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Grand Central’s downtowns with swagger

Whether it’s the thrill of exploring a once lost piece of Americana or simply the joy of sampling the local flavor of a destination through community-centric spaces and shops, there’s something alluring about a downtown that always seems to draw groups in.

Over the past years, there has been somewhat of a revival of the “downtown,” where independent restaurants, mom-and-pop shops and even offices are filling city spaces that were abandoned during the suburban movement of the past few decades.

While downtowns of today undeniably still give a nod to the wonder years of the ’50s with their distinct charisma and timeless architecture, the modern downtowns in the Grand Central region are more and more becoming the lifeblood of their cities, giving a sense of place and community for locals and travelers alike to mingle and play.


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The residents of Oklahoma City’s bustling downtown like to joke that their midsize district is all the hustle with none of the hassle. The downtown area of Oklahoma City is a vibrant scene that blends live music, museums, international foods and numerous exciting events.

Groups can take a water taxi tour along the canals of Bricktown, the city’s trendy entertainment and dining district, formerly a series of abandoned warehouses. Blue Sage Glass Blowing Studio gives glassblowing demos to guests, and Olympic training facilities in the downtown Boathouse District offer distinctive adventure activities.

“Downtown Oklahoma City is delightfully walkable,” said Sandy Price, director of tourism for the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When the opportunity is there, my favorite thing to do in downtown is attend a Thunder Basketball Game. But I always like to enjoy one of the many uniquely Oklahoma City restaurants, festivals or events taking place year-round. They’re always enjoyable, and always memorable.”


Little Rock, Arkansas

With the world-renowned Clinton Presidential Center at its core and new rankings on lists such as “Best Towns of 2013” and “Five Secret Foodie Cities,” there may not be a better time to visit Little Rock, Arkansas. Its vibrant downtown has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, but the big city still has a small-town heart and is both easy to get around and full of options the entire group can enjoy.

“My family recently moved here, and I can’t wait to share my weekends with my wife and kids, showing them the natural beauty of our city, taking walks and bike rides along our Arkansas River Trail and taking them to the Little Rock Farmers Market,” said John Mayner, vice president of marketing and communications for the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I love the warmth of the people here and the incredible breadth of things there are to see and do downtown.”

The three most popular attractions are the Clinton Presidential Center, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and the Little Rock Zoo, but downtown Little Rock also offers a vibrant events schedule, tons of museums, a farmers market with craft vendors and great produce, an artisanal food scene and many accommodations within walking distance to the main attractions. As of last year, night owls can experience an illuminated city; the three downtown bridges are lit up each night, and there are special light shows on holidays and special events.

Kristy Alpert

Kristy Alpert has traversed more than 50 countries in her quest to uncover stories for her outlets in Food & Wine, Men's Health, Group Travel Leader, American Way, and more. When she's not on the road, you can find her teaching yoga and exploring around her new home in Germany with her husband and her Boston Terrier, Tobias.