Stop #2 on our adventure to Austin was Memphis, where we explored bbq, blues, history, architecture, running trails, and beer!
Tom Sawyer’s RV Park appealed to us for two reasons: it’s the closest we found online to downtown Memphis (we did drive by a closer one in West Memphis with far less character), and from your riverfront site you can watch the traffic chugging up and down the busy shipping lanes of the Mississippi. We loved the sights and sounds of the boats at our Sault Ste Marie campground, so were particularly excited about our front-row seat on the Mississippi. Unfortunately, fog foiled most of our viewing plans, but we did get a break for a few hours to enjoy the river, and overall we really liked the campground, which was quiet and sparsely populated in January. Note: if you’re planning a stay at Tom Sawyer’s, keep an eye on the weather, as any flooding of the Mississippi will affect the campground.
[We visited again in 2020 and all we did was hang out at the awesome campground!]
There are certain things this town is known for: blues, BBQ, and history; and there are certain things these AirstreamDog travelers are known for: running (or hiking) and drinking beer. We sampled a little from of all those categories on this trip.
Those in the know would recommend avoiding the Beale Street clubs for an authentic blues experience, but one item on our tourist to-do list was to see the spectacle of Beale Street, which was a little subdued just after New Year’s. BB King’s Blues Club, with live music every night, showed up on several of the “best of” lists we checked. We ate dinner at a table near the stage and enjoyed the band–excellent musicians playing kind of entry-level blues, songs everyone has heard before (think: Otis Redding, the Temptations, and of course BB King).
I don’t eat bbq, but J does. Boy, does he. Just wait until we get to Austin. He had brisket at BB King’s and says “it was pretty good. Wasn’t that great.”
But the next day we went to Gus’s Fried Chicken, and J was like a pig in slop eating his fried chicken plate. So if you’re into fried chicken, apparently Gus’s is the place to go.
The #1 attraction in Memphis is the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. We were very disappointed that the museum was closed for the holidays both days we were in Memphis; it’s supposed to be incredibly moving and informative.
It was pretty rainy while we were in Memphis, but we were able to get in about half of an architectural walking tour of downtown before taking cover.
I’d heard of the grand old Peabody Hotel before (possibly from a Grisham book?) and thought it would be a classy, historical place for a cocktail. It turned out not to be ideal for that, but when poking around the lobby we learned about the Peabody Ducks. Five ducks live in posh quarters on the roof of the hotel and parade to the lobby fountain twice a day for a snack. I had to see this. The next day we got into town a bit too late for the parade, but I got to see the ducks chilling in the fountain! So wonderfully random.
Googling around, I found lots of running options in Memphis; here’s a good list. We ended up doing two runs while in town, and in the interest of time, stuck close to home.
Bugsy and I ran over the Mississippi on the Big River Crossing, which I knew I had to do since we were denied our Mississippi crossing on the non-dog-friendly (dog-unfriendly?) Big Four Bridge in Louisville. On our run, the views were obscured by fog, but we returned as a family the next day in the brief sunshine. Great views, well-made path.
The parking area at the foot of the bridge on the Arkansas side is a little sketchy, but it has plenty of space and is more convenient to the campground than the Memphis side (the Big River website’s directions to the lot were incorrect; go here instead). The running path is crowded with humans and canines, so try to avoid weekends if you have a skittish dog, like I do. There’s a running path along the river on the Memphis side, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to it safely from the bridge. On the Arkansas side of the river the trail continues for many miles, but it seems pretty desolate over there, and I wouldn’t recommend running that direction to solo women.
On Day 2, we ran directly from the Airstream. About a mile from the campground you can pick up the Big River Trail, a flat, soft surface trail that runs along the Mississippi River levee system. It starts as the desolate trail I mentioned above on the Arkansas side of the Big River Crossing and goes for 70 miles, as part of a future trail lining the ENTIRE Mississippi. Amazing. We couldn’t see the river from the portion we ran, but the well-groomed trail made for an enjoyable run–that I still wouldn’t recommend for a solo woman.
How did this post get so long?
We visited one brewery in Memphis: Wiseacre Brewing. The beer–we tried the pilsener, pale ale, IPA, and DIPA–was solid (not literally). We liked the vibe in the taproom, but were dismayed that they don’t offer tasting flights.
We did a bit of non-beer drinking, too. Loflin Yard, in the neighborhood at the Memphis end of the Big River Crossing, serves creative cocktails in a really interesting collection of indoor and outdoor spaces. We were too late for food, but the menu looked appetizing, and it was too cold to sit outside, but the yard is big and festive and would be especially welcoming when they have live music.
For our requisite coffee/tea/wifi outing, I checked a list of the best coffee shops in Memphis, and we settled on Overlands in the hip Cooper-Young neighborhood. The neighborhoods outside downtown seem to have more character than downtown, which is mostly office buildings and touristy areas, and if we go back to Memphis, we will focus our exploration in these smaller pockets of urban adventure. Unless anyone disagrees… what do you think?