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  • Little Rock, Arkansas
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    Little Rock,

    Arkansas

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    Little Rock is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Arkansas.The city's population was 202,591 in 2020 according to the United States Census Bureau. As the county seat of Pulaski County, the city was incorporated on November 7, 1831, on the south bank of the Arkansas River close to the state's geographic center. The city derived its name from a rock formation along the river, named the "Little Rock" (French: La Petite Roche) by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe in the 1720s. The capital of the Arkansas Territory was moved to Little Rock from Arkansas Post in 1821. The six-county Little Rock–North Little Rock–Conway, AR Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is ranked 78th in terms of population in the United States with 738,344 residents according to the 2017 estimate by the United States Census Bureau.Little Rock is a cultural, economic, government, and transportation center within Arkansas and the South. Several cultural institutions are in Little Rock, such as the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, in addition to hiking, boating, and other outdoor recreational opportunities. Little Rock's history is available through history museums, historic districts or neighborhoods like the Quapaw Quarter, and historic sites such as Little Rock Central High School. The city is the headquarters of Dillard's, Windstream Communications, Acxiom, Stephens Inc., University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Heifer International, Winrock International, the Clinton Foundation, and the Rose Law Firm. Other corporations, such as Amazon, Dassault Falcon Jet, LM Wind Power, Simmons Bank, Euronet Worldwide, AT&T, and Entergy have large operations in the city. State government is a large employer, with many offices downtown. Two major Interstate highways, Interstate 30 and Interstate 40, meet in Little Rock, with the Port of Little Rock serving as a shipping hub.
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    Road Trips

    Ultimate Arkansas Road Trip

    Road trip season is on its way, and we can’t think of a better way to enjoy the open road than to head to Arkansas, within driving distance from much of America’s heartland and boasting endless opportunities to savor American history, culture, food, and natural wonders. Here, some of the highlights of the ultimate road trip from the capital, Little Rock, to the wild beauty of the Ozark Mountains. Culture & Food in Little Rock Little Rock is one of America’s affordable gems, a bustling metropolis packed with natural beauty, culture, and great food. Hit the River Market District to sample classic southern comfort food, distinctive regional fare, and imaginative culinary fusion from local chefs—and you can get to the River Market District via METRO Streetcar. History buffs will want to spend some time getting to know the Clinton Presidential Center & Park, beautifully designed with an eye toward limiting environmental impact. Many visitors to Little Rock are surprised to find nature at every turn, and the Central Arkansas Nature Center and Clinton Presidential Park Wetlands allow for wildlife viewing and quiet moments right in the middle of town. Every well-traveled kid should see the Museum of Discovery with its hands-on learning activities for all ages. The Delights of Eureka Springs Visitors to Arkansas will savor a stop in Eureka Springs, a town truly like no other. Here, classic Victorian homes are situated along winding mountainside streets; downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places and boasts award-winning restaurants and exceptional shopping featuring unique, local items at boutiques, art galleries and studios, and craft shops. (Public art is also on display all around town, spotlighting the community’s commitment to creativity.) But Eureka Springs’s charms don’t end in town—situated in the heart of the Ozarks, there are ample opportunities for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and much more. And those looking for a relaxing spa experience will find a number of local hotels that offer access to soothing springs. History & Art in Bentonville Here in the foothills of the Ozarks, the town of Bentonville may be best known as the headquarters of Walmart (you can even visit the original Walmart 5&10 from 1950), but the relatively small community packs much more into a tidy package. Don’t miss the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, covering five centuries of American art from colonial days to the present. Art fans will want to continue exploring Bentonville at 21c Museum and Hotel, which combines more than 12,000 square feet of art galleries with an adjacent 100+ room boutique hotel. Kids of all ages will relish an afternoon at Scott Family Amazeum, where you’ll never hear the words “don’t touch”—it’s all about playing and learning. And you mustn’t depart Bentonville without immersing yourself in one of the south’s most significant collections of Native American artifacts at the Museum of Native American History. Folk Music & Crafts in the Ozarks We love that music can be heard just about everywhere you go in Mountain View. Here, locals join visiting musicians to entertain crowds—and one another—with traditional mountain music in the town square during the warm months (which, here in Mountain View, go from mid-April through late November). Founded in the 1870s, Mountain View has become a major center of traditional Ozark culture and music. The epicenter of folk music and crafts here is the Ozark Folk Center, where you’ll experience demonstrations of a range of crafts such as pottery-making and blacksmithing, not to mention traditional music—you can get lessons on a classic mountain instrument such as the autoharp or dulcimer, and even learn to dance a jig. Easy Outdoor Adventures in St. Francis National Forest Quick: Where’s the only National Forest that includes Mississippi River shoreline? It’s Arkansas’s own St. Francis National Forest, on the east central region of the state. Covering more than 20,000 acres, the hardwood forest is a mecca for wildlife observers. Here, the woods are teeming with turkey, rabbit, whitetail deer, and a plethora of waterfowl. Abundant game fishing includes striped and largemouth bass and, of course, catfish. St. Francis National Forest is a place to enjoy low-impact, low-stress outdoor adventures. Bear Creek Lake offers opportunities for swimming, boating, and camping. More adventurous visitors may enjoy four-season pursuits in the St. Francis and Ozark National Forests, where cycling, canoeing, horseback riding, and even ATV rides are popular. The Ozark and St. Francis National Forests offer such an abundance of natural beauty, in fact, that they are crossed by six U.S. Scenic Byways. Don’t Miss These Natural Wonders There’s a reason that Arkansas is nicknamed The Natural State. Here, an array of parks, forests, mountains, and more attract road trippers from across the U.S. Some don’t-miss natural highlights include lakes and rivers situated in more than 20 state parks. As mentioned above, the Ozark and St. Francis National Forests boast a number of lakes just waiting for vacationers. Natural springs abound in Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, and other “hotspots.” And be sure to have your camera or smartphone at the ready for the Instagrammable mountain ranges, waterfalls, natural bridges, flowers, and wildlife you’ll encounter along the route of your ultimate road trip! To learn more and plan your road trip, visit arkansas.com.

    Travel Tips

    6 Best Apps for Food-Loving Travelers

    Finding great food on the road is a strategic endeavor—part art, part gamble. Sure, there’s always the chance you’ll stumble onto the odd gem, but you’re more likely to have memorable meals if you do some research and planning in advance, like reading local reviews, cross-checking against Yelp and Google, and combing through relevant social-media posts to find those can’t-miss destinations and experiences. Once you’ve got the entry-level stuff down, these five apps (plus one bonus resource) will take your game up a notch. 1. LocalEats Looking to elevate your dining experience from generic to hyper-local? An offshoot of a long-running series of guides called Where the Locals Eat, the LocalEats app curates the best restaurants in your vicinity—no chains allowed. For a plethora of options, search by cuisine, price range, and neighborhood, or enable GPS location services to discover recommended establishments nearby, like a vegetarian-friendly dumpling house in Little Rock or Ann Arbor's best Ethiopian joint. You can also narrow the field by opting to show the staff’s top picks only.Free, available on iPhone and Android; localeats.com. (Courtesy Withlocals) 2. Withlocals A “weird food” tour in Hong Kong, or an edible-garden tour in Kuala Lumpur? Wine-tasting with an Italian winemaker in Rome, or a vegetarian tapas crawl in Madrid? Withlocals links travelers with people on the ground in 22 countries and 50 cities to offer unique activities, food-focused and otherwise, including cooking classes, home dinners, and all kinds of tours.Free, available on iPhone and Android; withlocals.com. 3. Eatwith Another platform connecting locals and itinerants for food tours, classes, and private meals, Eatwith provides travelers with a taste of city life. Book a Sunday dinner in Reykjavík with a mechanical engineer and his distillery-manager wife, or settle in for four courses of Hungarian home cooking in Budapest; stateside, make deep-dish pizza with a Chicago-area native, take a seat at the table for a Venezuelan winter feast in Brooklyn, or explore Miami’s hidden side with a secret food tour.Free, available on iPhone and Android; eatwith.com. 4. ChefsFeed Who has a better handle on the food world than a culinary professional? ChefsFeed gets a network of kitchen stars (think: Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuelsson, and Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi) to give up the intel on their favorite dining destinations, from niche interests like New York’s best bets for sea urchin to macro-level primers like where to eat in Colorado's ski towns. Search by city, look for nearby hot spots, or peruse the experts’ picks for your location.Free, available on iPhone and Android; chefsfeed.com. 5. Drizly Say you’ve scoped out the perfect place for a meal...only to discover that it’s BYOB. Drizly can deliver a bottle or two to your door—a worthy alternative to wasting your limited free time running around in search of a liquor store. Active in nearly 100 cities nationwide, the online beverage distributor carries wine, booze, and beer, plus an array of bitters, mixers, and garnishes for the cocktail connoisseur. Throwing a hotel-room fiesta? You’ll find all the supplies you need here, from red Solo cups and plastic wine glasses to corkscrews and snacks. (Don’t forget the ping pong balls).Free, available on iPhone and Android; drizly.com. 6. Traveling Spoon It’s not an app, but given its deep roster of highly qualified global hosts, Traveling Spoon (travelingspoon.com) is a mandatory bookmark for any food-curious tourist heading overseas. Whether you're sitting down for a homemade meal, picking up a new culinary skill, or wandering through the local market with a guide who knows their stuff, all hosts and experiences are thoroughly vetted, so you'll be in good hands. Learn how to handle phyllo like a pro in a fifth-floor Athens apartment, join a Brazilian family for supper in São Paulo, or opt for a traditional thali-style meal in Mumbai.

    Road Trips

    Road Trip: The Arkansas Ozarks

    In the Arkansas Ozarks, every new place you come to seems to be the capital of something. Newton County is the state's elk capital; Mountain View is its folk-music capital. Even most non-capitals have a claim to fame. (See: Altus, Ark., "Home of the First Season of Fox'sThe Simple Life.") But don't make too much of all the big talk-one look and you can tell that these are tiny towns from another time. To my mind, however, it's the meandering roads between them that deserve all the acclaim. The mountains are crisscrossed with two-lane roads-most of which weren't paved until after World War II-that wind through oak forests to uncover sweeping views along ridges, and then dip into valleys along the Buffalo and White Rivers. Sleepy and slow, they force you to take your time getting from one town to the next, which is truly the point. 1) Little Rock to Jasper I met my sister Maggie, who flew in from Savannah, Ga. We set out for lunch at one of Little Rock's famous hamburger joints, the Purple Cow. The burger was good, the milk shake better; the combination, in hindsight, was probably not the best way to start a long road trip. Our first real stop was the town of Altus, capital of Arkansas wine country. You probably didn't know that Arkansas has a wine country. Neither did I. About 115 miles from Little Rock-and not en route to our evening's destination-Altus required a little detour. But I thought it was worth it, since the town has four of the state's five wineries. (A majority of counties in Arkansas, I was told, are Baptist-and therefore dry.) To my delight, I was informed by a welcome to altus sign that this was also "Home of The Simple Life," the Fox reality show featuring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. There's the Sonic where the girls "worked"! There's the bar where Nicole poured bleach on the pool table! And yet Paris and Nicole didn't leave too much wreckage in their wake. Altus is still a small, quiet town. We stopped in at the visitors center on Main Street to pick up pamphlets about the wineries, half of which are a short drive up a mountain. My favorite was the first we saw, Post Familie Vineyards and Winery, which is run by the 12 Post children. A fellow named Zack (not a Post) poured us reds, ros}s, and a grape juice. The wine was just OK, but the place was wonderfully unfussy. I particularly liked the Altus Grape Juice. Leaving Altus, we entered the Ozark National Forest, heading toward Jasper. Still recovering from our earlier burgers, we got snow cones at the Ozone Burger Barn. Up to this point, the drive hadn't revealed much more than oak trees and the occasional farm, and I was a little worried that we might get bored. (The Paris-and-Nicole rush passed quickly.) At that moment, however, I heard a rumbling sound in the distance, and a spunky 60-something couple pulled up on a pair of four-wheelers. In a matter of minutes, they'd peeled off their goggles, downed a couple of Cokes, and hopped back on their ATVs. As the duo rumbled away in a cloud of kicked-up dust, I was transfixed. The best part of the day's drive was the last 15 miles south of Jasper on Highway 7, called Scenic 7. Essentially, the road to Jasper had been a gradual climb. We finally got an unobstructed view of the valleys off the side of the ridge we'd been ascending, known as the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks. There isn't much more to the town of Jasper than an ice cream parlor, a Christian bookstore, and a little shop selling rocks and minerals. But Newton County, of which Jasper is a part, bills itself as the Elk Capital of Arkansas. In 1981, to encourage tourism, officials trucked in 112 elk from Colorado. The herd has grown to 550, and they roam free all over the area. Which is not to say that we saw any. The Ozark Caf}, a '50s-style diner, was still open when we got there just before 8 p.m. (Everything closes early in these parts.) Black-and-white photos of early settlers covered the walls. Maggie and I both had the fried catfish special, and then we split a piece of peach cobbler with ice cream. We found a nice room down the road from the town square at the Arkansas House Bed & Breakfast. The place reminded me of my grandparents' house: soft colors, floral wallpaper, and old, wooden bed frames. 2) Jasper to Eureka Springs Our B&B offered free breakfast at the Boardwalk, a restaurant next door. We loaded up on biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon, and hash browns. Then we set out to walk it off. Up the street, Emma's Museum of Junk was one of the better junk shops/thrift stores we visited. Maggie bought two old scarves for a dollar apiece. There wasn't much else to do in town, so we took a half-hour side trip down the mountain toward Boxley to hike the Lost Valley Trail. The trail is a gentle climb along a riverbed leading to a deep cave. I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to try spelunking. To get more than 20 feet in, you need a good flashlight or headlamp. I borrowed a small one from a couple we met on the trail, but the cave still got very dark-quickly. At the back, it narrowed to a twisting, single-file passageway that led to a long, low, dripping room. I shimmied around, crouched under a ledge, and then turned back. A sign at the bottom of the trail explained that a little farther in there's a high-ceilinged cavern; during the wet springtime, it's the source of an underground waterfall. After hiking down the trail, Maggie and I returned to Jasper, buying groceries, lures, and weekend fishing licenses at Bob's A.G. Supermarket and Do-It-Best. The Buffalo River is known for manageable water, great smallmouth bass fishing, and dramatic limestone bluffs above the shores. Both Maggie and I love to canoe and fish, and we planned to do a long stretch of the river, camping out overnight. (In preparation, we'd brought our own fishing rods, sleeping bags, and a tent.) We stopped at Dillard's (now closed), an outfitter where we rented canoes, life jackets, and paddles for $40, and left our car out back. A fellow named Bobby drove us to the river, and showed us on a map where he'd pick us up. The Buffalo was slow, so we admired the bluffs. We caught a couple of small fish (which we threw back), and the day was pleasant enough. But the water was so low that we had to keep getting out to push the canoe over shoals. By the halfway point, we were ready to bail. We happened to arrive in Eureka Springs at exactly the same time as a classic-car convention. The town's more affordable spots up the hill-like the Stonegate-tend to fill up early. Book ahead if you're planning to get in late. 3) Eureka Springs to Mountain View Sunday morning I drove over to see the site of the Great Passion Play, a reenactment of Christ's last days. Performances take place five days a week from late spring through early fall in an outdoor amphitheater, located on a hill overlooking town. The full-blown affair sounded like more religion than I usually enjoy on vacation, so I checked out the site at 8 a.m., when it was sure to be deserted. A 67-foot-tall concrete Jesus was planted near the amphitheater, and soft organ music floated out from speakers on nearby pine trees. The historic section of Eureka Springs is one of Arkansas' biggest tourist destinations. The town used to be known for the healing power of its springs; there's still a quaint, 19th-century feel here. A bus built to look like an old-fashioned trolley runs a loop through the historic part of town. It's a quick way to see what's worth coming back to on foot. First we navigated the steep, winding roads through the busy town center, which felt like a well-behaved Bourbon Street. Then, the trolley began to climb a hill through the leafy neighborhoods where the locals live. Twenty minutes later, we got off and walked up to the Palace Hotel and Bathhouse, Eureka Springs' only remaining baths. The best deal here is the eucalyptus steam and the clay mask treatment ($12 each), recommended as a pair. For the steam, I sat inside a wooden box that enclosed everything but my head, which poked out the top. I felt like a prisoner in a medieval torture chamber. The experience was anything but painful, however; it was a refreshing half hour. The only thing left to do in Eureka Springs was walk around and eat. By this point, we were tired of southern food, so we went to New Delhi, an Indian restaurant run by Bill Sarad, a Mumbai native. We split a meal of lentils, vegetarian meatballs, and basmati rice. We got into Mountain View around 8:30 p.m. The town is Arkansas's Capital of Folk Music, and this time the label fit. We saw several groups playing bluegrass in the town square. People were casually strolling around with instruments, moving from one ensemble to the next. Most of the instruments were stringed-guitars, banjos, mandolins-and the voices were flat and high. The entire town seemed to be out enjoying the festivities. The only place still open for dinner was Kin Folks Bar-B-Q, a tiny building at the edge of the square, and that's where I ate my first Frito pie. It came in a French-fry tray, with three layers: Fritos on the bottom, chili in the middle, cheddar and onions on top. I still can't get over the incredible, disgusting genius of this idea. Plus, it happened to be quite tasty. 4) Mountain View to Little Rock After my success with Frito pie, I was feeling lucky, so I made one final southern-food stop in Greenbriar, at Nelson's Wagon Wheel Restaurant. The sign had fallen down outside, the place was shabby, and the clientele was intimidatingly local. But the chocolate pie was a towering wonder of buttery greatness. It was one of the best-and biggest-slices I've ever had. I can see it now: Greenbriar, Arkansas's Capital of Chocolate Pie. Finding your way Both Maggie and I flew in and out of Little Rock, the airport with the most affordable flights. The best time for this trip is in spring, when the rivers run high and the caves are wet. 1. Little Rock to Jasper via Altus, 205 miles For the direct route, take I-40 west from Little Rock to Russellville. Then catch Scenic 7 north to Jasper. That trip is 142 miles and should take about 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you want to see Altus and the wine country, which is 115 miles from Little Rock and adds another hour and a half, take I-40 west past Russellville to exit 41. To get up to Jasper, backtrack a little on 40 east, and then get on 64 east for three miles to 21 north. After about 30 miles on 21, you meet 16 east and then Scenic 7 north to Jasper. 2. Jasper to Eureka Springs via Yellville, 135 miles Here's the prettiest way to get to Eureka Springs: 74 west to Boxley, then 21 north to Berryville, and then 62 west to Eureka Springs. If you want to go canoeing out of Yellville, that trip is about 62 miles and takes an hour and a half. From Jasper, go north on 7, east on 62/412, and south on 14 to Dillard's. Yellville to Eureka Springs is a straight shot west on 62. 3. Eureka Springs to Mountain View, 140 miles Take 62 east to Mountain Home, then 5 south toward Mountain View. If you happened to miss the scenic stretch on 21 and 74, however, take 62 east to 21 south to Boxley. From there, take 74 back through Jasper to Hasty, where you'll meet 123 north, then 65 south, and then 66 east. One warning: On the map, 74 may look as if it connects to 65, but the road dead-ends after Mount Judea. Don't miss the connection from 74 to 123, which leads to 65. 4. Mountain View to Little Rock, 105 miles Take 9 south to Clinton, and then 65 south. Follow that to Conway, and I-40. Signs will lead to the airport. Day one Lodging The Arkansas House B&BHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5900, thearkhouse.com, from $49 Food The Purple Cow8026 Cantrell Rd., Little Rock, 501/221-3555, burger $4.75 Ozone Burger BarnHwy. 21, Ozone, 479/292-1392 Ozark CafeHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-2976, catfish $6 Post Familie Vineyards1700 St. Mary's Mtn. Rd., Altus, 479/468-2741 Day two Lodging Stonegate 2106 E. Van Buren, Eureka Springs, 479/253-8800, from $39 Boardwalk CafeHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5900 Attractions Lost Valley TrailHwy. 43, north of Boxley, nps.gov/buff Shopping Emma's Museum of JunkHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5865 Bob's A.G. Supermarket and Do-It-BestHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5164, fishing license $11 Day three Lodging Red Bud Inn428 Sylamore Ave., Mountain View, 870/269-4375, from $40 Food New Delhi2 N. Main St., Eureka Springs, 479/253-2525, buffet $8 Kin Folks Bar-B-Q123 Washington St., Mountain View, 870/269-9188 The Great Passion Play935 Passion Play Rd., Eureka Springs, 800/882-7529, greatpassionplay.com, $23.25, kids $10 The Palace Hotel and Bathhouse135 Spring St., Eureka Springs, 479/253-8400, palacehotelbathhouse.com Historic trolley ride137A W. Van Buren, Eureka Springs, 479/253-9572, tickets $2 Day four Food Nelson's Wagon WheelHwy. 65, Greenbriar, 501/679-5009, chocolate pie $1.75

    Travel Tips

    Planning a Caribbean Vacation

    What you'll find in this article: Caribbean trip planning advice, St. Lucia restaurants, St. Lucia hotels and resorts, snorkeling, and other activities in St. Lucia After three years of law school and several grueling weeks preparing for the bar exam, Jenny Meader and Heather McKinney, of Little Rock, Ark., are ready for some R&R. Both are in their early thirties, having worked for several years before heading back to school, and are looking to steer clear of a spring break bacchanal. "We're planning a Caribbean vacation before we become responsible adults again," Jenny wrote to us. "No more briefing, no more blue books, no more teacher's dirty looks." Heather and Jenny have hefty loans to pay off and hope to keep expenses to a minimum, with a budget of $2,500 each for about five nights. "We'd like to leave sometime around April 7, when the bar exam results come out," says Jenny. "The trip will either be a celebratory one, because we passed, or one where we find a new career selling seashells by the seashore." Picking the right island is the first task. We start by asking what they see when they imagine their ideal locale. "Sandy beaches," Jenny responds, "with clean, clear water, friendly locals, and good food." Heather adds that they'd also like to do some hiking. "Being near the beach and the rain forest would be amazing," she says. "We intend to go hiking and snorkeling." The island also has to be a safe, stress-free place for single women. And finally, they're looking for a stylish, welcoming place to stay with air-conditioning and, ideally, a kitchenette. It's a tall order, especially considering their money constraints and the fact that they're traveling at the tail end of high season. We first suggest St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not only is the island mostly undeveloped, two-thirds of it is a national park, with fantastic beaches and easy day hikes. But there are a few drawbacks. St. John is popular for cruise ship excursions, and well-known beaches such as Trunk Bay can get crowded. More cons: St. John doesn't have a true, classic rain forest with towering old trees; and, perhaps most critically, inexpensive rooms with A/C are scarce. Jenny is intrigued with what she's heard about the "Nature Island" of Dominica. It certainly has a legitimate rain forest, along with challenging hikes at altitudes high enough to keep mosquitoes at bay. There aren't a lot of tourists, which sounds good, but they stay away largely for the same reasons Heather and Jenny might--the beaches are either rocky or too far from the hotels they'd find most comfortable. And the main town, Roseau, is full of old, worn-looking buildings and might be a turnoff. While discussing the options, Jenny and Heather discover their priorities don't entirely match. "I'm sold on Dominica," says Jenny, "but Heather doesn't want to give up the beaches. Is there someplace that's a cross between Dominica and the Virgin Islands?" The solution is St. Lucia, famous for the two giant oceanside peaks known as the Pitons, with wonderful white-sand beaches and a variety of accommodations. We recommend staying in the shadow of Petit Piton, at the southern end of the island, near the fishing village of Soufrière. There are plenty of beaches and hiking opportunities, and it's away from the traffic and large hotels of capital city Castries. Before they settle on the Soufrière area, we offer up another choice on St. Lucia's east side, the Fox Grove Inn, which rents hotel rooms and apartments, only some of which have air-conditioning. And considering the location, they'd definitely need to rent a car, something they'd rather not do, at least not for the entire vacation. Upscale Soufrière resorts such as Anse Chastanet and Ladera are out of Jenny and Heather's price range, but might be worth visiting for a meal or a swim. At our suggestion, they consider two retreats in the mountains outside town, Crystals Guest Cottages and Stonefield Estate Villa Resort. Jenny and Heather are instantly infatuated with the latter's 19 villas--with kitchens--spread over 26 acres; paths trace lines among the mango trees and other greenery. "It seems to be exactly what we want," says Heather. "It's away from the bustle, and how could we not be excited about the amazing views?" They especially like that airport pickup is included in their package, and that all guests can ride a daily shuttle into Soufrière and to the beach at the Jalousie Plantation resort, each about ten minutes away. They decide to delay their trip until after April 15, when the resort's rates drop. And then they splurge, going for a package that includes massages and a larger, ocean-view villa. "The regular deluxe suite was sold out for our dates, so we upgraded to the luxury suite," says Jenny. "We get our own private swimming pool!" Finding reasonable airfare winds up being fairly easy, in part because Jenny and Heather shifted their dates to after spring break. A few Internet searches make it apparent that U.S. Airways has the best fares out of Little Rock: $630 round trip, with stops in Charlotte and Barbados, about $100 less than other carriers for the same dates. Satisfied with that rate, they decide against trying to save some cash by flying out of a bigger hub such as Memphis or Dallas; it isn't worth the trouble. "We definitely want to experience some of the local culture, especially in terms of cuisine," says Jenny. Camilla's, an unpretentious, second-story restaurant with balconies overlooking downtown Soufrière, has excellent dinners (lobster thermidor, creole chicken), as well as burgers, sandwiches, and salads for lunch. The Stonefield's own Mango Tree restaurant specializes in fresh seafood, and every Thursday night hosts a fun barbecue ($35). To stock their kitchen, Jenny and Heather will need to take the shuttle into Soufrière and walk to the markets on Bay Street, a block off the waterfront. They'll find all the basics, as well as island vegetables such as dasheen (similar to a potato) and callaloo (for a delicious spinach-like soup). Jenny and Heather will want to get out of the Soufrière area at some point and are leaving the option open to rent a car for a day or two. While most agencies are at or near the airports, Ben's West Coast Jeeps and Taxi Services is in Soufrière and rents cars from $60 a day. (Foreigners on St. Lucia have to get a $21 driving permit, purchased through the rental agency.) With a car, Jenny and Heather can drive to the weekly party known as Friday Fish Fry, when the village of Anse La Raye closes off several streets, and fresh seafood and lobsters are grilled to the beat of Caribbean music. (A cab from Stonefield will cost about $30 per person each way, so it's cheaper to rent a car.) They could also drive to the Enbas Saut Waterfall Trail, which leads through rain forest and over steep steps to falls that double as a popular swimming hole. Lucky hikers catch a glimpse of St. Lucia's rare national bird, the Amazona versicolor. Even at a good pace, hiking the entire Edmund Rainforest Trail, not far from Enbas Saut, can take three hours. But the walking is easy and straightforward, and it's not essential to do the entire hike to spot orchids and bromeliads clinging to trees, along with occasional panoramas of the coast and St. Lucia's tallest peak, Mount Gimie. Deep into the planning, after they've booked airfare and plotted a day-by-day itinerary, the women conclude that five nights just isn't going to cut it. "We're concerned that we won't be able to do everything we want," says Jenny. "So we're thinking about staying two more nights." Changing their flights means $100 more per person--not the end of the world. They stick with Stonefield for five nights, but want something less expensive for the two extra nights, perhaps even camping. Then they book a hotel in northern St. Lucia that they had dismissed earlier: Coco Kreole, where rates start at $85. "It's an inexpensive way to extend our stay," says Heather. "And the location, near all the action in Rodney Bay, gives us a nice change of pace after Stonefield." Making a vacation longer is hardly against the law--and returning to life as responsible adults can wait. Surprise! Jenny and Heather will enjoy a Rainbow Reef snorkeling package, free of charge, thanks to St. Lucia's luxurious Anse Chastanet resort. The package includes an excursion to nearby reefs and a plantation lunch with creole specialties. A water taxi picks the ladies up and drops them off at the Soufrière port. Bring an underwater camera! Transportation Ben's West Coast Jeeps and Taxi Services 758/459-5457, westcoastjeeps.com, car rentals from $60 Lodging Fox Grove Inn 758/455-3800, foxgroveinn.com, from $55 Crystals Guest Cottages 758/384-8995, stluciacrystals.com, cottages from $120, seven-night package from $850 Stonefield Estate Villa Resort 758/459-7037, stonefieldvillas.com, weeklong package for two from $1,225, $60 per person per day for breakfast and dinner Coco Kreole 758/452-0712, cocokreole.com, doubles from $85 Food Ladera 758/459-7323, ladera.com, Sunday buffet brunch $20 Friday Fish Fry Anse La Raye, anselaraye.com, $8 Camilla's 758/459-5379, lobster thermidor, $31 Activities Anse Chastanet 758/459-7000, ansechastanet.com, Rainbow Reef package $45 Enbas Saut Waterfall Trail trailhead at foot of Mount Gimie, six miles east of Soufrière, $10 Edmund Rainforest Trail Edmund Forest Reserve, on road to Fond St. Jacques, $10 How Was Your Trip? The Reazer family, who we coached in July/August on a 25-day road trip, loved staying in unusual places, like this yurt in Oregon's Fort Stevens State Park. "It had a futon, bunk beds, and heat--which we really needed," says mom Laura.

    Inspiration

    America's Favorite Diners

    We'll wholeheartedly admit it: We can't resist diner food. Whether we're talking disco fries to break up a marathon road trip, the mishmash of beef piled onto a Garbage Plate in a fun college town, or a perfectly browned pancake at a highway pit stop you remember from your childhood, diners—not to put too fine a point on it—are always there for travelers. Now, courtesy of our data-chomping whiz-kid friends at Foursquare, we not only know the 10 states that love diners most, but we also know the top-rated diners in each of those states, according to the app's data, including what to order. With ample serving sizes like these, your eyes will almost always be bigger than your stomach. That's part of what makes the quintessential American diner so great. And at $8.50, we'll take two orders of those mac and cheese fritters in South Dakota, please. West Virginia Betty's Restaurant112 E. German St., Shepherdstown, WV 25443 Patrons say: "An old-fashioned diner with a great Southern breakfast menu. Warning: the portions are NOT small!!" —John You should try: The Rumsey Burger, a double-decker cheeseburger made with local beef and heaped with lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island dressing. Named after James Rumsey, arguable inventor of the steamboat, which debuted on the Potomac River in Shepherdstown, the giant burger has been called a high-quality version of a Big Mac ($8). Wyoming Luxury Diner1401 W. Lincolnway, Cheyenne, WY 82001 Patrons say: "Small and cozy joint. From the way it looked on the outside I wouldn't have stopped, but read good reviews. Breakfast was awesome." —Stacey You should try: The Biker Burger, topped with Swiss and American cheese, mushrooms, bacon, grilled onions, and red or green chili ($10.45) Idaho West Side Drive-In1939 W. State St. (at N. 21st St.), Boise, ID 83702 Patrons say: "Eat whatever is on special. This is best drive-thru food in Boise." —Casey You should try: The Lemon Zip Float, made with lemon custard ice cream, lemonade, a lemon wedge, and ginger ale ($3.49)  South Dakota Phillips Avenue Diner121 S. Phillips Ave. (at 10th St.), Sioux Falls, SD 57104 Patrons say: "Awesome little diner in downtown Sioux Falls. I had a country fried steak, and it was the best!" —Laura You should try: The Salty Dog Crazy Shake, made with caramel, sea salt, and beer nuts ($6), to wash down the Mac & Cheese Fritters, "our house mac & cheese rolled into crunchy nuggets of joy, served with honey mustard sauce for dipping" ($8.50) Mississippi Darwell's Cafe127 E. First St., Long Beach, MS 39560 Patrons say: "OMG! The best meal I've had on the coast! Filet mignon tips with lump crab over French bread and shrimp étouffée! You won't be disappointed!!!" —Billye You should try: The crawfish étouffée, with seasoned shrimp on top (from $12)  Maine Becky's Diner390 Commercial St., Portland, ME 04101 Patrons say: "Cab driver from last night recommended this place—best diner in town, he says. He doesn't lie. You'll find proof in the homemade corned beef hash!" —Aaron You should try: The classic blueberry pancakes (from $2.75)  Kentucky Ramsey's Diner3090 Helmsdale Place, Lexington, KY 40509 Patrons say: "A true local favorite! People come here for the great food, like the awesome Reuben sandwich, but they keep coming back for the delicious Missy's Pies! With 4 locations, there's always one close by!" —Cypress You should try: The Hot Brown open-face sandwich, with turkey and ham ($10)  Arkansas Purple Cow11602 Chenal Pkwy. (Autumn Rd.), Little Rock, AR 72211 Patrons say: "Great burgers and shakes!! '50s style" —Donny You should try: The Famous Purple Vanilla shake, made with local Yarnell's Ice Cream ($4.40)  Montana Paul's Pancake Parlor2305 Brooks, Missoula, MT 59801 Patrons say: "Been coming to this place for as long as I can remember. One of the best breakfast spots in Missoula." —Amy You should try: The sourdough pancakes, made for the past 95 years from Paul's great-grandmother's starter ($7)  Kansas Old Mill Tasty Shop604 E. Douglas Ave. (at St. Francis Ave.), Wichita, KS 67202 Patrons say: "Milkshakes made by hand, and so good you'll want to slap yourself. Best part, you get the shake in a glass AND the mixer cup." —Brandi You should try: The Carrot Cake Shake, the diner's popular carrot cake blended right into a milkshake—people ask for it by name even when it's not listed as a special (from $5) 

    Inspiration

    A Dozen Distinctive Destinations

    For the eighth year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has put together a list of 12 distinctive communities, each one rich with character, a sense of place...and historical preservation activists. One of this year's picks is Charlottesville, Va., which Budget Travel recently profiled, too. [Photo: My Hobo Soul via Creative Commons and Flickr] Here's the full list: Charlottesville, Va.-- This college town is near Jefferson's Monticello, Monroe's Ash Lawn-Highland and Madison's Montpelier. Chatham, Mass. -- Here's a coastal community with an architecturally rich downtown. Chestertown, Md. -- Lined with 18th and 19th century houses, this town--about 90 minutes from Washington, D.C.--holds annual festivals, including a "cute dog" parade. Durango, Colo. -- Nestled between red sandstone bluffs, this town has well preserved Puebloan ruins. Ellensburg, Wash. -- A Victorian town that's home to Central Washington University and offers great fly fishing. Hillsborough, N.C. -- Holds some fantastic summer festivals and boasts an original, rare NASCAR speedway. Little Rock, Ark. -- With a presidential library, a WWII-era submarine, and the world's longest pedestrian bridge, this is the little town that could. Mineral Point, Wis. --Cornish rock houses, Craftsman bungalows, and simple log cabins can be found in this gem hidden in rolling hills. Morgantown, W. Va. --This university town has a Riverfront park with an amphitheater and miles of paved trails. Providence, R.I. --On summer weekend nights, this college town holds a festival with music and small bonfires along a central canal. West Hollywood, Calif. --This predominantly gay neighborhood offers great opportunities to spot celebrities at trend-setting places, such as the ice cream shop Pinkberry. Woodstock, Ill. -- This Victorian village town has a nationally renowned Mozart festival and a Victorian Christmas every year. Related: Budget Travel's list of coolest small towns.

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