By Ashton Eley
The heart of the natural state has so much to offer, from parks to good eats and cool neighborhoods.
While in the capital and heart of Arkansas, weekend visitors should make sure to check out fun events — like the World Cheese Dip Championship — that are happening around the city. Regardless of when the trip is, here are a few tips from a local to help you enjoy Little Rock’s rich history, beautiful outdoor areas, great food and more.
Where to Stay
The Capital Hotel is located in the River Market District downtown near many restaurants, bars, shops and museums. The hotel also has two fantastic restaurants/bars of its own: One Eleven and Capital Bar and Grill (order the banana pudding). For this reason, it’s a hotspot for both locals and visitors. The Capital Hotel opened its doors in 1876 and was known as the most luxurious hotel in the state and as an unofficial political headquarters. The exterior features large white columns with an original cast-iron facade. It has a grand interior to match with high ceilings and gold trim that make any guest feel like Southern royalty.
For a cheaper and still local alternative, check out Airbnb listings in the Heights and Hillcrest Historic District neighborhoods. As one of the first residential areas in the city, Hillcrest features beautiful turn-of-the-century homes. The neighborhoods are just a couple minutes’ drive to downtown and also offer many of their own great places to eat and things to do.
The thriving SoMa, short for South Main, area offers Little Rock’s only guest cabin cottages. Rosemont Guest Cottages are located on both Arch and 15th streets, walking distance to many quirky shops. Residents describe SoMa as part historic, part hipster-heaven. While in the area, make sure to stop by the Rock Town Distillery for some whiskey or grab a kombucha at The Green Corner Store.
Where to Play
Arkansas is the natural state, and its capital is no exception. Visitors can rent a bicycle at the River Market and travel along the Arkansas River Trail System for a leisurely cruise over Junction Bridge or perhaps take on the challenge of peddling the 34 miles to Pinnacle Mountain State Park. The city is abundant with scenic parks, but Knoop Park is a hidden gem. Nestled in the Hillcrest Historic District, Knoop is the perfect place for a beautiful morning stroll and has arguably the best view of downtown. Out a little farther west is the Big Dam Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in North America.
Visitors can also ignite their childlike wonder at Museum of Discovery downtown; admire talent on display at Arkansas Arts Center; get their craft beer drinkin’ on with the Arkansas Brews Cruise; soak up knowledge of state and local history at the Historic Arkansas Museum or Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site; peruse ESSE Purse Museum & Store; or spend an afternoon visiting the Heights’ or Hillcrest’s local boutiques and art shops, where they’re sure to find a few treasures to take home.
Those looking to experience Little Rock’s nightlife can hang out on the downtown strip on President Clinton Avenue or venture out to White Water Tavern, where there is always good music to be heard.
Where to eat
Little Rock is a foodie town. It takes a little luck to make it in most places around the city. Here are a few places you won’t want to miss:
Hit up Community Bakery on Main Street for coffee and breakfast (Get a danish. It’s OK, calories don’t count on a weekend getaway). Also try Little Rock’s up-and-coming most popular breakfast/brunch spot: At the Corner. It’s all pretty tasty, even the vegan burrito.
Enjoy fresh takes on the classics at Red Door or down the best biscuits and gravy in town at The Root Cafe.
Grab a po boy at Oyster Bar, order a cuban burrito at Baja Grill or join the downtowners at Vino’s for some pizza by the slice.
The Pantry/Pantry Crest has all its bases covered with a full list of great appetizers (try the bacon-wrapped dates or the pantry board), classic Czech and German entrees, well-made cocktails and legendary cheesecake. Try out the frog legs and crawfish etouffee at the Faded Rose, a former hang out of Charles Portis, author of “True Grit.” For a more upscale experience, embark on a revolutionary journey of Southern cuisine and culture at South on Main; savor fresh, quality ingredients prepared simply yet elegantly at Brave New Restaurant; or enjoy modern American organic style at Table 28.
Indulge in any of the ice cream flavors at Loblolly Creamery, just make sure to order with their homemade waffle cone. You can also down a fudge brownie pie at Honey Pies or sip a milkshake at the Purple Cow. For another delicious option, refer back to the legendary Pantry cheesecake.