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Field Guide: Memphis

The Memphis in May International Festival offers live music and barbecue championships all month long.

Written By:  Margaret Littman

Photographers:  Supplied

Field Guide: Memphis

The Bluff City has its year-‘round charms (except, perhaps, the peak of summer heat and humidity). But May is a particularly compelling time to visit, when the Memphis in May International Festival offers live music and barbecue championships all month long. This year, the lure west is even stronger, thanks to the recent opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a $45 million expansion of the Graceland site that has added 40 acres and lots of entertainment options to the King’s complex.


Memphis is 212 miles southwest of Nashville, along I-40; about three hours by car.


2 p.m.
As you drive into town, stop for a late, light lunch al fresco at Park and Cherry, a new eatery at the serene Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

4 p.m.
Check in to the Guest House at Graceland (from $199 per night), the brand new luxury hotel right near the Graceland Mansion. This new, 450-room resort is the swanky upgrade Graceland's neighborhood needed. Want to go all out? Nab one of the 20 themed suites upstairs.

If you don’t want your weekend to be all Elvis themed (or if they’re booked), you have options. If you’re in to vintage, go with The Peabody Hotel Memphis (from $199). If offbeat is your thing, the Big Cypress Lodge (from $225) is a luxury, yet aesthetically rustic, hotel. The twist? These 105 suites are inside a Bass Pro Shop, which is inside the iconic Memphis pyramid.

7 p.m.
Make a reservation, and head to the Cooper-Young neighborhood for dinner and cocktails at the Beauty Shop, a modern restaurant in, you guessed it, an old beauty parlor. Yes, Priscilla Presley used to have her hair done here, but the kitsch isn’t the star—it’s the menu. The grilled Romaine and Bloody Marys are local favorites.

>>> Enter to Win a Trip to the Elvis Festival


9 a.m.
Your day will involve some classic Memphis barbecue, so start with a healthy meal. If you opted to stay downtown, grab a quick breakfast at BedRock Eats and Sweets, a paleo and gluten-free friendly café.

10 a.m.
If at the Guest House at Graceland, opt for breakfast in the resort, as your main agenda item is the new Elvis Presley's Memphis. Buy Ultimate VIP tickets (include them with your hotel package or buy separately for $159). A tour guide will take you through Graceland Mansion, plus all the additions, including the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum, and Elvis’ Custom Jets. While the collection takes about four hours, your VIP tickets are good for the whole day, so you can break up the museums as you like, head back to your room, or eat at Vernon’s Smokehouse, an on-site restaurant that is part of the tour package. You could truly spend the day at the resort. If that’s more of the King than you need to see, buy less expensive tickets with fewer attractions, but don’t miss the Pink Cadillac in the auto museum.

2 p.m.
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is a somber contrast to the joy and entertainment of Graceland, but it’s an important key in understanding Memphis. Located at the assassination site of Martin Luther King, Jr., the museum is more than a look back in history, as its civil rights lessons are timely today.

7 p.m.
You can't visit Memphis—even for 48 hours—without eating some barbecue. Fill up on ribs at Rendezvous, which has been a tradition for Memphians since 1948.

>>> A Getaway to Memphis



8 a.m.
Since 1919, Arcade Restaurant has been a staple in Memphis and is believed to be the city's oldest. There will be a wait for a booth, but it’ll be worth it. Order the sweet-potato pancakes.

11 a.m.
From there, hightail it back to the Peabody Hotel Memphis, where the famous ducks will take the elevator from their penthouse to the lobby and then walk along the red carpet to their fountain. This sighting is a Memphis tradition with lots of pomp and circumstance—and a duck-master narrating the experience.

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