Hello Travelers, itâs me, the Traveling Designer, and I want to do something a little different this month. Itâs February, so that means a shorter month and not as much time for travel. Plus, it’s Valentineâs Day month, so I am sure you have been in search of the perfect locales to spend time with your sweetie.
There are so many times that I forget the little treasures that we have right here in Little Rock. Yes, Little Rock is home to Central High School of Civil Rights fame that you may want to visit while you are here. But we also have many other perfect sights for a “staycation” or romantic dinner. I think that I will remind us locals of whatâs right under our noses and for those of you who live out of town, this can be your perfect guide to our wonderful city.
Our gorgeous capitol building is a replica of the Nation’s Capital and is wrought with wonderful history. But, first things first. Letâs talk about where to stay if you come to visit Arkansasâ capital city. And for that matter, even if you live here, itâs sometimes fun to be pampered and to have a small get away just a few miles from home. My top two overnight spots are the historic Capital Hotel and renowned Peabody Hotel. These two places are known for their white glove service and luxurious accommodations.
At the Capital, you can expect nothing less than top notch service. Whether you are on business or you and your honey are looking for a special getaway, the recently renovated interiors under the direction of New York designer David Kleinberg, is always accented with fresh flowers and a great turn-down service that will make you feel like you are nestled at home! The staff is always there smiling and willing to help you with anything you might need including an upgrade to one of their enormous, but extremely affordable, suites. I seriously think some of them are bigger than my first house!
If you get hungry, you can mosey on down stairs to the hotelâs restaurant, Ashleyâs. The cuisine is fine southern cooking with flair and the atmosphere is traditional and sophisticated, but not too stuffy. Chef Lee Richardson will make sure your dinner is a delicious combination of farm to table vegetables and organically raised meats that is sure to impress. Much of his fresh fare comes from the gardens of Arkansasâ own P. Allen Smith and other local growers.
And if itâs not a formal affair you wish for, visit the Capital Bar and Grill. Youâll get the same great service with a more laid back atmosphere and can dine casually on southern favorites like the Capitalâs famous pimento cheese and soda crackers.
My other favorite hotel in Little Rock is of course the historic Peabody hotel. Arkansasâ only 5 star hotel, the Peabody was founded in Memphis, Tennessee, but lucky for us, one of the three Peabody hotels is located right here in Little Rock! And if the luxuries of the hotelâs interiors donât do it for you, the ducks walking the red carpet will. Your kids will love these cute friends that welcome you in the morning when they make their way to the fountain. And when you are not downstairs, their motif appears on all the little details in the hotel to remind you of their presence. In the evening they make their way back to their very own palace at the hotel. Pampered ducks, donât you think?
And the Peabody is home to another great restaurant Capriccio. Southern hospitality is a must here in Little Rock and these two hotels get it right. Good thing they are located right across the street from each other in the downtown area. Good luck choosing which you prefer!! The good news is you canât really go wrong with either.
And while you are downtown, jump on one of our trolleys and take a tour around the River Market. You will find quaint shops and eateries there and a fun and exciting atmosphere. I am quite fond of The Flying Fish, a super casual catfish eatery. And across the street is one of my favorite steakhouses, Sonny Williams. The cozy atmosphere, great wine list, and delicious cuts of meat make this a great place for a special occasion.
Just down the way from the River Market is the Clinton Library. So if you are interested in learning more about Arkansas’ favorite son, head down for a tour. You will learn everything about Bill Clinton from his childhood through his presidency. So even if you aren’t on his side of the political fence, it is certainly a great lesson in Arkansas and American history.
While downtown, Little Rock offers much in the way of cultural experiences too. The Arkansas Arts Center is beautiful and has both permanent and traveling exhibits that are must-sees. Also, the Arkansas Repertory Theater has stellar performances of both classic theater, musicals and more modern performances. The actors for the Rep’s shows are cast in New York City, but often also include some of Arkansas’ finest talents, so the experience is both high quality and charming all at the same time. Or if you are more about the Orchestra, Arkansas has a wonderful Symphony with regular performances at the Robinson Center Music Hall.
In the spring, you can make your way across the River and take in an Arkansas Travelers Baseball game at our stunning new Dickey-Stephens complex. The Travelers are a farm team to the California Angels, so there is some great talent that comes through our hometown baseball team. And nothing’s better than baseball, a hot dog and a beer on a sunny spring day, right?
Ready to venture to other parts of town? You can head over to the Hillcrest area. It is a quaint part of town with a more Bohemian atmosphere. Residents usually walk to all the destinations in this neighborhood, so it has a bustling atmosphere with hip restaurants and cool shops.
At Ferneau, my friend Chef Donnie Ferneau, will not disappoint. Probably my favorite restaurant in Little Rock, you can’t go wrong with his fabulous steaks, the tomato bisque and for me it’s always the Ahi tuna. Donnie serves award winning cuisine and he also works with Arkansas farmers to incorporate many local ingredients into the Ferneau menu. And Ferneau has a well curated wine list with a few that aren’t on the menu, so be sure to ask about their special wine selections! From Ferneau, you can spend time walking in Hillcrest. There are shops, other fun restaurants, art galleries and more in this laid-back part of our city.
Over in the Riverdale area you will find Little Rock’s “Design District”. If you are looking for great interior design finds be sure to check out Bear Hill Interiors collection of Baker Furniture and other gorgeous lines. Mertinsdyke Home is more contemporary and cool furnishing and they have recently added vintage to their list of offerings.
If you are more into antiques, just across the street is Marshall-Clements with an impressive selection of fine European antiques and collectibles. For those do-it-yourselfers, Cynthia East fabrics has a wide selection perfect for whipping up your own draperies or a gorgeous textile to have your chairs recovered in. Before you leave the area, Kaki Hockersmith, designer for President Clinton, has her shop here too with a small but beautiful collection of wares. And if you get hungry during all this shopping, I suggest a trip to The Pizza Cafe. They have quite possibly the best patio and pizza in town and it’s nestled right in the middle of all these fabulous designer destinations!
If sushi is more your style than pizza, you have to check out one of my favorite sushi restaurants anywhere. Sushi CafÃ© located in the Heights, another quaint Little Rock neighborhood located just up the hill from Riverdale, has the freshest sushi and lots of other great menu items. With happy hour every day, itâs a fun place to visit after work.
If it’s a little something sweet that you crave, Cupcakes on Kavanaugh is a short walk up Kavanaugh Boulevard in the Heights. They bake gourmet cupcakes in an adorable little shop. They have even opened up a second location in West Little Rock, Cupcakes on the Ridge, for those of us who live farther west.
And on your way to Cupcakes from the Sushi Cafe, stop in and say Hi to one of my best friends, Molly, at Molly’s Paperie. She has the best stationery and adorable gifts. And the Heights is full of other wonderful places. If you are there around lunchtime, stop in one of my other favorites, Boulevard Bread Company. Boulevard is like a little piece of Italy with delicious cheeses and meats. And they make delicious sandwiches, panini’s and salads that you can enjoy on a pretty day on their patio.
Alright ladies, here’s what you have been waiting for, where to shop!!
While still in the Heights, I suggest stops into Kristin Chase, with lines like American 525, Finley, and Lilly Pulitzer, and Tulips carries Juicy Couture for moms and kids and lots of the latest and greatest lines of ladies apparel and jewelry.
Heading a bit farther west, Barbara Jean is one of my top go-to spots for clothing, shoes and makeup. The ultimate luxury shopping experience, Barbara Jean treats you like a queen while you shop for the latest looks straight off the runways of New York.
Just a hop, skip and a jump up the street is something for the men. Baumans is my husbandâs favorite place to shop and he is a shopper. Baumans is one of the best men’s shops in Arkansas with lines like Zegna, Peter Millar, Feragamo, and even casual brands like 7 jeans. And owner Wayne Ratliff and the rest of his amazing crew will make sure you find everything you are looking for. They have gorgeous ties and pocket squares, which is what I like to buy for the men in my life. No matter if you are classic, European or casual in your attire, Baumans Fine Men’s Wear has something you will love.
If you make your way to Little Rock’s premier open air mall Pleasant Ridge Towncenter, you will find many more great shops and places to dine. Forsytheâs ladies apparel is my go to place for everyday wear. Work, play and those special outings can be dressed by Robert, Stephanie, and the girls at Forsythe’s. And their “shop within their shop,” Kristen Todd, is a costume jewelry mecca. If you stop by here, tell them I sent you and they will take great care of you!
Other must see shops at Pleasant Ridge include Cobblestone and Vine, which is one of my favorite home furnishing stores. Cobblestone has a European flair but carries some of my favorite lines including Hickory Chair. You can also find great children’s clothing at Cupcakes and Caterpillars and the Toggery. And pick up lunch or dinner at Panera Bread, Bonefish or Cheeburger Cheeburger. Or if you prefer to cook, the Fresh Market is located right here in Pleasant Ridge too.
So there you have it, a great start to a tour of Little Rock. There are more treasures that I promise to bring you in a future post. I hope if you live here, you will get out this spring and support these local vendors. And if you are coming to town for one of my design camps or another reason, please use this guide to help you have a fantastic stay here in our gorgeous Southern town.
Now I am off for a whirlwind of travels both in and out of the country in the next few weeks. So stay tuned for more exciting adventures. And until we meet again, Happy Travels!