Best see/do of 2015

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Gran Fondo

The Big Dam Bridge 100 may get all the glory, but Little Rock’s Gran Fondo is the best bike ride in town. Not a race, this 70-mile ride is all about living the high life on two wheels. Feel free to leave those chalky energy bars behind as you wind your way through central Arkansas’ main drags and back roads—the full-service rest stops and post-ride party (complete with concierge bike check-in and swag bag, of course) feature food prepared by some of the region’s best chefs. (littlerockgranfondo.com)


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portrait2_arlife_august15LOCAL PICK

“My favorite venue would have to be the legendary White Water Tavern, where the music always comes first and an electric spirit vibrates off the walls.”

Bonnie Montgomery, Arkansas-bred musician extraordinaire.


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Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

In addition to the typical “dude ranch” activities—horseback tours and wagon rides, pond fishing and skeet shooting—this Ozark mountain hideaway between Jasper and Ponca near the Buffalo National River happens to be one of the premier climbing destinations east of the Rockies, thanks to the more than 300 sport-climbing routes for all skill levels ringing its namesake sandstone cliff. New to the sport? The ranch’s climbing guides can give you the lay of the land. (gohcr.com)

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Classes at the Arkansas Arts Center

If scanning the pages and pages—and pages—of classes outlined in the Museum School’s course catalog (painting, photography, carpentry, silversmithing, etc., etc.) makes one thing clear, it’s this: You really don’t have much of an excuse for resisting the creative itch. For those overwhelmed by the sheer number of creative endeavors, director of education programs Lou Palermo recommends a foray into drawing, saying that “it teaches you how to see; it teaches you how to look.” Or, if nothing else, mark the Museum School sale on your calendar (Nov. 13 and 14), when both students and teachers will exhibit (and sell!) everything from mosaics to wooden pens. (arkarts.com/art-classes)

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Hogshead Tours

A classic 1970 VW van nammed Vanny? Check. Behind-the-scenes brewery access? Check. Cooler to keep your, um, liquid memorabilia cold from stop to stop to stop? Check. Obviously, Fayetteville’s Hogshead Tours has everything you need to explore Northwest Arkansas’ booming craft-beer scene, but with an expanding range of tour options—including wineries, local organic farms and music venues—you don’t have to be a hophead to climb aboard. (hogsheadtours.com)

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Siloam Springs Kayak Park

With some 600 feet of man-made rapids, eddies and pools, what was once a sleepy section of the Illinois River just outside Siloam Springs has become a hot spot for white-water kayakers from around the region. Not a kayaker? Not to worry—tubes work just as well for getting in on the action. But with no lifeguard on duty, life jackets are an absolute must for participants of all skill levels. (Fisher Ford Road, Siloam Springs; siloamspringskayakpark.com)


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 MEGA MUSEUM VS. UNDERGROUND GALLERY

MUSEUM MASTERPIECE
With its extraordinary permanent collection, Moshe Safdie-designed buildings and idyllic location—not to mention its current exhibitions, displaying the likes of Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth—we can’t praise Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art enough. (600 Museum Way, Bentonville; crystalbridges.org)
COVERT CONTEMPORARY
What this North Little Rock garage gallery lacks in pedigree, it makes up with sheer youthful audacity. But don’t expect some slapdash operation at Good Weather Gallery. Its crisp white walls and rotating contemporary art exhibitions belie its humble locale. (4400 Edgemere St., North Little Rock; goodweathergallery.com)
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Good Weather Gallery

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Beaver Lake

Want one heckuva fish story? Best head north to Beaver Lake, where the state’s newest fishing record was set early last March. At 105 pounds, the paddlefish landed by Springdale native Jessie Wilkes provided a rod-bending, back-breaking fight not often found in freshwater. But lest you think it was a one-off occurrence, the state’s previous record paddlefish, a 102-pound behemoth, was pulled out of the lake in 2007. (swl.usace.army.mil/missions/recreation/lakes/beaverlake)

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Red Octopus

Red Octopus has seen some stuff, man. In the 24 years since the storied troupe first took the stage, hundreds of cast members have come and gone. But so, too, has plenty stayed the same. For 20 years, they’ve sung the same song (“Pagans on Bobsleds”) at Christmas. For 10, they’ve featured the same lewd-talking, scarf-layering “old lady,” wheeled onstage to admonish the crowd with her clanky, bejeweled fingers. And as they prepare for this coming show in mid-August (one of the five they’ll put on this year), writing for two weeks, rehearsing for another two and a half before performing—sure, it’ll be a new show. But the spirit will be the same. (616 Center St., Little Rock; redoctopustheater.com)


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No matter who your crush is or what they’re into, these five amorous outings should solve that whole “what should we do tonight” thing:

BEST NERD DATE:

Science After Dark at the Museum of Discovery
Smart is sexy and nerds are cool at these monthly, adults-only events where you and your date can peruse special interactive installations (past themes include space, tornadoes and the science behind superheroes) over craft beer and cocktails. (500 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock; museumofdiscovery.org)

BEST LEARNING DATE:

Table for Two at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute
Snap out of your date-night rut with these couples-specific, mountaintop cooking classes featuring a candlelit DIY entree, lodging for the night and a continental breakfast to see you off. (1 Rockefeller Drive, Morrilton; rockefellerinstitute.org)

BEST ARTSY DATE:

Thea Foundation’s The Art Department
With great local art, live music, heavy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar—all for only $10—these quarterly exhibitions might just be the best deal in town, especially when you consider the proceeds help fund the arts-based nonprofit. (400 Main St., North Little Rock; theafoundation.org)

BEST FOODIE DATE:

Table 28
If you’re feeling a bit guilty about the price of pulling up a chair at Table 28’s table 28—the $200-per-person price tag includes six wine-paired courses exclusively prepared by chef Scott Rains—just know that 50 percent of the proceeds go to support Arkansas Children’s Hospital. (1501 Merrill Drive, Little Rock; table28lr.com)

BEST GREAT-OUTDOORS DATE:

Guided sunset- and starlight-kayaking tours
Few things can stir the heart like watching the sun set and the stars shine from the water. And thanks to guided sunset-, starlight- and full-moon-kayak tours offered by state parks such as Lake Ouachita, De Gray Lake, Village Creek and more, it’s never been easier. (arkansasstateparks.com)