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
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.
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
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,
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
Things To See and Do
400 President Clinton
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
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.
River Market’s adjacent promenade is the site of special events,
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
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.
the state’s first capitol building, dating back to the 1840s, it became
a museum in 1947. Appropriately it focuses on history and politics.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
"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
Central High School National Historic
Site2125 Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive
must-see spot in Little Rock is the Central High School National Historic
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
the best part is how every exhibit showcases all the different ways of thinking. There's a whole section on
hands-on experiments with
mystery boxes to draw you in.
do airplanes stay up? Bernoulli's Law, baby. Put the beachball in the
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.
we'd had science teachers like that.
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'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.
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
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.
there were poetry readings,
lectures and nature talks and walks.
you can hate opera and still love the park.
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
Sum, Then Some
400 President Clinton
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
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.
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
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
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.
e$tate tip: Arkansas is intensely beautiful, and affordable. Buy your
Victorian or downtown loft now...while you still can