National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry St., Downtown
The National Civil Rights Museum is fresh off a $27 million renovation (completed in 2014) that updated its capacity to provide interactive exhibitions, including a treasure trove of video footage. The museum itself is located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, with King’s room preserved as it was the morning he left it, down to the day’s newspaper. It’s a beautiful, well-considered, incredibly important, truly moving experience to see it in person.
B.B. King’s Blues Club
143 Beale St., Downtown
Beale Street may be notoriously touristy, but even born-and-raised locals will admit that a visit to Memphis isn’t complete without it. Start at BB King’s, which is full of out-of-towners but hosts great live blues music—the speakeasy-style restaurant upstairs (named Itta Bena, for King’s Mississippi hometown) is a great bet, too.
Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing, Downtown
In 2016, the city of Memphis opened Big River Crossing, a path that takes pedestrians and bikers across the Mississippi via the Harahan Bridge. It’s far and away the best way to get a feeling for the hugeness of the Mississippi, and from the west side, you can access more than 70 miles of biking trails that snake their way down the river along the levees. For a more intimate river experience, walk over to the Mud Island River Park, which, in addition to being a great picnic location and dog-walking green, features an exact scale model of the lower Mississippi’s path from its convergence with the Ohio River in Illinois down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Paula Raiford’s Disco
14 S. 2nd St., Downtown
Memphis is mostly know for blues and rockabilly, so it’s easy to forget that disco had a major heyday here, too. Run by local legend Paula Raiford (she reopened the business after her father, Robert, retired, though he still mans the DJ booth in custom rhinestoned capes and sunglasses at age 75), this disco is a relic of that time. The clientele is all over the map, as it’s a staple for folks close to Robert’s age bracket as well as the younger set. Though there’s a full bar, everyone orders 40s, per tradition. The music is a lot of old-school hits, but it’s the kind of place where the Cha Cha Slide gets everyone onto the (plexiglass, multicolored) dance floor without making you feel like you’re at a cheesy bar mitzvah. It’s unlike anything else.
Mollie Fontaine Lounge
679 Adams Ave., Downtown
Memphis’s Victorian Village is home to many 19th-century gems, boasting twelve sites on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s lovely area to walk around during the day, as several of the homes are open for historic tours. If you’re there in the evening, head to Mollie Fontaine Lounge, an old painted lady that’s been converted to a quirky bar with live music and brocade-covered walls—all lined with portraits of Memphis greats.