Parents dreaming of taking their kids on a classic American vacation might see swaying Floridian palm trees, the Hollywood sign, a national park tour or even simply camping in the great outdoors of New England.
Instead, picture this—a lush, green land full of gorgeous rolling hills, crystal clear lakes, progressive artistic attractions and a music and foodie scene to swoon over. Can you take a guess where this might be?
Bet you weren’t thinking Arkansas.
This plucky, landlocked state is not full of odd people or dry landscapes—instead it’s a veritable cultural, historic and exciting playground for families, especially those with teenagers. Focus on a few hotspots or cities within the state first, and when you fall in love, plan a trip back to explore even more natural and manmade southern wonders.
Head straight for the cities
Surprise your teen by flying into Little Rock and starting there, with a visit to North Little Rock first—which is actually a separate city. They have fantastic small shops and a charming downtown area full of restaurants, including a relaxing, chic wine bar for the adults. Pop into the nearby Clinton Presidential Library to see an impressive collection of memorabilia (of course, plenty of saxophones).
Back in Little Rock, there’s a fantastic new venue that can offer a memorable bonding experience over the arts with your teen. Look up the current schedule and catch a performance and meal at South on Main. Connected with the popular Oxford American magazine and renowned chefs from all over, this new space provides a special outlet for incredible talent to showcase their skills to an intimate audience. Every night is different—some spoken word, poetry and comedy, or you might see concerts and cooking demonstrations. Oh, the food—leave lots of room for some of the best collard greens, fried chicken, corn bread and fresh cobbler you’ve ever had.
Live music and entertainment for all
Is your teen is nearing graduation and not sure what their future might bring? Take a deserved break from college hunting and meet some humble, intelligent and eager Arkansas residents holding down a variety of amazing careers. For instance, hear a real live radio show at the Starving Artist Café called “Tales from the South”, broadcasted Mondays on NPR. Teens and their families can tuck into an incredibly savory southern meal while being regaled by storytellers in theater, business, music and much more. Find some inspiration in almost anything during this evening—from broadcasting to the culinary arts!
But of course, feel free to check out the campus at the University of Arkansas—it’s gorgeous and could be a great fit for your teen. If not, it’s simply a lovely place to take a walk and admire the state’s success in academia.
From North Little Rock and Little Rock, take a short road trip out to Crystal Bridges in Bentonville if your teens have a good eye for art and architecture. This massive complex is worth the journey—funded by the Walton’s of the Walmart empire, this museum and garden/sculpture park offers an entire day or to two of activities—all completely free to the public. Note the awe-inspiring main entrance and whalebone-like ceiling design before continuing on into the exhibits full of Norman Rockwell’s and Picassos. The gardens need to be part of the time spent as Crystal Bridges too—try a guided walk with more patient teens or let them venture out on the trails themselves, as most loop right back to the museum.
Funky accommodations delight teens
While we don’t mind the occasional chain hotel for classic reliability, Arkansas can give your family the chance to expand their horizons and truly experience an immersive and though-provoking stay instead at the stylish 21c. Also located in Bentonville, you won’t believe your eyes as soon as you walk in the door—these entire accommodations mimic a real museum open to the public, with installations and exhibits throughout the lobby—and up into the rooms! Have teens spy their favorites, as some are very strange and might make them look twice. I witnessed paintings of children with antlers, a room full of paper airplanes and a wind sculpture that reacted to movement, to name a few. You also can’t miss the hotel’s mascots—silly, life-sized green penguins like to move about the space and can even find their way into your room.
Have a blast and truly connect with your teen in Arkansas on an off-the-beaten-path tour of this magnificent state.