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Tennessee See And Do

Beale Street
Memphis , Tennessee

New Orleans has Bourbon Street; Memphis has club- and bar-lined Beale—"The Home of the Blues." Cornetist and Beale Street resident W.C. Handy published the first Blues song, "Memphis Blues," here in 1912; his house is now the W.C. Handy Home and Museum (352 Beale St.; 901-527-3427; closed Sun and Mon).

Elvis, in his adolescence, revolved through the clubs here, infusing himself with the ingredients he would later use to shape rock 'n' roll at Sun Studio, just a few blocks away. When shopping on Beale, the King patronized an establishment that has become the oldest continually operating shop in Memphis: A. Schwab Dry Goods Store. Opened in 1876, it serves customers with the motto "If you can't find it at A. Schwab's, you're better off without it"—the wares range from penny candy to overalls to souvenirs (163 Beale St.; 901-523-9782; closed Sun).

To experience the bluesy heart of Memphis nightlife, head for Beale on a Saturday night. For about $12, you can grab a wristband in lieu of paying individual cover charges and amble to and from participating clubs (Fridays and Saturdays only). Live music hot spots on Beale include B.B. King's, where the "Queen of Beale Street," Ruby Wilson, reigns many a weekend (143 Beale St.; 901-524-5464;; Rum Boogie Café, which has the best house band in town, led by soulful James Govan (143 Beale St.; 901-528-0150;; and the New Daisy Theater, a former movie house that now hosts national acts (330 Beale St.; 901-525-8979; In late spring, the Beale Street Music Festival showcases dozens of renowned musicians, blues and otherwise, at Tom Lee Park, where Beale terminates at the Great Mississip'.

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Belle Meade Plantation
5025 Harding Road
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 800 270 3991 (toll-free)
Tel: 615 356 0501

For over a century, horses were the name of the game at this former thoroughbred nursery, a 30-acre plantation on the north edge of the elegant Belle Meade neighborhood. Iroquois, the first American horse to win the English Derby and the sire of generations of Kentucky Derby winners and racing phenoms (including Funny Cide and Secretariat), made this farm famous more than 100 years ago; today, even though there are no horses to be found, the plantation is a popular draw for history buffs. The 45-minute tour of the main house, led by guides in 19th-century garb, is a must, if only to enjoy the well-preserved antebellum decor.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm, Sundays 11 am to 5 pm.

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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
Manchester , Tennessee

Each year in mid-June, tens of thousands of music fans brave sun and sweat at the 'Roo, a four-day rock fest featuring more than 100 well-known bands and performers. Held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, about an hour southeast of Nashville on I-24, Bonnaroo is quickly becoming one of the most notable rock festivals in the United States. Acts originally leaned toward roots-y and rock-y country acts, but now span a range of musical styles: Everyone from Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. to country legend Willie Nelson has played here. The few nearby hotels book a year in advance of the festival, and most revelers camp out in tents or sleep in cars (there are public bathrooms and showers). If you're not a 24-hour party person, stay in Nashville and buy day passes rather than a four-day ticket.

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Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art
1200 Forrest Park Drive
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 356 8000

When garden-club doyennes dream, Cheekwood is what they see. This 55-acre spread on the edge of Belle Meade contains a dozen gardens planted to ensure colorful blooms no matter the season. Cheekwood's art museum has a permanent collection featuring contemporary stars like Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers, and Red Grooms, one of Nashville's native sons. The Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail is a great synthesis of Cheekwood's strengths: Modern sculpture lines a one-mile path covered by indigenous shade trees. But the property's crown jewel is the Cheek Mansion, a stately Georgian Revival home that serves as the site of the annual Swan Ball, one of Southern high society's grandest events. The views of the formal gardens from the moss-strewn limestone verandas are lush, romantic, and a must-see.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Sundays 11 am to 4:30 pm.

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CMA Music Festival
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 800 262 3378

The CMA Music Festival draws 200,000 country fans to Nashville—the largest gathering of its kind on the planet. During the four-day festival, held each June, the Country Music Association draws entertainers to perform and hold autograph meet and greet parties at downtown clubs and on temporary stages erected on the banks of the Cumberland River. The biggest stars—think Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney—take the stage in the evening, at nearby LP Field. Hotels are booked months in advance and locals avoid the area at all costs during the "invasion," though it does make for some fine people-watching. Hard-core fans should purchase a four-day pass, which includes access to all daytime activities, night performances at LP Field, and the autograph line; for those who want to catch a specific act, tickets to individual shows are sold separately about a month in advance. (One drawback: A single-show ticket won't get you access to the autograph line.) The four-day passes sell out quickly; they go on sale a year in advance, so plan your trip early to ensure you score a ticket.

Cooper-Young District
Cooper Street at Young Street
Memphis , Tennessee

For quirky shopping, eclectic dining, offbeat coffee bars, a swell farmer's market, and several smart galleries, head to Midtown Memphis's hippest neighborhood, centered at the intersection of Cooper and Young streets. Park on the southwest corner, behind Café Olé, and walk to Young Avenue Deli, fish-happy Tsunami (928 S. Cooper; 901-274-2556;; closed Sundays), or Casablanca, a Moroccan/Greek spot where ebullient proprietor Aimer Shtaya playfully regales the dining room with anecdotes (2156 Young Ave.; 901-725-8557; You'll want to drive to most other highlights, such as David Mah Studio (888 S. Cooper; 901-272-8880;; by appointment only), Otherlands Coffee Bar & Exotic Gifts (641 S. Cooper; 901-278-4994), and retro store Flashback, Inc. (2304 Central Ave.; 901-272-2304; In mid-September, the district's businesses host the popular Cooper-Young Festival, a celebration of art, music, crafts, and food.

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Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
222 Fifth Avenue S.
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 416 2001

Country music fans are in heaven here, surrounded by photographs, videos, and other memorabilia depicting the evolution of "hillbilly" music from the 1930s to the multimillion-dollar industry it is today. Even folks who claim to dislike country are likely to find themselves amused by the iconic relics on display: "Rodeo Tailor" Nudie Cohn's designs for Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, and Marty Stuart; Webb Pierce's white Pontiac Bonneville featuring steer horns on the front grille, a dash customized with 1,000 coins, and six-shooter handguns where the door handles should be. The rest of the museum tour includes video presentations and interactive displays. (Not sure you can remember what Kitty Wells's voice sounds like? Touch a computer screen and a song cues up.)

Open daily 9 am to 5 pm. Closed Tuesdays during January and February.

Dixon Gallery and Gardens
4339 Park Avenue
East Memphis
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 761 5250

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, formerly a private residence, encompasses 17 acres of grounds and houses an admirable collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and decorative arts. Chagall, Renoir, Rodin, Gauguin, and Degas are represented in the permanent collection, along with a sizable portion of French artist Jean-Louis Forain's work, acquired in a deliberate effort to gather works by lesser-known, accomplished Impressionists. Temporary exhibits change four to five times per year. A stroll through the formal and woodland gardens makes for a tranquil, and sometimes peacefully moving, addition to an afternoon spent sightseeing.

Closed Mondays.

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Frist Center for the Visual Arts
919 Broadway
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 244 3340

The lack of a broad permanent collection allows the Frist Center to operate like a large gallery for a rotating roster of big-name installations organized by other museums, ranging in topic from Pre-Raphaelite paintings to contemporary light displays. Housed in a marble Art Deco–era post office, the center offers programs for all ages (kids under 18 visit gratis) and is a hot spot for young professionals wanting a cheap date-night option, thanks to the frequent periods of free admission (check the Web site). During the summer, a "Frist Friday" ticket includes live local music at sunset on the manicured back lawn, hors d'oeuvres, and access to galleries.

Open Mondays through Wednesdays 10 am to 5:30 pm, Thursdays and Fridays 10 am to 9 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 5:30 pm, and Sundays 1 to 5 pm.

Gibson Guitar Factory
145 Lt. George W. Lee Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 544 7998

Memphis music pilgrims should make this detour to find out how one of the world's premier electric-guitar makers crafts each tuneful axe. The 45-minute tours impart 100 years of Gibson lore, along with the artistry behind binding, neck-fitting, painting, buffing, and tuning the instruments. The factory is part of the Gibson Beale Street Showcase, a complex one block from Beale Street that also houses The Lounge, a concert venue for such acts as Wilco, Etta James, and the Indigo Girls. Reservations are required for large groups to take the factory tour. Children under age five are not permitted.

3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 332 3322

While a few cynics dismiss rock 'n' roll's Xanadu as a tourist trap, Graceland (designated a national historic landmark in 2006) remains the predominant reason to visit the region for anyone with an interest in Elvis or Memphis's musical heritage. In the spring of 1957, at the age of 22, the King spent $100,000 on this house, part of a 500-acre farm named Graceland. He lived here until his untimely death in 1977 and is buried, along with his closest relatives, by the swimming pool out back. His widow, Priscilla Presley, opened Graceland to tours in 1982, and now millions come to celebrate the majesty of the King. Elvis commissioned a redecoration in 1974, and much of that look remains intact. With a 15-foot couch, avocado- and gold-colored kitchen appliances, a fake waterfall, and the green shag-carpet ceiling of the "jungle room," the home exudes fun, loud 1970s style. Tours of the mansion start at the visitors' plaza across the street, where tickets are sold and souvenir shops and cafés serve the masses. On busier days the staff will assign your tour time, or you can book ahead. The recording that accompanies the one-and-a-half-hour mansion tour includes a narration by Priscilla and sound bites from Elvis himself. If that doesn't entirely satisfy your curiosity, dig deeper into the mystique by viewing additional memorabilia in the "Sincerely Elvis" collection, such as 56 of the King's stage costumes, or touring his too-cool car museum and private, decked-out jet, the Lisa Marie. For a one-of-a-kind experience, join the thousands of visitors to whom Graceland plays host during mid-August's annual Elvis Week (a.k.a. Death Week), which culminates in a candlelight vigil; or check out Paul McLeod's estimable collection of memorabilia at Graceland Too.

Closed Tuesdays from December to February.

Graceland Too
200 E. Gholson Avenue
Holly Springs , Mississippi

About 45 miles southeast of Memphis, in Holly Springs, you'll find Paul McLeod's kitschy, obsessive homage to the King. Paul's house bears a striking resemblance to Graceland (intentional) and holds the world's second-largest collection of Elvis memorabilia: Nearly every surface is papered with Elvis posters, records, cards, and photographs; trunks are filled with carpet remnants from Graceland; binders document every mention of Elvis ever broadcast or printed—including every TV Guide cover he appeared on. On the tour, Paul is likely to include as many tidbits about himself (such as that his son, named Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod, is a dead ringer for Elvis, or that his sister is a Priscilla Presley look-alike) as about Elvis (he failed music class in high school—Paul has the report card). Don't be put off by the over-the-top security—Paul's door is always open, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he doesn't answer, just knock harder.

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Leipers Fork
Williamson County

Leipers Fork has a shabby-chic appeal—with the emphasis on chic: This bucolic country village of just 500 is home to some of Middle Tennessee's wealthiest residents, including country-music moguls and a few Hollywood stars, such as Ashley Judd. Despite the high-dollar real estate (farms around here sell for tens of millions), the draw of the Fork is its down-home charm. Highway 46 (also known as Old Hillsboro Road) is the main thoroughfare, and it's lined with galleries featuring work by local artists and quaint antique stores offering high-end American and European furniture and accessories. Leipers Fork is also a popular pit stop for those hiking or driving the nearby Natchez Trace—the terminus of this 444-mile scenic parkway is just 14 miles north of town—or simply looking to ogle prime real estate. For a real (and literal) taste of area hospitality, stop by Puckett's Grocery Store, a triple-threat supermarket/performance space/meat-and-three restaurant located on the main drag. Order the fried catfish—crispy and delicious—and enjoy live music from local artists both famous and on-the-rise on Friday and Saturday nights (4142 Old Hillsboro Rd.; 615-794-1308; Too tired to drive back downtown? Book a room at the Namaste Acres B&B.

Memphis in May
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 525 4611

Every May, the Memphis in May committee selects a foreign country and fetes it with a month of barbecue, beer, and blues. Past honorees include Morocco and South Africa. Most people think Memphis in May is synonymous with barbecue, but it's actually a celebration in three acts that attracts about 250,000 attendees each year. Blues, gospel, pop, and classic rock luminaries perform live for the Beale Street Music Festival. Teams such as the Natural Born Grillers and the Notorious P.I.G. compete to smoke the tastiest pork ribs, shoulder, or whole hog in the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (a.k.a. the Super Bowl of Swine). For $3, audience members can participate in the "People's Choice" awards, though not all of the competitors enter this segment of the competition. And as the closer, maestro David Loebel leads his Memphis Symphony Orchestra in renditions of the 1812 Overture—and maybe even "Ol' Man River"—at the often-humid, always entertaining Regions Sunset Symphony on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi.

Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum
Plaza of the FedExForum
191 Beale Street
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 205 2533

One half-block south of the intersection of Beale Street and Third, you'll find this interactive museum on the plaza outside the NBA Grizzlies' home, the FedExForum. The Smithsonian Institute chose this location to host its first-ever permanent exhibit outside Washington, D.C.: "Rock 'n' Soul: Social Crossroads." The exhibit details how the uniquely earthy sounds of Memphis's alleys, juke joints, choir lofts, and fields coalesced to become American popular music at the hallowed grounds of Beale Street, Sun Studio, and Soulsville, USA. A great place for music-loving tourists to start, the museum's seven galleries tie together Memphis's celebrated music forms—the blues, rock 'n' roll, and soul—through 100 music clips that you can choose from five vintage jukeboxes, as well as cool artifacts like the Reverend Al Green's bible and robe, B.B. King's beloved guitar named "Lucille," and the control board that producer Sam Phillips used to record the first Elvis hit, "That's Alright Mama." In addition to the Smithsonian exhibit, the museum devotes one gallery to new exhibits, which often highlight how Memphis music has influenced modern artists.

National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry Street
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 521 9699

Through fund-raising efforts, the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation purchased the defunct Lorraine Hotel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, at auction in 1982. Nearly ten years later, the first museum to trace America's civil rights movement opened its doors at the tragically historic site. In 2002, an $11 million expansion added 12,800 square feet of exhibition space, including the exhibit "Exploring the Legacy." The exhibit traces the path American civil rights have taken since King's death and also details other historic civil rights movements worldwide. Each year, the museum honors significant contributors to civil or human rights with three Freedom Awards (national, international, and lifetime). Past recipients include Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Bono.

Memphis , Tennessee

The Bluff City has a number of lovely parks and outdoor spaces that are an ideal place to work off all that barbecue you've been wolfing down. Tom Lee Park, which runs along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, is a good place for a twilight stroll. Overton Park is home to the Memphis Zoo, where a $23-million Northwest Passage exhibit opened in 2006 and gives visitors an underwater view of sea lions and swimming polar bears (2000 Prentiss Pl.; 901-276-9453; The 96-acre Memphis Botanic Garden (750 Cherry Rd.; 901-576-4100; is located across the street from Audubon Park and hosts a hip Live at the Garden summer concert series (901-576-4107; And Shelby Farms, one of the largest urban parks in the country at 3,200 acres, is a good place for canoeing and fishing, though you must bring your own equipment (500 Pine Lake Dr.; 901-382-0235;

Pink Palace Museum
3050 Central Avenue
East Memphis
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 320 6320

The headquarters for several Memphis attractions, this cultural and natural history museum adjoins its namesake, a pink, Georgian marble mansion built by Clarence Saunders, "inventor" of the world's first self-serve grocery store, the Piggly Wiggly. The museum's exhibits include a replica of the original store, creepy dioramas detailing the history of the Memphis area, and kid-pleasing animatronic dinosaurs; several rooms of the mansion are open for self-guided tours. The Sharpe Planetarium and an IMAX theater round out the on-site offerings, but you can also pick up information here about other sights in the Pink Palace family of museums, including the Lichterman Nature Center (5992 Quince Rd.; 901-767-7322; closed end of Nov through Feb) and the Coon Creek Science Center, which is open only to groups of 15 to 35 participants (2983 Hardin Graveyard Rd.; 901-320-6320; closed end of Nov through Feb).

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Ryman Auditorium
116 Fifth Avenue N.
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 889 3060

The ghost of Hank Williams is said to haunt this storied auditorium, often called the "mother church of country music." The Ryman is indeed a former house of worship, but it's the music that made it one of the world's most famous performance halls. Once the home of the legendary Grand Ole Opry (during winter months, GOO still sets up shop under the velvet curtains), the Ryman now hosts all sorts of acts, from rock groups like R.E.M. to gospel singer CeCe Winans. The acoustics are insanely good, thanks to the amount of bare wood in the house (don't come expecting seat cushions). Insiders say the prime seats are those in the middle of the balcony, about 12 rows back. If you can't catch a gig, it's worth taking a self-guided tour during regular business hours. It costs a bit more to go backstage, but it's well worth it to stand on that sweet spot in the center of the stage, like Johnny, Dolly, and countless others before you.

Open daily 9 am to 4 pm.

South Main Arts District
Memphis , Tennessee

Between Beale Street and G.E. Patterson Avenue, long-abandoned storefronts are steadily being repopulated with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Art Village Gallery showcases Nigeria-born—now Memphis local—Ephraim Urevbu's colorful Cubist depictions of African-American culture (410 S. Main St.; 901-521-0782;; closed Sun and Mon). Zanzibar café is next door—go on the weekend for live jazz (412 S. Main St.; 901-543-9646; Flower and gift shop Gestures stocks silver trays, Memphis Mary Bloody Mary mix, and the inevitable Elvis paraphernalia (509 S. Main St.; 800-370-3023 or 901-525-4438;; closed Sun), while you can pick up Emily Ray's freshwater pearl-, semiprecious stone–, and Swarovski crystal–studded jewelry and denim by Odyn and Delta Blues Jeans Co. at Mode du Jour (509 S. Main St.; 901-527-7970; The area's culinary star is Spindini. Its industrial-chic decor—exposed pipes and bricks, chocolate-brown walls, and a prominent bar with blown-glass sculptures—doesn't exactly mesh with Judd Grisanti's homey Italian fare, but it's always packed, and the food (thin-crust pizzas cooked in the wood-burning oven, and Tuscan butter, Mascarpone, and goat cheese fondue) is divine (383 S. Main St.; 901-578-2767;

STAX Museum of American Soul Music
926 E. McLemore Avenue
South Memphis
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 942 7685

The STAX Museum strives to explicate, to illuminate, and to elucidate the sound this recording studio originated—"sweet soul music." STAX stands as the centerpiece of the inspiring rebirth of "Soulsville, USA," an area of South Memphis once known for its soul-music prolificacy. The museum opened in 2003 on the site of STAX Records, the legendary soul label begun by brother-and-sister team Jim Stewart and Stella Axton, which now stands second only to Motown in its sales and influence. From 1960 to 1975, STAX's various labels released work recorded in their famed Studio A by giants in soul and other genres, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor.

The 17,000-square-foot STAX Museum offers fascinating exhibits and film and music clips detailing the history of soul. Billing itself as the only museum in the world devoted specifically to soul, STAX magnanimously highlights success stories from competing labels as well, such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Memphis's own Reverend Al Green. Adjacent to the museum, explore the state-of-the-art STAX Music Academy, where music educators hope to spawn a new generation of Arethas and Otis Reddings by mentoring inner-city youth.

Sun Studio
706 Union Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 521 0664

"Consistently Better Records for Higher Profits" was the mantra turned understatement of the century on producer Sam Phillips's stationery at Sun Studio, now a national historic landmark. If you are in Memphis on a pilgrimage to music shrines, you are no doubt already aware of Sun Studio's reasonable claim to be the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. It started in 1951 with the recording of Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' "Rocket '88," reputedly the first rock 'n' roll single. In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded "That's Alright Mama," a national radio show out of Memphis picked it up, and the legend of the King had begun (along with the globalization of rock). In those first heady years, these smoky walls recorded the mighty blues sounds of B.B. King, Little Milton, Junior Parker, and Howlin' Wolf, along with the world-changing country and rock sounds of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. Since the studio's heyday, the chance to record in the footsteps of musical gods has continued to draw such talents as Paul Simon, U2, Bonnie Raitt, and Matchbox 20. Forty-five-minute tours showcasing the studio and its historic collection depart every hour from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Warner Parks
50 Vaughn Road
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 370 8051

The Edwin and Percy Warner parks—a.k.a. the Warner Parks—are less than a ten-minute drive from downtown and offer opportunities for walkers, runners, bikers, strollers, and even horseback riders. Of the 10 miles of trails, the most popular is the 2.5-mile Warner Woods loop. Percy Warner, which has an entrance adjacent to the Belle Meade neighborhood, is a big draw for West Nashvillians who like to drop by for a jog after work; on the south side of the park is the equestrian center and Nashville's only public riding trails for visiting horses (there are no on-site horse rentals). Parking is a pain in the late afternoon; the least crowded time to go is in the late morning on weekdays. The Nature Center in Edwin Warner offers educational programs for families and kids as young as 3.

Open daily sunrise to 11 pm.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.