Black History the Wild West and Potus 42 Make Arkansas a Great Destination

Located at the crossroads of the South Central United States, Arkansas is at the frontier of the American Wild West, yet not Western. The state is a unique gem offering a rich history and natural beauty, making it an ideal destination to explore. On a recent visit, we discovered some of the major destinations in the “Natural State.”

Little Rock 

Start your journey in Little Rock, the state capital and a medium-sized city of about 200,000 inhabitants. Little Rock is home to several famous tourist attractions and has a blooming culinary scene. For convenience, the Hilton by Double Tree is a great place to stay in the downtown core. The city aspires to become a cultural and arts centre in the South. Make sure to check out the Vogel Schwarz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park; it’s a 10-minute walk from the hotel and a great place to start your visit to Little Rock. With over 90 works of art, it’s worth a visit.

There is a good chance that the walk worked up an appetite. Make sure to go to Three Fold Noodles + Dumplings. Owned by Chinese immigrants, the restaurant has a hip vibe while serving hand-pulled Chinese noodles with pickled veggies, different sauces, and protein. They also make delicious dumplings and steamed buns; their handmade boba tea is to die for. Truly a symbol of America today, as it blends traditional Northern Chinese food with American modernity and hospitality.

ABOVE: Clinton Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR. (Photos by Will Newton/ADPHT)


To really dive into Arkansas, you must visit the Clinton Presidential Library, dedicated to archiving the presidency of the state’s most famous son. Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas before running for the presidency in 1992. The museum shows the trials and tribulations of America’s first end-of-history president and the issues he dealt with, ranging from the Yugoslav wars to legal reform, gun control, and affordable care. Most interestingly, Clinton was the last analogue-era president. Binder upon binder of paper documentation that covers his time in office line the walls from floor to ceiling. It’s a massive collection of documents.

The museum also has a fabulous restaurant, 42, named after the 42nd Potus. It has incredible dishes like its steak salad, cooked to perfection and priced exceptionally reasonably given the upscale atmosphere and quality. The library contains a private apartment for the former president, which he can stay in when he is in town.

ABOVE: The Little Rock Central High School. (RIGHT) The Mosaic Templars Cultural Centre. (Photos: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)


The Civil Rights Movement and Black history in Little Rock are on display at The Mosaic Templars Cultural Centre, located on West 9th Street, a Black neighbourhood during segregation and, in its time, the centre of African American community business and culture. The Mosaic Templars building was used by its namesake Black fraternal organization, which provided burial and funeral insurance to the African American community from 1883 until the Depression shut the organization down.

The museum gives important insight into what living as a Black person in Little Rock was and is like. It’s a foundational look at the treatment of Black Americans, which becomes instrumental for what should be your next stop, the Little Rock Central High School.

In 1957, nine African American students wishing for a better education were reluctantly allowed to attend Little Rock Central High School, a massive post-secondary facility offering a far higher quality of education. Even though it had been three years since Brown vs. the Board of Education had stuck down segregation in the federal school systems, the law had yet to be enforced.

When the nine students first tried to enter their new school, they were greeted by a near-lynch mob of angry white residents. The state governor had called the National Guard to prevent the students from entering.

After receiving a plea from the mayor of Little Rock, President Eisenhower called up the 101st Airborne Division (under the guise of the Insurrection Act of 1807) and then placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal authority.

ABOVE: The permanent collection at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts includes a comprehensive international selection of art, and admission is free. (Photos: Mckenzie Donovan)


It is commonly known history that the students were then escorted into the school by the U.S. forces, but what is less known is the racism and abuse they faced inside the school. The on-site Federal Park Rangers are passionate about preserving the history, and their lecture and walking tour it is definitely worth attending.

For something lighter, head to The Esse Purse Museum & Store, one of only two purse museums in the world. Focusing on what has gone into purses since the early 1900s, it’s a nostalgia trip for all generations. Little Rock’s Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is another worthwhile option, showcasing artwork from the Middle Ages to the present day. The gorgeous architecture alone makes it worth a visit, not to mention, it is free.

ABOVE: Lost 40 Brewing is the largest beer producer in Arkansas but has a microbrewery vibe. (Photo: Mckenzie Donovan)


When the hunger pangs strike, check out Lost 40 Brewing. It might be the state’s biggest beer producer, but it has a craft beer vibe with quality beers. They have everything from German lagers to Belgian-style Saison beers made from wild yeast derived from a fig. It might sound odd, but the beers and the food are excellent. We enjoyed the woodfire pizzas, including great topping combinations like ricotta lemon cream, artichoke hearts, and thyme.

Fort Smith

Leaving Little Rock behind, we headed to Fort Smith, a historic town that sits on what was the frontier with the West and was thus considered a hotspot for the Wild West. Get a grasp of the history by visiting the United States Marshalls Museum. The newly opened museum (July 2023) examines the history of the United States’ oldest federal law enforcement agency and contains a memorial to fallen officers.

Its interactive displays show the history of the rangers in an interesting and fun way, and the museum does not shy away from the service’s mistakes, instead embracing all aspects of its history.

Next up was a visit to the Fort Smith Museum of History, a museum with a charming small-town feel that is home to over 40,000 artifacts. Much of the museum is dedicated to Western justice on the frontier. If you’ve ever seen the film True Grit, you may remember Judge Parker. His character was based on a real judge known as the “hanging judge,” despite his personal opposition to capital punishment.

ABOVE: Fort Smith was a military outpost and a stepping-off point for people settling in the wild west. (Photos: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)


The Fort Smith Museum provides great context for Fort Smith’s main attraction, the Fort Smith National Historic Site. The park rangers at this fort cum 19th-century maximum security Prison turned park go over the disturbing history of the location where American expansionism was carried out with hard time and the noose.

The gallows remain standing where the hanging judge’s orders were carried out. The Park Rangers are well educated on the topic at treat it with the seriousness of a historian while not glamorizing or romanticizing the town’s old west past.

See how the Antebellum nobility lived by visiting Clayton House. Owned by William Henry Harrison Clayton, the home is like stepping back into the 1880s. Clayton was a prosecutor in Parker’s court and undoubtedly played an important role in the town’s history. For a more sombre experience, visit Miss Laura’s Visitor Centre, an old Western brothel turned museum. It explores the seedier side of the wild west that history would likely prefer to forget while portraying the woman who worked in them with dignity.

Fort Smith has terrific food options. We dined at Talioano’s Italian Restaurant, a white-linen-tablecloth-style restaurant housed in a stately old home. At 53 years old, it’s one of the oldest restaurants in town, and with good reason — the quality of the pasta was incredible, and the service was fantastic. The cannelloni was delectable.


Bentonville, Arkansas, is home to one of America’s biggest success stories, Wal-Mart.  The city looks like a movie set for an idyllic Silicon Valley town with public art and murals everywhere. It’s very walkable, the absolute best way to take in the over 100 public art offerings that adorn the city.

ABOVE: The Walmart Museum in Bentonville. (Photo: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)


Stop by the Walmart Museum Heritage Lab to learn about the history of America’s largest brick-and-mortar retail store. The museum chronicles the company’s history with a focus on its founder and CEO, Sam Walton. Make sure to break for lunch at Bentonville Tacos and Tamale Co. With Mexican coke, made from cane sugar, and great margaritas, their drinks alone are worth stopping in for, but their Ark-Mex style cuisine combining tamales with American-style pulled pork and homemade salsas is awesome.

Bentonville’s main attraction is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Owned by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the museum is free. It has a fantastic outdoor park area that is home to the twin of Maman, the giant spider by Louise Bourgeois, found out front of the National Gallery in Ottawa.

ABOVE: A replica of Louise Bourgeois’ Maman at Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (RIGHT) View of Crystal Bridges Museum at night. (Photos: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)


Built on two bridges overlooking a canal filled with art installations in a 120-acre park with interactive art, the only comparison to the museum’s grandeur is the Louvre in Paris, France. Inside, you’ll find American artworks from the colonial era to the present and iconic pieces like Rosie The Riveter by Norman Rockwell, portraits of George Washington, and modern abstract art. The permanent collection includes the relocated Frank Llyod Wright home, the Bachman-Wilson House.

There is a plethora of great temporary exhibits. When we visited, an exhibition featuring some of the works of American artist Diego Rivera was on display. Included was the flowered canoe and paintings by his wife, Frida Khalo.

The on-site restaurant, Eleven — named for its opening date: November 11, 2011— makes fantastic comfort food, and its location with beautiful views of the canal makes it a great spot to grab a bite to eat.

If you’ve travelled to Bentonville to visit Crystal Bridges, stay at the 21C Museum Hotel, where you can be among the artwork in class and comfort while being two blocks from downtown, where most of the best outdoor art is.

ABOVE: Eureka Springs is known for its steep terrain and Victorian buildings. (RIGHT) The Thorncrown Chapel. (Photos: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)


Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs is another excellent destination for art lovers. On your way into town, stop at the Thorncrown Chapel. This non-denominational glass-panelled church in the Ozark mountains looks like something out of a fairytale and a sci-fi movie at once. It is absolutely gorgeous at 48 feet tall with 425 windows; it’s worth the quick detour.

The town has a very relaxed B&B vibe, mixed with some great shopping and art stores. Among them, Station Gallery is a personal favourite with dozens of wonderful paintings of all varieties;  Zarks Gallery features contemporary art, such as Basquiats reimagined in stained glass, among modern art of all kinds; Wilson & Wilson Folk Art is also a cute spot to hit with more charming artwork; The Quicksilver Gallery features beautiful custom-made artworks from ceramic, jewellery and glasswork.

Eureka Springs’s biggest claim to fame is the Crescent Hotel and Spa. Considered one of the most haunted hotels in America, it has a great ghost tour that’s worth taking, but don’t let that distract you from the great view of the Ozarks offered and the great amenities, including the on-site spa and outdoor pool that make it a great vacation spot. Don’t ask the staff about ghosts . . . don’t do it. However, do eat at the Italian Restaurant, La Cena, the food is excellent!

Eureka Springs offers charm and an artsy vibe that is entirely unique with incredible Victorian architecture.


Located about an hour from both Bentonville and Eureka Springs is the college town of Fayetteville. It is so perfect; it looks like a film set of a university town. However, nestled in the Ozark mountains, Fayetteville has a charming aesthetic with its redbrick buildings and beautiful natural surroundings.

ABOVE: The Arkansas State University Razorbacks. (Photos: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)


The state does not have an NFL football team, so people make the pilgrimage to Fayetteville to watch the Arkansas State University Razorbacks, who are nothing short of a religious symbol in town.

After a few days of Italian foods and craft brews, work off those extra calories with caffeine and climbing at Boulders and Brews. It’s an excellent freestyle gym for rock climbing with a knowledgeable staff who will teach you how to fall and climb; they also serve up some great coffees and teas.

Before hitting the bike trail, stop for some classic American food at Mockingbird Kitchen. The restaurant specializes in Ozark cuisine with a touch of class. Try their fish and grits, biscuits and gravy, or fried chicken with bacon gravy. It’s a really great spot, and you’ll need the calories since there are 50 miles of trails around town.

We rented bikes from Spin, available all over the town, like the Bixy bikes in Toronto or Montreal. En route, you can stop for a break at some great spots like Pink House Alchemy, a bakery and coffee shop with one of the best iced matchas anywhere.

For dinner in Fayetteville, consider Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurant, with a pan-American menu of Central and South American classics from Argentina to Ecuador; it’s a great spot to try something different from the predominantly Mexican cuisine on offer.

In Fayetteville, consider staying at the Graduate Hotel. It has a rustic but clean feel that pays homage to its location in the Ozarks, while also being a shrine to the Razorbacks. It’s a comfy place to stay and is located right downtown.

Arkansas is a friendly, forested state with great food, a vast amount of history, and a distinctly refined but definitely American art culture. It’s worth the trip to the Natural State, you won’t be disappointed!

Header image: Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism