A fast-growing college town of 62,000 in the Ozark foothills, Fayetteville is flush with youth, culture and natural beauty especially in spring, when the redbuds and dogwoods are in bloom and the University of Arkansas students emerge to frolic in the warm weather. Get there before it's too hot to hike the lush, forested trails that braid the area. Stroll through the leafy campus and holler "Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie!" at the 72,000-seat Reynolds Razorback Stadium (but beware: hotels are already booked for the fall football season). Soak up the atmosphere that entranced a young Bill Clinton. Then wind your way down lively Dickson Street, a former strip of dive bars that has gotten a good scrubbing.
1) George's on My Mind
Introspection over a beer is unthinkable at the boisterous George's Majestic Lounge (519 West Dickson Street, 479-442-4226). Neither majestic nor a lounge, this wood-detailed beer garden with a retractable roof has anchored the Dickson Street music scene for four decades. There's always live music during the Friday happy hour ($5 cover). You might see the revered Cate Brothers, a soulful hometown band known for 70's hits like "Union Man," inspiring everyone, including bearded scholars, to cut loose on the dance floor in broad daylight.
2) Notes From Underground
Right off the late 19th-century town square is Hugo's (25½ North Block Street, 479-521-7585), a speakeasy-like basement bistro open since 1977 and overburdened with antique mirrors, vintage portraits and commemorative presidential plates. Young families and spirited students, 99 percent of them in jeans, aren't shy when it comes to tackling the juicy bleu-moon burger ($6.25), catfish po' boy sandwich ($6.50), baskets of fries ($2.50) and homemade pecan pie ($2.95). And there is a respectable beer selection as well.
3) Live From the Living Room
When you're invited into someone's house for a concert and served coffee and cookies during intermission, it's a cozy, one-of-a-kind evening. Mike Shirkey, host of "The Pickin' Post" on KUAF public radio, frequently presents established folk and bluegrass musicians, like Al and Emily Cantrell and Stacey Earle, on a stage in his club-size living room very near Hugo's. Called GoodFolk Productions (229 North Block Avenue, 479-521-1812; www.goodfolk.org; $10 cover), it's almost as intimate as someone singing softly in your ear.
4) Market on the Square
A lot of towns have a farmers' market, but the one looping around Fayetteville's square is uncommonly engaging. On one corner is a harpist and fiddler, on another a banjo player keeping time with a young country clogger whose hip attire and hairdo would not be out of place in Lower Manhattan. The homegrown produce for sale is not typical either: sheriff leeks, mediana spinach and baby greens with edible flowers. Dan Coody, the mayor of this blue town in what is currently a red state, regularly plants himself on the sidewalk, shaking hands with supporters and amiably scrapping with opponents.
5) Young Love
In 1975, on a salary of $16,450, Bill Clinton, a young University of Arkansas law professor, rashly bought a brick bungalow in Fayetteville for $20,500. Why? Because his elusive girlfriend, Hillary Rodham, had made a passing remark on how pretty it was while he was driving her to the airport. When she returned to town, according to his autobiography, "My Life," he said: "Remember that little house you liked so much? I bought it. You have to marry me now, because I can't live there alone." The ceremony was in the living room, and a reproduction of her Victorian-style lace wedding dress is on display there today. So is early campaign memorabilia. The rest is history. Last October the Clinton House Museum (930 California Boulevard, 479-444-0066; $5) opened to the public.
6) Pick Up the Red Phone
Sink your teeth into the smoky, meaty, glazed rack of ribs ($16.95) at Penguin Ed's B & B Bar-B-Q (230 South East Avenue, 479-521-3663). Find rapture in its batter-fried pickles ($2.59) and time-honored fried peach pie ($2.50). Penguin Ed's is in a cedar-lined shack with a tarred roof, and it has stuck with a tradition of having customers call in their orders from red phones at each table.
7) Objets d'Ozark
Tired of traveling to regional arts-and-crafts shows to sell their work, several Ozark artists formed a collective and opened Heartwood Gallery (428 South Government Avenue, 479-444-0888) three years ago. Twiglike necklaces of copper and stained glass, crazily colorful knit caps, striking watercolors, pottery and handblown glass are some of the things you may be tempted to take home from the mountains.
8) Library Envy
You'll need a card if you want to check out a book, but the Fayetteville Public Library (401 West Mountain Street, 479-571-2222; www.faylib.org) is worth checking out for its own sake. The $23.3 million building opened in 2004 and won the library of the year award from Library Journal last year. Through its sweeping windows you'll find unparalleled views of the mountainous landscape. There's also free wireless, a cafe, an all-embracing periodicals section (yes, this week's gossip rags!), a serene reading room, a genealogical collection, supercomfy chairs and a lot of children's programs.
9) Bivouac on a Mountainside
The only Confederate cemetery in Arkansas (500 East Rock Street) didn't open until 1873. The 622 well-ordered and mostly unmarked graves belong to Confederate soldiers who were originally buried where they fell, at nearby battlefields and roadsides or in lonely hollows. Eight years after the war ended, locals were paid $1.40 to $2.50 for each body exhumed and delivered for reburial. It was a tidy sum back then, and though most people probably took the task seriously, historians today are skeptical about some of the remains in the quiet glade on East Mountain.
10) A Taste of Arkansas
Sassafras (708 North College Avenue, 479-444-6992), run by the proprietor and chef Steve Jenkins, follows the national trend of using local seasonal ingredients. It's an inspired white-linen restaurant inside a pearl-gray house with a green awning. Sit a spell over a bourbon or a martini (this is the South the food doesn't come fast) and nibble on creative homemade bread and sherried crab and artichoke dip ($5). Relish the supple pork tenderloin ($17) or breaded chicken with Madeira cream sauce and garlic mashed potatoes ($14), a welcome twist on Southern-fried chicken.
11) High-Class Hash
Indeed, Fayetteville isn't just a biscuits-and-gravy town anymore. In the Mill District on the south side of town is the newish Maison des Tartes (481 South School Avenue, 479-521-1004), housed in an old chick hatchery. The lofty, modern space serves strong coffee ($1.59), exceptional pâté de campagne ($8.99) and hand-hacked corned-beef hash with eggs ($13.95). An old dray, antique farm-to-market carts and five-gallon canning crocks filled with redbud branches are on hand, just in case you forget you're in Arkansas.
12) A Flashlight for a Cave
To really become acquainted with the Ozarks, spend a couple of hours hiking the rugged scenic trails of Devil's Den State Park (Route 170, West Fork; 479-761-3325; www.arkansasstateparks.com), 25 miles south of Fayetteville. Two spooky sandstone caves, Devil's Den and the Devil's Icebox, are open for self-guided tours. Don't forget a flashlight and watch out for bats.
Downtown Fayetteville is about 30 minutes from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville. Renting a car is a good idea.
Collaring hotel reservations for Razorback football weekends in the fall is already a predicament. Spring weekends are more open. The most appealing accommodations are right on the University of Arkansas campus at the Inn at Carnall Hall (465 North Arkansas Avenue, 479-582-0402; www.innatcarnallhall.com), a rosy brick Colonial Revival structure built in 1905 as a women's dormitory and transformed into a 49-room inn in 2003. Weekend rates are $92 to $196.
The comfortable 235-room Radisson Hotel (70 North East Avenue; 479-442-5555, www.radisson.com/fayettevillear) is convenient to the town square. Nightly rates are $105 to $159.
About 15 minutes outside Fayetteville, in Johnson, is the pastoral Inn at the Mill (3906 Greathouse Springs Road, 479-443-1800; www.innatthemill.com), with 40 rooms and 6 suites dedicated to notable architects. The award-winning James at the Mill restaurant adjoins it. Rooms are $85 to $165.