Memphis, Tennessee. The home of rhythm and blues. A hub for the Civil Rights Movement. A charming city with wonderful food and plenty of things to do for the family.
After spending a week learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. and touching upon the Civil Rights Movement, we decided to take a vacation and spend a few days in Memphis to explore the historic city. We are a family of five with Big Sister (7), Brother (4), and Baby Sister (10 months) so we needed to find activities that was friendly for all ages. These are the things we did while in the city as a family.
To learn more about our week studying Martin Luther King, Jr. you can read Learning About Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed in a charming AirBNB bungalow in the Idlewild National Historic District on Central Avenue. It was over 100 years old and felt like home away from home while we stayed in Memphis.
WHAT WE DID
We arrived in Memphis in the evening and after settling into our AirBNB, we went to Huey’s for dinner. They purportedly have the best burgers in the world and they WERE really good. We all enjoyed the food. I would recommend going in the early evening or for lunch. Not only did we enjoy the food but we also loved the atmosphere. We went during a live band’s set. The music was great and it was a great intro to Memphis but while my children handled the music well, it may be a bit loud for some young ones.
On day two, the first thing we did was go to the Memphis Zoo and Aquarium. A MUST GO for ANYBODY. Families, Couples, Individuals. This zoo is a CAN’T MISS. It was once named one of the top ten zoos in the nation and I can see why. The animal exhibits are numerous and wonderful. We spent about four hours at the zoo (and you could probably spend more if you go during busy season) and used our stroller for the baby. A blog detailing our trip to the zoo will be coming soon.
After the zoo, we took a little rest back at the AirBNB and then went to Beale Street for dinner and to take in the scene. If you have children, you definitely do not want to be there at night as it is a party street but going in the late afternoon/early evening proved to be no problem for us. Beale Street is iconic as it is part of the birth place of soul and rock n roll music. Since the purpose of our trip was to immense ourselves into an incredibly important landmark of the Civil Rights Movement, we did not want to skip learning about the music of Memphis. Music is such an incredibly important part of the Civil Rights Movement. In some ways, it paved the way and bridged the gap. Songs and chants were used during protests and sit ins to help keep the focus and stay brave. I once met a woman that sang during the Civil Rights Movement and would even be asked by Bull Connor to sing “that one song” for him while she was in a jail cell. She said that songs and music were a way for her to get lost in herself while she marched. You can not skip music while learning about this important part of our history.
While walking down Beale Street you can’t help but to try to reminisce from times past. Imagine the icons and choices made which set the course for our history that have been on that street. It’s amazing.
First, we ate at B.B. King’s Blues Club. The food was great and we loved the band that played. Memphis Jones played while we were there and we got to talk to the lead singer before the set. He was very kind and appreciative of The Hub’s military service! They were a great band with great music and entertaining. And not many kiddos get to say that they danced to a true Memphis Blues Band at B.B. Kings on Beale Street. I’m sure that is a memory that will stay with Big Sister forever.
I did think B.B. King’s was very dirty though. The table we were sat at still had food on it and the bathrooms were just flat out disgusting. You expect there to be some grime when you walk into a bar and club but I felt like it went a little past the acceptable. Nevertheless, we went there for good food and great music and that is what we got!
After dinner, we visited the Smithsonian Rock N Soul Museum. Big Sister and the Hubs really enjoyed looking at the exhibits in regards to some of Memphis’ most famous musicians. It was not very busy when we went so we had no problem with the stroller but a stroller may be hard to maneuver during busier times. Big Sis listened to the audio tour as we went through the museum and really got some great information from it. For me, the best part was learning how big of a role Rock N Roll played in the Civil Rights Movement. The museum points out that Rock N Roll is a mixture of white music and black music that bridged a gap for teenagers that may not ever have been exposed to the world of injustice and civil rights and progress but for music. It seems to me, that Rock N Roll may have helped lay a foundation of understanding and a sense of urgency for an entire generation of white youth that helped them into accepting and advocating in such an important and necessary movement.
Children’s Museum of Memphis
On Day Three, we went to the Children’s Museum of Memphis. It was a perfect day to enjoy the museum since it was an incredibly rainy day. (In fact, it rained most of the trip.) We spent about 2.5 hours at the museum and while using a stroller for Baby Sis was doable, I preferred to baby wear.
I’m not gonna lie. This was probably the most expensive place we went to in Memphis. Admission, plus parking, plus tokens to ride the carousel all adds up. There is a Yes, Every Child Program for families with limited resources. However, it is well worth the money if you can’t participate in that program. The hubs said it was one of his favorite children’s museum that we have ever been to. While we waited to ride on the absolutely beautiful carousel, (it runs every fifteen minutes) a game was started in the adjoined ballroom called Elephant Stomp. We went during a DR. SEUSS EXTRAVAGANZA so they had all kinds of wonderful celebrations in the museum. They even had a parade where we marched through the museum with signs and bells chanting “Dr. Seuss is on the loose!” At the end of the parade, they handed out adorable cake pops shaped as certain Dr. Seuss characters!
They do not offer any food other than vending machines but you are welcome to bring your own food and eat in the beautiful and clean cafeteria.
After the parade, we got to explore the museum. The kiddos LOVED it. They had a Fed ex plane, a real sheriff’s car and firetruck, a tree house, and SO MUCH MORE. I loved that they had a special place just for children four and under. So while Big Sis explored an exhibit made to look like a grocery store, Brother and Baby Sis played in the section for younger children. It was so fun to just watch the children play and explore and use their imagination in so many possible ways. My favorite moment was The American Airways exhibit. It’s this wall built of tubes with air pushing through them. You push a scarf into an opening and watch the scarf race through the tubes until it gets blown out somewhere else. Brother spent a long time exploring this exhibit. He’d stick the scarf in the tube watch it and then he would turn a little dial that made the scarf go a different direction before sticking it back in. You could just see his mind working and figuring out cause and effect while laughing and having a blast. As for Big Sister, she loved climbing Skyscraper over and over and over again while Brother played with the air exhibit. We really did have a great time.
Peabody Hotel and Ducks
After playing at the museum, we went back to the bungalow for a rest and then went to watch the Peabody Ducks at the Peabody Hotel. I was a little hesitant to do this because I read that it can be very crowded and you have to fight the crowd just for a ninety second show. Boy, am I glad we did it anyway! I mean just to see the hotel is one thing! It is absolutely gorgeous!! We got there at 4:15 because the website said to get there 30 to 45 minutes early to find a spot. Once we arrived (parking was the only expense), I decided to baby wear because I had no idea what the crowds would be like. We were pretty lucky. It was not crowded at all but we did go on a rainy February weeknight so there’s that. There were four ducks in the fountain, and we could hear them quacking as we walked into the lobby. It was SO CUTE!! As my children sat by the red carpet (a spot reserved for the children) they were handed rubber duckies by one of the employees. Before the parade, the Duckmaster told us the story of how this tradition came to be. A story Big Sister would love to tell anyone who is willing to listen! Finally, it was time. The ducks got out of the fountain and waddled toward the elevators before going up to their private room. Again, it was so cute and afterwards Brother just looked at me and said “THAT WAS SO COOL!
If you want to make an event out of the Peabody Ducks, you certainly can. There are restaurants and shops and tours offered in the hotel that I would have loved to do if we had the time. Also, you can go up to the Mezzanine to watch the ducks if it is too crowded by the fountain.
ONE WORD OF CAUTION: The children must stay absolutely still and cannot move during the parade if they are near the red carpet. The Hubs had to set next to Brother to make sure he did not move or make any loud noises while the ducks walked by. Brother did a good job but I can see how it may be a problem for young children.
To learn more about the Peabody Ducks you can read JUST CHASING RABBITS blog.
The National Civil Right’s Museum
This was the day. For me, this was what the trip was all about. We visited the National Civil Right’s Museum at the Lorraine Motel. IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT! IF YOU CAN ONLY DO ONE THING WHILE IN MEMPHIS GO TO THIS MUSUEM! It was an amazing museum full of history and emotions. You can read all about my experience in Our Trip To The National Civil Right’s Museum with Kids. We did get a discount for the Hubs since he was military and I baby wore while there. It may be stroller friendly on a not so busy day but silly me didn’t think about the fact that we were going during February (Black History Month) and there were SEVERAL field trips there. It was the most crowded place that we went to. That was fine. I was happy to see so many students getting an incredibly important experience and the staff was great in dealing with the crowds. The staff was very friendly.
The museum has two parts to it. It took us about two hours to go through the first part and by the time we finished it we were a little razzled from the crowds and the emotional enormity of the exhibits. So we decided to take a break before we went to the second part of the museum. We decided to eat at The Arcade Restaurant which is in walking distance from the museum. The Arcade is the oldest diner in Memphis and several movies, including Great Balls of Fire and Walk the Line have been shot there. The Hubs was excited to learn that Norman Reedus had eaten there. As we waited for our food, we talked about all the notorious people that had probably eaten at this very same restaurant. The food was great and don’t forget the milkshakes afterwards!
After lunch, we went back to explore the second part of the museum that is across the street from the motel. This part focused on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, it was were they think James Earl Ray shot his gun. We got goosebumps knowing we were standing at a crime scene. The Hubs was entranced with the exhibit talking about the possibility of James Earl Ray getting help and all the unanswered questions. Big Sister loved the “I am a Child” exhibit which focused on the present child immigration crisis. It was emotionally exhausting and powerful but important for all of us to experience.
Bass Pro Shop
Before we headed back home, we decided to stop at the Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid. I’ve heard some amazing things about this particular Bass Pro Shop and knew my children always love going to these stores to explore. I’m not going to lie it was really cool. They have a hotel there and several restaurants, and as always a very large fish tank. They also had fish and ducks swimming in open water that you could see as you crossed bridges. They even had alligators! I baby wore but you could easily use the stroller.
You can ride the elevator to the top of the pyramid but you do have to pay. We did get a military discount but I forgot to warn the Hubs that we had to pay for the elevator and he wasn’t too thrilled about that. It is the tallest free standing elevator in America (taller than the Statue of Liberty) and it ends at the top where a restaurant is. You were able to go outside on the observation decks to see the Mississippi River and that was really cool but also pretty intimidating for any one that has a problem with heights. The food in the restaurant smelled great and they do have a children’s menu but we felt it would be better if we went back downstairs to Uncle Buck’s FishBowl & Grill for lunch. It seemed more child friendly to us. The Fish Bowl even has a bowling alley in the restaurant! I really enjoyed the food. In fact, it may have been my favorite meal! I don’t know if this is a MUST GO place for families though. We enjoyed it and I loved including a view of the Mississippi River (you can even see the Arkansas State Line) for the trip BUT I wouldn’t be too upset if you can’t squeeze it into your plans while in Memphis if were you.
THINGS WE WANTED TO DO BUT COULD NOT
The Mississippi River Walk
Mud Island State Park-closed for the season
Downtown Walking Tour-there are several to choose from
Explore Overton Park
Sun Studio We were told that it may not be child friendly given the size of the studio.
The Clinton 12 is not a documentary about Memphis but about the resistance, violence, and harassment that 12 students suffered while trying to integrate into Clinton Highschool in Anderson County.
MUSIC WE LISTENED TO ON THE WAY
Memphis Jug Band
Graceland by Paul Simon
Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohen