Memphis, Tennessee has so much to see that it’s easy to spend your trip within the city limits. But drive less than an hour outside of town and you’ll have a completely different experience. There are so many places to see in less than two hours, but we’ve included a few of our favorites. It’s easy to pick up your rental car downtown or at the airport and return to your hotel in the evening.
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Distance from Memphis: 1 hour
Brownsville isn’t exactly on most travelers radar, but music fans should detour north for one specific attraction. The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center includes the Tina Turner Museum, which is located in the restored Flagg Grove School that the singer born Anna Mae Bullock attended. The museum has a collection of her famous costumes, her high school yearbook, and exhibits on African-American life in the 1940s. It’s free to visit but guided tours charge admission. The area also has the West Tennessee Cotton Museum, the West Tennessee Music Museum, and the Hatchie River Museum. The Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge has over 11,000 acres of birds and other animals. Downtown Brownsville has a number of restaurants like Helen’s Bar-B-Q, ZZs, and El Ranchitos.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Distance from Memphis: 2 hours
Cross the bridge over the river and you’re in Arkansas. Visit the capital city of Little Rock, which is home to presidential landmarks like the Clinton Presidential Library. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is an important landmark on the Civil Rights Trail. The quirky Esse Purse Museum is more than just a fashion collection but showcases women’s history throughout the years. The Museum of Discovery is the state’s kid-friendly science museum. Adults can tour the praised Rock Town Distillery, known for its whiskey, or explore the trails of Pinnacle Mountain State Park. On the way to Little Rock from Memphis, travelers can detour to Dyess, home to Johnny Cash‘s childhood home in the Arkansas Delta.
Little Rock has an incredible food scene with influences from around the globe. Brave New Restaurant, The Root Cafe, and Table 28 are three of the city’s best. But there are also casual dining options like barbecue at Platnum BBQ.
Distance from Memphis: 1 hour 30 minutes
Clarksdale is the heart of the Mississippi Delta, also known as “The Crossroads” for its connections to blues music. Visit the Delta Blues Museum to learn about the town’s blues history and see exhibits on important artists from the area. Then go to one of the many music venues around town, including Hambone Gallery and Ground Zero Blues Club. Detour to Tunica to the Gateway to the Blues Museum, to Indianola to the BB King Museum, or to Cleveland to the Grammy Museum.
Abe’s Bar-B-Q is known for its barbecue as well as tamales. Dutch Oven is an Amish bakery with pastries and sandwiches. Hick’s Famous Hot Tamales is another favorite outside of town for its hot tamales and catfish.
Distance from Memphis: 1 hour 20 minutes
Memphis locals flock to Oxford on the University of Mississippi’s game days. But visitors year-round can see Rowan Oak, the former home of author William Faulkner. It’s one of three facilities run by the Buie-Skipwith Museum, including art collections and additional historic houses. Double-decker bus tours are operated during game weekends, providing information on the city’s past.
Oxford is a foodie’s town thanks to chefs like John Currence. Start the day at Big Bad Breakfast, a local favorite, and save room for dinner at his other restaurants City Grocery and Snackbar. Taylor Grocery is a former grocery store that offers fried catfish, BYO alcohol, and live music.
Distance from Memphis: 1 hour 40 minutes
Most travelers come to Tupelo to see the childhood home of Elvis Presley. The shotgun cabin has been kept very much the same as it was when he lived there with his parents. An adjoining museum includes artifacts from his career. The town is also close to a Civil War battlefield and the official visitor’s center of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Tupelo has a number of restaurants including the popular Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, Park Heights Restaurant, and Forklift Restaurant. Eat in Elvis’ booth at Johnnie’s Drive In, where he enjoyed “slug burgers,” or enjoy donuts and tamales at Scarlet’s Donuts.