South Main Historic District, Memphis: What to See & Do + Where to Eat, Drink & Stay

Want to make the most of your Memphis adventure? Then, be sure to carve out plenty of time to take in the splendors of the South Main Historic District. Spanning one square mile just south of legendary Beale Street, this small neighborhood punches far above its weight for tourists visiting Memphis.

Brimming with attractions, the South Main Historic District is home to must-see sites like the National Civil Rights Museum and the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. It’s also packed with early-1900s warehouses that have been transformed into vintage boutiques, buzzing eateries, and cool cocktail spots where you can kick back at the end of the day.

Explore the rich history of the Memphis Sound at the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. Browse for fresh meal fixin’s at the fabulous Farmers Market. Make a meal of cultural delights in the South Main Arts District.

Ready to experience Memphis to the max? The sky’s the limit with this complete guide to Memphis’s South Main Historic District, including what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay!

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What to see & do

National Civil Rights Museum

If you want to delve into the history of the struggle for social justice in America, your starting point has to be the National Civil Rights Museum.

The site of the former Lorraine Motel, time stood still here on April 4, 1968, with the assassination of Martin Luther King. That shattering event sparked the creation of what is now a world-renowned museum dedicated to chronicling the history of the civil rights movement.

One of Memphis’s must-see tourist destinations, the National Civil Rights Museum takes visitors on an unforgettable journey. A celebration of Martin Luther King’s legacy, this historic site is an immersive experience that tracks the evolution of the civil rights movement from the 1600s to the present day.

National Civil Rights Museum

Discover profiles of historical figures and get compelling glimpses into history-making moments. Learn about the movement’s key players and events, including the Freedom Rider activists, the widespread Student Sit-Ins of the 1960s, and the Black Power counterculture.

Today, the National Civil Rights Museum remains a vibrant community hub and a catalyst for social change, shedding light on social rights issues around the world. Learn about the movement’s powerful cultural impact. Absorb thought-provoking lectures by civil rights leaders working to keep Martin Luther King’s vision alive.

Blues Hall of Fame Museum

Are you hearing the siren call of the Memphis Sound? Give in and take a deep dive into the rich history of those timeless tunes at the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, one of the must-see Memphis museums. Delve deep into a treasury of archives, photos, film, and artifacts celebrating the legacy and cultural impact of this world-changing musical art form.

Step into the lobby of the Blues Hall of Fame Museum and take in the setting: a pure white palette embellished by polished steel and reclaimed wood. It’s a striking reflection of the evolution of the Blues from the cotton fields to the 21st-century stage.

Blues Hall of Fame Museum

Stroll the hallway and take in a stunning collection of vintage guitars, including a gorgeous black-lacquered, gold-plated number that belonged to B.B. King. Explore a myriad of galleries along the way, each of them showcasing the instruments, albums, show posters, and clothing of Blues legends.

Ready for an immersive experience? Stop off at the interactive exhibits, and with a mere touch, you can open up a treasury of films, photos, texts, and music that will take you deep into the heart of the soulful Memphis Sound.

Memphis Farmers Market

Want to see where Memphians like to spend their Saturday mornings? Head over to the Memphis Farmers Market, and you’ll find out. Set in the historic Central Pavilion on Main Street, this lively weekly market is “ripe in the heart of Downtown Memphis.” Open every Saturday from 8 am to 1 pm from April to October, this place is a true seasonal treat!

Memphis Farmers Market

With a colorful menu of locally sourced produce, crafts, and garden art, it’s no surprise that the Memphis Farmers Market is a popular local hang. Browse this bustling site and choose from a colorful menu of locally sourced produce, crafts, and garden art. Goodies are aplenty here, including fresh-from-the-field produce, flowers, coffee, seafood, and prepared foods – all served up with a hefty shot of live music.

Want to fuel up at your leisure? Snag a table and savor some fresh coffee, baked goods, or a thirst-quenching smoothie. Or hit the food trucks for some tasty Tandoori or breakfast burritos so you can nosh on the go.

South Main Arts District

If you want to experience the hub of the Memphis renaissance, make your way to the South Main Arts District. Set along South Main Street, this neighborhood was at the forefront of South Main’s transformation in the 1990s—and the creative vibe is everywhere.

Abandoned warehouses have found new life as hip restaurants and vibrant art galleries that line the retro trolley car line along South Main Street. You’ll discover an intriguing blend of the old and the new in the South Main Arts District. Some of the city’s finest examples of historic architecture sit alongside sleek, repurposed structures that today house trendy shops, celebrated chef-owned restaurants, and chill cocktail bars.

The city’s artistic flair is everywhere in the South Main Arts District. Stroll the street and treat yourself to the captivating sight of vivid murals and mosaics around every corner. Explore a bevy of creative showcases, including displays of global art at the Art Village Gallery or the folk-art-infused Edge Gallery.

Hop on the trolley to the historic Arcade restaurant at the corner of South Main and G.E. Patterson. Savor the ambiance of the oldest coffee shop in Memphis. Check the vibe: this place was an Elvis fav!

Historical Haunts of Memphis

Are you up for a spectral experience? Brace yourself for some ghostly surprises with a tour of the Historical Haunts of Memphis. Created by paranormal investigators, this otherworldly attraction will have you oohing and awing—and wondering what’s coming next!

Your Historical Haunts of Memphis tour guide will regale you with slices of dark local history, tales of the paranormal, and good old-fashioned ghost stories. Pack a camera, and keep your eyes and ears wide open as you explore some of the spookiest sites on the Mississippi River.

Hop aboard the Haunted Memphis Bus Tour for a spirited sortie. Make stops along the way at haunted habitats like Court Square and the infamous Ernestine and Hazels, a former bawdyhouse where it’s said the jukebox is driven by ghosts. Test your ghostbusting savvy using specialized equipment to detect paranormal activity.

If you dare, make a devilish night of it with The Haunted Pub Crawl. Just the thing to take the edge off because you’re going to be all shook up!

Where to eat & drink

If you want to really “do” Memphis, you have to taste it – and there’s no better place to start than in the South Main Historic District. This neighborhood is home to many of the city’s all-time favorite eateries—so dig in!

Your Memphis culinary experience just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. For over 60 years, this cozy little hole in the wall has served up spicy fried chicken that’s made it the National Fried Chicken Festival champ. Dig into a plateful of golden-brown goodness, sluice it down with sweet tea or a “big bottle” of beer, and finish off with a slice of fresh-made peanut butter pie –and you’ve got yourself a meal!

When in Memphis, anytime is BBQ time—and the reigning champion in this category is South Main’s Central BBQ. Marinated for 24 hours and slow-smoked over hickory, Central BBQ’s meat dishes are fall-off-the-bone tender. Take your pick from a full range of BBQ options like brisket, ribs, or meaty wings. Or venture into new territory with their famous barbecue nachos – marinated slow-smoked pulled pork or chicken loaded onto a bed of tortilla chips.

Craving some Italian zest? For a Memphis meal with a Mediterranean flavor, slip into Catherine & Mary’s. Created by James Beard Award-nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, this stylish, industrial-chic eatery elevates “Italian Grandmother” cooking to an art. Savor mouthwatering Tuscan and Sicilian dishes with a modern twist, and pair your meal with your pick from C & M’s expansive list of wines and curated cocktails.

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken

If you’re up for food and refreshments that pack a punch, take a seat at SOB (South of Beale) Downtown. Set on South Main Street, this upscale gastropub invites guests to “eat and sip adventurously.” (And note: They offer vegetarian and gluten-free eats). When it comes to libations, you’ll be spoiled for choice with SOB’s generous wine, beer, and craft cocktail offerings. Pair your selection with tasty edibles ranging from Philly cheesesteak egg rolls to chickpea burgers.

Soak up some history while you sip some suds at The Green Beetle. Created in 1939, this is Memphis’s oldest tavern and a city landmark. Serving up Southern-influenced comfort food and frosty brews, this down-home spot has a honky-tonk vibe that has drawn the likes of Elvis and Hank Williams Sr. For great eats, you can’t beat the half-pound Beetle Burger and the Green Beetle (aka Key Lime) Cake.

Looking for a chill sipping spot with a vintage vibe? Then, locomote along to Eight & Sand. Set inside the converted 1914 railroad hub that was part of downtown Memphis’ Central Station, this one-of-a-kind pub spins its retro train theme with a modern twist. It’s a multi-tasker—home to live DJs, a listening room, and an amazing Memphis-flavored vinyl collection. Savor a fine craft cocktail and take in a whole new spin on the Memphis Sound.

Where to stay

As the city’s vibrant cultural hub, the South Main Historic District is one of the most popular places to stay in Memphis. Whether your tastes run to the trendy or the traditional, you’re guaranteed to be just minutes away from the city’s top attractions.

The Rambler

The Rambler

Looking for a lofty place to roost? Nestle in at The Rambler, a trendy boutique hotel in the heart of the South Main Arts District. Experience the perfect combination of hotel and apartment living in one of their high-end, loft-style units. Dating back to the 1920s, this renovated charmer exudes a vintage vibe with wooden beams, exposed brick walls, and vaulted ceilings. After a day of rambling, whip up a meal in your fully-equipped kitchen. Or head to the hotel’s pool and patio to kick back.

ARRIVE

ARRIVE Memphis

Stay in the South Main Arts District in style and enjoy a load of great amenities at ARRIVE Memphis. Comfortable, contemporary rooms feature natural light, Egyptian cotton linens, marble bathrooms, and AppleTVs. Enjoy edible treats from Hustle & Dough, the in-house bakery. If you’re in the mood for libations, savor a craft cocktail at the lobby bar. Up for a game? Head downstairs to the Longshot lounge, where you can hit the shuffleboard while quaffing a brew.

The Central Station Curio Collection by Hilton

The Central Station Memphis, Curio Collection By Hilton

If you’re looking for a splurge-worthy spot to settle, you’ll want to hunker down in The Central Station Memphis, Curio Collection By Hilton. This 123-room boutique hotel takes pride of place in Memphis’ historic renovated Central Station. Stretch out in a spacious guest room or suite and take in beautiful views of the Mississippi River through soaring windows. Treat yourself to upscale amenities, including curated playlists, a Keurig coffee maker, 50” HDTV, and in-room dining.

Treksplorer

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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