hog & hominy | Sarah Rossi Voigt/Thrillist
hog & hominy | Sarah Rossi Voigt/Thrillist

Actually Cool Things to Do in Memphis

In Grind City, there's no shortage of tried and true activities to attract newcomers from all around. There's Graceland, the Civil Rights Museum, Stax Museum, Sun Studio, and Beale Street… and it’s pretty common knowledge that one can eat some the best barbecue in the world while gallivanting around town.

And while we've told you all about our amazing restaurants and brunches, cocktail bars, and America's greatest burger dive, there's still so much more to explore. So let's eschew the obvious, embrace the unknown, and really get into the things that make Memphis one of the best cities (if not the best) in the South.

See the Mississippi in an actually cool way

Downtown/West Memphis, Arkansas
There are many ways to enjoy the Mighty Mississippi, and it should be at the top of everyone’s list. Big River Crossing gives visitors the opportunity to cross the river from Memphis, TN to West Memphis, AR on foot or by bike and take in staggering views along the way. The four wheeling crowd should cross the new bridge just before sunset, meander along some country roads in West Memphis, AR (take the Mound City exit) and then return to catch the Memphis skyline at dusk. Picnics on the bluff in Harbor Town are always a great choice as well. Restaurants offering stellar views include River Terrace and the Gray Canary.

Definitely take a brewery tour

Downtown, Crosstown, Midtown, Cordova
Here in Memphis, we’re known for our amazing drinking water which springs from artesian wells, and local brewers credit it for making our homegrown beers extra tasty. There are currently six breweries in town (Ghost River, Crosstown, High Cotton, Memphis MadeWiseacre and Meddlesome Brewing), and five of them are within a five mile radius of each other. Take advantage of the newly launched Explore Bike Share and spend the afternoon tasting local favorites like Midnight Madness, Traffic IPA, Mexican Lager, Junt, Tiny Bomb, and 901 Hoplar. For those who prefer someone else to do the navigating, there’s the Memphis Brew Bus.

Roam with the buffalo… and then blast paintballs at people

East Memphis
In addition to a 50 acre range for their herd of 15-20 buffalo, Shelby Farms Park offers paved and natural trails for running and biking, a BMX track, a horse stable, disc golf, boating, fishing, laser tag, paintball, a ropes course, state of the art playground, a dog park, and more. The preferred method of accessing the park is via the Shelby Farms Greenline, a 10.65 mile paved, urban rails to trails project that extends from Midtown through Shelby Farms Park to Cordova.  Shelby Farms Park offers two delicious dining options with beautiful views. The Kitchen Bistro and the Kitchenette are operated by the nationally-renowned Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson.

Explore our big, beautiful park

Overton Park, in the heart of Midtown, was almost destroyed by the expansion of Interstate 40 in 1971. Threats to its various amenities remain constant thanks to one poorly run zoo, but there is still plenty to see and do in the 342 acre public space, and keeping it full of people is a top priority amongst locals. Start with a short hike in the Old Forest State Natural Area, which has literally been standing for over 10,000 years. Enjoy a $2.50 beer and clean restrooms in the Abe Goodman Golf House. Lay on a blanket, throw a Frisbee, or kick a soccer ball on the Greensward. See the current exhibit at the Brooks Museum and have a nice coffee or pastry in Café Brooks. End the day with a picnic and concert at the Levitt Shell.

Take a local tour that doesn't suck

Midtown, Downtown, Soulsville
Let an expert take you around town and show you the things that most people don’t get to see. Tour guide extraordinaire, Tad Pierson, will pick you up in his ‘55 Caddy for an American Dream Safari (aka a three-hour city tour) that can be customized to your particular interests upon request. Cristina McCarter’s City Tasting Tours are quickly gaining popularity due to her ability to deliver unique dining (and drinking!) experiences all over town. A typical tour covers half a mile on foot and includes generous tastings at four or more off the radar restaurants. Carolyn Michael-Banks, known to some as “Queen,” will be your guide to important landmarks in local African American history like the Slave Haven, the Mason Temple and Beale Street. The Tour of Possibilities van will pick you up and lasts two hours.

Find out how utterly fantastic our tacos are

Yes, we have good barbeque and lots of it. We also have a lot of tacos! Spend a day visiting the taco trucks around town and deciding which one is your favorite. An individual taco costs anywhere from $1.25 to $2.50 so a $20 will get you far. The trucks typically park along Summer & Jackson Avenues and Winchester & Germantown Roads. These streets will take you around the edges of our fine city and offer up views you might not see otherwise. Combining this activity with hitting up yard sales, thrifting and/or antiquing usually works out quite nicely.

Worship with Reverend Al Green

After a string of soul hits in the seventies, and an unfortunate incident involving hot grits, Al Green became a self-ordained minister and bought the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Whitehaven, not far from Graceland, in 1976. The Reverend can be found there most Sundays -- either in a full robe or a three piece suit and shades -- around noon, preaching and singing his unique stream of consciousness gospel with his seven piece band. Services draw a faithful flock as well as local, national, and international fans. Tithing is encouraged. Photos are not. Complete this religious experience with some soul food from the Four Way or the Gay Hawk.

Visit a Vertical Urban Village

The award-winning Crosstown Concourse not only revitalized the abandoned Sears Building, it injected vitality into the surrounding neighborhood. Spend a day familiarizing yourself with the many offerings. Start with a coffee from French Truck or fresh juice from the I Love Juice Bar. Take a class at the Church Health Center. Experience the many art installations on the second level in Crosstown Arts. Catch a performance on the stairs or in the foyer. Have lunch at Farm Burger or Mama Gaia. Do some shopping. Pamper yourself with a manicure. Sit in the lobby or on the deck and people watch. Have dinner at the Kitchen Next Door. Taste the beers at Crosstown Brewing Company. Finally, maybe even spend the night in one of the layover rooms.

Start your walk on Broad Avenue with a coffee, end with a beer

Broad Avenue Arts District
The Broad Avenue Arts District is a great place to spend the day walking around, window shopping, socializing, and taking pictures. Start off with a third wave carbonated cold brew at City & State and get a pic on the patio next to the “Well hello” wall or in back by the “Yay, Coffee!” wall. Browse in the gift shop and then head over to the Liquor Store (which is a restaurant constructed in what was once a liquor store) and have full on pancake breakfast, a slice of homemade pie, a Cuban sandwich, and/or a specialty cocktail. Whatever you choose to photograph will look great on the tropical laminate tables or against the bright orange patio umbrellas. Make your way down the street and stop in the myriad boutiques. Falling Into Place has a butterfly mural on their east facing wall you should take in. Enjoy happy hour with a pint of Wiseacre Tiny Bomb, either on the Cove’s back patio and/or at the Wiseacre Brewery Taproom. And no trip to Broad Avenue is complete without a shot of the water tower, preferably at sunset.

Experience a nitty-gritty Juke Joint

Downtown, Soulsville, VECA
Classic juke joints catered to the rural workforce that emerged after emancipation and consisted of plantation workers and sharecroppers who were in need of a place to relax and socialize after a hard week. The hallmarks of a juke joint include food, drink, a juke box, a place to dance, and sometimes gambling. There are still a handful of places around town where you can get a taste of the juke joint life. The most notable here is Earnestine & Hazel’s Downtown, which is said to be haunted. It is THE go place for late night soul burgers, shoving dollars in the jukebox, and enjoying a beer or five. Hard liquor and live music can be found on the weekends. Wild Bill’s out on Vollintine is only open on weekends, but it has a ridiculously stacked house band, cold beer by the forty-ounce, and a dance floor that is guaranteed to be packed. More adventurous types can make a run to the Big S Lounge and Jessie’s Place. Good juke joint rules to follow -- bring cash, tip well, and don't be an asshole.

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Stacey Greenberg lives in Cooper-Young with her two sons. She is the author of the award-winning Dining With Monkeys blog.