It was my third visit to Memphis and visiting Graceland (you can peek through my Graceland photos here), and this time we decided to add on a visit to the small town of Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

Tupelo is located about an hour and half drive south-east of Memphis, so you could easily do it as a day trip, but we stayed overnight, ready to experience small town America, away from the big cities of Nashville (where we’d spent four nights) and Memphis, before heading south to New Orleans.

So was it worth it, and would we do it again?

If you don’t have your car in Memphis, you can take this full day tour with Get Your Guide and watch Elvis music videos and movies as you ride.

Megan standing against wall with Tupelo signMegan standing against wall with Tupelo sign
Greetings from Tupelo!

Is it necessary to stay overnight in the Elvis Presley birthplace?

Well, it depends on how tight your itinerary is, or how slow you want to take your music tour road trip through Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana! We stayed overnight, and I’ve covered some of the things to do here in this post.

Tupelo, as far as outside visitors go, is all about Elvis. Actually the biggest industry here is health and tourism is way down the list, but for us it was all about the king of rock and roll.

You will start at the two-room home where twins Elvis Aaron and Jessie Garon (who was stillborn) were born on January 8, 1935. It was built by their father Vernon and he borrowed $180 to do it. It really is just two rooms, not two bedrooms! The original house is there today in its original spot, although now it’s part of a huge complex it makes it seems a bit out of place.

The back door of the Presley homeThe back door of the Presley home
The back door of the Presley home, in its original spot. The curved path around it has dates of significance.
Megan and group on Presley porch Megan and group on Presley porch
My tour group can barely fit on Gladys’s porch!
Only some of the furniture belonged to the Presley’s as they’d sold and moved to Memphis years earlier
Inside the Presley kitchen, TupeloInside the Presley kitchen, Tupelo
The ice box in the far corner and the fireplace in front are original
Original Presley wallpaperOriginal Presley wallpaper
The original wallpaper. Some of my group remembered their grandparents having wallpaper like this.

It came back to the city of Tupelo, long after Elvis had moved to Memphis when the property came up for sale, and the then 21-year old singer and actor bought it, as well the surrounding land, and donated it to the city as a public park. That was very philanthropical for such a young guy, I thought.

Today there is also a museum filled with fun Elvis memorabilia that I didn’t see in Graceland, a chapel paid for by his friends when he passed, and they have moved the church that he and his parents used to attend onto the property. (Note, this is not the black church depicted in Baz Luhrman’s movie).

Like, did you know that Elvis modelled his look on Captain Marvel Jnr, a comic hero of the 1940s who had the black hair with the curl and a lightening bolt on his top that was the inspiration for his TCB (Taking Care of Business) logo?

Also, Elvis became such a big hit so quickly, that to captalise on his fame, the manufacturers of the Roy Rogers doll just replaced the head with one to look like Elvis and sold them. What you see in the photo below is that crazy combo which is now with about $50,000!

Elvis Presley doll from the 1950sElvis Presley doll from the 1950s
The hilarious Elvis Presley doll from the 1950s!

How long to spend at Elvis Birthplace?

The tour of the home/museum/church and gift shop (of course!) will take a couple of hours. You can also watch a 20-minute movie in a little cinema there which they use as an event space too, then take a walk around the reflection pond and pose with the statue of the man behind the boy.

The museum is probably one of the best things to do, so don’t miss that. And if you get a chance to meet the curator, he’s consulted on an Elvis biopic and met Baz Luhrman and Austin Butler when they came to research the Elvis movie.

In the church you will be met by a guide who will show another video, a reenactment of what a church service would have been like in their Assembly of God pentecostal style. Then I spent about 30 minutes in the gift store alone where I bought this Elvis clock with swinging hips ;D

Elvis pendulum clockElvis pendulum clock
The legs move back and forth like a pendulum. My husband tells me he will hang it in his office 😉
Elvis boy and man statue, TupeloElvis boy and man statue, Tupelo
Elvis the man behind the boy with a random fan between his legs!

Do your own Elvis Presley driving tour in Tupelo

If you have your own vehicle, you can drive by about 14 landmarks and places of significance on a self-guided Elvis tour. It includes Lawhon Elementary School, Johnnie’s Drive In where he ate burgers, a swimming hole, the Tupelo Hardware Co, and various statues.

The Tupelo Hardware Company is where Elvis got his first guitar, and today, while it is on the map for Elvis, it is still an actual hardware store. Only it also sells guitars and souvenir T-shirts, and they told me they sell about one guitar a week to this day.

Megan inside the Tupelo Hardware CoMegan inside the Tupelo Hardware Co
Inside the Tupelo Hardware Co.
Tupelo Hardware Co guitars and souvenir T-shirtsTupelo Hardware Co guitars and souvenir T-shirts
Tupelo Hardware Co guitars and souvenir T-shirts

They really do celebrate their legacy, so feel free to go in ask about Elvis, and see the X marking the spot on the floor where he first spotted the guitar. That did make me laugh a little bit, because do we actually know where he stood?!

A bit like the macabre X that marks the spot in Dallas where JFK was fatally struck, although we do know where that happened – and I’ve stood on it.

X on floor in Tupelo Hardware CoX on floor in Tupelo Hardware Co
X marks the spot where Elvis first spotted the guitar!

The manager told us all about Elvis first spotting a bicycle in the window but they didn’t have the money to buy it. Then he came in and saw a guitar, but they still didn’t have enough money and Vernon Presley was in jail at the time, so times were tough for Gladys and Elvis. It was his teacher who slipped a few dollars to Gladys for her to buy Elvis the guitar, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But Tupelo doesn’t rely on Elvis Presley to be a thriving town. With a population of just over 38,000 it really is a small town, but this one is thriving. It is a manufacturing town, and was once the hub of the American furniture manufacturing industry.

As you drive in you’ll pass a HUGE Toyota factory. But now days its healthcare industry is the city’s biggest earner.

Other things to do in Tupelo besides Elvis

Visit Tupelo Buffalo Park

Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo is home to a large herd of American Bison (aka buffalo), and other animals. I’m not a big fan of zoos, but it would be remiss of me to not mention it. You can drive through a safari here where buffalo can come up to your car. Plus other animals like zebra, sloths, birds and even kangaroos.

Shop at the Downtown Tupelo Farmers Market

Every summer Saturday from 8am-12noon from May to October, the Downtown Tupelo Farmers Market at the Farmers Depot downtown at 415 South Spring Street is the place to be. You’ll find fresh produce, flowers, breads, cakes, honey, preserves and more. Pop in for “four hours of fresh”.

Shop at Relics Antiques Marketplace

If you love fossicking through vintage, collectibles and antiques, then this two-story building filled with 100 vendors, is for you. Elvis’s mum Gladys worked in this building, just a couple of blocks from Main Street, located beside the railway tracks. Some people could spend hours here!

Caron Gallery, at 150 W Main Street, represents about 50 local Mississippi artists and you’ll find paintings, mixed media pieces, pottery, photography and folk art.

BlairHaus Interiors

We popped in for lunch at Cafe 212 and I accidentally walked into Blairhaus Interiors next door and came out with a little painting of an old church. I asked the shop assistant which church it was, but she didn’t know. So I told her to tell me it was the church Elvis went to, and when she did, I bought it!

Where to stay in Tupelo?

So should you stay over in Tupelo or nip out from Memphis for the day? If I was doing my music tour from Nashville to Memphis and New Orleans again, I think I’d just include Tupelo as an optional day tour. However, we loved the laidback charm of this small town and don’t regret staying at all.

We stayed on the outskirts of town at La Quinta Suites, which were perfectly fine and cheap. We could walk about 500m to some very cool restaurants where some when to Lost Pizza and others enjoyed burgers at Neon Pig.

However, Main Street Tupelo has the lovely shops (yes we supported local!), plus the Hardware Co, and there are some nice places to eat there too, so I would suggest looking at Hotel Tupelo, which is a 4-star property and within easy walking distance of everything you want to see.

See my post filled with photos inside the Graceland mansion and Elvis’s planes.

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