A city’s heartbeat starts in its downtown: the original commercial hub, entertainment district and residential center. Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, as the popularity of the automobile gave rise to suburbs, most downtowns fell on hard times. But downtowns have come back in a big way over the past 20 years as communities have worked to revitalize them.
In these downtowns, people will find historic character and authentic ambiance, chef-owned restaurants and local boutiques.
Memphis, Tennessee, is both the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, and its downtown delivers plenty of each.
Beale Street is a 1.8-mile historic stretch that played an important role in the history of the blues and the city’s top attraction. Block after block is lined with barbecue joints cooking and blues clubs jumping beneath the gleam of neon signs. Nearby, visitors flock to the historic downtown Peabody Hotel, famous for its trained ducks that march to and from the lobby fountain every day.
Groups can explore downtown on their own feet or on wheels: bicycle rentals, Segway tours or the city’s vintage steel-wheel trolley system, which is slated to start running again this spring after being refurbished for safety reasons. The historic trolley acts as both transit and tour, and the restored passenger cars’ gleaming wood interiors transport riders to another time as they rock and sway through downtown.
Visitors can further explore Memphis’ music history at the Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum and the home of W.C. Handy, who was known as the Father of the Blues.
Just a short stroll from the blues clubs of Beale Street, the new Beale Street Landing on the Mississippi riverfront offers a modern transition from land to water. The Landing features a grass roof that connects to Tom Lee Park, the Front Porch restaurant and the dock where Memphis Riverboats departs for 90-minute sightseeing cruises.