Don’t just drive through Memphis on your family road trip adventure. Although there is a lot to do in Memphis, let me help you make the most of your day with these top places that kids will love.
Memphis isn’t just blues and rock – but make sure you check some out while you’re in downtown. This city is full of American history and unique experiences. With its strategic location on the Mississippi River, Memphis has played an important part in history for millennia. Where else can you walk in the steps of musical legends, learn history from the source, and visit a pyramid next to the giant Mississippi River?
Plan to stay for a day or two to explore what it has to offer. Take a history road trip through Memphis but make sure you allow time to visit these fun, must-see Memphis landmarks.
Is Memphis Safe to Visit?
Like most big cities, Memphis definitely has its unsafe areas. A family member recently told me she intentionally avoided it on her drive due to concerns of safety. If you do your research, you will probably be scared by the crime statistics, but don’t let that deter you. Yes, do your research. Use it to plan and be alert. After all, if we avoided all “scary” cities, you also wouldn’t go to St. Louis, Houston, or even Oklahoma City if you look at this top 25 Most Dangerous Cities list. With a bit of planning and research (like this post!), you and your family can be well-prepared to enjoy a day in Memphis, Tennessee.
- Schedule your days to be done before nightfall and park in a well-lit area.
- Travel in a group and make sure the kids know to stay close.
- Pick your hotel to stay in a suburb outside of the city center.
- Consult with friends who know the area for their safety tips.
- Check the city calendar to avoid the crowds of downtown sports or events.
- Take the valuables or put them in the trunk. Don’t carry flashy bags or tempt trouble.
- Train your kids to be alert and not afraid. We have conversations about staying alert, staying with mom, and saying safe.
- Lead by wisdom and not irrational fear. There’s a difference between a homeless person and a person who is a threat. Big cities are a great opportunity to train kids on big city life. They can’t avoid it forever.
What to See on Memphis’ Famous Beale Street
Beale Street can be an experience for the whole family and even kids can have fun wandering. It’s not just for the drinking crowd. It’s a iconic street with a fascinating past. It’s the home of Blues, and the soul music coming from the bars of the 50s and 60s inspired Elvis.
- Go sample some taffy from Beale Sweets.
- Grab some good food at one of the many restaurants.
- Follow the sound of music to a live performance.
- Walk down to the Elvis Statue at 115 Beale Street.
- Check out the Beale Street schedule online to plan your visit.
We parked at a downtown parking garage. Unless you’re feeling very daring, I would plan to be out of this area by nightfall for safety. Even in the middle of the week at 4 PM in the afternoon, we were approached by multiple people for money. While they weren’t malicious in any way, here’s your warning. Don’t come back to tell me I didn’t prepare you properly.
The real warning! Your family will be tired of you singing “Walkin’ in Memphis… Walkin’ with my feet two feet off of Beale”. However, the most important question: who sang it best?
What to See at The Peabody Hotel in Memphis
The historic Peabody Hotel is a beautiful, unique hotel with a gorgeous lobby for you to sit and have a drink; if you’re feeling fancy, book a night or two. If you’re visiting Memphis on the weekend, you may not be able to enter the hotel unless you have a reservation to stay there, so make sure you call ahead. Parking to get to the Peabody is limited so plan to just keep your car at your Beale Street parking garage. It’s only a walk of a few blocks.
Watching the march of the ducks counts as free entertainment in Memphis. The kids and I sat for several hours watching the ducks in the fountain and waiting on the duck march while enjoying some refills on Cokes. Because it was Christmastime, a huge Christmas tree and live Christmas music from the piano completed the scene.
Now for the famous Peabody Duck march. In the morning, the ducks come down from their special rooftop house; in the afternoon, they march back into the elevator to go back upstairs after spending a day in the lobby fountain. The red carpet is rolled out by the Duckmaster, people line up to watch, and the short walk commences to music at they head to their elevator. This is a fun experience and just right for kids who need a memorable event. My kids were even invited to be the Duckmasters for the march and had a lot of fun with rolling out the red carpet.
Parents: Hype up the duck experience for the kids with a video about the famous Peabody Ducks. Also grab John Philip Duck by Patricia Polacco; the story is fictionalized, but it’s such a fun introduction for kids to this Memphis highlight.
Where to Eat Memphis Barbecue
When you step out of the Peabody entrance, you are facing Charlie Vergos alley. It’s named after the man who founded the famous Rendezvous ribs back in 1948. The big sign points the way, and you descend down the alley stairs into a decorated basement.
People visit here for the ambience and the food tradition. Get a sausage sampler, and some dry rubbed ribs. This is true Memphis style and a great experience. When you get home, watch John Grisham’s The Firm and see the Rendezvous make it’s TV debut. If you want a full BBQ experience, head to Central BBQ the next day and join the local debate which truly is the best barbecue in Memphis.
Visit the Bass Pro Shops at the Memphis Pyramid
If you still aren’t ready to go to bed, drive a quick mile to explore the Bass Pro Shop in the Pyramid. It’s not just a regular Bass Pro Shop. It’s more kid free entertainment in Memphis unless you buy fudge (try to resist!) or participate in some of the fun things to do at the Pyramid that have an extra fee.
Built in the former Grizzlies basketball arena next to the Mississippi River, the 535,000 square foot masterpiece itself is amazing. With freshwater rivers full of fish flowing through the store to create an indoor swamp, this is more than a shopping experience.
If it’s a rainy day in Memphis, the Pyramid is a great way to stay busy with a full range of activities for the family. However, you might hold off on paying for the Lookout though. The view is great, but the glass-floor of the overlook will be very slippery. There is not a roof or covering, so you’ll also get wet.
- Spend a night in the Big Cypress Lodge at the Pyramid.
- Watch the giant fish, hang out at one of the aquariums, check out the alligators, and let your kid spot all the wildlife hidden around the store.
- Take the family bowling at Fishbowl Bowling.
- Check out the archery or pistol ranges.
- Enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants including the Lookout at the top of the Pyramid. Included in your meal (which is cheaper at lunch!) is access to the observation deck.
- Just walk around, see the sights, buy some fudge, and pretend to be outdoorsy.
- If you’re feeling fun, pay to ride the 28-story glass elevator to the very top of the Pyramid for an impressive view from the glass observation deck. It’s the tallest free-standing elevator in the United States. There are two areas to look out both facing out toward the Mississippi river and across to Arkansas.
- If you’re
cheapmoney-saving, ride the regular glass elevator to the second floor, and call it good enough. It’s still a great view out over the swamp.
Visit the Museum of Science and History (The Pink Palace)
The museum portion of MOSH is dedicated to natural science with plenty of skeletons and fossils. There is a fantastic room based on a “wall of curiosities” to look through. There is a replica of the original grocery store as the original owner of the Pink Palace started the Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store.
Honestly, I feel this place is just an old piece of Memphis history. It’s a little dated, but for science learning, it’s still a solid place for a family filled trip. When we were there, it looked like most of the building was empty and used as a wedding venue; it was decent, but I wouldn’t get too excited. Check their website for current events and exhibits. It was free to us with our museum reciprocity (ASTC and SERM).
Additional Memphis Sights to Check Out
Memphis Zoo – Go visit one of only three zoos in the United States that has a panda! Although I haven’t been to this zoo in years, based on the people who keep telling me to go, it must still as fabulous as it used to be.
Graceland – Many come to Memphis to see Elvis. However, I chose to wait this trip until my kids were old enough to appreciate it because it is so expensive. Do some Elvis learning before making this trip. Grown ups and big kids, watch the recent Elvis movie. It’s so good!
Sun Studios – This is another location that requires an appreciation of music before heading over. Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley fans would love adding this to their itinerary.
Mud Island – See the sights along the Mississippi River and take the sky bridge to Mud Island. Pay to park and cross the bridge to see the scale replica of the Mississippi River – including water features for play. There’s also a museum about the area. We haven’t done this yet but I’m told it’s worth it.
Reclaiming Wonders // Bobbie
With years of planning family road trips, Bobbie is an expert at incorporating amazing activities into her family travel plan which she shares on the blog, on Instagram, and through content creation for destinations and products. As a homeschool mom of four kids in Georgia, she strives to create a learning life full of adventures around the dinner table or throughout the United States. Learn Bobbie’s story to be encouraged to leave the busy life and reclaim the wonders of life.