I’ve lived in Memphis, Tennessee for almost my entire life and never visited Graceland. Actually, “I’ve never been to Graceland” is practically the subtitle of every Memphian; it should be written under their names on their driver’s licenses next to “Blood Type: Sweet Tea and fry oil”.
I’ve never been a fan of Elvis and never cared to go otherwise. I think it was partially the Elvis-overload all Memphians experience (like how Parisians must get so sick of hearing about that damn tower—it sparkles, whoop-de-do!), partially the fact that Elvis was of my parents’ generation—not mine, and partially my desire to rebel against mainstream expectations (“I’m not going to visit Graceland solely because everyone thinks I should have visited because I live in Memphis. And I’m sticking to it.” God, I’m annoying.) Overall, my previous feelings towards Elvis Presley were of simple indifference. I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit an art museum if I didn’t care about art; I wouldn’t make it a point to visit a car museum if I didn’t, indeed, have a need for speed; so why would I visit Graceland if I wasn’t an Elvis fan when I could just sit at home and eat cheese, something I’m a huge fan of? Well, I feel ya!
On my most recent trip home to Memphis my dad, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Graceland, made me go. I held on as tightly as I could to my record of being a Memphian having lived to the age of 34 without visiting Graceland but, seeing as how I was no longer a rebellious youth, it was time to give in. “Don’t be such a stubborn ass,” my grandmother, who shared a doctor with Elvis, would’ve told me. Combine all that with the fact that Graceland themselves invited me along as their guest during my visit to Memphis and I knew it was time. One does not simply turn down an invitation into the private home of the most famous rockstar of all time. I was going to visit Graceland.
Now, having finally visited, I can truly say: I couldn’t help falling in love with Elvis! I can’t believe how eye-opening my visit to Graceland was and how much my visit changed my perception of Elvis Presley—the man, the myth, the pelvis. I’m living proof that you don’t necessarily need to be an Elvis fan to enjoy and benefit from a day at Graceland. Here’s why you should go anyway…
01 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE WITHOUT ELVIS, THERE’S NOTHING.
Elvis Presley is the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a music genre they say was born the day Elvis walked into a Memphis music studio off the street to record a few songs. Whether he knew at the time or not, he was starting a revolution. And I’m not just talking about peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
He was a white man bringing black influence and sound into a lily-white world of poodle skirts, milkmen, and people expressing their emotions through phrases like “golly gee!”. (Embarrassing) He was hyper-sexual and offended just about everyone’s mother at some point. (If a better way to rebel against your parents exists, I don’t know what it is.) And during a time when everything in the world was so vanilla, so cookie-cutter, and so “everything here is peachy!”, he was raw, authentic, and expressed real human emotion in a way no one else in the mainstream was brave enough to.
Without Elvis paving the way, where would music be today? (Acknowledging that last sentence is a song in itself and moving on.) Would we all still be tucking in our shirts and sleeping in curlers? The jeans I’m wearing surely wouldn’t have their holes in them and you can forget about cleavage! (Someone certainly did… when they made me.) John Lennon said, “Before Elvis there was nothing” and “If there hadn’t been Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.”… and if there hadn’t been any Beatles, who else would there not have been after that? Without Elvis, what would we be fist-pumping to in our cars today? It certainly wouldn’t be Beethoven; believe me, I’ve tried.
There’s no doubt about it: YOU. LISTEN. TO MUSIC. And unless it’s exclusively classical compositions from the 18th and 19th centuries, there’s a hefty chance Elvis had a little sumpin’ sumpin’ to do with it. Visit Graceland to experience how your favorite music got its roots.
02 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE IT’S THE 2ND MOST VISITED PRIVATE RESIDENCE IN THE COUNTRY.
…the first being the White House, since it technically applies. Though how private is it, really?
Graceland receives an average of 600,000 visitors a year, most of who probably weren’t dragged there by a family member against their wills—just saying. As of May 2016, 20 million people had chosen to visit Graceland since its opening in 1982. They had come from more than 140 countries, every U.S. state, and probably at least some of them were from Memphis.
Personally, I have a thing for visiting the private homes of celebrities past on my travels—Mark Twain, Frida Kahlo, Marie Antoinette (the Palace of Versailles totally counts, shut up!). They give you a better picture of the actual person (not the persona) than any museum or documentary could. The experience is enlightening, intimate, and, in the case of Graceland, super trippy.
03 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE UNCLE JESSE IS YOUR TOUR GUIDE.
Raise your hand if you still have a crush on John Stamos? 🙌🏽 Mmm-hmm, that’s what I thought. Lucky for us, he’s our Graceland tour guide. Hubba-hubba!
Is there any other living celebrity as synonymous with Elvis Presley pop culture as John Stamos? Methinks not. If you’re my age, you grew up with the Full House character of Uncle Jesse singing Elvis songs to babies, rocking a sweet pompadour, and basically all-out, shamelessly worshipping the King. To me, the two go hand-in-hand like, well, peanut butter and bananas. As it turns out, John Stamos himself is a huge Elvis fan—that wasn’t just made up for his character. A character, in fact, who was named in honor of Jesse Garon Presley, Elvis’s twin brother who died at birth. Mind. Blown. Right?
Tours of the Graceland mansion are entirely self-guided, but in the same way a cattle drive is self-guided. You can go at your own pace (to a point—the place is pretty tight) and following behind a bored tour guide is a thing of the past. Here, before boarding the shuttle to the mansion, you’re given an audio guide that is anything but tedious.
The “audio” guide at Graceland is a thing of beauty with a name that’s entirely too misleading as it’s quite visual too. It’s a full-sized iPad whose content follows you from room-to-room. It shows photos of the rooms which you can zoom in and out of, lets you click on certain parts to learn more, and is fully interactive. It features audio commentary on what you’re seeing, sound clips from Elvis and friends, music, interviews, and more. The technology of it all is impressive but touring the mansion with the sweet, sweet voice of Jesse Katsopolis in my ear was the icing on my Graceland cake.
04 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE IT’S MORE THAN JUST A HOUSE.
Graceland is known for being the former home of Elvis Presley—and that’s correct. But, golly gee, to visit Graceland is to experience something far grander. In 2017 Graceland reopened after a $45 million facelift (let’s call it the “Comeback Special”) and is now so much more than a small old house with the kind of crazy décor you’d expect to find inside a Wonderland lair.
If you think Graceland is nothing more than visiting the home of someone you’re not even a fan of to begin with, know this: In addition to the Graceland mansion, the price of admission gets you into…
- the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum | where you’ll find hundreds of artifacts from throughout his career: a wall of gold/platinum albums, his Grammys, some of his first recordings, his guitars, memorabilia from his movies, and, in addition to so much more, my personal favorite, his jumpsuit collection.
- the Presley Motors Automobile Collection | an entire museum showcasing his car collection, his motorcycle collection, and a collection of his other “toys”, as only a multimillionaire would put it.
- Special exhibits on Elvis in the army, Elvis in Tupelo, Sam Phillips, and Elvis’s influence
- His personal airplanes that you can walk around and through and be jealous of
- Eight themed giftshops
- Two on-site restaurants
- And a partridge in a pear tree
As far as the Graceland mansion goes, it’s so much more than just the Jungle Room you keep hearing about. The Graceland mansion tour includes eight rooms in the house (+ two of the most badass hallways and staircases ever), the backyard, the offices, the horse grounds (with horses), the archives building, the racquetball building, the pool and meditation garden where he and his family members are buried, and the front porch for the perfect photo op. All that and John Stamos whispering in your ear. Have mercy!
05 | VISIT GRACELAND TO GO BACK IN TIME.
The best kind of travel is time travel, I always say. And there are few places that do it better than Elvis Presley’s Graceland.
Elvis died on August 16th, 1977 and Graceland remains today as it was on that day. Specifically: mirrored, shag-carpeted, monkey-adorned, mustard yellow, and absolutely stranger than fiction. (I mean, who knew you could do such things with 350 yards of fabric?) Sure, the décor is cuh-razy but it’s also ah-mazing. Graceland isn’t a movie set or a reproduction of an imagined time period—it’s real life, the way it all was “back then” when the world was ruled by Don Draper and it’s beautiful. It wasn’t created for tourists, it just is what it is. There’s carpet in the kitchen, mirrors on the ceiling, fabric on the walls, and it all came from the mind of the King himself. If you’re anything like me, you obsess over times gone by and here you can experience one for yourself. Go ahead, pretend you’re January Jones.
06 | VISIT GRACELAND TO SEE HOW MANY TIMES IN ONE DAY YOU CAN BE LIKE, “WHAAAATT!?”
The shock you’ll experience when you visit Graceland doesn’t end at the 15-foot couch. Or the mirrored staircase, or the yellow room, or the pool room, or the jungle room. It goes well beyond the signatures on the sidewalk, the private racquetball court, and high above the wall of gold records. You won’t believe the things you’ll see at Graceland: the candy-colored cars, the 24k gold airplane seatbelts, and yeah, what 350 yards of pleated fabric looks like as a wall covering. And you’ll continue to ask yourself, “Why so many monkeys?”
But more than what you’ll see is what you’ll learn. Almost everything John Stamos told me on my recent visit (as opposed to all the other times we chat) had me looking at my brother and mouthing, “What! Do you hear this!?” You’ll learn things about Elvis you’ve never heard before. Like his status as a police officer, some of the crazy things he did with his airplane, and the fact that Elvis Presley was half a Smith (okay, that one was just for me. Wait–just kidding–there are actually 2.9 million people in the U.S. who might enjoy that fact.). All I can say is: You thought you knew Elvis Presley, but you have no idea.
07 | VISIT GRACELAND TO SEE SOME BADASS CARS.
I am not what you would call a “car enthusiast”. I mean, I have one that I drive and I love it. I still don’t quite understand how to work the sunroof but I dig it. It’s a classic 2018, if that tells you anything. I do, however, love the old, rainbow-colored cars of yore and can really appreciate a bench seat and an analog radio dial. This, all to say that the automobile museum at Graceland is really swell.
This museum houses Elvis Presley’s favorite cars, the golf carts and go-karts he used to drive around Graceland, his motorcycles, snowmobiles, etc. If it had wheels and went “vroom, vroom”, Elvis owned it. This museum features, in the words of a non-car-enthusiast: a pretty purple one, a plain ol’ white one that’s actually probably pretty expensive, a Rolls Royce (my dad told me), a black one that looks really fast, and what I would call a mob-mobile, all shiny. Here you can also see my favorite, my precious, the famous pink Cadillac. Even if you’re not an Elvis fan, if you’re into fancy old cars, Graceland is where you need to be!
08 | VISIT GRACELAND TO SEE SOME OF THE MOST ICONIC ARTIFACTS IN ENTERTAINMENT HISTORY.
And by this I’m specifically referring to Elvis’s clothing collection, AKA sequin central, the rhinestone roundup, the jumpsuit jamboree. Inside the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum you’ll find a hefty collection of iconic Elvis Presley jumpsuits, 88 of them to be exact. Among them is the jumpsuit—the one that has inspired so many Halloween costumes and Las Vegas wedding ceremonies. To see these—arguably the most famous outfits in pop culture—in person, with nothing but a piece of glass separating your face from something Elvis Presley wore with his own body to change history, is truly awesome. (You can buy genuine reproductions in the gift shop–just FYI for when you’re trying to figure out what to get me for Christmas.)
09 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE IT’S A NATIONAL MONUMENT YOU CAN LEGALLY WRITE YOUR NAME ON.
Graceland was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006—making it one of only four in Memphis. The place where I once won first place in the backstroke division of the county swim meet hasn’t (yet) made the cut unfortunately.
For reasons beyond me, tourists always want to write their names on priceless monuments which is, almost always, SERIOUSLY ILLEGAL FOLKS. But here at Graceland, this practice is not only totally fine, it’s also encouraged. “Bring a sharpie” is literally listed on Graceland.com under “Tips for Visiting Graceland”. You won’t get arrested but chances are you will get honked at.
The Graceland mansion is surrounded by a stone wall and some pretty famous gates and, even while Elvis was still living there, fans would cover these with their signatures, well wishes, drawings, and I’d imagine a lipstick print or two. Getting tired of cleaning this off on what must’ve been a weekly basis, they decided to just let it be what it be. This practice continues today and there’s even an area out front where you can pull your car over to leave your mark. Can the Eiffel Tower say that?
10 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE YOU CAN’T VISIT MEMPHIS AND *NOT* GO.
Not only is Graceland one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S., with more than half a million visitors a year it’s far and away the most popular in Memphis so you’d be a fool not to a visit, A FOOL! Sure, I managed to go 34 years in Memphis without ever visiting (I mean, there’s plenty else to do), but if you’re visiting Memphis for the first time, make sure to also visit Graceland.
So much of what you’ll see and do as a visitor to Memphis, Tennessee will revolve around Elvis Presley—his face, influence, and sideburns are everywhere; you’ll eat at his favorite restaurants and hear his music at all hours of the day; you’ll hear stories of when he hung out here and there; and you may even see the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue while walking in Memphis. Would Memphis be what it is today if Elvis lived in, say, Milwaukee instead? Maybe partially, but I honestly don’t think so. Tell anyone around the world that you’re from Memphis and their response is always, “Ah… Elvis!”
Visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower would be foolish. Visiting Agra, India (the way one does) and not stopping by the Taj Mahal would be ridiculous. Visiting Pisa and not pretending to hold up a leaning tower would be… well actually that would be the sane thing to do. But visiting Memphis and skipping Graceland would be a hunk, a hunk, of burnin’ disappointment.
11 | VISIT GRACELAND TO BE INSPIRED.
Elvis Presley is so much more than gold lamé and funky sunglasses and his personal story is incredibly inspiring. Elvis went from being born to a dirt poor family in Tupelo, Mississippi to being one of the biggest rockstars to ever live. Obviously he had the looks, the talent, and the pelvis, but that wouldn’t have gotten him too far had he also not had serious perseverance and the inability to take no for an answer. He took risks, he never gave up, and he had one hell of a good time as a result.
The story of Elvis Presley is chock full of inspiration we can all use in our own lives. And though I’ve simply reduced these anecdotes into simple descriptive words and phrases, the little stories that make up the story of Elvis are some that everyone should hear. What you may think is simply the tale of an “overnight sensation” is really anything but.
What may be even more inspiring than how he rose to stardom, is what he did with it. Throughout his career Elvis remained a devout philanthropist, with parts of the Graceland experience dedicated to his giving back. He is known as a truly great and genuine guy to everyone that knew him and he stayed humble, even as he buckled himself into his private airplane with 24k gold seat belts. Growing up in Memphis you’re told a lot of tales about Elvis Presley from those who were lucky enough to be graced by his presence and they’re always funny, charming, and incredibly down-to-Earth. I can only hope people will talk about me the way they talk about Elvis after I earn my first billion. 🤷♀️
12 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE YOU DON’T NEED TO BE A FAN OF HIS MUSIC TO APPRECIATE HIM AS THE GREATEST ENTERTAINER OF ALL TIME.
We’re not worthy! I wasn’t a fan of Elvis Presley’s music when I visited Graceland but I can still appreciate a game-changer. Elvis was a man of firsts and of mosts. He was the man behind the first pop album to ever reach over $1 million in sales. His appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show attracted the highest TV rating of any variety show, ever. He has more Top 100 hits than any other artist, still to this day (108 total, 80 of those in the Top 40). He has the most weeks spent at #1 on the Billboard charts (67). And his televised Aloha from Hawaii concert was the first ever entertainment special to be broadcast live around the world via satellite… to an audience of between 1 – 1.5 billion people—more viewers than that of the moon landing. More people watched Elvis Presley croon in a lei than they did a human being WALK ON THE MOON, y’all.
That kind of success deserves at least a minimal show of respect. None of us will ever reach that level of professional success and celebrity. Not that I think so little of my dear readers, but sitting around reading this blog is not going to catapult you to international stardom. (Unless you’re Dwayne Johnson and you’ve finally decided to stop by and read my blog – Hey! Call me, let’s do lunch!)
13 | VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT.
Rebecca Donaldson (“Aunt Becky”) once called Graceland a “crushed velvet amusement park”… like it’s a bad thing? I think what she meant to say was: “HOLY MOLY, feast your eyes on this.” Elvis was a nester and his home was his favorite place. He molded it and shaped it and covered it in green shag and mirrors. The eccentricity of what you’ll find inside his home came from his own imagination. To visit Graceland is to get an intimate look into the life and mind of one extraordinary person. The Graceland mansion is one-of-a-kind and special in every sense of the word. It’s outrageous and badass and, in short, won’t be anything like you expected it would be.
Besides his home decorating skills, you’ll be amazed by Elvis’s car/toy collection, the details of his wardrobe, the apparent foreverness of his gold and platinum album collection. (Conversely, I can count the number of awards I’ve won on one hand.) A visit to Graceland is your up-close and personal journey into the fabulous and wild lifestyles of the rich and famous.
14 | BONUS FOR MEMPHIANS: VISIT GRACELAND BECAUSE YOU NEED TO KNOW YOUR HOMETOWN BOY.
I get it… I get it. You’ve never been to Graceland. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. But now that I’ve been I can say, “You really need to go!” I feel almost ashamed that I lived in Memphis so long and knew nothing about our poster boy. Memphis is so much of what it is because of Elvis Presley and I showed him zero respect.
Despite how interested you are in Elvis, I still believe it’s worth getting to know him a little. I couldn’t find exact figures on how much money Elvis Presley brings to the city of Memphis each year, but know that it’s a lot. With anywhere between 500-750,000 visitors to Graceland each year (I’d be willing to bet about 99.9% of those are from outside the city), that’s a lot of cheese coming in. Add in their hotel stays, their visits to Sun Studio, the Arcade, Beale Street, and literally everything else they do while they’re here and you may be able to buy yourself a new sideburn trimmer. This is money that you, as a citizen of Memphis, Tennessee, benefit from whether you realize it or not.
Besides that, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been asked about Elvis in my lifetime (both by tourists to the city of Memphis and by others on my own travels around the world) and had nothing more to offer as a response than, “I don’t know” and the standard “I’ve never been to Graceland”. How does that make Memphis look to people in other cities and countries? That someone who was born and raised, went to school and worked in Memphis knows diddly squat about the city’s most famous resident? Uhh, what must’ve been going through their suspicious minds is kind of embarrassing actually. And all it takes to improve this is one simple (yet mind-blowing) visit to Graceland.
But even more than all of that, Elvis loved you, Memphis! Show him a little love back.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN YOU WANT TO VISIT GRACELAND
Part of the recent massive expansion and renovation of Elvis Presley’s Graceland included a brand-new, 450-room hotel just across the street. It’s got a free airport shuttle, restaurants, bars, a pool, a 464-seat theater for live performances, shuttles to downtown Memphis/Beale Street, themed suites (whose design was supervised by Priscilla Presley), and there’s nothing heartbreaking about it (har har). It’s not down at the end of Lonely Street; it’s actually located at 3600 Elvis Presley Blvd – just 6 minutes from Memphis International Airport, 15 minutes from downtown Memphis, and just however long it takes the light to change away from the Graceland mansion.
I haven’t had the chance to stay here myself but I wouldn’t question it for a second—especially since my cousin oversaw the building of it. (Memphis is a small town, in case you haven’t picked that up already.) Read reviews on TripAdvisor then book your room here! Now go, cat, go!
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