Separated by about 400 miles of road, Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana, are both hubs for music, food, and Southern culture. The six-hour drive between them can be expanded to an epic, 10-hour road trip through the Mississippi Delta, featuring notable music clubs and venues, Civil War landmarks, and more along the way. This route mostly follows U.S. 61. Start by heading south from Memphis toward Clarksdale, then take U.S. 278 west to Cleveland, and U.S. 49 east before returning to U.S. 61 through Greenwood and Vicksburg. There is much to see between Beale Street and the French Quarter.
Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tennessee
Begin your trip at the Blues Hall of Fame in downtown Memphis, a gallery-like museum honoring the hundreds of blues musicians, composers, and producers who have been inducted over the years. This museum holds a vast display of artifacts, clothing, notes, instruments, and other memorabilia from blues legends like B.B. King, W.C. Handy, Robert Johnson, and Koko Taylor. Visitors have access to an extensive catalog of recorded music to listen to while they're there.
After heading south from Memphis on U.S. 61, you'll hit Tunica, Mississippi, a little-known gambling mecca. There are thousands of slot machines and hundreds of table games in which to partake between Hollywood Casino and Sam's Town Hotel and Gambling Hall (both within walking distance of each other), and Gold Strike and Horseshoe Tunica (both located at the Casino Center). Those who aren't into gambling can sip cocktails at the bar against a backdrop of live music. Tunica's Visitors Center also doubles as a Gateway to the Blues Museum. Built in a rustic train depot, this attraction is a celebration of the birth of blues and Delta culture.
Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi
Known throughout the Delta as “Morgan Freeman’s club” (because the Tennessee-born actor frequents this haunt), the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, provides an authentic juke joint experience with live music every night, Wednesday through Saturday.
Expect danceable blues tunes, a lively crowd, and great Southern food like fried green tomatoes. Ground Zero offers overnight accommodation, but the Shack Up Inn is another popular place for folks who crave a rustic experience.
GRAMMY Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi
Cleveland, Mississippi, is every bit a small Delta town, but it doesn't skimp on culture. It’s home to Delta State University and many creative restaurants and shops. The must-see attraction here, though, is the GRAMMY Museum on Delta State's campus. Inside are not only iconic artifacts—gowns worn by Beyoncé and Barbara Streisand, Miles Davis' trumpet, Taylor Swift's cowgirl boots—but also interactive exhibits and innovative technology. It's one of only two GRAMMY museums in the world; the other is in Los Angeles.
Dockery Farms Near Cleveland, Mississippi
Before you leave Cleveland, you’ll want to swing by Dockery Farms, the unofficial birth site of the blues. What appears to be a simple farm happens to be a 25,600-acre cotton plantation that once was a crossroads for musicians traveling between New Orleans and Memphis. Here, they would exchange songs and musical styles before continuing their travels on the Blues Trail. You can learn more about the musical significance of Dockery Farms through a historical narration.
Greenwood, Mississippi, is another small Delta city that holds great cultural significance. The town is adorned with countless Blues Trail and civil rights-era markers for music and history lovers. Those looking for a mid-road trip wind-down, however, might want to indulge in a spa treatment at the luxurious Alluvian Spa & Hotel, which offers facials, massages, body wraps, therapeutic baths, manicures, and pedicures. The hotel is also home to the Viking Cooking School, which hosts classes most Fridays and Saturdays and has an upscale retail store for kitchen and cooking supplies.
Further south is Vicksburg, Mississippi, a river town with Civil War significance. Vicksburg National Military Park now sits on the site of the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg. You can drive through the park at your own pace or arrange to take a two-hour guided tour. Access to the USS Cairo Museum is included and is the delight of the military park tour. The Cairo is one of seven ironclad gunboats used on the Mississippi River during the Civil War and one of the first boats ever sunk by torpedo.
You can also check out the Lower Mississippi River Museum to learn about the world’s fourth longest river, then stop by the historic Walnut Hills Restaurant for some authentic Southern cooking. If you need to stretch your legs, this area is full of beautiful antebellum homes and historic properties that are worth visiting.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Before arriving in the "Big Easy," take a short detour to Baton Rouge where you can tour Louisiana’s Old State Capitol, a castle-like building with stained glass overlooking the river. Another Baton Rouge attraction is the USS Kidd, a destroyer battleship that is now a Louisiana World War II Veterans Memorial and Museum. Finally, fuel up on Cajun and Creole foods here before you head out on I-10 to New Orleans.