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Beyond Beale Street: 5 museums to visit in Memphis, TN

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There are more things to do than not to do in Memphis, Tennessee. With it being my first visit, my goal was to focus on all things cultural and historical. I also visited during Juneteenth weekend so felt it was important soak in as much about the Black/African-American culture as possible during my 2.5-day stay.

Here’s a list of the five Memphis museums I visited and highly recommend as things to do beyond Beale Street:

#1 Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum: The museum walks you through the history of rock and soul music and the eras surrounding it. Created by the Smithsonian Institution, you can truly understand how history influenced the music and the music influenced history.

My favorite highlights:

  • An audio guide providing historical narratives and music

  • Comprehensive experience that showcases Memphis music

  • Artifacts from the social and revolutionary times

Address: The museum is located at the FedEx Forum, home of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies – 191 Beale Street.

Click here to learn more about the museum.

#2 Stax Museum of American Soul Music: As one of the few existing soul museums, it details the history of soul music, Stax records and artists from other labels as well. Notable Stax artists included Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Booker T & the M.G.’s, Sam & Dave and many more. Stax is also a part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

My favorite highlights:

  • Authentic Mississippi church from the early 1900s

  • Isaac Hayes’ 1972 Cadillac El Dorado which includes a mini-bar, TV, gold trim and white fur carpet

  • Recreation one of Stax’s recording studios

  • Hall of records

Address: The museum is located at the original home of Stax Records - 926 East McLemore Avenue.

Click here to learn more about the museum.

#3 Sun Studio aka “The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll: This is where Rocket 88, coined as the first rock ‘n’ roll song, was recorded by Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm (credited to Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats). However, it is even better known as the home of B.B. King and where Elvis Presley started his career with a $3.98 recording. The studio museum is super small and antiquated but jam-packed with experience and feeling of greatness within.

My favorite highlights:

  • Guided tour experience, including the story of the Million Dollar Quartet

  • The original recording studio

  • Artifacts and memorabilia from musical legends

  • Opportunity to touch and pose with the actual vocal microphone used by the recording artists

Address: The museum is located at the original location of Memphis Recording Services and Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue.

Click here to learn more about Sun Studio.

#4 Edge Motor Museum: The museum details the evolution of the American sports car and the cultural, economic, political and technological trends surrounding the industry. It also showcases restored cars from post-war to the 1970s. The museum is super simple. You will gain the most of your experience from the writings on the wall so encourage you to take the time to read through. It took me about 30-35 minutes to read through the facts and soak in my learnings.

A few fun facts I learned:

  • From the early 1950s to early 1960s, car radios were required to have two triangles on the dial to represent stations 640 and 1240 AM. These stations were used to warn civilians of a nuclear attack. They were later replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System.

  • Post-war, many towns were built in a grid format. One block was typically 1/8 of a mile. There was a stoplight every two blocks or 1/4 of a mile. Drag racers would race from one stop light to another. This was how the quarter-mile race was born.

  • Cars were not required to have seatbelts, side view mirrors, etc. until 1966 with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety act of 1966.

Hideaway photo op: Turn left at the end of the history wall for an instagrammable spot to pose with a license plate from your state.

Address: The museum is located at 645 Marshall Avenue – just up the block from Sun Studio.

Click here to learn more about the auto museum.

#5 National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) at the Lorraine Motel: I saved the best for last - the site of where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. As a stop on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, this is certainly a place where you can feel the impacts of the Civil Rights movement.

My favorite highlights:

  • Artifacts from the civil rights movement

  • Immersive experience with exhibits and 3D figures you can pose with, such as a sit-in counter, jail cell and segregated bus

  • Room 306, where Dr. King spent his final hours, and the adjacent room in their exact state

Free visits:

  • Tennessee residents with state-issued ID may visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing, except holidays and special occasions. Not applicable for tour groups and operators.

  • Active US Military Members with ID may visit the museum for free. There is a discounted prices for military dependents

  • Bank of America, Merrill or Bank of America Private Bank customers receive free admission on Museums On Us days (Sundays only).

Address: The museum is located in downtown Memphis at 450 Mulberry Street.

Click here to learn more about NCRM.

All of these museums have a gift shop. I picked up a really cool patch and a new lapel pin from Stax to add to my travel souvenir collection.

I really hope you find this download of my visit useful. I plan to return to Memphis again soon to experience more of the social life and amazing food!

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