A great way to start out in Little Rock is by hopping on the sightseeing bus “The Little Rock and Roll.” It gives a tour that hits all the historic highlights of the city. And these historic highlights stretch back a long way. It was 1722 when the French explorer Bernard de la Harpe saw the two rocks on either side of the river, one big, one little.
A great way to start out in Little Rock is by hopping on the sightseeing bus “The Little Rock and Roll.” It gives a tour that hits all the historic highlights of the city. And these historic highlights stretch back a long way. It was 1722 when the French explorer Bernard de la Harpe saw the two rocks on either side of the river, one big, one little. Ninety-nine years later the still-tiny settlement became the capital of the Arkansas Territory, selected for its location on relatively non-malarial high ground.
Both of the state’s capitol buildings still stand. The one from 1836 is a local landmark; the current one was completed in 1915. The state seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, and Little Rock was taken back by Federal forces in 1863. In the 1880s it became a major railroad hub; in 1969 a collection of locks and dams turned it into a port on the river.
You don’t need a tour to find your way to the bustling River Market District , where many of the older buildings have been converted into restaurants, clubs, shops, offices, and residential lofts. At noontime the River Market building teems with hungry office workers savoring everything from barbecue to enchiladas to dim sum. Outside, from late spring to early fall, central Arkansas farmers sell fruits and vegetables on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center opened last November 4 in a 30-acre park on the bank of the Arkansas River to the east of the River Market District. The Clinton complex includes the presidential library and museum, archives, a restored Rock Island Railroad Bridge from the early 1900s, which will become a pedestrian crossing over the river, and Choctaw Station, which was built in 1899. Another building closely associated with Clinton is the white-stuccoed Old State House Museum, where the governor announced his candidacy for President in 1991. It’s the oldest standing capitol building west of the Mississippi, and its political history is showcased in permanent exhibits.
You can experience territorial Arkansas at the nearby Historic Arkansas Museum . It includes four original buildings from the 1820s and 1830s, still on their original sites. Little Rock’s oldest and most historic neighborhood is the Quapaw Quarter, which is chock-full of stately homes, most of them dating from between 1880 and 1920.
One of the major sights on “The Little Rock and Roll” tour is Little Rock Central High School and the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center , devoted to memorializing President Dwight Eisenhower’s forced integration of the school in 1957, an early landmark of the civil rights movement. Central High, built in 1927, covers two city blocks with a combination of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architecture. The visitors’ center is across the street in a converted Mobil service station.
In addition to the usual assortment of chain hotels, downtown Little Rock has two especially outstanding hotels. The Capital , which opened in 1876, is the finest as well as the most historic (111 West Markham Street, 501-374-7474).
Across the street, the Peabody closely rivals the Capital in luxury. Originally opened in 1982, the 20-story tower was extensively refurbished by the Peabody chain in 2001. Each morning at eleven a quintet of mallard ducks, herded by their duck master, parade from one of the hotel’s elevators to a marble pond in the lobby, where they spend their day. Each afternoon at five, they reverse their march, taking the elevator to their duck palace on one of the hotel’s outdoor terraces (3 Statehouse Plaza, 501-906-4000).
A tiny but outstanding eatery in the River Market building (400 President Clinton Avenue) is the Stock Pot (501-376-7687). Nearby in the Cox Creative Center, a satellite building of Little Rock’s public library, is a branch of Boulevard Bread Company , one of the best artisanal bakeries in the country. After placing an order for a soup, salad, or panini, browse the library’s book-and-gift shop next door (120 Commerce Street, one block off President Clinton Avenue, 501-244-2455).
Don’t miss the tamales at Doe’s Eat Place , a rustic steakhouse with scuffed black-and-white-tiled floors and red-checkered vinyl tablecloths (1023 West Markham Street, 501-376-1195). Doe’s 15 minutes of national fame came in 1992, when candidate Clinton was interviewed there by Rolling Stone magazine.
Ten minutes from downtown, in an area called Riverdale, you’ll find one of Little Rock’s best barbecue joints. The Whole Hog Café (2516 Cantrell Road, 501-664-5025,
The whimsically named Brave New Restaurant —possibly the best restaurant in Little Rock (2300 Cottondale Lane, 501-663-2677,
For more information about the city, contact the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau (877-220-2568,