Take a Look  at Little Rock!

State House
Central High
River Market 
Museum of Discovery  
Wildwood Park
Clinton Library

Oh Gods and Goddesses of travel, send us somewhere we’ve never been before. Fill it with birdsong and natural wonder, and let there be a sweet, sharp sense of place, art and architecture. Oh, and shopping. Make it easy to get to and, please - we’re discriminating travelers - make sure that tourists haven't caught on to it yet. Arkansas is still a secret, special, salubrious getaway destination...and two little hours, plus change, away from New York by air. That's exactly the same travel time as a Florida jump, with a woodsy, romantic, refreshing difference. So who needs Boca...again?

Get to Arkansas and get with green trees, hills and mountains, hot springs and cool spring water. That's why they call it the Natural State.

Ignored and off the radar, Little Rock is not yet a trendy destination, That's about to change, as it has all the stuff that makes for a deeply satisfying and stimulating vacation. And when the President Clinton library opens sometime in 2004, Little Rock will become an international center of learning and tourist magnet, so look out. Better get a look-in now, before the hordes descend. 

Bedding Down

The Doubletree Hotel
424 West Markham, Little Rock, AR 72201 501.372.4371 

          Little Rock has its share of venerable and fabled hotels but we liked the Doubletree Hotel. The 287 room high-rise is modern, immaculate and un-fusty. The views (see right) are  wonderful . The Doubletree  is close to the city’s Statehouse Convention Center, Statehouse Museum, and seven blocks from the River Market and surrounding district. They also have super-special Conformance pillows (necks love 'em).  We tried to buy  them. No dice. For one desperate second we considered the penalties for Grand Theft Pillow. That's how great these little pufferinos are. After much trashing around on the Internet, we finally tracked them down. They're available at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Heaven.)  Other amenities include nice, large rooms, work desks, dataports, hair dryers, 2 phone lines, remote control TV, clock radio, coffee makers, and voicemail. All rooms have Tl lines for fast Internet access. The swimming pool's open seasonally and it and the fitness center are on the fourth floor.  For more info, click here.

Things To See and Do

River Market  
400 President Clinton Avenue

  Little Rock's River Market entertainment district is the downtown gathering spot, complete with shops, restaurants and galleries. Not so long ago it was a practically empty, fairly forsaken warehouse area. It debuted as the place to be in July 5, 1996 with the opening of the River Market, at . Part of the 27-acre Riverfront Park and next to the Riverfest Amphitheatre, The River Market’s Ottenheimer Market Hall building is home to vendors who offer all sorts of really good fresh food even jaded gourmets can enjoy — freshly baked breads and pastries; freshly cut flowers; gourmet coffees and coffee drinks; groceries. And restaurant outposts. Traveler particularly liked Lilly’s Dim Sum, Then Some. More about Lilly’s later.

The River Market’s adjacent promenade is the site of special events, concerts and  the Farmers’ Market. If you like looking at vegetables, and floating around early with a panier on your arm, pinching eggplants, every Tuesday and Saturday morning,  local farmers pull their trucks up and out come those special local  peaches, tomatoes, okra , red potatoes, peppers and  what's fresh from the fields. Other goodies might include, plums, berries, goat cheese, beets, cucumbers,  squash, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, cherries, and  lettuce — depending on the season.

Also lending some gravitas to River Market District are the state of the art main branch of the Central Arkansas library system; the international headquarters of the 58 year-old Heifer International Organization, battling world hunger and poverty, the President Clinton presidential library site and Museum of Discovery.

The Old State House Museum
300 W. Markham St. 501.324.9685

On the night President Clinton was first elected, people around the world saw the classic columns and grand lawn of The Old State House. You probably remember this place: it was the beautiful backdrop for America's Watch Party, seen round the world, on 7 November 1992 and again on Amerifest, on 5 November 1996 when William Jefferson Clinton twice celebrated being elected President of the United States.

Once the state’s first capitol building, dating back to the 1840s, it became a museum in 1947. Appropriately it focuses on history and politics.

Go inside and you'll find items from the museum's pottery, quilt and gown collections.  And you’ll find a Bill Clinton collection, including photos of those magic nights, snaps of America's High-IQ first family — Chelsea, Senator Hillary, and President Bill Clinton. Socks and Buddy are there, too, as is a pair of Bill's New Balance running shoes, and his saxophone, ever a scene-stealer.

Peek inside the gift shop and you'll find the usual over-priced shoppe  souvenirs and irrelevancies, a postcard rack, half full, and no Clinton postcards for sale. No mugs. No T-shirts. No keychains. No posters. No photographs. You can buy a replica of his boyhood home in a plastic bag, or a bunch of old campaign buttons. That's it. 

Now, we know that people love to take the whole family to check out Lincoln's cabin home, or Plains, Georgia. They buy little cedar chests and rubber alligators, lacy cards, quilts, posters, pens, $12.95 coffee mugs with the President's or the First Lady's picture on them, especially when the former First Lady has just written a best-selling book. What else are you going to take back with you to Urbana and Tokyo and Utrecht? So we wandered to the back of the old State House and asked the man who acted as if he were in charge where the Clinton memorabilia stuff for sale was.

"The State House is about more than just one president," he snapped. "If you want to buy Bill Clinton things, you can get them at the Clinton Library when it opens."

As the hoped-for opening for the Clinton Library is in the autumn of 2004, it was clear that we had met the first of what was to be a series of spectacularly sour apples of the partisan persuasion throughout Arkansas. 

"Actually, the image of President Clinton in front of the State House on Election Night is the only image of Arkansas most of the world has, " we stammered. "If you didn't vote for him you could still be making beaucoup bucks for the restoration and upkeep of this building from Clinton souvenirs."

          "They don't sell," he claimed. 

           They will, Bubba...down the road at the new Presidential Library. Mom, if you do drop in to the State House, do ask the nice man for the Bill and Hillary souvenirs!

Central High School National Historic Site2125 Daisy L. Gatson  Bates Drive 501.374.1957

A must-see spot in Little Rock is the Central High School National Historic Site which became part of the National Park Service on November 6, 1998. Central High School’s desegregation in 1957 was a landmark event in local and U.S. history. A federal court had ruled that the school must admit 9 African-American students. The state’s Governor Orval Faubus opposed the order. To enforce the ruling, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent troops from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the students.

What a wonderful museum! Here are the sounds, sights, and vibes to take you back through that time, the TV broadcasts, headlined newspapers, breath-catching photographs, stirring words and a smack-upside-the-head reminder of the courage of a particular group of youngsters who faced, day after day, what most adults would be unable to handle: the hatred of the mob. You'll travel through conflict, drama, you-are-there atmosphere and then, the healing.  

The late photographer Will Counts was there to take the photographs that would transfix the watching world —Hazel Massery jeering at Elizabeth Eckford. Forty years later on 19 September 1997, Counts returned to photograph the two women — now reconciled through apology and forgiveness. 

"We're still under court order 40 years later, and we have the most balanced schools ever, with about 2100 students attending this high school today" said a park ranger.

  Located at the intersection of 14th and Park Streets, across the street from the high school, the museum is actually in a former filling station. You might see the bright red and white structure and never realize what rich history lay inside. This gas station was the unofficial headquarters for reporters who came from around the nation and around the world. It lay deserted since 1975. That’s when local chef/restaurateur Mark Abernathy, bought the vintage Mobil gas station in 1995 and led the movement to establish a museum on the site. (Bon Appetit magazine named his Loca Luna Bistro one of  the "Best Neighborhood Restaurants in America” in its September 2002 issue.)

          "We've already had about 25 to 30,000 people come through this museum, and that's no surprise to me,” the park ranger continued. “Ever since I can remember, we've seen drive-ups to look at Central High School.”  

          Yes, there's a small gift shop, full of special books. We bought a bunch. And yes, they do do mail order. For more information, click here.

Museum of Discovery  
500 President Clinton Ave. Little Rock, AR. 72201

With flair and serendipitous steering from Director Bill Bradshaw, the Museum of Discovery packs a surprisingly savvy and surprising slew of scientific socko into a small space. This wonderful , petite musee is endlessly quirky and amusing.

Look---here's the chaotic pendulum, lots of robotics, smelling tests, experiments with shapes and light sand colours, trompe d'oeils---all hands-on.  There's the old gramophone, the old computer punch cards, the old fibre optics (hey---wait a minute!). And masses of blocks for budding architects to play with. It was all this reporter could do to not dive in and start nation building.

But the best part is how every exhibit showcases all the different ways of thinking. There's a whole section on inferences...with hands-on  experiments with mystery boxes to draw you in.

How do airplanes stay up? Bernoulli's Law, baby. Put the beachball in the airsteam.

Or try this "The Chinese scientists saw the Universe as a vast organism  that included living and non-living  parts...This allowed them to think differently from Europeans."  And then there's a Yin and Yang display.

Wish we'd had science teachers like that.

Try not to go mad in the gift shop. It's a good one.  
P.S. The Museum runs week-long day camps in the summers, where kids can get down with robotics  and other hot science. To learn more, click here.

Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts
20919 Denny Road  501.821.7275 Toll Free: 888.278.7727

                Wildwood's well worth the trip. You could fly here from your big old city, spend the weekend mucking about at Wildwood, and return to the your concrete jungle completely refreshed and rejuvenated. 

A half-hour's drive from downtown Little Rock, this is one beautiful, swanky, special, romantic, magical, big park, a huge haven from the rude world. 

Take one look and you'll want to get married here. Birds sing Disney songs. The pond reflects the soft trees and sky. The Bobbsey Twins will have a picnic at the gazebo with lemon cookies. Nancy Drew is running through the mysterious trees. The earth smells good, and calls out: procreate. But tastefully.  Buffy will have her wedding here. Corporations will have parties on the lawn. Lots of them.

 Two separate but complementary dreams sired the 105-acre Wildwood Park.  One, the quest for a new home for the Arkansas Opera Theatre and two, the desire for a performing arts park.  The Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts opened in 1990. Its Wildwood Festival, now an annual event, debuted in June, 1991 with operas — La Traviata, Don Giovanni and Don Pasquale, performed by the company, now known as the Opera Theatre at Wildwood. Also contributing to that historic occasion were the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Inkspots. And there were  poetry readings, lectures and nature talks and walks.

 In fact,  you can hate opera and still love the park. Music festivals typically include show music, chamber music, jazz, and country. Other audiences get to enjoy film, dance and the visual arts. Moreover, you can even get hives from exposure to the arts and still love Wildwood. Forget the performances. In this paradise, you will find:


The Pavilion Garden, a wooded area, with daffodils and flowering trees, which borders the open pavilion near the Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre.


The Richard C. Butler Arboretum offers more daffs, bolstered by Louisiana iris and native azaleas. Natural woodlands and nature trails distinguish this 10-acre garden.


Hunter's Wildflower Glen is a one-acre home for over 150 species of wildflowers and ferns.


The Bruce Garden is a set of carefully maintained lawns, framed by ferns, native perennials and decorative grasses near the Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre.


The Warren and Nancy Boop Water Garden, with its native plants and splashing pools, flows
from a rocky creek bed.


The Doris Carré Gay Garden has a strong Asian motif. You can see native and weeping plants as you stroll across the stepping stone path crosses a small stream.  

Go on....visit Wildwood's website. Slip away to this secret place...walk...sit...sniff...and just calm down. No one will know where you are. But you will. Click here.


Lilly’s Dim Sum, Then Some
400 President Clinton Avenue 501-375-5858  

Exquisite. Here's a little booth in the River Market, open every day but Sunday, 10 am-6 pm. Lilly ladles up an assortment of delicate dumplings and other fresh Asian dishes locals, vegetarians, and jaded gourmets find “extraordinary.'' You'd expect to find food this subtle, fresh and delicious in a world class restaurant near the United Nations headquarters (like Manhattan's holy of holies, Shun Lee Palace) not in a little booth in the River Market in Little Rock, but there you are. No MSG. Thin, thin dumpling wrappers. Eighteen house-made sauces. The ting of fresh ginger and the tang of cold sesame noodles. Take a peek at  the menu. After the runaway or, rather, takeaway success of the River Market stand, Lilly’s owners Kathy Webb and Nancy Tesmer  added another branch. This one is in the West Little Rock  Market Place shopping center. It was  quickly named “Best New Restaurant in Little Rock,” according to an  Arkansas Times readership poll. (The first Lilly's, in Memphis Tennessee is temporarily closed until the owners find a new location.) Tel. 501-375-5858

Cajun’s Wharf  
2400 Cantrell Road, Little Rock (501) 375-5351

Locals brag on Cajun’s Wharf, located in the city's Hillcrest/Heights section, as a landmark and source of pride (and a nice place to meet someone new). Traveler simply sees it is: an oasis for relaxation, spirits, (loud) music and perhaps even food. Go up on the deck. which overlooks the Arkansas River (see snap, above).

The back-story: Landry's, a Houston-based chain, acquired this local restaurant, a popular spot to drink up, hear live music and eat,   in the early ‘90s. The then new owner decided to make Cajun’s Wharf more of a family destination. Didn’t work. A local group bought the property in 1999 and there was and continues to be much joy.

It’s mainly a seafood restaurant-bar, and as such, you can’t expect many choices for vegetarians. What we had — salad, a cheese thing and French fries — worked. There also is pasta. And it is one hell of bar, with 15 house varieties of wine. They serve a wicked mixed drink, “Play-de-Do”. Cajun’s Wharf

Loca Luna
is out and out Southern casual. It makes smart use of its wood fired brick oven. Specialties include pastas, salads and gourmet pizzas. Good grilled vegetables. 3519 Old Cantrell Rd. 501.663.4666

Franke's Cafeteria -- Vegetarians will find hot vegetable dishes here, but the grub’s not nearly as nice as the Piccadilly chain. But then again, there are no Piccadilly cafeterias in Little Rock and there are three Franke's stops.. The candied yams were yummy, and they have some nice pies. We like a nice pie, don't you?
300 South University Avenue (University Mall) 501.666.1941
11121 North Rodney Parham  501.225.4487 
400 West Capitol Avenue (First Commercial Bldg.) 501.372.1919

And Coming Up. . .

          But what will those kooky Clinton-haters do when the waves of sightseers, diplomats, poli-sci lecturers, think-tankers, foreign exchange students and their parents and diplomats start to live and work around Little Rock in a couple of years?  Benefit and prosper, that's what. All thanks to Bill Clinton. So what's the buzz about the new library?

          All we saw was a big pile of red dirt by the bridge downtown. But everyone here is excited, because what's coming will make Little Rock a hot spot, a cool place to be, and the ripple effects of the coming influx of international energy and brainpower will affect the entire area. The William J. Clinton Presidential Center, including the Presidential Library and Archives, will sit in the 27-acre park on the Arkansas River’s south bank.


 President Clinton will maintain an office at the library, and it is expected that many world leaders and influential heads-on-sticks will make the journey to Little Rock to meet with Bill Clinton — especially since the Clinton Center and School will serve as a post-Presidential office for President Bill Clinton  and (in partnership with the University of Arkansas) and attract postgraduate students interested in public service and foreign policy.

Real e$tate tip: Arkansas is intensely beautiful, and affordable. Buy your Victorian or downtown loft now...while you still can



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