In an effort to support the fabulous Scary Mommy Travel Guide, we’ve put together the top family-friendly activities and things to do in Memphis with kids. While Memphis is often associated with Elvis and Graceland, there are so many great venues in the city for the family. Of course, if you do have some adult down time, Beale Street is the place for jazz music and people-watching.
Here are our top spots for exploring Memphis with kids.
Kids Attractions in Memphis
While The Peabody is our favorite place to stay — they have an awesome indoor pool and the hotel is stunning — it is a must-visit even if you don’t have reservations. The Peabody is famous for their full-time residents: the ducks. In the 1920s, the owners of the Peabody thought it would be humorous to host a few ducks. The ducks were so popular they became permanent residents. Every day the ducks take the elevator down from their penthouse suite and march to the fountain in the lobby. They stroll down a red carpet at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, staying in the lobby fountain between those hours before making their way back up in the elevator. Make sure you take the elevator to the rooftop to see the Royal Duck Palace yourself.
The Memphis Zoo is a participating zoo in the reciprocal membership directory. It was also voted the #1 zoo in the country by TripAdvisor. The zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals and 550 different species. From the sea lion show to “Once Upon a Farm” there is so much for the family to see. You also can’t miss the polar bears. Watching these stunning creatures swim along-side the glass is spectacular.
Free movie summers are perfect for a cheap night out full of fun for the whole family. Throughout the entire summer the Orpheum Theater Memphis offers free movies. The Orpheum is an architectural masterpiece and one of the few remaining “movie palaces,” so the experience seeing the theatre is worthwhile. The city of Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis, also offers free outdoor movies for the family in the summer and fall.
The dinosaur and fossil exhibits are “not-to-miss” permanent attractions at The Pink Palace and Planetarium. The Pink Palace also features a mini Piggly Wiggly grocery store. With such a rich history in Memphis and the South, this historical and science center is a great way to have fun and learn so much. The museum frequently hosts traveling exhibitions that are also must-see attractions.
Downtown Memphis is considered primarily to be a hot-spot for adults looking for fun, food and music, but it is also a great place to take the family. The historic trolleys traveling by the riverside and downtown can’t be missed. The Riverfront Loop and the Main Street trolley are both options but our family really enjoys the Riverfront Trolley. Historic Memphis Court Square boasts many beautiful fountains and even some kid-friendly fountains to play in. If you have kids that love fire trucks, visit the Fire Museum of Memphis where kids are allowed to climb a real fire truck. And if you are downtown and hungry check out tip #10 for the foodies.
It is the Big Back Yard that makes the Botanical Gardens such an incredible place for kids. Fun abounds with a real playhouse for kids to climb in. The butterfly garden gives you the opportunity to see and possibly touch a real butterfly. Kids can feed the fish at the Japanese Garden for a small fee. And dinosaur lovers will get lost in the Prehistoric Plant Trail. Kids can dig for “relics” here and even play in the play area.
We love children’s museums and the Children’s Museum of Memphis is fantastic. It is actually modeled after the Boston Children’s Museum – another museum our family loves. The museum is great because there are so many opportunities for kids to actually engage while learning. Most of the exhibits are super-fun and highly interactive. There is an art studio, tree house, children’s grocery store, model of the Mississippi River and a real fire engine and sheriff’s car to name just a few!
Memphis has many great parks but the Tom Lee Park is fabulous because they recently opened a water spray area near the river. It is also home to the Beale Street Music Festival and the annual fireworks display.
There is monorail transportation to Mud Island River Park. Be sure to grab a towel and swimsuit. The Riverwalk is an exact scale replica of the Lower Mississippi. The Mississippi River Museum is also located on Mud Island. It features exhibits and education about engineering, settlement and exploration. If the family is just in the mood for sheer fun and relaxation you can rent pedal boats. Just make sure you have enough energy to pedal around the river! The boats are shaped like swans, river dragons or pirate ships. There is a small fee for the boats.
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Best Restaurants in Memphis for Kids
No trip is complete without good local food. We love chicken at Gus’s. It’s world famous, so you have to try it. Downtown on Front Street you will find this “hole-in-the-wall” chicken joint previously featured on the Food Channel. The menu isn’t vast. They focus on what they do best, so don’t go there looking for much other than the best fried chicken in the country.
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We also love Huey’s. They were actually voted the #1 Kid-Friendly Restaurant in Memphis. There are several Memphis locations. The Madison location, downtown, is the one we enjoyed. I love the lemon box pie. While waiting for your food, the family will stay entertained by blowing (rather pummeling) toothpicks into the ceiling by blowing them through a straw.
Finally, a trip to Memphis isn’t complete without a taste of delicious BBQ. Blues City Café fits the bill and will satisfy even the most fickle BBQ connoisseur. The BBQ is great but the live music makes this a complete Memphis experience. The restaurants have been featured on “The Bobby Flay Show” on the Food Network and on “Taste of America” on the Travel Channel.
Memphis has a great reputation for an invigorating and entertaining night life, but it is also incredibly family-friendly and offers fun, affordable and even free activities for kids.