Hidden Gems in Memphis: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Guide

Ammara Younas2024-06-20

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Memphis, TN, is a city with a soul as rich as the Mississippi River that flows alongside it. You've probably hit the well-trodden tourist spots: Graceland, Beale Street, and Sun Studio. But what if you crave something more, something that connects you deeply to the spirit of Memphis beyond the mainstream attractions? Here's a curated list of hidden gems that will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of this vibrant city.

Embark on a Walking Tour of Downtown Memphis + Cruise Down Mississippi River!

Crystal Shrine Grotto

Tucked away in the Memphis Memorial Park Cemetery is a surreal treasure – the Crystal Shrine Grotto. This hidden gem is an artistic wonder carved into a hillside, filled with quartz crystals, hauntingly beautiful harp tunes, and sculptures depicting biblical scenes. Walking through the grotto feels like stepping into a psychedelic world that could double as a Christian amusement park of the New Stone Age, where the play of light on crystals creates an ethereal atmosphere. You might reflect, sure, but people who come here are usually too dazzled to do that. 

Stax Museum of American Soul Music 

While the Graceland mansion may reign supreme, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music offers an equally compelling dive into Memphis's musical heritage. Located at the original site of Stax Records on McLemore Avenue, this museum celebrates the legacy of soul music legends like Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding. The museum is not just a collection of artifacts but a vibrant homage to the soul of Memphis, where each exhibit pulses with the rhythm and blues that define the city’s soundscape.

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

Yes, you read that right – a Bass Pro Shops inside a pyramid. But this isn't just any store; it's a multifaceted wonderland. Located in a former sports arena, the pyramid houses an indoor swamp, an observation deck with stunning views of the Mississippi River, and a bowling alley. It's a quirky, unexpected adventure that merges retail therapy with an immersive experience, making it a must-see on your Memphis bucket list.


Credit: Joshua J. Cotten / Unsplash

Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

While many flock to Sun Studio, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum offers a broader narrative of Memphis's musical journey. Situated on Beale Street, this Smithsonian-affiliated museum traces the roots of rock and soul music from the rural origins to the global stage. Interactive exhibits and authentic memorabilia make it a captivating visit for anyone looking to understand the deep connection between Memphis and its iconic music genres.

Shelby Farms Park

Shelby Farms Park is a vast urban oasis, offering a wide range of outdoor activities. From paddleboarding on the serene lakes to biking along scenic trails, the park is a haven for anyone who wants a break from the routine ennui of 9-to-5. Dotting the entire landscape of the park is the merry wildlife from turtles and beavers to hummingbirds and raptors. It's one of the largest urban parks not just in the country, but also the world. Whether a slow and leisurely picnic is on your mind or an adventurous zip-lining experience is something you're looking for—you can do it all in Shelby Park!

Shelby Farms Park

Credit: Jonathan Blackwell / Unsplash

Metal Museum

Spend an hour poring over metal. No, I'm not kidding. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, the Metal Museum is a unique cultural institution dedicated to the art of metalworking. Inside you'll see labyrinthine sculptures, intricate jewelry, and live blacksmithing demonstrations. The museum's lush grounds and river views make it a perfect spot to appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of metal in a relaxed setting.

Crosstown Concourse

Crosstown Concourse is a testament to urban revitalization, transforming a former Sears warehouse into a bustling vertical village. This multi-use space houses art galleries, eateries, shops, and even a high school. It’s a microcosm of creativity and community, where you can enjoy a coffee, explore contemporary art, and experience the innovative spirit of Memphis all under one roof.

Overton Park

Overton Park is a cultural and recreational hub in the heart of Memphis. It’s home to the Memphis Zoo, the Brooks Museum of Art, and the Levitt Shell, where Elvis Presley performed his first paid concert. The park’s verdant expanses and cultural venues offer a perfect blend of nature and art, making it an ideal spot for a day of exploration and relaxation.

Drop Your Worries Down the Mississippi River on a Music and Dinner Riverboat Cruise!

Tom Lee Park

Tom Lee Park stretches along the Mississippi River, offering panoramic views and a tranquil retreat from the city’s hustle. It's a fantastic place for a leisurely walk or a picnic while watching the riverboats drift by. The park is named after Tom Lee, a local hero who saved 32 people from drowning in 1925, and his bravery is commemorated with a statue that stands as a testament to his legacy.

Tom Lee Park

Credit: Aidan Formigoni / Unsplash

South Main Arts District

If you've run out of things to explore in downtown, turn towards the southwest and here's an entire neighborhood where you can unravel the tapestry of art & architecture.

The South Main Arts District brims with raw creativity. Its historic streets are lined with art galleries, boutiques, and cafes. The district comes alive on the last Friday of every month with the South Main Trolley Night, where local artists and musicians showcase their talents, and the streets buzz with electric energy. There's no better place than this district to capture the artistic pulse and dynamism of Memphis.

Broad Avenue Arts District

Once a forgotten street, Broad Avenue has transformed into a bustling arts district. It's a haven for art lovers and foodies alike, with its array of galleries, murals, and eclectic eateries. Here you can taste craft beers, take craft-making workshops, buy a guitar, or roam the locally owned general stores. The district's revitalization reflects the creative spirit of Memphis, turning a once-neglected area into a vibrant community hub.

Ernestine & Hazel’s

No trip to Memphis is complete without a visit to Ernestine & Hazel’s, a dive bar with a storied past. This former brothel and speakeasy is famous for its soul burgers and ghost stories. The jukebox plays classic tunes, creating a nostalgic atmosphere that feels like stepping back in time. It’s a quirky, unforgettable spot that embodies the gritty charm of Memphis.

Miss Cordelia’s Grocery

Located on Mud Island, Miss Cordelia’s is a delightful grocery store that feels more like a community hub. It offers locally sourced produce, delicious deli options, and a cozy café. The store’s welcoming vibe and riverside location make it a perfect stop for a leisurely lunch or a quick coffee break while exploring the island.

Chucalissa Archaeological Site

Step back in time at the Chucalissa Archaeological Site, where you can explore the remnants of a prehistoric Native American village. The site offers a fascinating glimpse into the ancient history of the region, with reconstructed dwellings, artifacts, and educational exhibits. There's also a picnic area, a lush arboretum, and a half-mile nature trail which cement this museum’s place in not just preserving the history, but also the natural world.

Hidden Gems in Memphis: A Snapshot 

Memphis, TN, is a city that thrives on its hidden gems. From serene parks and historic cemeteries to vibrant arts districts and quirky dive bars, the off-the-beaten-path attractions offer a rich, immersive experience. These hidden treasures capture the true essence of Memphis, blending its soulful history, artistic spirit, and community warmth. So, step away from the usual tourist spots and dive into the lesser-known wonders that make Memphis a city unlike any other.