Traveling with teens gives you the opportunity to share interests. And one of the best ways to connect with your teen is through music. Introduce your kids to new music that dropped before they were born with a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Find the best places for music in Memphis with teens along with some top BBQ joints.
As the home to rock n’ roll, its name is mentioned in over 1,000 different songs. A visit to Memphis is like taking an Introduction to Rock N’ Roll class without sitting in a classroom or doing any homework. Just visit the top museums and attractions for music in Memphis.
Roll n’ roll started in the 50s though music has been an integral part of the Mississippi River culture. Long before record labels, laborers used music to cope through hard, physical labor. Then on Sundays, worshippers praised with gospel in the churches across the Delta.
Improvising and creating harmonies started at home with family and friends. Out of that experience, bands formed and found a home in Memphis along Beale Street starting in the 1860s. Primarily singing the blues, Beale Street offered an audience and eventually The Orpheum was built in the 1920s.
Memphis established itself as a capital of The Blues then a new sound grew. With elements of western swing, gospel and country and western, Sam Phillips would record the first rock n’ roll songs at the Memphis Recording Studio in the early 1950s. In the 1960s, soul became the sound of Memphis.
For the richest experience, start with the Memphis Rock N’ Soul Museum for an overview of music history in Memphis. Then head to the iconic record labels to learn more about the different genres.
Memphis Rock N’ Soul Museum
Created by the Smithsonian Institute as a research project, it’s the first Smithsonian exhibit outside of Washington and New York. Explore the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum to get an overview of the Memphis sound from the 1930s to the 80s.
This facility does an excellent job at introducing visitors to the important artists and the makers of the sound. Walk through the exhibits and learn how farming sowed the seeds of creativity and helped laborers overcome poverty with music.
Kids will know about Elvis, though most don’t know about Sun Studios. An Issac Hayes song might sound familiar so learn about Stax Records. I was surprised to learn my teen hadn’t heard of Tina Turner, let alone Ike. As a nice bonus the Memphis Rock N’ Soul Museum uses headsets for its interpretive programming along with hundreds of songs.
Located at 191 Beale St. at the FedEx Forum. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday. Adult admission (18+) $13, Kids 5 to 17 $10.
Located nearby, walk by the 2,000-seat auditorium on the National Register of Historic Places. On the site of the original 1890s Grand Opera House of Memphis, the Orpheum was built in 1923 and features elaborate detailing. Home to Broadway shows and national music acts, it’s even rumored to be haunted.
Located at 203 S. Main St. Head to its website for the latest information for upcoming shows.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
The music home of artists like Issac Hayes, Otis Redding and Booker T and the M.G.s, Stax Records crafted the sound of soul. This facility is located where the original Stax Records headquarters was located and part of the Soulsville complex that includes a charter school.
With a collection of costumes, memorabilia along with Stax Records music, learn how shared experiences shaped the sound of soul. With influences from gospel to western swing to country music, musicians created and crafted a new sound at Stax Records in the 60s.
Dive deep into its archival displays and learn how Elvis recorded at Stax in 1973. Then take in other Stax artists, like The Staple Singers or Carla Thomas. And don’t miss the Issac Hayes custom 1972 Cadillac Eldorado with 24-carat exterior trim that rotates.
Located at 926 McLemore St. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday. Adult admission (13+) is $13 and kids (9 to 12) are $10.
This unassuming studio opened in 1950 by the legendary producer Sam Phillips. Inside find the recording studio where giants like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley recorded their albums. It’s an iconic destination for music fans and the birthplace of Rock N’ Roll. It’s also a National Historic Landmark.
It all started with the first rock n’ rock album Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenton and his Delta Cats with Ike Turner on keyboards. Then called the Memphis Recording Service, the studio become Sun Studios soon after.
A list of who’s who have recorded at Sun, including BB King, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. The tour guides explain the history of the recording studio along with the equipment and the process of recording music.
And for those in the biz, Sun Studios still is an active recording studio in the evenings. Since reopening in 1987, bands like U2, John Mellencamp and Ringo Starr have recorded music at Sun.
The tour starts upstairs with retelling of the early years with the original equipment. Then head into the actual studio with musical equipment and worn linoleum floors on a guided tour.
Located at 706 Union Ave. Open daily at 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Adult admission (12+) is $15 and kids (5 to 11) are free though those under 5 are not allowed on the tour. Free parking behind the building.
Visit the beloved home of Elvis, the king of rock n’ roll. Graceland is a sprawling wooded estate south of Downtown Memphis. Located on 13 acres the house is a 17,000-square-foot colonial revival with 23 rooms.
For the best experience, take the tour of Graceland. See the infamous Jungle Room with its waterfall and rock walls. Elvis used it as a recording studio in the 1970s. The trophy room is another standout to see the universal appeal of Elvis and his music.
Learn about the music icon and his private life as you walk through his home on an audio-guided tour. It’s also the second most visited home in the U.S. and attracts a cross-section of humanity. See his super fans, women now in their 70s, along with people from across the globe.
For kids who barely know who Elvis is, this tour offers a look into the early days of rock-n-roll and the stardom it created. Walking pass walls of gold and platinum records helps younger people understand his appeal.
The Graceland property is part of Elvis Presley Memphis Entertainment Complex. Also find the Presley Motors Automotive Museum, Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum, Elvis Discovery Exhibits and Elvis Custom Jets display. You can spend the entire day at the Elvis Presley Memphis Entertainment Complex.
The Graceland Tour takes one-and-a-half hours. Most visitors spend several hours touring the exhibits. Also find a hotel, The Guest House at Graceland, two restaurants along with lots of souvenir shopping.
Located at 3717 Elvis Presley Blvd. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours start at 10 a.m. Find several tours and packages for the Elvis Presley Memphis Entertainment Complex, not all include a tour of Graceland. Parking is $10 for standard vehicles and can be purchased in advance.
Adult admission (11+) to the audio-guided tour of Graceland along with the other displays is $74 and kids (5 to 10) are $42. Several discounts available, like AAA and a military discount.
After a lesson in music appreciation, take a stroll down Beale Street for live music. A pedestrian-only thoroughfare offers live music venues sprinkled with dining spots and shopping. Located in downtown Memphis, find street, surface and parking garages nearby.
A. Schwab Trading Co.
Established in 1876, find a couple of floors packed with odds and ends from kids toys to t-shirts to taffy. Meander through the displays and listen for the creek of the original wood floors.
Located at 163 Beale St. Open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
The Peabody Hotel Duck Parade
Under the red neon sign, The Peabody Hotel opened in 1925 and is an Italian Renaissance Hotel. Inside, its lobby and bar features a fountain craved from one piece of travertine marble.
In the shadow of an elaborate flower arrangement, five mallard ducks swim around the fountain from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Everyday from their home on the roof the Duckmaster escorts five ducks down the elevator to the red carpet. Then at 5 p.m. the Duckmaster returns and the ducks head to bed with equal fanfare.
It’s a show for all ages and a delight to see the ducks swimming in a fountain. The first Duckmaster started in 1940 after training animals in the circus.
Located at 149 Union Ave.
National Civil Rights Museum
Start at the courtyard in front of the Lorraine Motel and see where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The Lorraine Motel was a segregated property catering to Black People during the era.
Along with MLK, many performers stayed at the motel, like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. On April 4, 1968, MLK was shot the day after his “I’ve Been to a Mountaintop” speech.
Once inside, the museum walks though the story of human and civil rights for those of color starting with the 17th century’s slave trade. Move through displays and replicas, like a segregated luncheonette counter and the U.S. Supreme Court during the Brown v. Board of Eduction ruling that ended segregation.
Climb aboard the Rosa Parks Bus that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. See the burned out bus from the Freedom Rides. Stand in front of the Sanitation Truck from the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike. That strike brought MLK to Memphis.
I visited the Civil Rights Museum with my teen. I didn’t add any commentary and let the museum tell the story of civil rights in the U.S. We discussed the displays afterwards and compared to current unrest in the U.S. from where the U.S. was in the 1960s and how much still needs to be addressed.
Across the street from the museum, the last residence of the Lorraine Motel, Jaqueline Smith, sees the museum as a waste of money. She has been protesting the museum she was evicted over 30 years ago.
Located at 450 Mulberry St. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday (closed Sunday and Tuesday). Adult admission (18+) $17 and kids (5 to 17) are $14.
Where to Eat in Memphis
One thing you can’t miss is Memphis-style BBQ. It’s one of the four types of American barbecue, like Texas and Kansas City. In Memphis, they used pork, especially ribs, and BBQ is served wet or dry. Meaning it’s slathered in a secret BBQ sauce that’s usually a family recipe or covered in a mixed of dry spices and cooked and eaten without sauce.
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
From his basement, Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous has been serving up his charcoal broiled ribs since 1948. It’s a Memphis institution and the ribs are worth the wait.
Located at 52 S. 2nd St. Open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.
A relative newcomer to Memphis BBQ scene, Central BBQ opening in 2002 though has four locations in Memphis. The pulled pork (shredded) is a standout. And the pork ribs are a must for rib lovers. Also find house-made pork rinds and potato chips.
Located at 147 E. Butler Ave. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Skip the burgers and sample the chicken strips that offer a zip and rival some of the best fried chicken around. The basket of four will feed two big kids. Also the house-made shakes and malts are a treat.
Located at 205 Beale St. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Peabody Deli and Desserts
If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, head to The Peabody Hotel and enjoy a barista-made coffee along with divine desserts. Each dessert looks like a work of art, like the coffee cup tiramisu. The key lime tart offers a creamy balance of tart and sweet.
Located in the lobby of The Peabody Hotel at 149 Union Ave. Open Monday to Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.