Memphis is the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock 'n roll, but Bluff City also has a pretty bizarre side. This Ultimate Offbeat Guide to Memphis will send you on an adventure to modern day pyramids, duck parades, and strange relics of the past.
Memphis loves ancient Egyptian motifs, which makes sense, since their city was named after a settlement in Egypt, so naturally, they built themselves a pyramid. The world's 10th largest, in fact.
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid houses the largest collection of hunting equipment in the world, has a shooting range, an archery range, laser tag, a saltwater aquarium, a hotel, several restaurants and bars, and even a bowling alley. Seriously, this place is staggeringly strange and amazing.
Tips: For $10 you can take an elevator up to the tippy-top of the pyramid and look out over the city!
In 1938, Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez dug a 60-foot-deep cave in Memphis' Memorial Park Cemetery and filled it with 5 tons of crystal. The result? The Crystal Shrine Grotto, one of the weirdest attractions in the entire city.
The entrance to the cave is hidden inside a massive tree trunk, but once you're inside, 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 than a morbid reflection on mortality-- definitely nothing like your average graveyard!
Tips: There's no charge to enter the Crystal Shrine. If you're having trouble finding it, just listen for the ethereal music that pours from the cave opening.
If you've ever wanted to travel back in time, A. Schwab's is about the closest you can get. This beloved Memphis staple is the only original business remaining on Beale Street, and it looks pretty much as it did nearly a century ago.
One part museum and one part general store, A. Schwab's isn't just a place where you can buy, hands down, the most authentic Memphis merchandise, it's also a place where you can saddle up to a classic soda fountain serving period-appropriate grub like pickled watermelon rinds and corn cob jelly. Trust me, it's all way tastier than it sounds.
Tip: The malt bar in the back of the shop serves alcoholic milkshakes. You're welcome.
Supplying Beale Street with great southern barbecue and “name-your-proof” libations since the early 70s, Silky O'Sullivans is most famous for their beer-drinking goats.
The hilariously-named Angelina and Xena, the two African Boer goats, live in an enclosure next to the outdoor patio where they can enjoy the sunshine while gawking at the local passers-by. Though the two are nicknamed the “Irish Diving Goats” they do very little diving, and a lot more drinking.
According to many of the patrons, it’s good luck to let one of the goats take the first sip of your beer, though you will have to watch out for that backwash... because there's going to be backwash. Don't worry, the goats have no problem tying a few on before climbing the tower. To date, there have no falls or even stumbles while scaling the goat tower. They’re professionals, after all.
The crown jewel of Memphis' lodging options, the historic Peabody Hotel isn't just a Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond luxury destination.. it's also pretty weird in its own right.
But forget about the history and luxe accommodations; it's the ducks that get all the attention here.
Every single day, a parade of ducks leave their home on the hotel's roof, ride the elevator downstairs, and march to the enormous travertine marble fountain in the lobby, where they spend some time taking a dip. It's a tradition that dates back to 1933, and even has even necessitated the creation of a "Duckmaster" position, the only of it's kind in the world.
Tips: The Peabody Ducks parade can be watched at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., even if you haven't booked a room here.
The Lauderdale Courts building was where Elvis Presley's family made their home from 1949-1953. Now, you can spend the night there.
While Lauderdale Courts is mostly apartments and has been renamed “Uptown Square”, #328, the Presleys' old apartment, has been turned into the Elvis Suite, a hotel room redecorated exactly as it would have looked when the Presleys lived there. We’re talking working 1951 Frigidaire, decorative Vesta gas stove, Presley family pictures, period furnishings – the whole shebang. Some even claim they can feel the ghostly presence of The King here every now and then.
Tip: As you can imagine, this room has a habit of booking up, so be sure to make your reservations early. Your best bet is to call them directly: 901-523-8662.
If you love music, you can't miss a visit to the Stax Museum, home to the original studio that cranked out soul hits from Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Luther Ingram, Albert King and more.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music lets visitors get up close to artifacts and instruments from these legendary recording sessions, there's one particular piece on the collection that is so weird and over-the-top is deserves to be seen by every self-respecting oddball in Memphis: Isaac Hayes' ridiculous, 24-karat-gold-plated Cadillac El Dorado.
Tip: Expect to spend 2-4 hours here; this place has a lot to see and do.
Most people might not include a graveyard on their road trips, but Elmwood Cemetery has long been considered one of the most beautiful final resting places in the country. It's such a popular stop, in fact, that they offer official tours.
Tip: While you can take a drive through the serene gates and take in the history for free, but it's worth stopping into the front office and grabbing their $10 CD, which will take you on a guided tour of Elmwood Cemetery's most interesting nooks and crannies.
If you long for the days when choosing a movie meant walking the aisles and reading the back covers of plastic cases, then Black Lodge Video will be a dream come true.
This Twin Peaks-themed video store is an experience to behold. Decorated top to bottom in David Lynch and John Waters memorabilia, this local favorite specializes in strange, hard-to-find cult films and tv series.
Even better, Black Lodge Video regularly hosts great local music, special monster-movie screenings at the nearby drive-in theater, and always have a great cult flick screening in the store that you're free to kick back and watch.
And yes, they still stock VHS tapes.
For one of the most unique dining experiences in Memphis, head to the Beauty Shop Restaurant, which is exactly what it sounds like.
The owners have taken Priscilla Presley's old "dye and curl" hotspot and converted it into one of the best restaurants in the city, so while you might swing by for the odd-ball ambiance (you still sit in the hair dryers while you eat), you'll stick around for killer chicken and waffles.
Tip: Try the homemade Bloody Mary, served bigger than a southern gal's hair.
Hailed as one of the best record stores in the country, Shangri-La Records is the perfect place to snag that rare vinyl you'll been searching for.
Long before it ever housed stacks of records, Shangri-La was home to New Age therapy center that locked people into dark tanks filled with salt water and strapped them into special "brain tuners" that allegedly hypnotized users into a better state of mind. Weird stuff.
These days, they stick to curing the blues with, well, The Blues.
The Summer Drive-In is the rare chance to take part in a theater experience that's becoming rarer than a summer without a Michael Bay film.
One of country's best, and last, drive-in theaters, The Summer Drive-In has four screens, plenty of parking space, and regular double features.
Grab a blanket, bring your dog, and pack a cooler!
It's not a visit to Memphis without a stop at Graceland, home of The King himself.
One of the top tourist destinations in all America, Graceland has given Elvis fans a glimpse into his life and, well, interesting design ideas. Tour the house with its bizarre themed rooms like the Jungle Room and get lost in the unbelievable amount of Rock & Roll memorabilia displayed on the grounds.
Tip: Even if you don't want to pop for the tour, you can visit the final resting place of The King for free, every morning from 7:30-8:30, when Graceland allows walk-up visitors into the Meditation Garden.
As one of the trendiest boutique hotels in Memphis, you can already expect some pretty cool amenities with your stay at the Madison Hotel, but it has a few strange quirks that make it worthy of any offbeat bucket list.
Feeling a little off-balance? Don't worry, pick up the phone and dial the concierge to schedule an in-room yoga session. Got an itch for a jam session? The Madison's specialty suites come equipped with Traveler Guitars (and headphones - keep it down), or head down to the lobby where there's a Baby Grand piano and a selection of instruments just waiting for a few musicians.
Tips: Bring Fido to town? Don't worry, an extra $10 gets him his own bed, food and water bowls, and his very own souvenir toy.
One of the most awesome things about the Madison Hotel is one of their best-kept secrets - the gym. It's built inside of a century-old bank vault, complete with original steel door! Go see it, even if you don't plan on working out.
As the only institution in the country devoted exclusively to the advancement of the art and craft of fine metalwork, the Metal Museum houses regular exhibitions featuring everything from beautiful ornamental gates to hand-made blades, and even offers hands-on metalworking demonstrations from masters of the craft.
Tips: Don't leave without visiting the gift shop. They have tons of really unique hand-made jewelry and ornamental metalwork usually reserved for art galleries.
Bring a lunch and have a seat at the gazebo which overlooks the Mississippi. You can't beat the view.
The Arcade Restaurant was one of Elvis’s favorite little PB&B joints (that's a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, to the uninitiated), but as Memphis’s oldest restaurant, the place is an icon with or without Elvis.
Tip: If it's open, ask to be seated in Elvis' regular corner booth!
Today it’s one of the coolest dive bars in Memphis, but back in its heyday, Earnestine and Hazel’s was one of the most popular brothels in the South. Downstairs you could enjoy music, booze, and maybe a fight, but upstairs the ladies of the night were busy working their trade. Some say their ghosts are still hanging out today.
Comprised of 18 galleries showcasing 10,000 years of history in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the Mud Island River Park is home to over 5,000 artifacts; including two full-size boat replicas which you can actually board and explore.
One of the coolest features about the park is an exact, small-scale model of the Lower Mississippi River as it flows from flowing from the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. You can even take off your shoes and cool off as you stomp down the river pretending you're a giant monster.
Just try not to roar too loud. You'll scare the kids.
One of Memphis' turn-of-the-century firehouses, Fire Engine House No. 1 is now an interactive museum dedicated to the proud history of the men who risk their lives fighting flames.
Inside the Fire Museum, you'll get an up-close look at what it took to battle raging fires throughout history, including a look at the horse-drawn era.. from the horse's perspective!
Other exhibits will put you in the shoes of a firefighter battling a skyscraper blaze from a snorkel basket, an interactive maze that challenges your ability to survive a fire, and even a room that simulates the heat from a burning building.
Memphis has an international reputation for its killer barbecue, but ask the locals, and there's a good chance they'll speak just as highly about the catfish cuisine.
From catfish, to oysters, to authentic deserts like chocolate fried pies, the Flying Fish is tops when it comes to southern-style seafood, and the line out the door of this bayou-inspired joint proves it.
Oh, and it's home to the world's first "Billy the Bigmouth Bass" adoption center. You know those annoying, motion-activated singing fish that your dad got as a gift and kept until your mom made him throw it away? The walls here are lined with those. Bring yours in to donate, and they'll give you a free order of catfish.
Tip: Always wanted to brag about your big catch? Bring along a photo and the Flying Fish will slap it up on the wall with the hundreds of others, adding you to their very own fishing hall of fame!
Memphis might be the home of The Blues, but with incredible sights like duck parades, crystal grottos, beer-drinking goats, and crazy beauty-shops-turned-fine-dining-restaurants, the blues is one thing you won't have while you're adventuring in the Bluff City.
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