While a visit to Memphis is typically defined by its overflowing abundance of music history, the city’s neighborhoods are brimming with restaurants, breweries, nightlife, and activities as diverse as the sounds that have defined its identity for generations. 

Here’s our guide to the best neighborhoods in Memphis. 

Soulsville is the best neighborhood for music history

Magic seems to bubble from the sidewalks of Soulsville, the South Memphis neighborhood anchored by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music

That magic is palpable through the area’s shattered sidewalks for good reason – Soulsville has long been a refuge for some of the world’s most breathtaking voices. Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes recorded here. So too have Al Green, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, John Mayer, and Bruno Mars. Aretha Franklin and Memphis Slim were born here.

Today, Stax is by far Soulsville’s most visited location. But music history fans can also spot Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios just blocks away. And like most areas of Memphis, live performances are never far away. The Memphis Slim Collaboratory hosts live concerts in an intimate outdoor venue located behind the pioneering blues musician’s birthplace. Meanwhile, Stax hosts live studio session concerts during the summer months.

Visitors looking for a change of pace from the city’s museum-centric activities can make a pitstop at Memphis Rox, an urban rock climbing gym founded by Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) director Tom Shadyac. The gym, located across McLemore Ave from Stax, is a favorite among members of The North Face climbing team, who frequently swing by between ascents of some of the world’s most imposing peaks.

A street lined with neon signs outside bars and live music venues; some people are blurred as they walk down the street
Beale Street is Memphis' nightlife capital © f11photo / Shutterstock

Beale Street is the place to go for live music 

A flickering, blue haze of neon engulfs Beale Street. Beneath the glow, street performers and visitors amble over the brick-lined thoroughfare that’s served as the city’s epicenter of music for more than a century. 

Beale Street is the historic home of the blues, and while its face has changed much over the decades, this once-segregated strip of juke joints and restaurants is still the nightlife capital of Memphis. 

Professional basketball has a home on Beale Street at 18,000-seat FedExForum. Visitors can catch NBA superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry in town from time to time, but the real favorites of Beale Street are the local team, the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The street is a perfect pre and post-game party venue, but travelers to Memphis will find plenty to do here every night of the week. Beale Street houses more than two dozen bars and nightclubs, each spilling over with the wail of electric guitars, saxophones, and the rhythm of the blues. Stop by BB King’s Blues Club for an all-star house band, Blues City Cafe for some of the best barbecue ribs in the Bluff City or Blues Hall for an intimate, dive bar experience. 

Gems include a hidden pool hall at The Absinthe Room – look for an unobtrusive stairwell on the street’s north side – and Itta Bena, one of the most atmospheric fine-dining experiences in the city, located above BB King’s. 

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The neon frontage of a theater, with a large lit-up vertical sign that says "Orpheum"
Grab a meal at a top South Main restaurant before a show at the historic Orpheum Theatre © Joe Sills / Lonely Planet

South Main is the ideal area for foodies

Follow the sound of whistling trolleys to South Main Arts District, a residential neighborhood with an artsy side. Just steps away from Beale Street, this pedestrian-friendly Memphis neighborhood is a laid-back alternative to the bumping bass of Beale.

South Main is home to sunset views over the Mississippi River, as well as a rogue’s gallery of award-winning local eateries like The Majestic Grille, Pontotoc Lounge, Catherine & Mary’s, The Gray Canary, and Rizzo’s by Michael Patrick

In South Main, visitors can walk from dinner to a show at the most opulent playhouse in Memphis, the historic Orpheum Theatre; or bar hop to (haunted) historic dives like The Green Beetle and Earnestine & Hazel’s – where ghost stories intermingle with friendly locals.

Audiophiles will likely fall in love with the cozy confines of Central Station Hotel, where a 30-ft wall of vinyl towers above a live DJ booth spinning soul and hip-hop classics from the catalogs of Stax Records, Royal Studios, and Hypnotized Minds. (Don’t skip the custom listening room behind the bar.) 

Meanwhile, sports fans will feel right at home on the patio of Max’s Sports Bar, an independent local hideaway with dozens of TVs streaming live events nestled next to Elvis’s favorite breakfast spot – Arcade Restaurant

No visit to South Main is complete without a stop to pay respects at The National Civil Rights Museum, where American history was forever changed by the bullet that killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr on the grounds of the Lorraine Motel in 1968.

Two figures in shadow walk down a path lined with buildings. There is a wrought-iron archway with the letters "OS" in the middle
Overton Square has become a hot spot for theater in Memphis © Joe Sills / Lonely Planet

Overton Square is the perfect neighborhood for theater lovers

Overton Square cut its teeth in the 1970s as a launching point for bands like KISS and artists like Billy Joel. The square was well-known as one of the best party destinations in the country, featuring elaborate street parties that closed roads as the neighborhood’s asphalt overflowed with brews and revelers. 

Travelers can still dance the night away on Overton Square, though there’s more to do inside these days. Today, this midtown hot spot is undergoing a second life as Memphis’s dedicated theater district. Ballet Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, TheatreWorks, Circuit Playhouse, and the Hattiloo Theatre now call the Overton Square neighborhood home. 

With five operating houses for live theater, Overton Square can bustle on any night of the week. And visitors won’t have to look far for entertainment and dining options outside their doors.

Tiger & Peacock serves up treetop views of Midtown’s densely forested skyline. Meanwhile, award-winning chef, Kelly English, brings New Orleans-inspired favorites to town at The Second Line. 

Music aficionados can still catch a show in the house that KISS and Joel built over at Lafeyette’s Music Room; while brunch goers will find the best Bloody Mary in town at Bayou Bar & Grill.

A low-rise white brick building with a huge pink neon sign spelling "liquor"
Broad Avenue is home to taprooms, liquor stores, and legendary dive bars © Joe Sills / Lonely Planet

Broad Avenue Arts District is the spot for a casual beer or cocktail

An up-and-coming arts district on the edge of Midtown, Broad Avenue is a hub for cyclists blazing by on Memphis’s extensive network of bike paths by day. At night, this low-key alcove near Overton Park turns into a hideaway for locals that know where to find the best pints. 

Local beer giant Wiseacre Brewing Co opened its original taproom just off of Broad Ave in 2013. And though it's recently opened a sprawling, downtown campus, Wiseacre’s original taproom still holds a nostalgic charm that’s authentically midtown. Newcomer Hampline Brewing recently completed a taproom expansion, and brings brewing knowledge directly from Germany right to the Bluff City.

Broad Ave’s spirits don’t stop in the taprooms, though. Legendary Memphis dive bar, The Cove, serves up some of the city’s best cocktails alongside one of Tennessee’s most extensive whiskey and bourbon selections. Meanwhile, craft cocktails accompany festive foods – from beignets to Cuban platters – that are dished out daily nearby at The Liquor Store

You might also like: 
The 9 best Memphis museums: where music and American history meet  
Memphis day trips that celebrate the state's musical roots
15 free things to do in Memphis 

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