5 Incredible Reasons Beale Street Can’t Be Missed

From the Author: I've lived and worked in Nashville for 12+ years. I'm heavily involved with the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, so when you visit, you might find me giving the odd tour or helping out wherever possible. If you have any questions, I respond quickly to comments. Come in and say hi!

Is visiting Beale Street worth your time? As a Nashville local, I had heard so much about the famous Memphis street, but just last month had the chance to visit myself. 

Despite having visited Memphis countless times, I had always missed this iconic destination. So, I finally checked it out to see if it lived up to its hype.

As someone familiar with the honky-tonk scene on Lower Broadway in Nashville, I was eager to compare the two and find out which one was better.

Beale Street is undoubtedly the most famous street in Memphis and perhaps Tennessee's most iconic and renowned street. Its historical significance, rooted in music and live entertainment, makes it worth just a little of your time in Memphis.

Beale Street in Memphis is not just a place for party-goers. It's steeped in historical importance, having served as a crucial center for both political activism and groundbreaking musical evolution in the American South. This significance is notably highlighted in the recent Elvis movie, showcasing its influence on the ‘King of Rock ‘n' Roll.' Hence, irrespective of personal preferences for nightlife, a visit to Beale Street is a worthwhile experience, providing a window into a rich and vibrant part of American history.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Beale Street

1. Incredible History

During the 1920s – 1940s, the street was famous for hosting famous musicians like B.B. King, Elvis, and more. Elvis Presley used to shop and perform up and down this street. Plus, it was also a hub for the civil rights movement. So if for no other reason, it's worth visiting for its historical value.

2. World-Class Live Music

Every day of the year, at all times of day, there is live music pouring out into the streets from both inside and outside venues. Jazz and blues is still alive and well in Memphis at locations like B.B. King's Blues Club. There are also street performers who please the crowd every night. During the day, there's little to see. Even though some bars are open and there is live music, the street comes alive after dark.

3. Amazing Food

On Beale Street, you can experience authentic southern BBQ like ribs, beans, pork, catfish, and soul food. There's also a great selection of drinks, including local brews.

4. Close to Nearby Attractions

Beale Street is centrally located downtown and within walking distance to the National Civil Rights Museum, Central BBQ (both highly recommended Memphis activities!), and the Peabody Hotel.

5. Festivals & Events

On the calendar each year, you'll find Beale Street Music Festivals. Memphis in May attracts global tourists, showcasing incredible music performances and vibrant cultural celebrations.

Why You Might Want to Avoid Beale Street 🤔

Beale Street has been compared to New Orleans. If you like New Orleans, you'll like Beale Street; if you don't like New Orleans, you won't.  It's been described as dirty and seedy. It's not a child/infant-friendly place for kids and eye-opening for teens.

It's important to know that Memphis is one of the most dangerous cities to visit. As a result, there is a heavy police presence. Don't let that stop you from visiting; just be aware of your surroundings.

It has a dirty, grungy feel to it. It's not uncommon to find people sleeping on the street. However, I never felt unsafe.

Beale Street itself has a cramped, grungy, and dirty feel. But it's what gives it its charm.

My Recommendation: Don't visit Memphis to see Beale Street; make it an add-on. Memphis has an incredible history like Sun Studios, The Peabody, The Civil Rights Museum, and the Mississippi. Come to visit these places, and while you're here, look at Beale Street if you like that.

Why Is Beale Street So Famous?

Beale Street in Memphis is famous for its influence on music and civil rights. During the 1920s – 1940s, musicians like B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie, and Muddy Waters were among jazz and blues legends who helped create the “Memphis Blues” sound. 

It is also famous for the blues, rock ‘n' roll, gospel, and R&B.

Beale Street was also a hub for African-American politics and activism, being used by runaway slaves as a place to congregate.

Today, with a high concentration of clubs, venues, and restaurants hosting live music every night of the week, you can immerse yourself in the soulful atmosphere that has drawn locals and tourists.

What Is Beale Street Like?

As you stroll down Beale Street, you'll find various bars, restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. There is a daytime and nighttime version of Beale Street. During the day, it's a lot quieter and laid back. However, they play live music daily, and few people are around.

It's a family-friendly place during the day but not so much at night. I saw families with strollers, but it's really oriented toward adult entertainment after the sun goes down.

At night, it's a different scene. The nighttime sound is loud and can be overwhelming. Neon lights, street performers, and music are coming out of every venue.

Pro Tip on Safety: Don't let beggars and panhandlers bother you. There are a lot that are on Beale Street and downtown. Just say, “Sorry, I don't have anything,” and everything will be okay. Also, don't leave anything of value visible in your car.

Notable bars and restaurants include Blues City Café and Rendezvous or indulge in southern staples at B.B. King's and Rum Boogie Café. Most establishments also host live music, giving you an authentic Memphis experience.

Moreover, Beale Street is home to talented street performers such as the Beale Street Flippers, who entertain passersby with their acrobatic skills. The street is lined with neon signs that light up the night, create a lively atmosphere, and offer specialized shopping spots like A. Schwab and Silky O'Sullivan's.

You are allowed to walk up and down Beale Street with drinks in hand. The bartenders will provide plastic cups, and trash cans are lining the street. However, be careful not to walk outside the wooden barriers at the top and bottom of the street with your drinks to avoid getting hassled by the police.

There are two excellent hotels to stay in right on Beale Street. The Westin and The Hampton. They are both within easy walking distance of Beale Street.

Why Was Beale Street So Important to Elvis?

Elvis was a regular on Beale Street. It all started when Elvis, still dirt poor, would sneak glances in the windows at the clothing stores and music venues traditionally black-owned and operated.

The Lansky Bros store, a building you can still visit today and a favorite of B.B. King, was owned by Hal Lanskey, who invited the young Elvis in.

According to the New York Post, Hal Lansky said, “Come on in, young man!”. Elvis said, “Mr. Lanksy, these are beautiful things. I like everything. I don't have no money now, but when I get rich, I'll buy you out”.

Elvis became rich and returned to Beale Street to perform and buy clothes from Lanksys.

Today the Lanksy building is still standing on Beale Street and is occupied by the Hard Rock Cafe. You can eat in the building today, where they pay homage to the King with pictures, portraits, and instruments.

Exploring Beale Street

How Far Is Graceland from Beale Street?

Graceland, the iconic home of Elvis Presley, is located approximately 9.5 miles from Beale Street. To reach Graceland from Beale Street, you can take a 15 to 20-minute car ride or opt for public transportation, which typically takes around 40 to 45 minutes. Beale Street is well worth the trip during your visit to Memphis, so take it.

Is it Safe to Walk from the Peabody to Beale Street?

Yes, it is generally safe to walk from the Peabody Hotel to Beale Street. The distance is about half a mile, and it should take 10 minutes on foot. However, being aware of your surroundings and exercising caution is essential. Make sure to stick to well-lit and busy streets, and if you're exploring at night, consider walking in a group. Police presence is generally visible to ensure safety. Like any city, pay attention to your surroundings.

Do You Have to Pay to Walk on Beale Street?

No, you do not have to pay to walk on Beale Street. It's a public street that offers a bustling atmosphere, live music, and entertainment free of charge. However, some establishments on Beale Street may charge an entrance fee or require you to purchase something to enter.

Can You Walk Around Beale Street with Alcohol?

Yes, you can walk around Beale Street with alcohol. The area operates as an open-container district, allowing you to step up and down the street without a problem. Just refrain from drinking past the barriers. Also, the alcohol must be in a plastic cup, no glass containers. In addition, many restaurants and bars offer to-go cups for your convenience. 

Pro Tip: Don't take your full cup to another bar. If you leave the bar with a drink in hand, finish it in the street while you enjoy the performances and music before you walk into another bar.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Walk on Beale Street?

There is no age restriction for walking on Beale Street during the day. All ages are welcome to explore the shops, restaurants, and attractions. As the evening sets in and the nightlife picks up, Beale Street becomes more adult-oriented, with most bars and clubs requiring patrons to be at least 21 years old. During the daytime, Beale Street offers fun and entertainment for the whole family, making it a great stop during your Memphis visit.

Beale Street for Families

Is Beale Street Family-Friendly?

While it is best known for its music and nighttime entertainment scene, you can also find family-friendly activities and a lively atmosphere during the day. 

During the daytime, families can enjoy a guided walking tour of Beale Street, exploring the history and cultural significance of Memphis' most famous street. 

Tours start at $16.46 per adult and will captivate kids and parents alike. 

If you prefer a more comprehensive city tour, bus tours with add-on options, such as a riverboat cruise or Sun Studio admission, are also available starting at $40.00 per adult.

While wandering Beale Street, check out the live performances from the Beale Street Flippers, Memphis' renowned acrobatic troupe. 

Your kids will be thrilled to watch talented street performers showcasing their incredible skills, and it's a perfect opportunity for everyone to soak up the vibrant Memphis atmosphere.

I suggest families with children visit some of the nearby attractions during the daytime, including:

Remember that while Beale Street is mainly known for nightclubs, restaurants, and shops appealing to adults, there are still plenty of accessible and family-friendly activities. 

You will find a balanced mix of family-oriented experiences and cultural explorations in this legendary district of Memphis.

So go ahead and plan your family trip to Beale Street and make lasting memories while enjoying all that this iconic destination has to offer.

Do the Bars on Beale Street Have Cover Charges?

Most Beale Street bars do not have a cover charge. However, some high-demand live music venues may impose minimal fees for entry. I recommend having between $20-50 dollars on hand in 1 and 5-dollar bills for tips and cover charges.

How Safe Is Beale Street Memphis?

A year ago, at 2:15 a.m., three men opened fire on Beale Street, and three men were killed.

Incidents like these cause visitors to question how safe the iconic street is.

Memphis police will routinely set up barricades on the street to check IDs and check for weapons. On the night of the shooting, the fence was packed up early.

Talking to locals and other visitors, most will tell you that they never felt unsafe. It's not that there isn't a danger; there is. You have to be aware of the threat and follow simple rules.

  1. Don't stray from policed areas.
  2. Remember, most people are friendly, but tourists are a target.
  3. Politely decline panhandlers.
  4. Stay with your buddy/group.
  5. Obey Police.

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