This year has been a year of travel, making up for 2020.  As you probably can tell, I love a weekend trip especially when traveling domestically.  Earlier this year my friend recommended a weekend trip to Memphis, Tennessee for the Southern Heritage Classic.  This game would match up Jackson State University coached by Deion Sanders and Tennessee State University coached by Eddie George.  Considering that I have family in Memphis, had never been AND Southwest had cheap flights?! This seemed like an easy yes for a Weekend in Memphis.

Where to Stay

For this trip we opted to stay at the host hotel, the Sheraton Downtown Memphis.  The event reserved a hotel block which gave access to a great rate in a desirable area.  While the hotel is not super close to the game venue, it is close to many of the attractions downtown.  Also as the host hotel, we got to hang out at the hotel bar/restaurant and convene with other attendees.  These moments often feel like a family reunion with distant cousins and it warms my heart.

Getting Around

I really should be a salesperson y’all.  A trip that started out with like three people ballooned to about eleven at one point because I told everyone about how fun the Southern Heritage Classic would be.  Once we got closer, the event went down to six people, which still posed a challenge for getting around.

We thought about renting a car.  I volunteered to whip the minivan around the mean streets of Memphis for everyone, but we decided not to go for this option.  Once there, we realized a rental car would have been a headache because parking around the popular areas such as Beale Street was lacking.

So that left us with public transportation and ubers.  Thanks to a great staff member at our hotel, we learned about the trolleys which for only a dollar each way took us to some of the most popular places in Downtown Memphis.  We also used Ubers and Lyfts, but remember many of the drivers still have not returned as the economy started to reopen so there are long wait times.  For our airport transfer we took a traditional cab to the hotel and then reserved an uber ahead of time for our departure.  The Classic also offered some shuttles around town to the game.

Places to Eat

It was a weekend trip but we had to squeeze in some good eats while there!  Here are some of the places worthy of sharing.

Sage Memphis

Red Cocktail in the foreground with Sage in the background

Located downtown, we stopped by this black owned eatery for a “snack” before a lunch reservation at another spot. We loved it so much that we made our way back the next day for brunch.  Here is the thing, Sage is a small restaurant and does not take reservations.  We arrived thirty minutes before open and waited in line just to ensure we got to dine there for brunch.   It was totally worth it! From the Dom P mimosas, shrimp & grits and beignets we loved every bit of it.

They had a great atmosphere too with a dj playing some of our favorite 90s and early 2000s tunes.   My group, all from Houston and used to our brunch culture, danced in our seats while other diners quietly ate.  They kept telling us that we were so lively which was funny to us, because at home we’d be the boring crew!  All the same, it is a fun restaurant with good food.

Ooh We Rolls

Ohh we rolls from Sage Memphis. These are served on the dinner menu.

Cupcake Cutie Etc. Memphis

Pink cupcake in plastic container topped with vanilla buttercream, chocolate chips, chocolate drizzle and glitter

During one of our walks downtown we passed this cupcake bakery which offered one of the most unique setups I’ve ever seen! Here, guests are able to select their cake base, pick their buttercream and then add their own toppings.  Basically you get to personalize your cupcake like a Marble Slab. Oh and did I mention it’s black owned?!

Interstate Barbecue

Sweet Potato Pie being held in a black hand with a Blue Southwest plane in the foreground

Now you all know I had to get some barbecue! I was familiar with the Neely family from the Food Network show of course and was on the hunt for their famed barbecue establishment.  Time was limited, so we grabbed some barbecue at the airport at 9:30am and I do not regret.  Since there was a pig on the sign, I ordered a pulled pork sandwich which I thought was great for airport food.   On my next visit I hope to visit one of their locations in the city.

Blues City Cafe

A bowl of sausage

A few people recommended Blues City Cafe as one of the few places good enough to eat down on Beale Street.  It was our first stop off the plane, so we shared a whole bunch of stuff like fried catch fish, their sausage and a brownie dessert.  My friends loved the catfish, I loved the sausage.  We all agreed the ribs left didn’t hit the spot though.  If you must eat on Beale it isn’t that bad.

What to See/Do

National Civil Rights Memphis/Lorraine Motel

Woman standing in front of mural of protesters

To know me is to know, I loveeee a museum especially one that focuses on black history.  So I was tickled pink when everyone in my Memphis group said that a stop to the Lorraine Motel was a must.  We booked the earliest tickets available for Friday morning to avoid the crowds.  As we turned the corner we were greeted by the scene that we had all seen in pictures so many times before.  The motel balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed.  It almost feels like a time warp with so much of the exterior maintained as it was on that horrific day.

 I had read that the inside of the motel had been changed into a museum, but did not appreciate the extent of this until my visit.  Y’all, the curators of this museum showed OUT!  To those driving by, the Lorraine Motel looks the same, but inside guests are treated to amazing interactive exhibits which highlight the Civil Rights era.   I cannot say enough how great this museum is and really encourage you all to visit.

Beale Street

Woman on Beale Street

We heard a lot about Beale Street before arriving in Memphis.  Go there on this day.  Don’t eat down there.  Be careful down there on the weekends.  So on and so on.  Look, the street is iconic so we knew we had to visit, but we made the compromise to visit on our first night in town.  Thursday evening when few people were walking through Beale.

Often compared to Bourbon, I would say it’s much cleaner and easier to traverse.  It reminded us more of sixth street in Austin in fact.  As you enter Beale Street from Main street the Beale sign reminds you that this is the “home of the blues.”  And they never lied!  The blues billows out on tp the street from bars and clubs.  We did not even have to go inside to enjoy covers or songs like Tennessee Whiskey.  Good times.

Beck and Call at the Hyatt Centric

Dark photo of four cocktails from Hyatt Centric

Y’all, my friends and I LOVED this place. In fact we went there two nights in a row and would have made it a third night if they didn’t close so early.   Located in the new Hyatt Centric a block away from Beale Street, the rooftop bar Beck and Call is beautiful, has great views, great drinks and good snacks.  It is the sophisticated night on the town that my age group loves.  With it being at the hotel, we also encountered others who were attending the classic which was perfect as well.

White bowl of flavored popcorn that is orange with red seasoning

Their snacks are excellent too including the spicy popcorn.

The Southern Heritage Classic Tailgate and Game

Photo of the 50 yard line and players from TSU and JSU warming up

Again, the main attraction that brought us to Memphis was this game!  I love an HBCU classic that have a true rivalry and where the neutral site makes sense when you consider their alumni.  I grew up attending the Labor Day Classic at the Astrodome and later the Reliant Stadium where intown rivals Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern battled it out yearly.  The game is played at the Liberty Bowl home of the Memphis Tigers.  We arrived early to take in the tailgate and then head to the game.  If you do go, please know this tailgate is huge and linking up with friends felt like finding a needle in a haystack.  For the game, we of course stayed for the bands and enjoyed seeing the NFL legends  “up close.”   It was a great way to close out our weekend.

Also, as part of the Classic weekend there were of course great parties/gatherings.  You can stick with the official events such as the parade or the Coaches Brunch or you can go with the unofficial parties around town.  Friday night we visited the Carolina Watershed for a Midnight Tailgate party and had so much fun.  We body rolled with the best of them on that night.  The gatherings on Saturday were a dud to me, as it seemed many people headed back after the game.   Next time, I will just stay the games and tailgates on Saturday night.

The Takeaway

We caught Memphis great Penny Hardaway out and about during our trip!

My trip to Memphis was one of the best trips I’ve had in awhile.  The perfect amount of history, food and fun mixed in.  We all said we want to go back to the classic next year hopefully with less restrictions, more people and just all around more fun.