfortunately, we did not plan ahead and tickets to tour the museum were sold out when we arrived, however, we were still able to walk around the front of The Lorraine, which they’ve preserved to look like it did the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was really somber and powerful to be there, and I would love to go back and properly tour the museum one day.
+ OUR TRIP TO ARKANSAS!
If you’ve been reading A Touch of Teal for a while, you know one of my life goals is to get to all 50 states by the time I am 50. Right across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tennessee, is Arkansas. Neither Emma nor I had ever been before, so we decided it’d be worth the short detour to cross another state off our lists—and coincidentally, it was state number 33 for both of us!
To find our Arkansas detour, we basically pulled up Google Maps and found the first town across the river. That lead us to Marion, Arkansas, and after a quick skim of their Trip Advisor, we landed on the number one restaurant in town: Tacker’s Shake Shack! We headed here right after Graceland and it didn’t disappoint—especially since it had some strong Elvis decor, too. A classic American diner, it was a great spot for lunch—and the burgers, fries, and milkshakes were all delicious. Their drive-thru was also jam packed, which is how you know it’s good.
Next time I get to Arkansas, I hope to stay for a bit longer, but it was a great first trip!
If you have any questions about our trip to Memphis, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Elvis has left the building! x