Do you ever visit a city and feel like you have to explore ‘off the beaten path’ to really experience what the destination has to offer? This is exactly how we like to travel but sometimes it is difficult to find these hidden gems, especially when you have time constraints and want to experience everything the city has to offer.
From Graceland to Beale Street, Memphis is home to a vast array of diverse landscapes and of course these iconic attractions. But something inside us suggested there was more to Memphis than all of this…We wanted to find those hidden Memphis neighborhoods that truly represent the city of rock and roll.
We have made the short drive from Arkansas across the Mississippi River to Memphis on a number of occasions but we recently decided to spend a full weekend here and try to find some of these hidden locations. Hopefully this guide will provide a few examples of places you can visit in the gorgeous haven that is referred to as ‘Bluff City’.
South Main Arts District
Let’s start downtown Memphis with the South Main Arts district. After experiencing the iconic Beale Street, why not head down Main Street beyond the Orpheum Theater until you reach a gorgeous part of the city that oozes regeneration. This part of Memphis was the hub for the railroad industry due to Central Station being located in the heart of this district.
However, despite the declining rail industry, the overall theme of this area switched to a more vibrant arts community though not without years of decline in between. It was only in the 1980s that many new businesses, art galleries and restaurants moved back into South Main to regenerate this area.
If you are interested in learning more about the rail industry that once thrived here, head over to the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum.
The artistic presence makes this a perfect location for any budding artists, and the local River Arts Fest that takes place every year allows local aspirers the opportunity to showcase their best work.
Although this is one of the quieter neighborhoods in Memphis, it offers a relaxing atmosphere especially as you stroll along South Main and watch the local trolley meander its way along this street.
I highly encourage you to take a moment to visit Bluff City Coffee shop to sample one of their fruit smoothies or signature espresso drinks. The raspberry smoothie was unbelievable but whatever you opt for, I am convinced you won’t be disappointed.
Or maybe you need something with a little more substance, so head on over to the Arcade Restaurant which offers a little bit of nostalgia as you enjoy a home cooked meal.
But the most iconic landmark that is located just off South Main on Mulberry Street is the National Civil Rights Museum. The Lorraine Motel, site of MLK’s tragic assassination in 1968 is now a popular spot for visitors and well worth spending some time to learn about MLK’s influence on society.
If South Main is home to the artsy communities in Memphis, Cooper-Young is an eclectic neighborhood where history, culture and fine cuisine come together and create a melting pot of all the above. After exploring the downtown district, we headed to Midtown and the intersection of Cooper and Young which is a great spot for fine dining and learning all about the history of Memphis.
A trip to the Cooper-Young neighborhood wouldn’t be the same without exploring Burke’s Book Store on Cooper Street. Dating back to 1875, this quaint and idyllic book store is a great place to find a rare novel or perhaps even a first edition that may be worth a buck or two.
What better way to spend a Saturday morning than strolling through the various aisles in search of that hidden gem while exploring this off the beaten path neighborhood.
As we stood at the intersection between Cooper and Young, I was left a little perplexed at the varying cultures that are apparent here. From the trendy and cosmopolitan restaurants to the deep history inside the walls of Burke’s Book Store, it immediately struck me that Cooper-Young is a little bit of everything!
And that’s why this is such an awesome district to explore while visiting Memphis.
Looking for a bite to eat in Cooper-Young? Don’t worry, this is the place to be for diverse restaurant selections! I was intrigued by Celtic Crossing which is an Irish pub that offers a relaxing ambience along with delicious stereotypical cuisine.
If the Irish palette is not really your thing, there are plenty of other choices with Italian, Asian and American appetizing restaurants waiting for you.
The Cooper-Young district however is most famous for the historic trestle that is displayed across the railway bridge. In 2000, a local Memphis architect put together this iconic image of houses and businesses depicting the regeneration of Cooper-Young.
Broad Avenue Arts District
One of the very different yet newer Memphis neighborhoods is Broad Avenue Arts district. Until 2007, this was a relatively derelict area but efforts in the mid-2000s were made to regenerate this area and revitalize the storefronts into another popular arts district.
But the beauty of Broad Avenue is that there is more to it than you initially see when you drive or wander around this neighborhood. ‘This is We’ painted by Guillaume Alby is an iconic representation and located opposite to the storefronts in the industrial section of Broad Avenue.
The Water Tower Pavilion is now used as a space for the community to showcase their talents and events, though this was originally a warehouse loading dock dating back to 1945.
Part of the wider Binghampton community in Memphis, Broad Avenue is a popular spot if you are looking to purchase souvenirs or goods ‘made in Memphis’. Homemade goods can be found in many of the shops here and if boutique style shopping is your taste, this is undoubtedly the spot for you in Memphis.
Dining may not be the highlight of this Memphis neighborhood but there are still options if you choose to grab a bite to eat. Broadway Pizza is a popular spot that has been around since 1977 but if you prefer oysters, head over to The Cove to sample the nautical-themed delicacies on offer here.
Bounty on Broad is located on the corner of Broad Avenue and depending on the direction you approach, it is either the first or last spot you will see. It’s only suitable that this leaves a lasting memory and it certainly achieves this with the mural on the wall advertising this restaurant.
If you are looking for a fun place to hang out in Memphis, I challenge you to consider an alternative option to Beale Street.
Overton Square may not be the first district on the tip of your tongue when it comes to entertainment, but this is a really vibrant area that provides an authentic Memphis experience while at the same time offering a diverse myriad of other cultures that creates a perfect environment to explore.
The huge mural in the heart of Overton Square provides a perfect, eye-catching reflection on this budding neighborhood in Midtown. Thriving businesses that include a variety of restaurants, boutique apparel shops and even a locally owned sweet shop collaborate to create Overton Square.
If you are visiting Overton Square on the weekend, there is a parking garage that offers free parking (along with discounted rates in the evenings during the week) and a perfect spot to begin your exploring of this lively part of Memphis.
Let’s look at the myriad of restaurants here because in my opinion this is one of the best spots throughout the whole city for amazing cuisine.
Bayou Bar and Grill brings a New Orleans cajun flare to Memphis, while Babalu Tacos and Tapas offers a little Mediterranean style with a Southern twist. But I was most intrigued by Schweinehaus which offers a nice blend of German influenced cuisine with a little Memphis soul thrown into the mix.
These are just a few examples of the eclectic choices available while strolling around Overton Square.
Midtown – Overton Park
Midtown Memphis is a pretty large neighborhood made up of many smaller districts (such as some of those mentioned above). Much of what we have recommended so far is urbanized regeneration but what about those green spaces that are scattered around the city?
Overton Park is a perfect example of a public park that breaks up the urbanization throughout Memphis and offers a relaxing spot for people to get away from the hectic city lifestyle.
Home to a nine-hole golf course, Memphis Zoo, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and Memphis College of Art among others, Overton Park is a haven of natural beauty.
We have visited Memphis Zoo a couple of times but never have we taken the time to explore the rest of the park.
Veterans Plaza offers a moment of solitude and remembrance while Rainbow Lake is a great place to take a stroll and burn a few of those calories devoured at the awesome restaurants scattered around the neighborhood.
So…are you convinced yet that there is more to Memphis than just Elvis and Graceland? These trendy neighborhoods may not receive the media attention they deserve, but I honestly think that’s a good thing because it ensures a sense of reality remains within them.
The 5 Memphis neighborhoods we have highlighted are not focused on tourism, rather they are driven to promote the locale in which they represent. These communities in turn provide a perfect, diverse representation of Memphis and no longer leave us thinking that Memphis is just a spot to eat BBQ and drink a few beers along Beale Street.
If you are planning a trip to Memphis, we suggest checking out one or two of the aforementioned neighborhoods because you will leave with a positive lasting impression of this beautiful city!