On January 8, Elvis Presley would turn 79, and I celebrated his birthday early with a trip to the King of Rock and Roll’s hometown. Elvis’ Graceland is the third most visited private home in the United States, after the White House and the Biltmore Estate. While the mansion felt smaller to me than I’d expected, that may have been because of the crowd, or because the second floor is off limits to the public.
The stately columns at the entrance give way to 1970s décor that features smoked mirrors, multiple TVs, an ugly kitchen, and carpet on the ceiling. Other buildings on the estate house costumes, movie posters, walls of gold records, and other memorabilia. The swimming pool is surprisingly small, and Lisa Marie’s swing set is pretty much like the one I had in my backyard as a kid.
But we didn’t have cars like his. Our station wagon could never compare to his collection of cars including several Cadillacs, a Rolls Royce, BMW, and his prized Stutz Blackhawk. This passion for cars and motorcycles also extended to airplanes. The Lisa Marie jet featured a sleeping area, stereo systems, dining table, couches, and nearly every comfort of home for traveling in the air.
Elvis’ Automobile Museum and the tour of the Custom Airplanes were part of the Platinum tour tickets, an upgrade from just the Mansion tour. There’s also a VIP tour, and that includes Front of the Line Mansion Access and return trips to the mansion. However, no matter which tour visitors choose, children 6 and younger are free.
Food choices are limited at Graceland. We ate at Rockabilly’s Diner where I ordered an Elvis favorite, a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich. I wouldn’t recommend it. However, I definitely recommend indulging in Memphis’ other dining options. At the Arcade Restaurant, diners can sit in the very booth Elvis considered his favorite, and order dishes ranging from sweet potato pancakes (my choice—delicious) to pesto, feta, and walnut pizza. However, Memphis is known for its barbecue, and I now crave the smoked chicken that I enjoyed the night we took in the music and entertainers on Beale Street.
Beale Street was a short walk from our luxurious accommodations at the historic Peabody Hotel. Music from the grand piano fills the elegant art deco lobby, but stops everyday, at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the duck march. Ducks, real ducks, live at the Peabody, and they take the elevator from the roof to the fountain, and back, twice everyday to the delight of cheering crowds.
Far more animals entertain visitors at the Memphis Zoo. Recently ranked among the top ten zoos in the country, the Memphis Zoo is one of only four in the U.S. to house pandas. When we visited, the pandas just slept, but the orangutans played hide and seek with a blanket and displayed their athletic prowess swinging from vines and playing among the trees.
A more somber, but historically important, Memphis attraction honors the other icon celebrated this month, Martin Luther King, Jr. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Loraine Hotel, memorializes the place where this American hero was assassinated. We visited at the start of renovations, and saw films, exhibits, and investigation materials of the James Earl Ray case, including the actual rooming house bathroom where Ray took aim. Even more powerful, we had the opportunity to stand on the second-floor balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel where King was shot. This stirring experience is available only during the museum’s renovations, and will end February 2.
Where to Go
3734 Elvis Presley Blvd.,
Memphis, TN 38116
901-332-3322 • elvis.com
149 Union Ave., Memphis, TN 38103
866-365-9867 • peabodymemphis.com
2000 Galloway Ave., Memphis, TN 38112
901-333-6500 • memphiszoo.org
National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry St., Memphis, TN 38103
901-521-9699 • civilrightsmuseum.org