Little Rock's modern skyline (with the brown Peabody Hotel on the right) gives way to many visitor diversions -- from art to history, river fun to architecture.*
Little Rock, AR, Delights Travelers
With Art, Architecture and Artifacts
By Marcia Levin
Hugging the Arkansas River's banks, Little Rock, AR, is a gracious bastion of the Old South that's also entrenched with important social and political events of the 20th century.
When established in the 1820s, the capital city's livelihood was based on river transport; today, much city life still revolves around the river.
Regardless of your politics, if you are interested in government and history, a big riverside draw is the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, (501-374-4242 or www.clintonlibrary.gov), 1200 President Clinton Ave.
Situated within the historic downtown area, this 20,000 square foot Presidential Library (its modern architecture is shown at right*) is considered the largest of its genre.
It easily tops a tourist’s Little Rock “to do” list. The magnificent building features wonderful interactive displays. In fact, the “Life in the White House” display is daunting -- even if you slept through the 1990s.
The main gallery space is patterned after Dublin’s Trinity College Library. The Oval Office on the third level offers authentic furnishings from President Bill Clinton’s time in office.
For more detail, visit our Arkansas page for an in-depth feature article on the Clinton Library and Museum.
Brave Teens and Designing Women
Other outstanding Little Rock sites to visit include Central High School, (501-374-1957 or www.nps.gov/chsc), 2125 Daisy Bates Drive. See photo at left.*
This year is the 50th anniversary of the school’s integration.
In 1957 the late Gov. Orval Faubus and Arkansas National Guard troops barred nine African-American students from attending school, prompting intervention by U.S. troops and, ultimately, ending segregation.
Those nine teens paved the way for millions with their bravery, making a large contribution to desegregation.
The Visitors Center sells educational materials as well as souvenirs.
If you're more into architecture or historic preservation, you'll likely enjoy touring the Quapaw Quarter, (501-371-0075 or www.quapaw.com) 1206 Main St.
Highlights are antebellum and post-Civil War homes. Some are of Queen Anne design. Others are richly Italianate Villas.
Among those Italianate homes is Villa Marre, which came to fame as the television “home” of the Sugarbakers in “Desiging Women.” Built in 1881, Villa Marre is at 1321 S. Scott St. It was one of the first post-Civil War homes to be refurbished in Little Rock.
Some of the Quapaw Quarter homes are now bed-and-breakfast inns, including the lovely Empress of Little Rock (501-374-7966 or www.theempress.com), 2120 S. Louisiana St. The B&B's logo showcasing the building's elegant architecture is at left.*
Built at a pricey $20,000 in 1888, it was built from Arkansas materials and became known as the Horniebrook Mansion
In 1897, the home became the Arkansas Women’s College. In 1990s, it was redone and is now an award-winning bed and breakfast property. Room rates start at $135, suites at $255.
Perusing Arms and Arts
The late World War II commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur promised to return to the Phillipines, but visitors to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, (501-376-4602 or www.ark-militaryheritage.com), 503 E. 9th St. also keep coming back.
The museum is located in the Arsenal building, where MacArthur was born in 1880; his father, Captain Arthur MacArthur was stationed there.
Once a munitions warehouse, this building was built in 1840 to protect settlers. Today, the museum honors MacArthur and the contributions of other Arksansas’ service personnel.
An exhibit detailing contributions of the the workhorse Jeep of World War II fame is shown above.*
Both the military history museum and the Arkansas Arts Center (501-372-4000 or www.arkarts.com), 501 E. Commerce St., are located at sprawling MacArthur Park.
The arts center (shown at left*) boasts temporary exhibits as well as an eclectic group of masterpieces including paintings by Diego Rivera, sculpture by Henry Moore and prints by Rembrandt, Whistler and Durer.
Also check out works in the permanent collection by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keefe.
Turn a visit into a delightful afternoon with dining at the Best Impressions restaurant and browsing for gifts and treasures at The Museum Shop.
It's Just Ducky
One of the gracious grand dames of southern hotels is the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, (501-906-4000 or www.peabodylittlerock.com), Three Statehouse Plaza. The hotel is about a 15-minute walk from the Clinton Library.
Plan on visiting when the signature Peabody ducks (yes, real ducks that waddle and quack) take their daily stoll to the fountain inside the hotel's lobby at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The ducks have become an institution at the hotel. See photo at right.*
The hotel has operated under the Peabody flag since early 2002. Weekday rates start at $209.
The Peabody is also home to Capriccio Grill, an Italian steakhouse, and Mallards, a charming little bar featuring music on the weekend.
The hotel is also adjacent to the Old State House Museum, (501-324-9685 or www.oldstatehouse.com), 300 W. Markham St., an impressive Greek Revival building.
Built in 1833, the columned building is the spot from which President Bill Clinton gave election night speeches in 1992 and 1996.
The Old State House's elegant look and lush parkland surroundings are shown at left.*
On the Right Track
To get around easily and cheaply in Little Rock -- and reminisce about 19th and early 20th century transportation along the way -- ride the electric streetcar (501-375-6717 or www.cat.org). The streetcar system features 11 well-marked stops.
Cars (one is shown at right.*) are clean and attractive. They provide an easy means of shuttling around the River Market area to the Clinton Library. Another electric streetcar route crosses the Arkansas River into North Little Rock.
The fare is definitely a bargain. Riders 5 and over pay 50 cents, those 65 and older and the disabled pay 25 cents. Or, if you plan to ride all day, a one-day pass costs $2.
Dining and Accommodations Options
Many restaurants are set in River Market, (501-375-2552 or www.rivermarket.info), 400 E. Market St., downtown Little Rock. One scene is shown at left.*
Check out the sculptures riverside. Then, after you've perused the shops selling jewelry and fresh produce, head for the Market's food venues -- Sticky Fingerz Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicken Shack, The Underground Pub, Flying Saucer, Bosco’s and Gusano’s Pizza.
Another restaurant that features a finer style of dining, is Brave New Restaurant, (501-553-2677 or www.bravenewrestaurant.com), 2200 Cottondale Lane.
Where should you stay in Little Rock? In addition to the Peabody and The Empress of Little Rock, local lodgings include such properties as the CountyInn and Suites, (501-758-2002 or www.countryinns.com), 110 Pershing Blvd, North Little Rock, and the Embassy Suites (501-312-9000 or www.embassysuiteslittlerock.com), 11301 Financial Centre Pkwy.
For all the accommodations and dining options, contact the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. Wherever you stay, though, you'll find a wealth of fun attractions, historical spots and riverside pursuits in Arkansas' attractive capital city.
For More Information
Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau
800-844-4781 or 501-376-4781
At right, the state capitol building in Little Rock is illuminated amid a colorful fireworks display.*
Marcia Levin is a travel writer based in South Florida. She specializes in writing about Florida, the Caribbean and cruising. She is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau or various tourism entities within Little Rock. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.