Autumn The Best Time For… Day Trips
By Wayne Bell
OK, before I get all Pollyanna, I will confess that the time between late September and New Year’s is my favorite time of the year. I would take one November day over 200 summer days any day. I feel invigorated in the fall over the sticky hot summer when you are trying to escape 100-degree days and begging for air-conditioning. I suppose you could say that I choose to wear a blanket in the winter, but am a slave to air-conditioning in the summer.
There really isn’t anything better than the Fayetteville Farmers Market in the fall. It’s less crowded, the gourds are out in full force, and it’s mostly locals instead of tourists. If I could, I would start everyday with coffee and a muffin at the farmers market and take a nice stroll through downtown shops. However, I can’t, but I can dream. By the way the Saturday farmers market on the Fayetteville Square is open through Nov. 21.
There is, however, more to fall than simply The Square, the market and the leaves in Fayetteville. It is a wonderful time to travel close to home and soak up the season. From Silver Dollar City’s Autumn Festival to Little Rock’s Boo at the Zoo, there are wonderful travel experiences everywhere. The best part is, none of the trips requires a ton of driving or cash. Here are my suggestions.
Fun, Funky, Historic And Delicious
There was a time when you would go to Eureka around War Eagle Fair weekend and you couldn’t find anywhere to stay. The downtown was always packed and you would have to have reservations at any of the fantastic restaurants that fill the town.
For the past few years, that was not the case, but since the slump in the economy, things have been picking up in Eureka Springs, especially in the fall and spring.
Eureka has always been a great little town. About 10 years ago it became even more eccentric. And you know what … all power to them. With the diversity came a new Eureka worth visiting. More interesting little shops started popping up. Fantastic alternative bars and great little inns still populate the city. Anyone who wants to live and work in Eureka deserves the great things the town offers. For the gay and straight culture alike, Eureka is a great destination in the fall. The leaves are gorgeous and the city comes alive. It’s a great town for just walking around and that of course, won’t cost you a dime.
Eureka has always been blessed with a fantastic assortment of dining options from the upscale to the funky to casual family dining. The quaint little town has it all.
The town’s most famous historic hotels, The Crescent and The Basin Park, can fill up fast, but if you’re lucky enough to get in, they are great weekend destinations. Also remember that there isn’t a better time to visit the haunted Crescent Hotel than around Halloween … if you dare.
Show Town Branson, Mo.
I have written about Branson for the Free Weekly before. It amazes me that the praise that comes out of my mouth. The truth is, the Branson that I enjoy has nothing to do with geriatric entertainers and cheesy shows. The Branson that I enjoy has to do with great dining, fantastic lodging and excellent shopping.
If you can handle a bit of a splurge, book yourself into the Hiltons of Branson. The Hilton has two hotels in Branson. The convention center portion is tall and has beautiful views of the river and fall foliage. If you plan to go to Branson after Thanksgiving, I would recommend the other portion, the Hilton at the Landing. It is easily accessible to Branson Landing shopping and dining. Plus, watching the water and light show from your bedroom window is a real treat.
However, if a splurge isn’t within your reach, there are still plenty of fantastic lodging options on a lower budget. There are big chains and mom and pop hotels that run deep discounts on non-peak weekends. For best results, I would recommend calling the hotels directly to get the deepest discounts.
Branson has also increased their dining options dramatically. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Cantina Laredo. However, other great options include the School of the Ozarks, the Candlestick Inn and the Outback (not associated with the chain, at all).
Last but not least, don’t forget about the Fall Festival and subsequent Christmas activities at Silver Dollar City. I am not the biggest fan of Silver Dollar City. It comes from my time working at Disney and appreciating a big theme park. However, a lot of that has to do with how hot Silver Dollar City can get in the summer.
In the fall and winter Silver Dollar City is really great. I’m not a huge ride person, so I can enjoy what’s offered when it’s cold. Silver Dollar City’s “An Old Time Christmas” is ranked as one of the nation’s top holiday events by USA Today, Good Morning America and the Travel Channel. There is nothing better than strolling around Silver Dollar City with your cider and watching craftsmen do what they do best. Gosh, I sound old.
Urban And Growing Little Rock
OK, so I grew up around Little Rock and I can understand how you might think I am crazy for calling it scenic. Truth is, there are some beautiful sections to visit in Little Rock. It has really come a long way in a relatively short period. When I was a kid and would visit my father downtown, it always seemed fairly empty and cold. I remember going with him late one night to pick up some papers and the downtown area looked like a ghost town.
Boy, how things have changed. The downtown area is really thriving, thanks in part to the Clinton Presidential Library, the renovations and new shops in North Little Rock just across the river, Little Rock’s River Market and RiverFest Amphitheater and the expanded Arkansas Arts Center, which is a true jewel.
Whether it’s “Party at the Peabody” or great bars like Flying Saucer, Little Rock is drawing the masses downtown. If you have the finances to stay at the Peabody or another of the downtown hotels, all the better. The area is fantastic at night and the River Market is a must during the fall and winter.
Besides downtown there are other interesting areas, too. The Heights and Hillcrest are still among the best neighborhoods in the state. From beautiful homes, to quaint shops and galleries, to bars and restaurants, the area has something for everyone.
If you are looking for a great fall activity, why not try “Boo at the Zoo.” The event at the Little Rock Zoo is still going strong after many years. It continues to be Arkansas’ largest family Halloween event. With a laundry list of giveaways, it is well worth the drive.
Also Urban And Growing Tulsa
No mention of day trips would be complete without including Tulsa. Nothing quite beats walking around Utica Square on a cool fall morning. Between Petty’s Fine Foods and Saks Fifth Avenue, Utica Square still proves to be Tulsa’s finest shopping destination. From its quaint street lamps to its cobblestone paths, Utica Square provides a great half-day destination.
Much like Little Rock, Tulsa is striving to reinvigorate its downtown area. With the opening of the nearly $200 million BOK Center, things are picking up. The architectural masterpiece of glass and steel designed by Cesar Pelli can seat 20,000 in the multipurpose arena. It can accommodate football, basketball, hockey and concerts. Home to the Tulsa Oilers, the Tulsa Talons and the Central Hockey League, since it opened about a year ago, there have been concerts by Paul McCartney, Elton John and many others. New clubs and restaurants, like the superb Eloite, are popping up left and right in downtown Tulsa.
A few blocks away from the BOK, the Brady Arts District is thriving. In addition to galleries, restaurants and bars you will find the historic Brady Theater, that recently hosted Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. The home of western swing, the historic Cain’s Ballroom that has been the stage for a wide variety of acts from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys to the Sex Pistols is also there. Cain’s is still booking in established and emerging acts.
Tulsa is also home to the beautiful Philbrook Museum of Art on the grounds of the Philbrook Gardens.
There are great dining and club options in the Brookside area. The Peoria area is thriving and alive with great places to enjoy a wonderful dinner like Keo and outstanding desserts like Kokoa. I can’t imagine a better way to end a fall day than with coffee and chocolate treats from the famous dessert house. My best friends Sarah and Lance introduced me to all sorts of wonderful places in Tulsa. It’s a great city to explore. If you’re looking for off-the-wall shopping, be sure to hit Dwelling Spaces.
So as you can see, even in these hard times, there are great places to visit on a budget. On one tank of gas, you can have the perfect autumn weekend vacation.
A Few Things To Consider:
Prices fall at hotels the closer to Thanksgiving.
Many restaurants offer holiday specials and early-bird dining specials at greatly reduced prices.
Check with the city’s Chamber of Commerce or tourism and convention bureau to find out if there are any citywide specials.
Look for free activities like farmers markets. Browse galleries and do some window-shopping.
Ce shops and art galleries for ideas on affordable dining and shopping. Those folks are usually in-the-know.
Now all that being said, there is nothing wrong with buckling down and staying in Fayetteville. From the farmers market to the Lights of the Ozarks, you have to wonder how many people in all these other cities are coming here to have their own perfect fall weekend!