Memphis

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Memphis Right Now

Even locals love this stuff.

Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing

Fall is usually overflowing with festivals, and this year there are still plenty to attend virtually. However, for those who are tired of staring at their computers, we have some other ideas! As masking up becomes de rigueur, Memphians are seeing more and more doors opening for business, and finding ways to safely enjoy the city outdoors and from a social distance. Supporting restaurants and Black-owned businesses is more important than ever. Local artists have created a new community radio station and a mind-blowing exploratorium for much needed mental escapes. So let’s eschew the obvious, embrace the unknown, and really get into the things that make Memphis one of the best cities in the South.

Christopher Reyes
Christopher Reyes
Christopher Reyes

Take a break from reality in an Exploratorium

Downtown
$
Multimedia artist Christopher Reyes recently unveiled his 2,000-square-foot art installation, Baron Von Opperbean’s Exploratorium of Magic, Science, and the Multiverse, in the Off The Walls gallery warehouse space. Inspired by visits to The City Museum and Meow Wolf, Reyes birthed Baron Von Opperbean, a scientist/magician who travels space and time collecting technology and artifacts. Visitors to the exploratorium can choose to solve the mystery of his disappearance by following his trail through a series of portals to different worlds. Groups of up to 16 can visit by appointment.

Make friends with a farmer

Cooper Young
$-$$
We can thank the pandemic for amplifying our local food system and the importance of knowing where our food comes from. Stop by one of our amazing farmers markets and meet the people growing and making the food that sustains us. The Cooper Young Community Farmers’ Market held in the First Congregational parking lot on Cooper and Walker is open year round on Saturday mornings. There you’ll find fruit, vegetables, flowers, bagels, pastured meat, mushrooms, rice, pasta, a compost drop off, and much more. Even if you aren’t stocking the fridge, you can enjoy lively conversation and tamales.

Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing

See the Mississippi in an actually cool way

Downtown/West Memphis, Arkansas
Free
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 into West Memphis, Arkansas 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 (take the Mound City exit) and then return to catch the city 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. Drive to the Shelby Forest section of the Mississippi and enjoy the closest thing we have to a beach.

Tune In to Your Crosstown Radio Station

Citywide
Free
Turn the dial to 91.7 FM on October 5 at 5pm for the launch of WYXR, Crosstown Radio Partnership’s new community radio station brought to you by Memphians from all walks of life. Led by Robby Grant who has been a constant presence in Memphis’ music scene, most recently performing, recording, and touring with Mellotron Variations, and Jared “Jay B.” Boyd, a Memphis-based journalist, DJ and host of NPR-syndicated radio program Beale St. Caravan, the station is the most exciting to hit the airwaves in a very long time and can be safely enjoyed from the comfort of home.

Wiseacre Brewing Company
Wiseacre Brewing Company
Wiseacre Brewing Company

Definitely sample the local brews

Various locations
$-$$
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 nine breweries in town (Ghost River, Crosstown, High Cotton, Memphis Made, Wiseacre, Meddlesome Brewing, Hook Point Brewing, Grind City Brewing, and Beale Street Brewing), and five of them are within a five mile radius of each other. Various phases of the pandemic have affected whether they can have visitors, but as of now, they are open and/or offering delivery and curbside pickup. Take advantage of the great weather and spend the afternoon tasting local favorites like Midnight Madness, Traffic IPA, Mexican Lager, Junt, Tiny Bomb, and 901 Hoplar. Not to be missed is the massive new Wiseacre taproom and production facility downtown with tons of outdoor seating. For those who prefer someone else to do the navigating, there’s the Memphis Brew Bus.

Roam with the buffalo — and then enjoy a cocktail in a canoe

East Memphis
Free-$
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. The park has several pandemic friendly events like outdoor movie nights and “Cocktails and Canoes.”

Overton Park
Overton Park
Overton Park

Explore our big, beautiful park

Midtown
Free-$
Overton Park is a 342-acre public space that has benefitted from the pandemic in the sense that it was car free for nearly six weeks and has had a much needed relief from overflow zoo parking. 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. Rent a cart and play a few holes. Lay on a blanket, throw a Frisbee, or kick a soccer ball on the Greensward. Join in a drum circle, Tai Chi class, or kettlebell workout.

Find out how utterly fantastic our tacos are

Various locations
$
Yes, we have good barbecue 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 $1.25-2.50, so a $20 bill will get you far. The trucks typically park along Summer and Jackson avenues and Winchester and 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. You can peruse the trucks along Summer Avenue with the Summer Avenue Antique Warehouse, The Quantum Antique Mall, and a Moment in Time for a pretty fun day.

Muddy's Bake Shop
Muddy’s Bake Shop
Muddy’s Bake Shop

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

Broad Avenue Arts District
Free-$$
The Broad Avenue Arts District is a great place to spend the day walking around, window shopping, socializing from a distance, and taking pictures. Start off with a third wave coffee soda at City & State¬†and get a photo 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, or a quart of specialty cocktails from in-house crafters Memphis Whistle. 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 its east facing wall you should take in. Pick up a funky house plant at Everbloom Designs. Enjoy happy hour with a pint of Wiseacre Tiny Bomb, either on the Cove’s back patio and/or at the Wiseacre Brewery Taproom. Pick up some treats at Muddy’s Bake Shop, which hosts a bake sale every weekend. And no trip to Broad Avenue is complete without a shot of the water tower, preferably at sunset.Sign up here for our daily Memphis email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Blues City.

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

Memphis

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Tennessee

Get some fresh air.

Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr

As the late Charlie Daniels famously used to say, “Ain’t it good to be alive, and be in Tennessee!” That’s because Tennessee truly is a special state filled with beautiful places. If you’re of a mind to travel, here are some of the most breathtaking sites and sights across the state.

Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock
Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock
Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock

Big South Fork

Oneida
Named for the major tributary of the Cumberland River, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area covers almost 200 square miles along the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. Boasting many natural bridge and arch formations, an extensive system of hiking trails, and five developed campgrounds, Big South Fork has something to offer for adventurers at any level of experience looking to get out into the wild.

Alisha Bube/Shutterstock
Alisha Bube/Shutterstock
Alisha Bube/Shutterstock

Fall Creek Falls

Spencer
The gorgeous cataract is the tallest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi. Beautiful from above, the 256-foot tall falls is even more impressive after taking the hike down to the pool at its base. It’s worth the hike back up to the parking lot afterward, we promise

Weidman Photography/Shutterstock
Weidman Photography/Shutterstock
Weidman Photography/Shutterstock

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Gatlinburg
The most-visited national park in the United States draws more than 10 million tourists a year to marvel at close to a thousand square miles of dense forests and mountain ranges that exhibit remarkable biodiversity. Drive or hike through the park to one of many scenic overlooks to spy the beautiful fog-shrouded peaks that give the ancient mountains their name.

Bluegrass Underground
Bluegrass Underground
Bluegrass Underground

The Caverns

Pelham
This cave complex outside the small town of Pelham just off of Interstate 24 is a dual threat. Not only does it host daily cave tours featuring a single room that’s longer than three football fields, giving the attraction its former name of Big Room Cave, but it’s also a premier performance venue. Currently, the spot has established a series of concerts in an above-ground amphitheater where music fans can purchase socially distanced pods of seats overlooking the sweeping vistas of Payne’s Cove below.

Oleg Shpyrko/Flickr
Oleg Shpyrko/Flickr
Oleg Shpyrko/Flickr

Cherohala Skyway

Tellico Plains
The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile stretch of elevated highway connecting Tennessee with North Carolina and features multiple overlooks offering views of the Unicoi Mountains and the two national forests through which it passes, the Cherokee and Nantahala forests that combine to give the skyway its name. A favorite of motorcyclists, the Cherohala is one of the greatest scenic drives in the region.

Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr
Michael Hicks/Flickr

Walls of Jericho

Belvidere
Once hidden away on private land, the Walls of Jericho is still rarely visited since it’s a pretty grueling hike in and out of the 8,900-acre wilderness area. Those that make the trek are rewarded with multiple waterfalls and rippling creeks along the way to their final destination, a dramatic natural amphitheater with 200-foot sheer rock walls that seep water from the Turkey Creek to create a dramatic water feature.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Clingmans Dome

Bryson City
Visitors can literally look down on the state of Tennessee from this peak, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The observation tower is surrounded by a rare evergreen forest and affords a wraparound view that reaches 100 miles on a clear day. As a bonus, there aren’t many mountain tops where you can drive all the way to the apex and park your car a short walk along a paved trail to find breathtaking views like these.

Flickr/Guillaume Capron
Flickr/Guillaume Capron
Flickr/Guillaume Capron

Reelfoot Lake

Samburg
Tennessee’s only major natural lake (you can thank the TVA for all those great reservoirs), Reelfoot Lake was formed when a series of earthquakes along the New Madrid fault in 1811-12 actually caused the Mississippi River to run backwards and fill in the land in northwestern Tennessee that had subsided due to the tremors. Known for gorgeous bald cypress trees, Reelfoot is known as paradise for fishermen and duck hunters. Bird watchers can also spy numerous nesting pairs of bald eagles.

Flickr/Joel Kramer
Flickr/Joel Kramer
Flickr/Joel Kramer

The Lost Sea

Sweetwater
Tucked in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, The Lost Sea is the nation’s largest underground lake at almost five acres. Beautiful subterranean features such as stalactites, stalagmites, and delicate crystal anthodites are visible as part of glass-bottom boat tours called The Lost Sea Adventure. Wild cave tours are also available for more intrepid spelunkers who want to go even deeper into the cavern.

Wayne Silver
Wayne Silver
Wayne Silver

Townsend

Townsend
Known as “The Peaceful Side of the Smoky Mountains,” Townsend is the least-crowded entrance into the national park. Even if you don’t ever actually cross into the park, the views from Townsend where the Cumberland Plateau meets the Tennessee Valley and the Smokies is breathtaking.

Flickr/HD_Vision
Flickr/HD_Vision
Flickr/HD_Vision

Twin Falls

Rock Island
Rock Island was created when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Caney Fork River in the early 20th century to help provide hydroelectric power to Nashville. The resulting reservoir has steep wooded banks leading down to the lake with lots of generations-old vacation homes taking full advantage of floating boat docks and water activities. Twin Falls is a striking cascade near the powerhouse where water flows out of an underground cave before falling 80ft into a pool below.

Flickr/Matthew Paulson
Flickr/Matthew Paulson
Flickr/Matthew Paulson

Cades Cove
Cades Cove

Sometimes the valley can be just as beautiful as the mountains, and Cades Coves at the foothills of the Smokies is an excellent example. An 11-mile one-way loop circles the cove offering the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty and abundant wildlife of the verdant valley without ever leaving the comfort of your car. There are also some cool historical sites along the loop, including three churches, a working grist mill, and other restored centuries-old structures. Grab a self-guided tour booklet at the entrance and take a drive through history.

Flickr/L P
Flickr/L P
Flickr/L P

Crystal Shrine Grotto

Memphis
A true oddity, Crystal Shrine Grotto is the largest man-made crystal cavern in the world. Crafted in the 1930s by artist Dionicio Rodriguez (a self-taught sculptor from Mexico), Crystal Shrine is a sort-of-kitschy/sort-of-beautiful retelling of scenes from the Bible illustrated in sculptures made using rock quartz crystal and semiprecious stones. Once you pass through the hole in a large concrete stump, you’ll be entering into a magical world.

Flickr/J. P. Lu
Flickr/J. P. Lu
Flickr/J. P. Lu

Tellico Plains

Tellico Plains
Located where the Tellico River emerges from the Appalachian Mountains, Tellico Plains is a prototypical sleepy little mountain town with picturesque landscapes of rolling fields, ancient barns down below, and spectacular mountain views looming from above. With easy access to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest nearby, Tellico Plains is a lovely home base for a weekend of outdoor adventures.

Flickr/Tim Moore
Flickr/Tim Moore
Flickr/Tim Moore

Natchez Trace Parkway

Fly
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile-long drive from Nashville to Natchez, MS. Although it’s slow going thanks to a 55 mph speed limit, it’s worth taking your time to enjoy the pastoral scenery and historical markers along the way that trace the history of the original inhabitants and settlers of the region. Particularly striking is the concrete double arch bridge across Highway 96 near Fly close to the northern terminus of the parkway. Acrophobics might want to close their eyes when crossing. (But not if you’re driving‚Ķ)

Flickr/Brent Moore
Flickr/Brent Moore
Flickr/Brent Moore

Falls Mill

Belvidere
Although the latest round of health regulations forced the 140-plus-year-old mill to cease commercial operations, the waterwheel is still turning at this historic facility near Belvidere. In addition to a bed and breakfast and a museum of antique, water-powered machinery and even a dog-powered butter churn, Falls Mill is worth a visit just to sit in the placid picnic grounds along the creek to listen to the stream cascading across the wheel and into the pool below. Spring foliage is particularly dramatic in the woods surrounding the mill.

Chris Chamberlain is a Nashville writer — follow him on Twitter at¬†@CeeElCee.

Related