They may call it the Blues, but road tripping through the area where this distinctive musical style was born will likely lift your spirits. In fact, the area is so rich in musical history that U.S. Route 61, which runs right through it, has been dubbed the "Blues Highway". Immerse yourself in the culture by following in the footsteps of the Blues greats, and discover what inspired them to make music so profound that it was dubbed "soul" music. Ready to hit the road? Pop in that Muddy Waters CD, roll down the windows and belt out a tune or two on the road down from Memphis town, along the Blues Highway.
The Union Station Hotel is an iconic Nashville establishment, and the perfect place to spend the night. It's a beautifully restored 19th century railroad station. But, even if you don't end up staying, at least poke your head in and gawk at the ornate lobby. It's stunning.
Next up is the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum in Memphis, TN. This museum is a must-visit for any fan of the blues and blues history. When you first walk in you're given a set of headphones that guide you through the exhibits. You begin by learning about the roots of blues and country, and how this genre of music started on farms and plantations, and then you'll move on up through the years. Another cool feature is that there are jukeboxes in the exhibit rooms, so you can hear music from each time period.
While in Memphis, visit Lauderdale Courts, where Elvis Presley and his parents lived from 1949 til 1953. Today, you can see the room that Elvis slept in. The whole place feels like you're stepping back in time to the '50s. They also offer overnight stays for diehard Elvis fans.
Next stop is the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. This museum is housed in a former recording studio/record shop. Here you can see some awesome artifacts, like Isaac Hayes' car or Booker T. Jones' keyboard, all while learning about the amazing history and influence of the Stax record label. Some of the best music in the world came from Stax, and this museum is an absolute must-visit if you're traveling through Memphis.
Next up is Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel. Just around the corner from Graceland (the hotel is literally steps away), the Heartbreak Hotel is a fun 1950's-inspired hotel that Elvis fans (and just visitors to Memphis) will thoroughly enjoy. Rooms are actually contemporary and modern, with fun photos of Elvis hanging on the walls. Wifi is free and there are channels on the TV that show only Elvis movies. TIP: Ask to upgrade to one of their suites to really experience what it was like to be the King of Rock and Roll. Plan to spend time in the heart-shaped pool, and the jungle-themed lounge. The hotel also offers rides to Beale Street, where you'll find loads of bars featuring live blues, at night for a modest fee.
About 2 hours south of Memphis and Little Rock is the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi. On the surface, it’s not much different than most small, Southern towns, except you can’t seem to go more than a couple feet without hearing the whine of a harmonica. Here in Clarksdale, they have the blues, and they claim to have had the blues first. Clarksdale, MS’s claim to be the birthplace of the blues can be traced to the blues greats that have called Clarksdale home: Son House, John Lee Hooker, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, Eddie Boyd, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Earl Hooker, Lil Green, Big Jack Johnson and the list goes on. A must-visit in Clarksdale is the Ground Zero Blues Club. Co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, this blues joint screams old-school awesomeness. But it's important to note that Clarksdale goes hard from Wednesday to Saturday night, but come Sunday through Tuesday it's pretty dead. So, plan your road trip accordingly. There's also the Delta Blues Museum in town, which has been honoring the area’s blues heritage for the past 36 years, and if you visit during the right time, you might even catch some blues on their stage. If you're hungry grab a bite at Abe's Bar-b-q, which has been serving up the best BBQ in town since 1924. As for where to spend the night, the Shack Up Inn may be one of the coolest places in America. The former sharecroppers’ quarters-turned-super-cool-cabins for rent, also offer beer and a live blues lounge.
If you like the music of B.B. King, you have to stop at the B. B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi! It's a wonderful tribute to one of America's most prolific musicians. The museum is also pretty hands-on, and you can mix your own music and even play the guitar, or sit in the same chair at B.B. himself sat in. Admission is $15 per person, or if you have a student ID it's only $10. There are tour guides onsite and a short film to start off your experience. Since there's so much to do and see, budget at least 2 hours. Also, King is buried in the back of the museum, so be sure to pay your respects.
Once you reach Vicksburg, pull over at Goldie's Trail Bar-B-Q, which has been around since the 1960s. This is a very relaxed, local Southern restaurant that specializes in barbecue and burgers. They also do mean fried chicken and great ribs, and they serve beer to wash it all down.
When you're ready to call it a night, head to the Natchez Grand Hotel. The location is phenomenal, on a bluff with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River. The hotel is just a two minute walk from the casino, and a couple miles from Natchez National Historic Park. There's wifi and some suites have balconies and whirlpool tubs. There's also an outdoor pool and a free hot breakfast.
For a great place to stay in NOLA, the Cornstalk Hotel is a gorgeous Victorian house that's surrounded by an iron fence that looks like cornstalks. There's loads of antiques and chandeliers, and free wifi so you can stream some blues music to enjoy in the privacy of your cozy room. TIP: Upgrade to a room with a fireplace for extra charm.
For your last stop, grab dinner in Biloxi, Mississippi at Mary Mahoney's Old French House. There's a 2,000 year old oak tree out front that adds to the beautiful ambiance of of the historic restaurant. The stuffed snapper is highly recommended, and if you can, get a seat in the intimate and romantic courtyard.
Best time to travel down the Blues Highway: Since summer is high season for all of the towns along the route, spring and fall are the best times to travel if you're hoping to avoid high hotel rates, crowds, and the often-sweltering Southern heat.