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Tips & Two-Day Itinerary For A Memphis Family Trip

With an abundance of family-friendly attractions and a ton of great restaurants, Memphis is an attractive family destination for a weekend getaway. We visited for a few days during the kids’ spring break, and I’d recommend it to any family looking for a unique destination that’s different from the beach or theme park. I bet you have a lot of questions, so I’ve come up with this guide covering tips on where to stay and what to do in Memphis on your family vacation.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Memphis Tourism. This post may contain affiliate links. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Find a hotel in Downtown Memphis

When I began researching for our trips, all guides pointed to Downtown Memphis for accommodations. The location makes it close to many of the city’s main attractions and great restaurants. As luck would have it, Memphis Tourism picked out a historic hotel with a prime downtown location.

The Hotel Napoleon exterior. The hotel is located in downtown Memphis.

The price is pretty nice at Hotel Napoleon, 179 Madison Ave., compared to other downtown hotels. It’s part of the Ascend Hotel Collection by Choice Hotels brand, so it’s definitely boutique but competitively priced. Choice Hotels includes brands like Comfort Hotels® and Cambria Hotels®.

With Hotel Napoleon’s location, you get the proximity to the downtown spots, if only a block or two further than other options. The other appeal of this hotel is the building itself. It’s in the Winchester building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The exterior is beautiful, mixing Beaux-Arts and Romanesque revival styles.

A room with queen beds at Hotel Napoleon in downtown Memphis.

The hotel has both regular rooms and suites. We stayed in a room with two queen beds, and it worked fine for the four of us. It wasn’t more spacious than any other typical hotel room, but it did have a lovely, exposed brick wall and tall bay windows. The bathroom was modern with a sliding door and large tub. 

It’s a satisfactory hotel for families, but it’s missing one key thing that most kids want in a hotel: A pool. For that reason alone, I’d steer families to a different hotel. 

Downtown Memphis hotels with indoor pools: Hampton Inn & Suites-Beale Street; Hilton Garden Inn Memphis Downtown; Sheraton Memphis Downtown

If your kids aren’t big pool fans, then perhaps this is a good choice of hotels. If you’re a baseball loving family, I think you’d really enjoy its location next to the Autozone Park, home to the Memphis Redbirds AAA baseball team.

Why stay in Downtown Memphis?

The true perk of staying at Hotel Napoleon is that it’s located within walking distance to many things, including restaurants, Beale Street, FedEx Forum, and Autozone Park. It’s crazy close to Autozone Park, actually.

My kids and I walked to the riverfront on our first afternoon in Memphis. Turns out, several families had the same idea and we dodged bikes, scooters and dogs as we strolled along the path running beside the Mississippi River.

It’s also in a walkable distance to The Peabody Hotel, where there is a twice daily duck march through the lobby. That’s a hit with most kids, and it’s free.

Hotel Napoleon is one of many hotel options all within about the same mile radius of downtown attractions.

Top recommend hotel

Peabody Memphis is famous for good reason, besides those cute ducks in the lobby fountain. It’s a gorgeous hotel, and family-friendly (there’s a pool!).

Hidden gem hotel

That giant pyramid in Downtown Memphis is home to a Bass Pro Shop, yes, but also Big Cypress Lodge, which has rooms that look like you’re staying in a forest cabin. While there is no pool, my sister stayed there and her daughter loved the bowling alley and getting a decadent dessert in the fancy restaurant at the top of the pyramid.

Sample two-day itinerary for families in Memphis

I’ll be sharing a lot of great family-friendly attractions and restaurants in Memphis soon, but until then, here’s an example of a manageable two-day itinerary for the city involving children ages 9 and 11. I chose mostly activities that involve a lot of outdoor time.

Two kids by a guitar statue in Downtown Memphis.

Unless you’re sticking to downtown-only attractions and restaurants, you will need a car. Of course, if you need more ideas, check out this list of 25+ fun things to do with kids in Memphis.

Day 1 in Memphis

Breakfast Café Eclectic, 603 N. McLean Blvd., which is the Midtown location near the Memphis Zoo. They have outdoor seating. The food was delicious, especially the Sunny Side Hash I got, that was a mix of russet and sweet potato hash. And, more importantly, the coffee was divine.

Activity Memphis Zoo, 2000 Prentiss Pl. Some of my family’s favorite exhibits included the Teton Trek, Northwest Passage, and the Zambezi River Hippo Camp (where we didn’t really get to see much hippo activity, but got really cool up-close looks at the Nile crocodile). Unfortunately, since our visit, the zoo no longer has a panda exhibit.

Lunch Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, 310 S. Front St. The golden fried skin is crispy perfection and there’s a spicy kick to it. It took some getting used to for my kids, who hate all things spicy, but they did warm up to it. For sides, I recommend getting the creamy macaroni and cheese.

Note: We got our order for take-out; expect a wait if you’re doing dine-in)

The Duck Master and honorary duck master kids walking the Peabody Hotel ducks.

Activity – Catch the Peabody Duck Parade at 5 p.m. at the Peabody Hotel, 118 S. Second St. Arrive at least a half-hour early to snag a table. If you don’t get a table, your kids can sit down on the floor by the stanchions near the elevators and they’ll have a fantastic view as the ducks walk down the red carpet to the middle elevator. Note: They also have a duck parade at 11 a.m. daily.

Optional Activities – You’re very near Beale Street, so before or after the duck parade are fine times to take a peek at the famed street. We stopped by Silky O’Sullivans, 183 Beale St., an Irish pub with a barbecue menu and a huge outdoor patio that’s home a couple of pet goats. Alternatively, take a walk around the Mississippi Riverfront.

Central BBQ plate of their famous pulled pork and ribs.

Dinner Central BBQ, 147 E. Butler Ave. (expect a wait if you’re dining in). If you go to Memphis, you’ve gotta have some of that slow-smoked barbecue. They’re known for their pulled pork sandwiches. They have outdoor seating. It’s located near the National Civil Rights Museum, FYI.

Central BBQ is also one of the 100% kid-approved restaurants of Memphis. There wasn’t a single complaint. I bet the chocolate chip cookie that comes with the kid’s meals helped.

Day 2 in Memphis

Breakfast – Our breakfast at Sunrise Memphis, 670 Jefferson Ave., was one of our favorite meals of the whole weekend! The restaurant successfully balanced creative, foodie-appealing food and drinks with budget-friendly prices. I tried the Dirty South Sandwich, with a fried egg and bacon added to it.

Colorful chairs and wall decor at Sunrise Memphis

If you like a little sweet treat for breakfast, order the brioche cinnamon roll. It was pretty tasty, and so large, I recommend sharing it.

Activity – Explore Shelby Farms Park, 6903 Great View Drive N, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. We had reservations for a 30-minute horseback ride. Other options include a ropes course, hiking, biking, paddle boats, and an awesome playground. You can even look for the resident bison herd.

My kids and I on our horses after the trail ride at Shelby Farms Park.

Lunch Elwood’s Shack, 4523 Summer Ave. You’ve never had food this good at a hidden restaurant off to the side of a Lowe’s parking lot. Trust me. It’s popular for a reason. I recommend the brisket taco, which was what my husband ordered. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I got some smoked chicken on a salad. 

Activity Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry Road. Children of all ages, but especially youngsters, will love exploring and playing in My Big Backyard. Another hit spot for my kids, the koi pond at the Japanese Garden.

Dinner – You’re going to be exhausted after this active day outdoors. My takeout recommendations for downtown Memphis: Huey’s at 77 S. Second St. (famous for their cheeseburgers) or try New York-style pizza from Aldo’s Pizza Pies, 100 S. Main St., Suite 101.

Memphis FAQs

Q. What’s the parking situation like in Downtown Memphis?

It’s not all that bad, actually. As expected in a city, most parking is paid parking. We arrived on a Sunday, and enjoyed the free street parking for that night, but the next few days, we moved the car into the parking garage next to the Hotel Napoleon. It was an affordable $8 a day.

Q. Can you bring kids to Beale Street?

A. Yes, but I recommend going at dinnertime or earlier in the day. Beale Street is home too many live music venues (ie. bars) that can become pretty hopping in the evening (at least, pre-covid times). They may have age limits after a certain hour, which is understandable. 

My son sitting at a table at the Silky O'Sullivan's patio on Beale Street.

Beale Street does have a few shops, though, that may appeal to children, especially A. Schwab. And, there are restaurants that welcome families. We went to Silky O’Sullivan’s in the late afternoon one day. We were there for the goats (yes, goats, live goats), but the Irish bar also has a pretty extensive food menu that includes kid’s options.

Family-friendly itinerary for Memphis PLUS tips on where to stay and restaurants to try.

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