With its rich cultural history and scenic location along the majestic Mississippi River, Memphis, Tennessee is an exciting family-friendly destination. Aside from the notable attractions such as Elvis Presley’s Graceland and the iconic Beale Street, the city features many fascinating, yet low-key points of interest to discover. When you stay at one of numerous Memphis vacation rentals, you’re in proximity to pristine gardens, unique museums, picturesque hiking trails, and much more. Here are the top hidden gems in the city of Memphis.
1. Memphis Botanic Garden
The lovely Memphis Botanic Garden lies in the center of Audubon Park east of downtown Memphis. The 96-acre garden features walking trails through 31 specialty gardens, including a butterfly garden, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, a conifer garden, and a sculpture garden. Of particular interest to families is My Big Backyard, a special children’s garden with a tree house, a tunnel maze, toys, a mud pie making station, and interactive planting demonstrations. When you’re hungry, enjoy sandwiches, soup, salads, and dessert at Fratelli’s Cafe, which sits in a scenic location between the sculpture garden and water garden.
2. National Civil Rights Museum
Located at the former Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, the National Civil Rights Museum features exhibits and memorabilia on the life of Dr. King and the history of the civil rights movement. Numerous films, oral accounts, interactive media, and special speakers highlight the Jim Crow era, student sit-ins, Montgomery bus boycott, freedom rides, and other germinal events. Although the Lorraine Motel comprises the heart of the museum, the complex spreads out into several other nearby buildings.
3. Mud Island River Park
Mud Island River Park sits on Mud Island, which is actually a peninsula that lies about a mile across Wolf River Harbor from downtown Memphis. A monorail takes you over the harbor to the park. The park’s amazing River Walk is a unique five-block long replica of the 1,000-mile stretch of the lower Mississippi River that maps major cities, bridges, watersheds, and historic events. At the end of the map, where the river supposedly empties into the Gulf of Mexico, is a one-acre enclosure where visitors enjoy rides on peddle boats. Near the park is the Mississippi River Museum, which highlights the history of the river region and includes a full-size replica of a steamboat.
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4. Belz Museum
The little-known Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, also known as the Jade Museum, houses the private art collection of the hotel-owning Belz family. The displays include many items crafted from jade, ivory, tiger’s eye, and other precious stones. The museum is renowned for its selection of pieces from the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from the 17th to the 20th century. The collection also features Chinese paintings, puzzle balls, puppets, vases, and other works of art. In another gallery is a selection of contemporary works from Israeli artists.
5. Shelby Farms Greenline
The 4,500-acre expanse of Shelby Farms in the midst of Memphis comprises one of the largest urban parks in the United States, and its Greenline is a hiking and cycling trail that runs for over 10 miles of its length. At the eastern end, the Greenline takes you on a wooden bridge over the Wolf River, and several lookout points allow you to stop and observe turtles, snakes, and waterfowl in the river. Other wildlife you may spot along the way include deer and beavers. On some trails in Shelby Farms Park horseback riding is allowed, and horses are available to rent.
6. Crystal Shrine Grotto
Built in the 1930s, the Crystal Shrine Grotto lies within Memorial Park Cemetery near vacation rentals in eastern Memphis. It consists of a 60-foot-deep cave lined with dazzling quartz crystals. Shrines around the walls feature sculpture figures set in Biblical scenes such as the nativity, the last supper, and the resurrection. Outside the cave is a garden of meditation with a wishing well, a fountain of youth, a pond, and a hollow tree large enough to stand in. Entrancing harp music plays as you explore the grounds and the grotto.
7. Stax Museum
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music sits in an unassuming building that used to house Stax Records southeast of downtown Memphis. The museum features musical instruments, photographs, videos, and other memorabilia that trace the history of soul music. A full-sized Mississippi delta gospel church and the dance floor from the Soul Train TV show are among the exhibits. One of the highlights is Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac El Dorado. This amazing vehicle has a television, fur-lined interior, refrigerated bar, gold-trimmed exterior, and gold windshield wipers.
The Chucalissa Indian Village is an archeological site that’s part of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in southwestern Memphis. Run by the University of Memphis, the site includes a prehistoric Native American mound complex, exhibits on the prehistory and history of the region, and an interactive archeology laboratory. Surrounding the museum is a park with an arboretum and a nature trail.
9. Old Forest Arboretum
The Old Forest Arboretum is in the midst of Overton Park northeast of downtown Memphis. Designated as a Tennessee State Natural Area, the park features pleasant walking trails winding through stands of impressively large trees, many of which have markers identifying their species. Near the arboretum are picnic areas, playgrounds, a small lake, and the Memphis Zoo.
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