An Elvis fan ever since she discovered his music as a young girl, Lisa has made the pilgrimage to Memphis many times – once graciously showing The Whistletrip around town on a fantastic visit that brought us live on air on Elvis Radio. Fresh from the unveiling of Graceland’s 2-year and $45 million overhaul, Lisa shares her favorite spots in the home of rock ‘n roll.
For immersion in Americana, there is no place like Memphis – the convergence of Southern history and amazing rock-n-roll, soul and blues music makes it a completely unique city to experience.
- Stay: The Peabody Hotel is the grande dame of Memphis accommodation – it has so much history and a great location from which to explore downtown. I just stayed at The Guest House at Graceland, newly opened in October 2016 with 450 rooms and on the Graceland campus. The Guest House is not Elvis-themed but it mimics Graceland’s 1950s aesthetic with velvet couches in jewel colors and a slightly kitschy but elegant design. A free shuttle bus takes you to and from downtown Memphis.
- Graceland: The crown jewel of Memphis gets its own paragraph! House tours start at 9am , but a magical – and little known – window right before that shows Graceland at its best. From 6.30am-8.30am, it’s free to walk up to the meditation garden where Elvis is buried. The grounds are beautiful and it’s so nice to enjoy them in peace.
Graceland Mansion is fascinating. Tours take you through the living room, his parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, and his father’s office, which have photographs or tableware laid out so you get a sense of real life. Even though these were more domestic spaces, they have larger-than-life details like stained glass windows – or in the TV room, a wet bar and 3 TV sets that Elvis would sometimes watch at once. Seeing the legend’s home in this way makes an icon seem incredibly human and relatable.
You also see the pool room, the downstairs Jungle Room which is decorated with shagged carpet and wood carvings – it was used as a recording studio – and the Trophy Building, where Elvis’ gold records and awards are displayed.
The broader Graceland campus is huge, with displays of Elvis’ cars, planes, jumpsuits, movie memorabilia and many multimedia exhibits on work. The new visitor complex has wonderful and unique artifacts that are a window into his life, but also serve as fantastic mementos of American life during the various eras of his life (50s, 60s and 70s). Beyond Graceland, there are other Elvis landmarks in and around Memphis that are worth visiting. His birth place in Tupelo, about 1 hour 45 minutes away, is now a museum. It is little more than a one room shack and could not be more different from the first house Elvis bought at 1034 Audubon Drive, in an upscale neighborhood in Memphis. I have found visiting the numerous Elvis landmarks in and around the city (including the public housing development he lived in as a teenager, Lauderdale Courts) to be a great way to see and experience the wide range of neighborhoods that make up Memphis
- Eat: The peanut butter and banana sandwich at Gladys’ Diner in the Graceland campus. It was Elvis’ favorite and is surprisingly delicious – as is the burger. Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken is off the beaten track, a neighborhood Southern Kitchen. Marlowe’s Ribs & Restaurant is a fun, kitschy diner. On the fancier end, I have liked Flight and Majestic Grille.
- Cocktail: More for beers than cocktails, you have to go to Beale Street. It is lined with bars playing live music.
- Culture Up: Sun Studio is super interesting; it’s where Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis all got started. The Studio runs free shuttles to the The Rock N’ Soul Museum on Beale Street and to Graceland. Built around the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated, the National Civil Rights Museum is well worth visiting. Memphis Riverboats runs 90 minute paddle steamer cruises on the Mississippi River. You learn about the history of the River’s development, and that there are hundreds of huge ships buried at its bottom. I cannot understand how they could just pile up underwater without wreaking havoc, it’s not that deep!
- Shop: Gibson Guitar‘s factory, museum and showcase store is on Beale Street. That’s probably a great place to buy a guitar.
- Make Time For: The ducks at The Peabody. At 11am and 5pm every day, a row of ducks marches out of the elevators and into the hotel lobby. It’s been happening since 1940.