From 1920 to 1940, artists descended on Beale Street to collaborate, creating a new music style that blended smooth jazz with hard-charging rock 'n' roll. This mix eventually gave birth to the blues, a new and distinctly American genre of music that gradually made its way into the United States' pop culture mainstream. A visit to Beale Street today allows travelers to check out the blues clubs that served as the launching sites for some of the most famous American blues musicians of all time.
Music lovers—as well as those just looking for a fun night out in downtown Memphis—will not want to pass up an opportunity to visit the "Home of the Blues." Nearly every sightseeing tour in Memphis makes a stop on this iconic stretch of road, and those who really want to dig into the history can take a walking tour of the street to learn about its musical haunts and legendary performers. After a day spent exploring Memphis, Beale Street sets the scene for a lively, music-fueled night on the town to eat, drink, and dance in the footsteps of legendary greats such as BB King, Louis Armstrong, and WC Handy.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Beale Street is a must-see for music lovers and night owls.
- Don’t forget to bring a valid ID if you want to enter bars and clubs.
- Some bars on Beale Street with live music charge a small cover fee.
- Expect shoulder-to-shoulder crowds at night, especially on weekends.
How to Get to Beale Street Historic District
The most convenient way to reach Beale Street is by road, and there are several parking garages within walking distance. Several Memphis hotels offer free shuttle services to the district, and it’s also accessible via the Main Street Trolley or on a tour that includes roundtrip transport to and from area hotels.
When to Get There
The best time to visit Beale Street depends on what you want out of the experience. By day, the entertainment district has few crowds and is more kid-friendly, ideal for visiting the specialty shops and restaurants. Those expecting Beale Street's legendary party atmosphere should wait until the sun goes down and the neon lights go on. As a top hot spot in one of America’s most musically rich cities, Beale Street features live music and jam sessions pretty much every night of the week. Unlike in the rest of Memphis, some bars here stay open until 5am. Expect the biggest crowds during the Beale Street Music Festival in May.
The Best Places to Hear Beale Street Blues
All sorts of styles of musical acts take to the stages of Beale Street. To feast your ears on authentic blues played by great musicians, head to establishments such as BB King's Blues Club, Rum Boogie Cafe, Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, or Handy Park, where a local rag-tag band sometimes plays in the afternoons.