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Yes, Elvis is still alive in this proud southern city. You can't go anywhere around town without seeing -- or hearing -- the King. (He has even appeared in concert here, albeit posthumously on video.) From Graceland to hotels and restaurants that bear his name, expect to eat and breathe Elvis in Memphis -- the "Birthplace of Rock and Roll" (and home of the blues, too).
Rock music aside, Memphis is a good place to teach kids about civil rights; the nation's first museum on the subject is located here. The city's also home to some world-famous ducks who waddle through the lobby of the Peabody Hotel twice daily.
Nearly all the top attractions are conveniently located downtown; Graceland is the only exception -- it's a 20-minute ride from downtown.
To most kids, the King's mansion may be just another boring historic house. So, if you've got them in tow, rush through the Graceland tour and spend the bulk of your time at the Elvis Auto Museum and Elvis Custom Jets, both across the street.
The Auto Museum's collection includes luxury, limited-edition autos and Harley Davidson motorcycles, displayed at an ersatz 1950s drive-in movie (they're parked facing a screen showing Elvis movie highlights).
At the airplane museum, climb aboard the luxe Lisa Marie flying machine, named for Elvis' daughter. Or fill your charge card with Elvis-inspired trinkets from nearby shops -- a Graceland scarf designed by Nicole Miller, T-shirts, Elvis dolls, and key chains. Kids really like the pens with tiny Elvises inside.
Diehard fans! Don't forget to have lunch at Elvis Presley's Memphis on Beale Street, which serves up the King's favorite foods based on recipes from Mom Presley. Or book a room at Heartbreak Hotel, the closest lodging to Graceland, named after one of Elvis' most popular tunes.
The National Civil Rights Museum is a must for school-aged children. It's located in the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
The first gallery may require too much reading for antsy kids, so move on to the more interactive exhibits, where you can pretend to get on a bus with Rosa Parks or sit at a 1950s drugstore counter next to other civil rights activists.
In the 1930s, the manager of the landmark Peabody Hotel and his cronies were partying after a hunting trip and threw their live duck targets into the hotel's fountain. Guests found the ducks entertaining, and a tradition was born.
Everyday around brunch, five pampered ducks ride down in an elevator from their penthouse on the hotel's roof, and march with much pomp and circumstance (to John Philip Sousa, no less) to the lobby fountain. The fanfare is repeated later in the day, when the ducks go back to their lofty home. The show takes about two minutes but attracts hundreds of gawkers.
Visit the ducks' rooftop penthouse for great city views. Or check out the new Peabody Place, with shops, themed restaurants, movies, IMAX, video arcades (with simulated rides), bowling, and billiards.
Famous for its blues clubs, Beale Street is a grownup's place at night. (Families can eat dinner at B.B. King's Blues Club or Elvis Presley's Memphis. But clear out after dinner, when the partying begins.)
During the day, there are historic buildings worth exploring including A. Schwab's, a dry goods store that opened in the 1870s. You'll find three floors of everything from clothing to voodoo potions.
A quick monorail ride from downtown takes you to Mud Island River Park, home of the Mississippi River Museum, where kids learn the history of the mighty Mississippi. Outside, the River Walk recreates the lower 1,000 miles of the Mississippi in exact scale model. Kids can dip their feet in the running water and float boats down the river (buy boats in the gift shop or bring your own). River towns are shown in model scale, too. Also at the park is Memphis Belle, an actual WWII B-17 bomber (viewable from the outside only).
The 30-minute tour of legendary Sun Studio is great for older kids (ages 8 and up), especially those with a musical inclination. This is where they can listen to sound clips of recording sessions in a real studio. Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Roy Orbison all launched their musical careers here.
Type of trip: Educational, adventure Best ages: 7 and up Ideal trip length: Long weekend Distance: Little Rock (137 miles), Nashville (212 miles), St. Louis (283 miles) Best time to go: Summer is high season, but very hot. Winter is best for bargain hunters. Spring and fall are best weather-wise. Weather: 63/31 degrees in winter, 92/69 in summer Lodging: Available along the interstate. Hotel rates are highest in May during the annual Memphis in May celebration (make hotel reservations way in advance) and during Elvis Week in August. Squirm factor: Some, at museums
Graceland 3734 Elvis Presley Blvd. Phone: 800-238-2000
Elvis Presley Heartbreak Hotel 3677 Elvis Presley Blvd. Phone: 877-777-0606
National Civil Rights Museum 450 Mulberry St. Phone: 901-521-9699
The Peabody Ducks at The Peabody Hotel 149 Union Ave. Phone: 800-PEABODY or 901-529-4100
B.B. King's Blues Club 143 Beale St. Phone: 901-524-5464
Elvis Presley's Memphis 126 Beale St. Phone: 901-527-6900
A. Schwab's 163 Beale St. Phone: 901-523-9782
Mud Island River Park Take the monorail from 125 N. Front St. Phone: 800-507-6507
Sun Studio 706 Union Ave. Phone: 800-441-6249
Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 901-543-5333
Need some quiet time? Take a ride down the Mississippi on an authentic paddlewheeler. Memphis Queen Line Riverboats offers a 90-minute sightseeing cruise with narration and refreshments for sale (longer cruises are available but not suitable for squirming kids). Memphis Queen Line Riverboats. 45 South Riverside Dr. Call 800-221-6197 for more information.
Favorite local spot: Huey's. 77 South Second St. (downtown location). Call 901-527-2700 for more information. Bite into the city's best burger at this local chain. Diners are given markers (and encouraged to put graffiti on the walls), as well as large toothpicks that can be shot into a rubberized ceiling. Warning: Don't look up when toothpicks are flying in your direction.
Local food: Pork -- not beef -- barbecue is taken seriously here. It comes in dry or wet versions, and is sold at more than 100 barbecue restaurants. Also, don't miss the catfish, and Elvis' famous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Best souvenir: Anything Elvis (best selection of stuff can be found in shops along Elvis Presley Blvd., across from Graceland) and harmonicas.Annual events:
Reviewed April 2004.