The geographical, political, and financial center of Arkansas, Little Rock is at the meeting point of the state's two major regions, the northwestern hills and the eastern Delta. The town today has a relaxed, open feel, a far cry from the dramatic time of 1957.
The city's newest attraction, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, at 1200 President Clinton Ave (Mon– Sat 9am–5pm, Sun 1–5pm; $7; Web: www.clintonlibrary.gov ), is housed in an elevated, glass-and-metal building attractively set on the river.
Surrounded by smooth lawns and shaded by evergreens, the Old State House Museum (Mon– Sat 9am–5pm, Sun 1–5pm; free), in the old capitol building at 300 W Markham St, is well worth a visit. The displays – everything from Civil War battle flags to African-American quilts – do an admirable job of covering Arkansas history, with strong sections on women and political history. Here, Clinton announced his bid for the presidency on October 3, 1991, and made his acceptance speech thirteen months later.
Downtown Little Rock is bordered on the south by I-70, by the I-30 on the east, the State Capitol area to the west and to the north by the Arkansas River. Ever-bustling, Little Rock continues to grow beyond these borders.
If you are in downtown Little Rock, then you are close to what is becoming the most popular spot in town. The historic River Market area has been part of the rebirth that has been taking place on Little Rock's riverfront over the past decade. The Market offers all types of fresh local produce on Tuesdays and Saturdays, May through October. Year round, you'll find a daily indoor market where 17 shopkeepers sell everything from gourmet coffee to fresh sushi. The area has become a center of activity, continually fueled by the addition of new restaurants, bars and shops.
The city of Little Rock has done its best to keep the momentum going. From May through September, you'll find Big Downtown Thursdays, a sort of public happy hour held each week. Memorial Day weekend's annual Riverfest features a carnival-type atmosphere and fireworks, and takes place in Riverfront Park .
Just a short way from the River Market is the Quapaw Quarter, which is known for its section of restored 19th Century homes and its business district. Most of the homes are privately owned, so access is mainly limited to walking and driving tours. However, many of the quarter's homes are opened for tours at various points in the year under the direction of the Landmarks Trust Association.
The Annual Quapaw Quarter Spring Tour takes place in May, while December brings the Christmas Open House. Other historic landmarks are open to the public for tours at various points throughout the year, including the Empress Bed & Breakfast , Trapnall Hall Old State House Museum and Villa Marre. Some buildings are available for special occasion rental and may be used for weddings and other events.
North Little Rock
The city just north of the river, North Little Rock, has its own personality and is not to be outdone by its bigger cousin. Formerly known as Argenta, this municipality has preserved its own local history. The old mill in Old Mill Park , famous for being the backdrop during the opening credits in Gone with the Wind, is open for tours.
The Argenta Historic District is a large area that includes city hall, several churches and a military post. North Little Rock is also the site of the newly built Alltel Arena , which is home of the UALR Trojan Basketball Team, the Arkansas Twisters Arena Football and the Riverblades hockey team, as well as a number of touring events.
West Little Rock
West Little Rock is the fastest growing area of the city. The easiest route here from downtown is to take I-630 west until the interstate ends and runs into Shackleford Road. West Little Rock is the part of suburbia where large numbers of new upper middle class homes are being built and where a wide variety of restaurants like Bruno's Little Italy , shops like River City Coffee, Tea & Candy Co. and Brannon's Market , and recreational facilities like Kanis Park are located.
The area west of downtown along Markham Street is known as the Hillcrest Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this area is one of the city's earliest residential areas, with homes dating from the early part of the 20th century.
The Heights is a trendy, upscale area on the north-central side of town with its own particular flavor, almost as if it were a mini-village in itself. Here you will find quaint gift shops, exclusive boutiques, restaurants like Buffalo Grill , cafes like the Whole Hog Cafe & Catering Co. and antique shops mixed into a residential neighborhood that's a bit on the exclusive side. This area is north of Hillcrest and dates from the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the houses overlook the Arkansas River and are built high up on the bluffs, hence the name.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), the home of the Trojans, is spread over an area west of downtown. The Trojan basketball team plays at North Little Rock's Alltel Arena . The campus' north end houses the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Planetarium , the Fine Arts Building and its art gallery, and the Stella Boyle Smith Auditorium, in which stage plays and musical performances take place. The university area is also home to some of the best shopping in town, with two malls— Park Plaza Mall and University Mall—located at the same intersection.
If you are looking for a good meal in Little Rock, the only problem you will have is narrowing down your choices. Whether you seek fine dining or good old-fashioned Southern barbecue, you are sure to enjoy the many options that Little Rock has to offer.
Perhaps the most famous of the area's establishments is Juanita's , a favorite of President Clinton. If you are in the River Market area, there are plenty of choices. Stop at Big on Tokyo and try the Japanese Hibachi-grilled lunch special. You can also take home ingredients from the restaurant's grocery store and try a little Japanese cooking yourself. For casual dining, walk up to the counter at Shaka Smoke Lodge , a great place for breakfast popular among locals. For a fun atmosphere and a mixed-bag menu, try Chit's. A popular after-work hot spot, it is definitely not the kind of place where you are expected to wear a coat and tie. At Spaule you can choose from a classy menu in a friendly and elegant setting. This has been called the best restaurant in town. Try Ashley's at the Capital , where you can treat your business associates to food from a first-rate Continental menu. Your Mama's Good Food offers cafeteria-style dining with Southern portions of staples such as chicken-fried steak and meatloaf. The Old Feed House has a noteworthy buffet, while Cotham's in the City serves great hamburgers with all the Southern fixings.
North Little Rock
Try Georgia's Gyros if Mediterranean cooking is more up your alley. A trip to the South would not be complete without sampling some of the region's famous down-home specialties such as catfish, barbecue, assorted greens, cornmeal concoctions and melt-in-your-mouth smoked meats. The All-U-Can-Eat Catfish deal at Grampa's is well worth the money. For steaks, there is Sir Loin's Inn , where you'll find a lodge setting and some serious beef.
West Little Rock
Offering Mexican cuisine and live music nightly, this local legend boasts some of the city's best fajitas. El Porton serves up Mexican specialties in a family-friendly atmosphere. Star of India boasts hefty portions. Try Hunan Oriental Cuisine if you are in the mood for Chinese. Among young professionals, the hip place to be is Sekisui Sushi Bar & Hibachi Grill , which has a revolving sushi bar. And the Butcher Shop 's name speaks for itself: steaks are made to order here, and you can even cook your own.
Can't-miss taste treats in the Hillcrest/Heights area include the Far East cuisine of Shogun Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar . Overlooking the river, Cajun's Wharf serves great seafood supplemented by live music. Also try Andre's Hillcrest, a European-style bistro. Set in a renovated cottage, it features a dinner menu highlighted by duck and veal.
From the Arkansas Arts Center to the Julius Breckling Riverfront Park , Little Rock offers many exciting tour opportunities.
Arkansas State Capitol Downtown, admire the Arkansas State Capitol building, visit the Arkansas Arts Center and browse the collection at the Historic Arkansas Museum . Grab lunch at the Andina Cafe , then stroll through the peaceful Julius Breckling Riverfront Park .
River Market Artspace Also located downtown are the Old State House Museum and the Childrens Museum Of Arkansas . Stop into River Market Artspace , where all the pieces are also for sale. Enjoy the Italian fare at Ciao , then stop by the William J. Clinton Presidential Center , for a glimpse into his presidency.
Little Rock Zoo The University areas boasts the Little Rock Zoo , which is not far from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Planetarium and the UALR Art Galleries . Have dinner at Casa Viva or Chips Barbecue .
Kanis Park West Little Rock is home to Kanis Park and Arkansas Skatium , good places for recreation. The Hidden Valley Farm Pumpkin Patch is a good place for children. Enjoy a meal at Flavors Grill or Capers .
Murray Park Reflections Gallery & Fine Framing features fine art, while Local Color Gallery focuses on Arkansas artists. Murray Park is a good place to fish, then dine at Canon Grill or Cajun's Wharf .
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