State 13: Arkansas | Little Rock

I will start out by saying that Little Rock is my favorite small city. Whenever I am asked what has been my favorite new state trip, my instinctual answer is always Little Rock. While this destination may not be at the top of the bucket list for many travelers, my advice would be to definitely include it on your tab of places to visit. It is not the easiest to get to since there aren’t many direct flights from the East Coast, but it is worth the trip.

Little Rock Waterfront View
Little Rock Waterfront View

I ventured to Arkansas with my mom a few years ago. This was our very first new state trip together. My mom had come back from visiting my grandma in Arizona and she was browsing through the magazine in the seat-back pocket on the airplane. When she came home she said, “Am I just really tired from the travel, or does Little Rock sound like a great place to visit?” Before she mentioned it, Little Rock was not on my short list, but we swiftly reviewed the article from the magazine and did a quick online search of attractions. We found that Little Rock had so many exciting places to visit. Shortly after, we were booking our flight for the early fall.

Jazz Band at Airport
Jazz Band at Airport

When we arrived we were kindly welcomed with live jazz music at the airport, but asked by several people why we were visiting Little Rock all the way from New York. Our reply was simply that we want to explore the city. We stayed at the Double Tree, which was wonderful not only for the fresh, delicious warm cookies, but also for their complimentary shuttle. We used the shuttle every day of our long weekend trip. It was very helpful to get around to and from the airport, as well as around town within a few miles of the hotel. We also used the city trolley which was only about a dollar per ride.

Central Arkansas Transit Street Car
Central Arkansas Transit Street Car

The city had a lot to explore. The trolley took us right by a pawn shop which was actually asked to be on Pawn Stars before the shop now featured on the television show was chosen. We stayed right next to beautiful bridges. There was a spectacular illumination of the bridges each night with vibrant, changing colors. Our room luckily faced that direction so we could see the illuminations vividly from our window.

The largest bridge, Big Dam Bridge, was a few miles away from our hotel. We walked across part of the span and were delighted by the spectacular waterfront view. We were fortunate that several attractions were in walking distance of where we stayed. There was a riverfront arts festival in the River Market with an expansive farmers market going on. The waterfront area was also lined with sculptures that are year-round fixtures along the walking trails. The prices at the market were reasonable and the artisans were exhibiting beautiful, unique crafts. My mom purchased a bracelet and I got a new wallet, as well as a gift for a friend whose birthday was coming up. My mom also purchased a small jar of jam which was a different flavor than we had seen at home. We didn’t check a bag on the plane and they flagged my mom at security for her jam. They pulled her aside, swabbed her entire suitcase, but luckily eventually let her through with the jam after explaining she bought it at the farmers market and proving that it was unopened.

Riverfront
Riverfront

For lunch we tried Flying Saucer which was very casual and had a vast selection of beers. We are not big beer drinkers, but we ordered a pumpkin ale because ’tis the season of pumpkin, and enjoyed it with our meals. For dinner we made a reservation in advance at South on Main, which is co-owned by Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen. Mary is from Arkansas, hence the location. The restaurant served southern cuisine with an eclectic take on dishes such as fried green tomatoes and other southern favorites. The space is also a live event venue with musicians gracing the stage periodically.

Capital Hotel
Capital Hotel

When not taking the shuttle or trolley, we walked the city which was pretty simple to navigate. We popped in the Capital Hotel, a beautiful historic site with stately antique architecture. We also went to the Old State House Museum, which housed lovely dresses from Arkansas’ first ladies as well as pillars of Arkansas state politics. On the second floor there was an intriguing exhibit called Lights! Camera! Arkansas! showcasing actors and actresses from the state along with famous movies and shows filmed there. Who knew Billy Bob Thornton or the actress who played the mother in A Christmas Story are both from Arkansas, or that North Little Rock’s Old Mill was featured in the opening credits of Gone with the Wind.

Little Rock Zoo Cockatoo
Little Rock Zoo Cockatoo

What would a new state visit for me be without getting a glimpse of the local zoo. The Little Rock Zoo was filled with families enjoying the wildlife. Many exhibits seemed like the animals were very close as they did not have traditional cages, but instead had large ditches dividing the animals from onlookers making it seem like the animals were right there up close and personal. One of our favorite finds was a very vocal cockatoo who would laugh and talk all afternoon. After the zoo we ventured to the Arkansas Arts Center where we marveled at paintings, photographs, drawings and sculpture.

Arkansas Arts Center
Arkansas Arts Center

On our final morning before heading to the airport, we took a walk to the house that was used in the television show Designing Women, which fun fact was supposed to be set in Atlanta on the show.

Designing Women House
Designing Women House

Little Rock certainly exceeded my expectations. The bridges were definitely a highlight as the illuminations were spectacular each evening. From fine cuisine to friendly locals to fantastic art and history, Little Rock has a lot to offer. Add it to your list of places to visit and you won’t be disappointed.

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