Travel

8 Reasons to Drive to Little Rock, Arkanasas

Top shelf breweries, soaring hikes, and the Comeback Kid's presidential library.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

It only takes 11 seconds of Willie Nelson’s iconic “On the Road Again” before the impulse strikes to jump in the driver’s seat, fill the cup holder with a Texas-sized caffeinated beverage, and ask Siri for turn-by-turn directions to somewhere far out yonder. But with so much to explore in our very own Lone Star State, however, we all too often forget that our closest neighbors are similarly teeming with plenty to satisfy our change-of-scenery yearnings. 

Located less than five hours away due northeast, Central Arkansas promises to exceed expectations with some of Mother Nature’s all-time greatest hits, culture galore, and a bounty of trek-worthy food and drink. Cross over that border and you’ll soon realize that the Natural State is home to far more than the birthplace of mankind’s most mammoth retail chain. And you’ll also be glad you came on wheels because there’s so much to explore throughout the region. 

Make your home base in Little Rock or North Little Rock (they’re two different cities separated by the Arkansas River), then map out your wish list with excursions both near and far. To get your engines started, here are eight things guaranteed to make your journey to Central Arkansas the best damn road trip of the summer.

Stay at The Baker
Stay at The Baker
Stay at The Baker

Stay in a 19th-century Victorian mansion

First things first: You need a place to stay (unless , of course, you’re traveling by RV). One of the best accommodations to rest your weary head seamlessly combines history with luxe amenities for a one-of-a-kind experience. Located in North Little Rock, The Baker was built as a grand private home in 1886, but today guests can make themselves at home in one of its five gorgeously appointed rooms or in the picturesque on-site cottage. The inn boasts everything you love about full-service hotels combined with the privacy of an Airbnb thanks to self check-in and individual codes to access each of the home’s rooms and suites. All guest quarters feature a complimentary in-room beverage fridge (stocked with local beers!), snacks, a coffee maker, a smart TV tune to Netflix, and sumptuous linens throughout. And depending on the suite, you might enjoy a fireplace, claw-foot tub, and more square footage in the bathroom than some studio apartments overall. The desire to stay inside and hibernate may be strong, but remember, there’s too much to see and do outside the front door.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Witness history at a national Civil Rights site

One of the major joys of travel is getting to experience the world as others do, however briefly that may be. And if you can go home with a greater understanding of another person’s unique life experience, even better. If you’re someone for whom the concept of guided tours brings on the big-time yawns, reconsider all your preconceived notions and book a tour of the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. The tour starts at the visitor center and takes you across the street to sites essential to the harrowing story of the Little Rock Nine, a group of heroic kids who dared to be the first Black students at an all-white school during the onset of desegregation. The tour culminates inside the still-operational school where a park ranger offers insight into the heartbreaking reality and cruel treatment the students endured in their far-from-equal education. You’ll Leave with a more empathetic understanding of the trauma surrounding America’s mid-century racism and how politics can skew the facts, while still finding inspiration to make a real difference in the world. It’s a heavy experience, but so, so very worthwhile.

IrinaK/Shutterstock
IrinaK/Shutterstock
IrinaK/Shutterstock

Hike the trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park

Clear your mind with a hearty dose of fragrant, fresh, pine-scented air at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, laced with more than 15 miles of trails (including seven for mountain biking) across its 2,356 acres. Hoof your way to the top of the mountain for views of the rivers and the lush landscape below, while experiencing plenty of flora and fauna along the way. Bring plenty of water, pack a picnic if you’ve got the time, and make sure to stay for sunset-but not too long after, because the park gates close an hour after the sun says nighty-night.

Lost Forty Brewing
Lost Forty Brewing
Lost Forty Brewing

Sip your way through breweries and distilleries

Visiting a new city, state, or country provides the opportunity to taste the local boozy wares wherever you can (don’t worry, Shiner Bock and Lone Star will still be on tap when you get back home). Must-visits in Central Arkansas include Flyway Brewing in North Little Rock (make sure to try the refreshing Bluewing Berry Wheat and a bacon-salt pretzel with smokey hickory mustard); Little Rock’s Lost Forty Brewing, where the Love Honey Bock will rock your world; and whiskey wows at Rock Town Distillery, along with vodka, gin, and moonshine plus their signature sweet-and-satisfying Bourbon Cream.

Rock Town River Outfitters
Rock Town River Outfitters
Rock Town River Outfitters

Paddle down the Little Maumelle River (with a dog!)

Book a kayaking adventure with Samuell Ellis, owner of Rock Town River Outfitters, and he’ll bring along everybody’s favorite non-Gilligan first mate, Grizz Lee Bear, a doggie guide who loves to swim, fetch paddle, and jump between vessels for a few belly rubs as you float down the tranquil waters of the Little Maumelle River. Or, if you’re in the mood for a self-guided exploration, you can always rent a kayak, fishing kayak, or stand up paddle board to experience the river at your own pace. With some of the lightest currents on any river, it’s an awesome place for first-time kayakers to build their paddling skills and confidence.

Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.
Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.
Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.

Eat your way through charming neighborhoods

Experiencing a city through its culinary scene makes for a fantastic way to interact with locals and commune over one great meal after another. For brunch, check out 42 Bar and Table at the Clinton Presidential Center, offering tasty food with views of the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. All your burning questions about what Ark-Mex food’s all about will be answered (including “cheese dip,” their version of queso) at Heights Taco & Tamale Co. in the Heights. Sims Bar-B-Que has been serving up ribs and traditional ‘cue since 1937 and now operates two locations. Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. keeps things simply delicious with a small, focused menu of Chinese dumplings and noodle dishes in downtown Little Rock. Food presentations don’t get much more creative than they do at Brave New Restaurant in Cedar Hill Terrace. The eco-conscious Trio’s serves creative New American fare in Andover Square with delightfully affordable craft cocktails. Local Lime in the Villages of Wellington offers a variety of tacos and one of the best salsas ever spiked with roasted zucchini and green chile. Cache in River Market presents fine dining in an elegant atmosphere that somehow manages a casual, welcoming vibe free from any potential pretense. And make sure to save room for ice cream (especially the vegan coconut-based PB Crunch kind) from Loblolly Creamery in the Quapaw Quarter as well as a fortifying coffee from Fidel and Co. near Hanger Hill.

STEPHEN B. THORNTON/Shutterstock
STEPHEN B. THORNTON/Shutterstock
STEPHEN B. THORNTON/Shutterstock

Get presidential at the William J. Clinton Library & Museum

Reopened on July 1 after more than a year of pandemic-related shutdown, the William J. Clinton Library & Museum gives a glimpse into the high-stakes, powerful life of a world leader that will impress and educate, regardless of personal politics. Among the highlights on display are the presidential limousine, a recreation of the Oval Office, and a gallery of the interesting and unique gifts people from all walks of life sent to the Clinton family over the years. Additional exhibits delve into life inside the White House, behind the scenes of President Clinton’s two inaugurations, and the early years of Bill and Hillary.

Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Go chasing waterfalls at Petit Jean State Park

Stationed about an hour’s drive from Little Rock, Arkansas’ first state park exudes national grandeur with its historic Mather Lodge featuring 24 rooms and several cabins for lodging if you want to make an overnight out of it. On site, you’ll find a swimming pool for lodge guests as well as a surprisingly good restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the real draws, of course, await in the great outdoors with top attractions spanning several overlooks, including a bird’s-eye view of the majestic 95-foot Cedar Falls. The hiking trail to this roaring wonder is a little challenging at the beginning, but levels out to be quite an easy trek with lots of shade covering the last few hundred feet. The reward is a magnificent waterfall bursting through a curved rock formation, but tempting as it may be, swimming’s not allowed in the natural pool beneath the falls. (Photoshop can change all that for the ‘Gram, of course.)

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Steven Lindsey is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Find Volcanoes, Wine Islands, and Thrills in Auckland

One minute you're on a ferry to wine island, the next you could be bungy jumping off of New Zealand's tallest tower.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

The city of Auckland is a free spirit. It is easily the most geographically blessed city in New Zealand. Within an hour, you could be tasting wines on an island, chasing more than 50 volcanoes, or leaving footprints on a black sand beach. Keep in mind, that Auckland is the country’s most populous city but certainly doesn’t feel cramped.

Instead, the city is buzzing with trendy eateries, boutique shops, quiet streets, and expansive green parks. Around every corner, you’re never too far from something beautiful to see.

From world-class wines to kickass thrills, here’s where to find what you’re looking for in Auckland.

things to do auckland

Seek the thrills

If you thought Queenstown was the home of the adrenaline rush, wait until you see Auckland. In the middle of the city, you can jump off a sky tower or a bridge, zip through the jungle, and scream on a high-octane jet boat ride. The Sky Tower, which can be seen from every corner of Auckland is more than just a landmark. Take a ride to the top and sign up for a Skywalk, where you can wander around the platform, which just so happens to be 192 metres above the ground. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you can always jump off it. It’s New Zealand’s highest jump, and can only be described as just like being a movie stuntman, or a superhero. 

The other iconic place to jump off of is the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Unlike the Sky Jump, this one will have thrill seekers dipping their hands and head in the ocean. It’s a 40-metre Bungy, and a great experience. Although, if you’d rather still take advantage of the bridge views, book a climb, which takes you right to the top for sweeping views of the city.

Another way to take in the city is via Auckland Adventure Jet, which takes passengers for spins and tricks on the water.

Just a 35-minute boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island, where thrill-seekers will find Eco Zip Adventures. Across three separate lines, you will zip high above a working vineyard and lush, ancient forest canopies, soaking up incredible views back to the city and beyond.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Sip wine on Waiheke Island

Whether you want to spend a weekend or a day, Waiheke Island is a must-visit. It’s around a 35-minute ferry ride to the island from Auckland, and once there you can hop from winery to winery. The island is quite large and the terrain is rugged, so trust the experts and book a tour with Ananda Tours. The small, family-run business is owned by Jenny who has been on the island since before the vines were planted and she’s the best person to seek out when getting the Waiheke Island experience. You can book a private tour or group tour, and they can be catered to your preferences and tastes. A few standout stops include Kennedy Point, where they produce fully certified organic Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay wines. You can also state estate-grown olive oils, which the island has plenty of. Enjoy a tasting on the deck with views of Kennedy Bay, or enjoy a picnic under the olive grove.

For the best views on the island, head to Batch Vineyard. As the highest vineyard on Waiheke, you will be treated to panoramic views of the rolling hills, blue waters, and even Auckland city. Their sparkling wine, Blanc de Blancs is a must-try.

When it comes to lunch, there are two spots to choose from. The first is Stonyridge, which is also where you can taste premium award-winning wines, including a Cabernet blend Larose‚ÄĒNew Zealand’s cult wine. The second is Mudbrick, a romantic spot, set amongst beautiful gardens with even more spectacular views, and a bar and bistro serving up some of the best dishes on the island.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Eat your way through the city

Auckland’s dining scene isn’t pretentious, but the food quality is good enough to rival the best restaurants in New York‚ÄĒbut the city doesn’t like to brag. Instead, it celebrates good food in every setting, from waterside restaurants to trendy Mexican eateries in a shopping centre.

Inca, is helmed by critically acclaimed chef, Nic Watt. Inspired by Watt’s travels to Peru, diners can expect to find Nikkei cuisine, including spicy chicken karaage, hand-pressed corn tacos filled with pork cheek and spicy tuna. You wouldn’t expect to find such a good restaurant in a shopping centre, but there it is.

Another great trendy restaurant is Hello Beasty, which is home to the famous, prawn and crab toast. This work of art starts with a slice of crispy deep-fried bread, smothered with prawn and crab mousse. On top, there are slices of wagyu, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce. Although, there are plenty of other great dishes on the menu, including a Sichuan tuna tartare, Korean fried cauliflower, and potstickers swimming in chilli oil. Try the yuzu mandarin soda if you’re looking for something fizzy to go with dinner or lunch.

Deli De Bossi is a recent opening and already becoming a favourite breakfast spot. Apart from coffee, you can get all kinds of toasted sandwiches, filled with everything from mushrooms to hams and salamis.

Another iconic eat-hit list is Parade in Ponsonby. Here, the burgers are served in a pretzel bun and filled with chicken or beef.

Most of these restaurants are casual, but if you’re looking for something a little fancy, book a table at Kingi. Taking cues from Sydney’s own Josh Niland, the dishes at Kingi focus on sustainable seafood, caught locally by local fishermen. The blue cod wings are a must. They’re covered in burnt lime and served with a ranch sauce for dipping. The stracciatella with feijoa is also a standout dish, that’s light and a great start to a meal. Inside, the dining room is cosy with bench seats, fire heaters, and exploded brick walls.

After dinner, walk down the street and grab dessert from Miann. The flavour of the day is always chocolate, and they serve up seriously good desserts. Try the tasting platter for a piece of each pastry on the menu of the day, or pick one that is most desirable to you. Although, the tasting platter is only $23 and you’d be missing out on tasting a little of everything they offer if you didn’t get it.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Discover art, culture, and movie magic

One of the best ways to learn about a city or country is by visiting its top museums and galleries. The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits atop a hill in Auckland’s Domain, which also happens to be the city’s oldest volcano. This museum is one of the most important as it tells the story of New Zealand’s natural and military history. Take a self-guided walking tour to explore at your own pace. There are plenty of interactive features for the kids and adults. The museum also hosts exhibitions. An ancient Greek exhibition is currently on display and is one of the largest exhibitions the British Museum has ever loaned to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Art lovers, spend a few hours wandering around the Auckland Art Gallery, Toi O TńĀmaki. You will find artworks from around the world, including a Picasso or two. Although, the exhibitions are a real treat. Yona Lee’s, An Arrangement of Five Rooms is an incredible installation, spanning multiple rooms, which you can sit on and touch‚ÄĒto immerse yourself in the artwork. Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, is another must-see exhibition exploring the most pressing issues of our times: climate change and resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice.

While art and history museums are insightful and a great way to educate a visitor, there are some other museum types that can be a lot of fun and interactive. Weta Workshop Unleashed is a new Auckland attraction and an incredible experience you don’t want to miss. Step into the world of filmmaking, explore how horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films are made and at times feel as if you’re in a movie. Comedic tour guides will introduce you to movies that are in production and explain every aspect, from prop making to effects, and more. There are even mysteries to be solved, making it fun for the whole family. It’s truly an unmissable experience in Auckland, and one of the best, unique tours you might ever experience.

things to do auckland
Photo: @sidwithlens

Walk on a volcano

Erupting over 100,000 years ago, Pukekawa is one of Auckland’s oldest and most popular volcanoes. Today, the Domain parkland is the remains of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of Pukekawa. Most days you will see people running around the park, families picnicking on the weekend, and tourists snapping photos by the pond or under a magnificent tree, grown from an experiment conducted by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society. Enter from one end, enjoy a picturesque walk, and exit through the historic Parnell shopping and restaurant area. On a sunny day, the atmosphere is charged with romance, but even in the rain, it’s a moody, beautiful sight to see. The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s large neo-Greek architecture is also a standout, commanding top-of-the-mountain views.

where to stay in auckland

Where to stay in Auckland

If you’re looking to sleep on top of the world, you can’t beat a room in Cordis Auckland’s new Pinnacle Tower. From the pillowy-cloud-like beds, guests have sweeping views of the city from the Sky Tower to Rangitoto and Mount Eden. Enjoy a breakfast buffet in the Eight restaurant downstairs, and canapes and drinks in the Cordis Club lounge on the 14th floor. There’s also a health club, spa, and swimming pool. The hotel is within walking distance to some of the best eateries in Auckland, making it a prime option.

Although, if you’re looking to stay in the heart of Britomart, Auckland’s hub of shopping, eating, and drinking, then The Hotel Britomart is where you want to be. From its exterior of hand-made bricks to its beautifully timber-lined rooms, The Hotel Britomart does detail like nobody else. Plus, the best of downtown waterfront Auckland is just outside your front door. With 5 Green Star Design and Build ratings from the NZ Green Building Council, The Hotel Britomart is the country‚Äôs ONLY 5 Green Star hotel, and has sustainability built in from the ground up.¬†

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.