This blog post is sponsored by Arkansas Tourism. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
When you think of Arkansas, what do you imagine?
When I visited Little Rock, Arkansas last month, my experience was much different than what I expected.
I recently had a chance to spend a full weekend exploring all this area has to offer and had a great time.
About Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock is located in the middle of the state and sits on the south bank of the Arkansas River.
With over 200,000 residents Little Rock is the biggest city in Arkansas and is filled with plenty of family activities, nightlife, arts, restaurants and shopping. It’s also well known for being the home to our 42nd President and the state’s former governor, Bill Clinton.
Little Rock is also known for its rich military history. Actually, transitioning military should first know why Arkansas is an amazing place for retired veterans and recently discharged military to move to:
- With the average military retiree falling between the ages of 38 and 44, Arkansas is a great place to start a second career.
- Aviation is a top industry in Arkansas and offers opportunities for veterans looking for their next line of work. Steel, high-tech and tourism have also emerged as major job creators and economic drivers for the state, and six Fortune 500 companies are located in Arkansas, including the world’s largest company – Walmart.
- The Natural State offers a cost of living that is considerably lower than most states. Arkansas also eliminated the state income tax on military retirement pay last year, providing an additional financial incentive for military families living in the state.
Below is my detailed itinerary of how I spent my weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas.
We arrived at 8:30 a.m. last Friday which gave us two full days to explore the area. The Little Rock Airport is decent sized, and while not huge, it’s growing and we found it very easy to get around. I even ran into a popular R&B singer named Anthony Hamilton at the airport who had performed in Pine Bluff, Arkansas the night before.
Our day started at the Clinton Presidential Library. This 125,000 sq. ft. building houses over 75,000+ artifacts from Clinton’s presidency, including real documents and letters from iconic figures like Mother Teresa and the real Presidential limousine used during President Clinton’s time in office. You can also visit full scale replicas of The Oval Office and the Cabinet Room.
There’s so much to see there, but one of me and my spouse’s favorite things was the 28 acre park outside of the library which is also home to Little Rock’s “1899 Rock Island Railroad Bridge”— now known as the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and one of the many beautiful bridges we saw while visiting.
After our visit to the Clinton Library we only had time for a quick stop before we had to get to our tour at Central High, so we headed to a popular bakery in the area called “Community Bakery” for a quick treat. This bakery was our introduction to the warm hometown feeling of Little Rock. While not overly crowded, the cafe was lively, with quick friendly service, great coffee and awesome tasting sweets and pastries.
Central High: Home of The Little Rock 9
If you’re a history fan then you’ll definitely want to head on over to Central High School National Historic Site, home of the Little Rock 9 (LR9) — the first group of African American students to integrate Little Rock’s Central High. The tour we took was so informative and the LR9 went through so much that most couldn’t even begin to imagine. It was easy to imagine yourself there during that historic time as most of the school has remained unchanged, including the 1950’s gas station that is now part of their historic site. The school itself is massive and you’ll be amazed by its mammoth size. Be sure to watch “The Ernest Green Story” which appeared on the Disney Channel and was shot completely in Little Rock at the site of the school before you visit.
Dinner in Downtown Little Rock at Samantha’s Tap Room
Samantha’s Tap Room is located in the downtown area of Little Rock. One of the great things is despite being downtown, parking is easy to find and nothing is ever too far to walk. Here at this upscale hop with a modern twist, we enjoyed Sockeye Salmon with tarragon sauce and chives with mashed potatoes, an amazing seafood gumbo soup, and a little piece of heaven with this yummy Cuban sandwich.
After dinner we checked into the new Hilton Garden Inn also located downtown and slept for a while since we had been up all day for our early flight.
Our hotel was gorgeous and housed awesome rooms and a friendly staff. Later that night we experienced a little of the area’s nightlife at our hotel’s trendy rooftop restaurant/lounge called Agasi 7. This modern indoor/outdoor lounge takes up the entire 7th floor with a stylish bar area as well as plush couches and chairs on the rooftop patio overlooking the Little Rock downtown skyline. There are also many other new hotels in the area like this one all within walking distance to the bustling hub of happenings downtown.
Everyone knows military life requires daily fitness activity, and for those who love to stay fit and enjoy the outdoors you won’t find a lack of outdoor activities.
“Little Rock has plenty to do for outdoor lovers, with great weather (albeit humid) and numerous city parks offering running/walking trails, bike paths, fishing, private and public golf courses, sports facilities and picnic areas. Little Rock’s location in the center of the state also puts it in easy reach of a number of historic trails, such as the Butterfield Overland Trail, the Southwest Trail, the Trail of Tears, and the Little Rock Campaign of the Civil War.”
While we didn’t have a lot of time to hit up all the trails, we could easily see how there are so many opportunities to run, jog or walk in scenic areas. My favorite walk we took was over the Junction Bridge, a pedestrian bridge overlooking the Arkansas River. It’s accessible to those who may not be able to climb stairs too, so everyone can experience wonderful views and this railroad bridge that connects Little Rock to North Little Rock.
While we were visiting Junction Bridge, we learned that Saturdays in Little Rock offer plenty to do in the River Market District, starting with their Farmers Markets that happens every weekend. We had a great time viewing all kinds of products from locals like jellies, candles, jewelry, honey, kettle corn, and meats, while listening to live music and so much more.
Downtown is also filled with lots of cools things like the Esse Purse Museum, plenty of kids centers, and even a free trolley to take you around.
And, of course, when we got hungry, we had our share of restaurants. This part of Arkansas is perfect for military because our lifestyle allows us to explore different cultures’ foods. If you don’t want to let that go, you don’t have to here. Little Rock’s cuisine is one of the biggest focuses of their area. You can experience everything from Southern cooking to Mediterranean, fusion cuisine and much more.
While Arkansas has plenty of down home Southern cooking, there’s a nice balance of healthy eateries in the area. For breakfast we made a run to The Root Cafe which came highly recommended. It’s also appeared on the Food Network, and that alone made it worth the visit.
The Root Cafe speaks to Little Rock’s big but small community feel. They believe in building community through local food and tasty, healthy entrees. That’s exactly the vibe we got on that beautiful morning. We had read the line would be out the door, but within minutes we were able to order our local omelet and greens with a side of rabbit ridge sausage. This was all washed down with a side of sparkling lavender lemonade.
Although at first sight I didn’t think a table was going to happen, we were almost immediately able to grab a cute little corner table and were greeted by pretty cloth napkins (environment friendly) and the cutest most colorful table.
Since we had a healthier food option for breakfast, we wanted to try some of the foods Arkansans enjoy, like fried pickles and fried green tomatoes. We also wanted some good down-home cooking. So, with a recommendation from a local, we ate lunch in the River Market District at Gus’s Fried Chicken. We enjoyed an amazing feast of spicy fried chicken, mac and cheese, baked beans and of course fried green tomatoes.
Free Activities and Arkansas Military History
Thank goodness for all the beautiful places to walk and free activities in the area, because I was stuffed after lunch and needed to walk it off. That’s when we made our way to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.
This museum houses items and exhibits showcasing Arkansas’s military history and contributions to historic battles. There’s also a beautiful Veteran’s memorial and the building the military museum is housed in has an interesting history in that it was built in the 1800’s, was part of Little Rock’s first military installation, and is the birthplace of the late General Douglas McArthur who is one of the most decorated soldiers in military history and led U.S. Forces in the South Pacific during WWII. The admission to the museum and several other attractions like the Arkansas Arts Center are free which is perfect for families.
The other great thing about this part of Arkansas is that it’s centrally located and close to states like Tennessee, which makes it an awesome road trip destination. Memphis, for example, is less than two hours away.
All in all, Little Rock offers something for everyone. I was proud to see a diverse, progressive city with friendly people, great food options, lots to do and so much to see.
I’m looking forward to visiting again, as there are so many attractions I’d like to see in my next trip.
If you’re transitioning, getting ready to retire from the military or deciding where to move, I’d strongly consider looking into Arkansas.The cost of living is low, the pace is slower, and the elimination of the tax on military retirement pay is a beneficial option. This is especially true when you have to make the shift from losing military housing and the perks that can come along with that. I took time to talk to some of the locals and met a few people who were from Texas, New York, and Illinois. The common consensus was you can do a lot more here with a smaller income.
Consider visiting Little Rock or elsewhere in Arkansas, and learn how to plan your visit at Arkansas.com.
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