Roll into Little Rock this winter and enjoy a weekend packed
with fine performances, restaurants and museums.

By Elaine Warner

If post-holiday doldrums are weighing your family down, look to the capital city of Arkansas for a weekend escape. Warm up to Little Rock and its array of museums, hotels, restaurants, shops and performances this winter.

Museums for everyone

One of the newest attractions in Little Rock is the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, 1200 President Clinton Ave. This presidential library presents all the highlights of the president’s childhood through his tenure in the Oval Office.

A timeline, which stretches 100 feet down the center of the building, provides a good glimpse of events during Clinton’s presidency. Alcove exhibits explore topics like international relations, civil rights and environmental efforts. Other exhibits include gifts from heads of state and a reproduction of the Clinton Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, which includes interactive stations to learn about how major decisions were made during his terms in office. Overall, visitors will learn what life was like in the White House during Clinton’s tenure.

The striking building resembles a bridge with an elevated section jutting out toward the Arkansas River. This is symbolic of Clinton’s second term theme, building a bridge to the 21st century. The building also incorporates dozens of energy and resource-saving features.

Above: The Capitol sparkles during winter holidays. Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism photo

In Title: Little Rock’s skyline. Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism photo
An exhibit, “The Long Struggle: Presidential Actions and African American Civil Rights,” examines how 100 years of presidential decisions, laws and acts have affected the average black citizen living in Arkansas, as well as across the country. It will be on display through May 18, 2008.

The Museum of Discovery, 500 President Clinton Ave., observed its 80th anniversary last year. Located in the River Market District, the museum is full of colorful and exciting activities. Exhibits from native Americans to energy offer many hands-on learning opportunities. The newest exhibit, “Room to Grow,” is guarded by a friendly dragon and is aimed at the museum’s youngest visitors.

Historic Arkansas Museum, 200 E. Third St., is an interesting complex of some of the state’s oldest buildings coupled with a contemporary exhibit area. The Hinderliter Grog Shop (1826) is Little Rock’s oldest documented building. The Brownlee and McVicar houses, both dating to 1848, and the 1824 Woodruff Print Shop–along with the Hinderliter–can be visited on scheduled, guided tours year-round. The gallery areas feature Arkansas-made arts, furniture, jewelry, quilts and many other items. The Great Arkansas Quilt Show (through March 25) and “Beautiful to Look at, Beautiful to Hold: Blown and Pressed Glass from the Permanent Collection” (through May 11) are on tap at the museum.

The nearby Old State House Museum, the state’s first Capitol, is a majestic, Greek-Revival-style structure that is home to permanent exhibits concerning the Louisiana Purchase, Arkansas history and President Clinton. It’s located at 300 W. Markham.

Artistic offerings

The performing arts enliven winter months in Little Rock. Theater is alive and well in the capital city. The Arkansas Repertory Theater, 601 Main St., continues its 2007-08 season with the musical “Hello, Dolly!” through Jan. 6. Next will be “Doubt,” which won the 2005 Tony award for best play, Feb. 8–24.

For off-Broadway selections, theater fans may want to check out the Weekend Theater, located at Seventh and Chester streets. An offbeat musical comedy, “Urinetown,” will be Jan. 18–Feb. 3. And as the company’s name implies, performances are held just on the weekend.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra also offers great entertainment from classical to pop music. In January, performances at the Robinson Center Music Hall, Markham at Broadway, include an evening of Chopin and Rachmaninoff (Jan. 26–27). At the Clinton Presidential Center, an evening of chamber music, “The Magic of 69 Strings,” will be Jan. 15. February concerts include a pops performance featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Weber on Feb. 8–9 at Robinson Center.

Robinson Center also hosts various touring theatrical performances. Australia’s “Ten Tenors,” will be Jan. 15–17, and the family favorite, “Annie,” will be Feb. 12–14.

Several downtown art venues will be open until 8 p.m. on Second Friday Arts Night, a free night of art and history, on Jan. 11. Participating locations include Arkansas Arts Center, Cox Creative Center, Hearne Fine Art, Historic Arkansas Museum, River Market Artspace and 10,000 Villages.

Downtown hotels

To be in the heart of activity, choose a downtown hotel. The Doubletree, 424 W. Markham, and the Peabody, 3 State-house Plaza, both are an easy walk from many attractions. They’re also handy to the River Market District, an area combining shops, restaurants, the Clinton Presidential Center, the Museum of Discovery and Riverfront Park, which is studded with public works of art. Look for “La Petite Roche”–the original little rock–near the north end of Ottenheimer Plaza Street, which runs along the west side of the River Market pavilions. The French explorer, Bernard de la Harpe, in 1722 came up the Arkansas River and spotted this distinctive rock, for which the city is named.

Downtown dining choices are plentiful. At Flying Fish of Little Rock, 511 President Clinton Ave., guests line up to order shrimp, oysters, calamari, snapper and the specialty–fried catfish. This place is crowded, casual and definitely come-as-you-are. At Boscos, 500 President Clinton Ave., the menu is all over the gastronomic map with items like ahi tuna tacos, Italian dishes, burgers, steaks and pizzas. Try the handcrafted beers and tour the microbrewery that’s on site.

On the upscale side, Sonny Williams Steak Room, also at 500 President Clinton Ave., specializes in great steaks. The AAA three Diamond Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse in the Peabody Hotel is another good choice for an elegant evening.

Souvenirs and then some

The Clinton Museum Store, 610 President Clinton Ave., has memorabilia, books and souvenirs. For more traditional shopping venues, Park Plaza Mall, 6000 W. Markham, has 80 stores including Dillard’s. Midtowne Mall, University and Markham, has upscale shops like Chico’s, Ann Taylor Loft, Williams-Sonoma and others. Unusual boutiques and interesting, independent stores can be found along Kavanaugh Boulevard, and don’t forget the interesting museum gift shops for Little Rock mementoes.

With all of its attractions, Little Rock has plenty of big possibilities to make a winter weekend getaway great.

Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.
Jan/Feb 2008 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 844-4781, www.littlerock.com.

The AAA three Diamond Doubletree and AAA four Diamond Peabody hotels both offer lodging discounts to AAA members.

To visit Little Rock, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices.

Order free information about Arkansas through the online Reader Service form at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.

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