Memphis is where you go to celebrate everything Elvis. Sun Studio is where Presley got his start as the King of Rock'n'Roll, and Graceland is a few miles south of downtown. But other styles of music — the blues and soul — also have deep roots in this city on the Mississippi River, with legendary Beale Street and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music among the must-sees for any visitor.
GETTING AROUND: Memphis' vintage trolley system is a fun and cheap way to see the city and visit the sights. Take the 2.5-mile Riverfront Loop Trolley to get a feel for the scope of mighty Mississippi River, or the Main Street Trolley to get to and from the Beale Street entertainment district. The base fare is $1, but all-day passes can be had for $3.50 and three-day passes for $8. Trolleys run until 11 p.m. on weeknights, and until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, http://www.matatransit.com/trolleyService.aspx.
ACCOMMODATIONS: You don't have to stay at the posh Peabody, http://www.peabodymemphis.com, to watch its famous ducks being marched to and from the hotel's lobby fountain. The spectacle is free for all to see at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day.
Cheaper accommodations can be had at downtown hotels like the Holiday Inn Select, Sleep Inn or SpringHill Suites, and staying in town offers the opportunity to explore most attractions on foot or by trolley. Advance booking is recommended because hotels fill up quickly during festivals like Memphis in May and during major conventions; http://www.memphistravel.com/lodging.
FOOD: It may not be the cheapest meal in town, but the $17.50 full order of ribs at the Rendezvous, Memphis' leading barbecue restaurant at 52 S. Second St., is so filling you may be able to skip a meal, http://www.hogsfly.com/TheRestaurant.php.
For cheaper eats, keep an eye out for restaurants offering "soul" anything, like the sublime $5 soul burger ($6 after 6 p.m.) at Ernestine and Hazel's, 531 South Main St. Check out the upstairs bar area, which once served as a flophouse, and the jukebox featuring some of the city's best music; open 11 a.m.-3:30 a.m. all week.
CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY: Ernestine and Hazel's is about a block away from the National Civil Rights Museum, which is located in the former Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968; http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org. Admission is $13 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, children 4-17, $9.50.
NIGHTLIFE: Beale Street in the early 1900s became a freewheeling home to musicians, gamblers and prostitutes. Nightclubs on the strip hosted such entertainers such as W.C. Handy, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and "Beale Street Blues Boy" King, a nickname that was later shortened to B.B. King.
By the 1970s, political and social shifts turned the area into a run-down cluster of empty buildings. But that began to change in the 1980s and today Beale Street's array of bars, restaurants and shops makes it one of Memphis' major tourist attractions. Cover charges for live music are often $5 or less (and several are free); http://www.bealestreet.com.
EVERYTHING ELVIS: Sun Studio, where Elvis got his start, can be reached via the Orleans Station on the Madison Avenue Trolley. The little recording studio that also made Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash famous, is about two blocks south of the station at 706 Union Ave., http://www.sunstudio.com. Adult tours are $12; children 5-11 are free; children under 5 are not admitted.
The studio also offers a free shuttle service to and from Elvis' home Graceland about nine miles south of downtown, http://www.elvis.com/graceland. Admissions to Graceland is $28. Save some money on Elvis souvenirs by buying them from numerous outside vendors.
STAX: The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a few minutes' drive from Beale Street. The legendary Stax Records label produced a string of hits in the 1960s and early '70s, including Sam and Dave's "Soul Man," Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" and Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Among the museum's highlights is Hayes' gold-plated Cadillac slowly rotating while the late singer talks about what it was like to return to his humble roots amid such opulence. Admission is $12, and the museum is closed Mondays between November and March, http://www.soulsvilleusa.com.
MEMPHIS IN MAY: Plan ahead and visit for the Memphis in May International Festival next spring. The monthlong event features dozens of musical acts, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Beale Street Musica Festival. Musical performances this year included an eclectic mix ranging from James Taylor to Memphis' own Three 6 Mafia. A one-day ticket to the barbecue competition cost $8, while a one-night ticket to the music festival cost $28.50 (three-day pass was $63.50). Details at: http://www.memphisinmay.org.
MYSTERY TRAIN: Want to get a feel for the grittier side of Memphis before you visit? Buy or rent "Mystery Train," a 1989 Jim Jaramusch film that tracks three parallel stories on a single night in Memphis. The movie features singer Screamin' Jay Hawkins as a desk clerk at a seedy hotel where the three plots meet, and former Clash singer Joe Strummer, who bristles at being given the nickname Elvis.