Memphis is known for a lot of things: Graceland, Beale Street, amazing barbecue... all good reasons! But, if you venture off the beaten path to explore the city’s quirky side, you'll experience a lot of one-of-a-kind hidden gems that are utterly intriguing. From the biggest hamburger you'll ever see in your life to a massive pyramid with an unusual surprise inside to a crystal shrine with a heartbreaking story – there's a lot of incredible stuff to discover once you take a walk on the weird side of Memphis!
Right on the bluffs above the mighty Mississippi River, you'll find a gorgeous antebellum estate that houses a very unique institution. Memphis is home to the National Ornamental Metal Museum, the only museum in the country dedicated solely to metal arts. From jewelry to etching to ironworks, you'll be surprised to see just how many different ways metal can be used to create gorgeous artwork. There's a sculpture garden offering magnificent views and stunning masterpieces, along with galleries, information and even occasional demonstrations. Plus, the property used to be a Civil War hospital, so you get a dose of history to go with your art experience!
Another special museum in Memphis is the Cotton Museum. Located in the gorgeous former Cotton Exchange building, where the cotton empire that ruled the South was based, the museum lets you step into a place where only the rich and powerful could walk. The story of cotton is the story of Memphis and, in a lot of ways, the South, so understanding the industry provides endless insight into the Civil War, the city’s music scene, the Civil Rights movement, and so much more. The historic Cotton Row district around the museum is also rich in history and is worth exploring as well. It's fascinating how so much of what makes this city great can be boiled down to one crop, but King Cotton truly played a massive role in Memphis' culture.
You might work up an appetite on your adventure through Memphis's offbeat side, and if you're really hungry, there's only one place to go: the Kooky Canuck. This joint is known for its quirky Canadian theme and its inventive cuisine. Think BBQ eggrolls, gyro poutine, maple-glazed Canadian bacon sliders, Montreal-style hot dogs, tourtiere (Canadian meat pie) and more. They also have some killer eating challenges, if you're feeling ravenous. There's a 7.5-pound burger plus sides for a solo eating challenge, a 12-pound burger plus sides eating challenge for you and a friend, and an insane 25-pound burger plus sides challenge for you and three pals!
The first thing anyone will notice upon entering the Flying Fish is the décor. The restaurant is also home to the world's first Billy the Bass (you know, the kitschy fish that sings?) Adoption Center. If you bring one in and donate it, you'll get a free basket of catfish. They also welcome pictures of you and your most impressive catch to hang up as well. As for the cuisine, they specialize in seafood (of course). Ceviche, calamari, chowder, gumbo, boils, oysters, tacos... you name it, they've probably got it, along with loads of sides.
As you explore Memphis, you’ll eventually catch a glimpse of the city's massive pyramid (it's the 10th largest in the world, in fact). What's inside the giant building might come as a surprise: it's a Bass Pro Shops. But, this is no ordinary Bass Pro Shops. It's more of a giant Great Outdoors-themed playground than a retail store (although you can buy pretty much any gear you can dream up here.) Aquariums with alligators, a bowling alley, a museum dedicated to duck hunting, an archery range, an observation deck with glass platforms at the top, and even a hotel can be found inside. Even if you're not the most outdoorsy person around, this place is still worth a visit.
If offbeat history is your thing, then you'll want to head to Beauty Shop Restaurant, located in the building that housed Priscilla Presley's favorite salon. The decor is delightfully kitschy and retro, and if you're lucky, you can enjoy your meal while sitting under a vintage hooded Belvedere hair dryer. The lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch menus are all filled with delicious takes on Southern cuisine with a global flair. Try the watermelon and wings or the beneduck, and wash it all down with a Beautini as you admire the original details and modern touches!
A cemetery may not be everyone's idea of a super fun place to visit on a nice day, but this Memphis graveyard looks more like a fairytale forest than a spooky boneyard. Tennessee's Memorial Park Cemetery was opened in 1924, and right off the bat the founder, E. Clovis Hinds, made it clear that this wasn't going to be your average graveyard with straight rows of headstones. Trees, bushes, and flowers were planted all throughout, giving the cemetery more of a community park vibe. In 1935, Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez was brought in to add sculptures and other artistic touches to further beautify the space. Rodriguez specialized in a technique that made concrete appear as though it were wood-- his style has an almost storybook whimsical feel to it.
His additions to the Memorial Park Cemetery are probably his most famous works. Statues like "Annie Laurie's Wishing Chair,” "Broken Tree Bench,” "The Pool of Hebron," and more are hidden throughout the site, but his opus was the Crystal Shrine Grotto. In 1938, a 60-foot-deep cave was dug out of a hill in the cemetery and filled with 5 tons of crystal. It was completed in 1955, months after Rodriguez's death-- sadly, he was never able to see the finished grotto.
The entrance to the cave is a Rodriguez sculpture he called "Abraham's Oak"-- it's an enormous tree stump that you walk through. Inside the cave, you'll find more than just a boatload of sparkly crystals; along the walls, there are several shrines, which tell the life story of Jesus. The whole thing has a really quirky folk-art feel that's more reminiscent of the positives in life.
It's not hard to add a touch of quirk to a trip to Memphis... or even spend a few days dedicated to uncovering the hidden gems and offbeat fun in town. From fascinating little museums and massive pyramids to interesting eats and a fairytale forest in a cemetery, Memphis knows how to add a little color and flair to a trip. Dare to head off the beaten path and you'll be rewarded with unforgettable memories!