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-630, 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 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 , 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 Verizon Arena , which hosts a large percentage of the city's major entertainment events, including concerts and sporting 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, shops like River City Coffee, Tea & Cream , and recreational facilities like Kanis Park are located. West Little Rock is also home to one of the city's most popular shopping centers, the Promenade at Chenal
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 UALR's Jack Stephens Center . 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 the Midtowne Little Rock—adjacent to eachother.
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 a fine dining fix, say for a special occasion, try Ashley's at the Capital , where you can treat your loved ones or 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. Cotham's in the City serves great hamburgers with all the Southern fixings.
North Little Rock
North Little Rock also is home to a great array of food options. Try Georgia's Gyros if Mediterranean cooking is 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 barbecue, assorted greens, cornmeal concoctions and melt-in-your-mouth smoked meats. The Whole Hog Cafe is one of Little Rock's favorite BBQ joint, paying tribute to both typical Southern cuisine as well as the pride of Arkansas, the Razorbacks (also known as the Hogs). Acadia Restaurant is an excellent choice for high-quality modern American cuisine in a classic and elegant setting, perfect for special occasions or simply treating yourself. For classic, home-style Italian dishes Ciao is a great option just several blocks from City Hall.
West Little Rock
El Porton serves up Mexican specialties in a family-friendly atmosphere. Offering Mexican cuisine, this local legend boasts some of the city's best fajitas. Star of India boasts hefty portions of the flavors of the far east. Try Far East Asian Cuisine & Bar if you are in the mood for Chinese and sample a variety of Americanized as well as traditional dishes. For sushi and other Japanese specialties, Sky Modern Japanese Restaurant is a trendy and popular destination. And the Butcher Shop 's name speaks for itself: steaks are made to order here, and you can even cook your own if you so choose. They also serve a killer Prime Rib.
Can't-miss taste treats in the Hillcrest/Heights area include Cheers In the Heights with its fun and colorful decor, great patio and menu of Southern favorites . Overlooking the river, Cajun's Wharf serves great seafood supplemented by live music and a beautiful patio over the Arkansas River. Also try La Hacienda for south of the border favorites and Margaritas.
From the Arkansas Arts Center to the Julius Breckling Riverfront Park , Little Rock offers many exciting tour opportunities.
Arkansas State Capitol
Tour around Downtown Little Rock and begin by admiring the Arkansas State Capitol building. Soak in the Arkansan art culture with a visit the Arkansas Arts Center and learn about the state's history browsing the collection at the Historic Arkansas Museum . Grab lunch at the Andina Cafe , then stroll through the peaceful Julius Breckling Riverfront Park .
Old State House Museum
Also located downtown are the Old State House Museum , a living history museum where you can interact with Arkansas' history by actually stepping into it. Enjoy the Italian fare at Ciao , then stop by the William J. Clinton Presidential Center , for a glimpse into his presidency. Head back away from the river to Macarthur Park, the city's oldest municipal park and home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and beautiful gardens.
Little Rock Zoo
The University areas boasts the Little Rock Zoo , which is not far from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the UALR Art Galleries . Have a pleasant and leisurely dinner on the pleasant patio at the well-known Acadia Restaurant .
For art lovers who are interested in checking out the local scene, Local Color Gallery focuses on Arkansas artists. Then head outside to Murray Park , a good place to fish or play soccer, then dine at Cajun's Wharf .
See the best that Little Rock has to offer with a professional tour company.
Historic Preservation Tours ( +1 501 324 9880/ http://www.arkansaspreservation.org/ )
Little Rock Tours ( +1 501 868 7287/ http://www.Littlerocktours.com )
Coach USA Little Rock ( +1 501 888 8900/ http://www.coachamerica.com )
Arrow Coach Lines ( +1 501 663 6002 )
River Rail Electric Streetcar ( +1 501 376 4781/ http://www.littlerock.com/maps/streetcars/ )