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Having lived in Nashville, Tennessee for eight years as a single person, weekend trips to Memphis became a regular occurrence. Now as a mom, I realize how much this city has to offer families. Whether you’re looking for a weekend of live music, history or culture, there are so many cheap or free things to do in Memphis TN!
DUCKS AT THE PEABODY HOTEL
The first time I heard about the Peabody duck march, I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was. I went to see them in person anyway and I’m SO glad that I did! Standing with the crowd that was gathered, the anticipation continued to build until the moment that the elevator doors opened and the eager ducks waddled down their red carpet to the fountain that was waiting.
Memphis is a destination city because it holds so many unique traditions; the Peabody ducks are at the top of that list. The Peabody is a beautiful hotel on its own and fun to visit just to see the lobby. We happened to visit one time near the holidays and were able to view a large-scale gingerbread exhibit on display. We also enjoyed hot chocolate by the immaculate Christmas tree in the lobby seating area. Children and parents alike will enjoy visiting this superior hotel and watching the duck march.
For the little art lover in your family, or if you need to find some rainy day fun, check out the Art Project Memphis. You can pay for 1.5 hours of art free play, or sign up for a class. Either way, your child’s imagination will be set on fire in this creatively designed space. They even offer coffee & beer for adults to sip on while your children are busy creating
Another fantastic venue for children, your children have the opportunity to learn about transportation, camping, art, weather, nutrition, and health in a hands-on environment. Exhibits are located both indoors and outdoors, creating year-round fun.
For the price of admission, your family can spend the entire day in the award-winning Children’s Museum of Memphis, where learning is child’s play. Children lose themselves in the world of playful learning at dozens of interactive exhibits.
Ride on the historic Dentzel Memphis Grand Carousel. The original carousel was constructed in 1909 and has been fully restored. Admission to the museum costs $15 per person, but look at this as an activity that will keep your children entertained for at least half a day.
UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
When the University of Memphis installed a 30,000-square-foot Athletics Hall of Fame showcasing the Tigers’ athletic history, memorabilia and accomplishments, Silver Oaks produced three touchscreen interactives that honor the University of Memphis’ 20 sports programs.
These programs feature their Hall of Famers, Letter Winners and Championship Titles. All three interactive programs were developed with a custom admin and database system so that the University can update the programs with new entries as needed.
Art museums can be a great adventure for families, especially if you’re visiting a city from out of town. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is a perfect place to bring your family and learn about not only the art on display, but also what proper art museum etiquette looks like.
Admission to this art museum is very affordable too, at just $10 for adults, $5 for children 7-17 and free to children 6 and under. If you can go during the week, every Wednesday is Free Wednesday, with free admission for 10 hours. Be sure to check out the outdoor sculptures around the museum as well.
Known as the birthplace of rock n’ roll, Sun Studio has recorded music for artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and U2. It is still an operational recording studio, but it’s also a wonderful attraction that lets you step into Memphis history.
Walk into the actual recording studio where some of the most iconic music in history was recorded. Sit at the drum set where Ringo Starr sat. Hold the microphone that Bonnie Raitt held. Admission and tours are $10 for children ages 5-12, with adults costing $15 per person. They offer free parking and a complimentary shuttle to Graceland and back to Sun Studio.
This is absolutely one of my favorite museums in the country. The museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the sight of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. The National Civil Rights Foundation did an amazing job of walking visitors through the history of the United States Civil Rights movement, culminating in a recreation of Dr. King’s last hours alive in the hotel.
Along your tour you’ll witness the global impact of slavery, experience sitting in the back of the bus with Rosa Parks, and learn about the Sanitation Workers’ Strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis. The museum underwent some upgrades in 2014, adding more interactive technology. This is a tremendous place to visit with children and will spark so many great conversations around our country’s history.
Plus, children 4 and under are free! You can also visit the building across the street from the Lorraine Motel. This building is significant because it is where Dr. King’s shooter rented a room and was able to assassinate Dr. King.
The is unlike what most people think of when it comes to museums. Learn about everything from agriculture, to dinosaurs, to the civil war! The Pink Palace looks back at the history of Memphis from many perspectives. The Pink Palace Mansion is home to nearly a century of Memphis history from its beginnings as the unfinished home of Piggly Wiggly store founder Clarence Saunders to its renovation in 2018. Sometimes called the Museum’s largest artifact, the renovated Mansion includes a totally reconstructed original Piggly Wiggly Store replica, Country Store and a restored Clyde Parke Miniature Circus.
Did you know that Piggly Wiggly was started in Memphis? You can visit a recreation of the first Piggly Wiggly store at the Pink Palace. Piggy Wiggly is considered to have revolutionized the modern grocery store, becoming the first one to offer self-service shopping to its customers.
When most people think of Memphis, Elvis Presley comes to mind. Graceland, Elvis’ home, is a southern landmark that continues to attract visitors from around the world. Known as the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis remains one of the greatest performers the world has known. Since his death, his family has kept Graceland as a place for fans to ‘touch’ Memphis history.
A visit to Graceland offers the opportunity to view Elvis’ iconic clothing, his classic cars, unique home furnishings and the famed ‘Jungle Room’. Admission to Graceland is a little pricey, but with so many other free and cheap options in Memphis, you could budget to spend a little more on a visit to Elvis’ home. There are also combo tickets available for Graceland and Sun Studios, which offer some valuable savings. Meditation Garden at Graceland
Memphis has long been known as the intersection of rock n’ roll and soul music. The Stax Museum tells the story of rock n’ soul and the people who paved the way for a whole new genre of music. Located in the FedEx Forum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies, the museum traces Memphis history through music.
Admission is $13 for adults and $10 for children ages 5-17, children 4 and under are free. They offer discounts for AARP, AAA, and Smithsonian members, so be sure to look into that if you belong to any of those organizations.
This is a zoo that your family does not want to miss! Located in the Overton Park area, it is surrounded by natural beauty. The Memphis Zoo has a tremendous variety of exhibits and exotic animals. Admission starts at $16 for children over 2 years old.
The Memphis Zoo allows free general admission to Tennessee residents with ID on Tuesday afternoons from 2 p.m. to close. NOTE: There is a $3 Conservation Fee to enter the CHINA exhibit where the Giant Pandas are located. The zoo also offers many special events throughout the year, be sure to check their event calendar before you go to see what they may have in store.
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Located on the Memphis riverfront, Mud Island has various activities to entertain the family. The Riverwalk is an exact scale replica of the Lower Mississippi River. Part splash pad, part history lesson; it provides a unique opportunity to have fun while learning.
You can take a ride on the monorail. Ride across the harbor to the Riverwalk while enjoying spectacular views of Downtown Memphis and the river. Once you’ve walked down the Mississippi you arrive at the ‘Gulf of Mexico’. The ‘Gulf’ is represented as a mile-acre pond. You can rent paddle boats too.
Purchased in the early 1900’s, this 342-acre park is located in Midtown Memphis. It’s home to the Memphis Zoo, Levitt Shell, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and a nine-hole golf course. Overton is canine friendly as well; visit Overton Bark with your favorite pup where they can run in 1.3 acre, fenced in area.
Overton Park is truly in the middle of it all—an iconic public space that is woven throughout the fabric of Memphis life. Its 342 acres offer recreation, relaxation, culture, and nature, inspiring our community to connect with our best selves, with each other, and with the natural world.
Greensward is a large, open space designated solely for outdoor recreation. There are two playgrounds available for public use, along with several picnic areas to bring your own food and have a budget-friendly day of outdoor fun!
After more than 1OO years of planning, Memphis stands poised to create the most spectacular riverfront in the country with a signature Tom Lee Park at its center.
Memphis’ next civic jewel will reunite the city with the river and be a place for community life to flourish by the water’s edge. Tom Lee Park will be a new front door for Memphis and a spectacular symbol of what we can achieve, together.
Memphis has done an amazing job of conserving green space and creating parks for families to enjoy together. Shelby Farms is another can’t-miss stop on a visit to Memphis. There’s so much to do at Shelby Farms, including a dog park, the Water Play Spraygound, and miles of bike trails.
At 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country! Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the Park is both a vibrant community hub and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Public parks like Shelby Farms Park play an important role in creating a just and equitable community for all, and everyone is welcome here! Whether you play the Park on foot, on wheels, in the trees, in the open or on the water, Shelby Farms Park has something for everyone.
Shelby Farms Park features more than 40 miles of trails, both paved and unpaved, that are popular for walking, biking, running and hiking. The Park’s trail network includes Shelby Farms Greenline, an iconic 10.65-mile paved cycling and pedestrian trail that connects the heart of Memphis to the heart of Cordova through Shelby Farms Park.
The Park is home to more than 20 bodies of water which provide plenty of opportunities for fishing.
It’s also home to a herd of buffalo! Learn more about our most iconic residents here!
Your children will also enjoy the Woodland Discovery Playground. It’s actually been named one of the “16 Coolest Playgrounds in the World”. The playground features six different play ‘nests’ that focus on different types of play.
LIVE MUSIC, SHOPPING AND ENTERTAINMENT
Memphis is full of wonderful live music, and Levitt Shell hosts some of the best in the city. Contained in Overton Park, Levitt Shell is a landmark of Memphis history. It was actually the site of Elvis Presley’s first paid concert in 1954. That show is also known as the first ever rock-n-roll concert. Today, Levitt Shell hosts 50 free concerts each year.
Lawn seating is available on a first come, first serve basis, so grab your chairs or blankets, a picnic and head to the shell for a family friendly evening of live music in Memphis.
If you make a visit between April and September, be sure to take in a Memphis Redbirds game! Playing at the state-of-the-art AutoZone Park, you’ll have the chance to watch future Major League Baseball players in the heart of Downtown Memphis.
Minor league teams offer many ticket promotions and special events throughout the season, which often makes tickets very affordable. Be sure to check their schedule for events like Throwback Thursdays with $2 PBRs or Saturday fireworks.
If you visit Memphis, you have to step on the street that inspired songs like ‘Walking in Memphis’ and has hosted thousands of the most influential soul & jazz musicians. Strolling along Beale St. is an experience in itself. Walk by B.B. King’s and soak in the beautiful music that comes floating into the street.
Step into Silky O’Sullivans patio to see a live goat and sip on one of their famous Hurricanes. They even offer a kids menu, it’s a great family stop during the daytime! If you get hungry while you’re exploring, there’s plenty of options to choose from. Two of our favorites are Dyer’s and Blues City Café.
Dyer’s is a can’t-miss stop for burgers and shakes. Dyer’s is consistently included in any list regarding the best burgers in the U.S. Blues City Café is where you need to for a truly authentic Memphis meal. Get some fall off the bone ribs, or try my personal favorite, the house made tamales!
Be sure to make time to stop in A. Schwab’s General Store while you’re on Beale Street. So much more than just a store, it’s an experience! You can have all kinds of fun with your family in this place. I like to send my boys on hunts for different things like “funniest hat” or “smallest toy”. We take lots of pictures with the fun, random objects that we find!
Another charming neighborhood not to be missed is Harbor Town. Located on the river across from Downtown Memphis, it offers shopping, dining, playgrounds, walking trails, town squares and beautiful views! Adjacent to the Mississippi River Park and Wolf River Greenway, it’s also within walking distance of the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, as well as Mud Island. Its Main Street has many shopping and dining designations that are not be missed as well.
Located at the corner of Cooper and Young, this Midtown neighborhood has become a destination for art, culture and cuisine in Memphis. Home to some of the hottest restaurants in Memphis, its also drawn many creative businesses to the area. If you happen to visit during the month of September, you may come during the Cooper Young Festival.
In its 34th year, this event has grown tremendously and is one of Memphis’ most highly attended Festivals. This year, over 130,000 guests will enjoy an appealing mix of art, music, and crafts presented by over 435 artisans from around the country. The Cooper-Young Festival is a true celebration of the arts, people, culture, and Memphis heritage.
Let’s be honest, trolley rides are fun for both kids and adults! The Memphis Trolley System offers rides for $1, so this is definitely a fun and affordable way to sightsee and get around the city. Be sure to pay attention to the schedule each day as it changes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are three different lines to take you to different areas of Memphis. It’s very user friendly and when in doubt, ask a local!
FOOD AND DRINKS
Part restaurant, part Memphis history, the Arcade is known as Memphis’ first and oldest café. Founded in 1919, it has served local families, tourists, and celebrities for almost a century. It’s located in downtown Memphis, within walking distance from the Civil Rights Museum. It may seem familiar to you since it’s appeared in movies like ‘Walk the Line’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘The Client’ and many, many more. They offer breakfast, pizza, salads, and sandwiches, so there’s truly something for everyone.
There are snow cones, and then there are Jerry’s snow cones! A local friend stressed that I need to make time for a Jerry’s stop on my first visit to Memphis. On our way out of town, we decided to get a treat for the road and stopped for our snow cones. This was an experience unlike anything I expected.
Jerry’s is located in an inconspicuous building set alone in a neighborhood. It has a walk up window for ordering, and a few picnic tables to sit at. The ice in the snow cones is so fine and smooth, and then in the middle you find delicious soft serve vanilla ice cream! They only accept cash payments and are open year round, except for when they’re closed every Sunday. I recommend the “World Famous Snow Cone Supreme” with Tiger’s Blood or Tutti Fruiti syrup!
All the walking and sightseeing around Memphis means that you’ll need a break at some point. Wiseacre Brewery is the perfect place to grab a beer and seat when you’re ready to hit pause on the tourist activities. Created by local brothers, Wiseacre is gaining national fame in the beer community. Brewery tours are available most weekends, and children are welcome. If you don’t know where to start with your tasting, start out with their Tiny Bomb pilsner, you won’t be sorry you did!
No trip to Memphis is complete without a bbq meal. Rendezvous is a staple in Memphis, opening its doors in 1948. Located in an alley in Downtown Memphis, Rendezvous is known for its original dry rub ribs. After visiting this place several times, my absolute favorite menu items are the Barbecue nachos with pork, and the world famous ribs.
I order the bbq sauce on the side, so that you can still get the unique flavor of the dry rub, but add some of the sweet bbq sauce that Memphis is known for. Especially if you’re traveling with little ones, try to get an early lunch or dinner, as Rendezvous gets very busy during peak dining hours. And if you can’t get enough while you’re there, they do ship some of their most popular items!
We can’t wait to return to Memphis and see how our boys take in things like the National Civil Rights Museum, or have a greater appreciation for the artists that recorded at Sun Studios. Memphis combines history, culture, music and adventure in a way that many modern cities cannot. It’s the perfect place to take your family; you won’t regret making a visit soon!
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