Best Things To Do in Little Rock
Central to many of Little Rock's attractions is one thing: history. Take a dive into its civil rights history by visiting the Central High School... READ MORE
Central to many of Little Rock's attractions is one thing: history. Take a dive into its civil rights history by visiting the Central High School National Historic Site, then explore the Clinton legacy at the Clinton Presidential Center. You can even learn more about women's history with a trip to the Esse Purse Museum. However, you don't want to spend all of your trip to Little Rock inside. After you've gotten your fill of museums, take a stroll through Riverfront Park to admire its sculptures, then head to the River Market district to refuel from one of its food hall vendors. Before you bed down for the day, grab a nightcap from Rock Town Distillery, which serves up its own spirits straight up or in a delicious cocktail.
Updated October 2, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Little RockMuseums, Free, Tours, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Free, Tours, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
In 1957, nine Black students enrolled at Little Rock Central High School. The school had been all-white since its construction in 1927. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Wells were the first Black students at the school following the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. The day the students went to school, they were met with a racist mob of white students as well as about 270 soldiers who barred the entrance to the high school. It took almost two weeks before the Little Rock Nine were able to access the building. Though they were able to enter the school, they faced physical and verbal abuse throughout their high school careers. The Little Rock Nine's historic and brave acts helped to spur the civil rights movement and brought national attention to the U.S.'s racist practices.
Today, Little Rock Central High School is a National Historic Site and is still a working high school. The associated visitor center sits kitty-corner to the school and features exhibits about the desegregation crisis as well as a book store. There is also a Commemorative Garden. Tours of the exterior and interior of Little Rock Central High School are also available, but must be reserved in advance through the National Park Service.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Little RockNatural Wonders, Free, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Free, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Pinnacle Mountain State Park's peak rises more than 1,000 feet and the park itself encompasses 2,351 acres. The park boasts more than 40 miles of trails for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails range from easy walks, such as the paved Kingfisher Trail, to more challenging hikes, such as the East Summit Trail, which takes you to the top of Pinnacle Mountain. Longer trails that stretch for 3 or more miles are also available. There are two mountain biking trails: one for beginner riders and one for advanced riders. If you'd rather float your way through the park, check out the Little Maumelle Water Trail. (Note: You can only experience this river trip on a guided tour in the spring or fall.)
In addition to strenuous outdoor fun, visitors can take it easy at the on-site picnic area that features restrooms, a playground and a vending machine. It is also the start of a few trailheads as well as the site of the park's boat launch. Travelers can also check out the visitor center that has permanent exhibits about the park's wildlife and ecology, as well as restrooms, a gift shop and a wildlife viewing area. An arboretum and garden are also on-site for visitor enjoyment.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Little RockMuseums, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Clinton Presidential Center is an educational complex named for and devoted to former President Bill Clinton. Here, visitors will find a 20,000-square-foot museum that exhibits different aspects of Clinton's administration – everything from his presidential campaign to the Clinton family's life in the White House – as well as replicas of the White House Cabinet Room and the Oval Office. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library, which houses presidential documents, is also located on-site. You can conclude your visit with a trip to the museum gift shop and refuel at the on-site restaurant, 42 Bar and Table.
Previous museumgoers enjoyed their trips. They said the museum has a good layout and provides a thoughtful overview of the Clinton administration. Others were somewhat disappointed, saying that the presidential library "pales in comparison to other presidential libraries" in the country.
- #4View all PhotosfreeRiverfront Park#4 in Little RockFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located in the River Market district and spanning 11 blocks is Riverfront Park, a 33-acre mecca of outdoor activity in the heart of the city. The park features a splash park for children; La Petite Roche Plaza, which showcases the "little rock" from which the city got its name from French explorers; an amphitheater; and a sculpture garden with more than 80 pieces of art. Nature lovers can rejoice, too. Riverfront Park is also home to both the William E. "Bill" Clark Presidential Park Wetlands and the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center.
Reviewers say the park is a must-do activity and call it a great place to snap some photos. Many also enjoyed the myriad of activities available and appreciated the trails for some outdoor exercise.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Little RockEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Travelers looking for a bustling atmosphere should head to the trendy River Market district. This section of downtown features plenty of amenities, from Little Rock's top attractions like the Clinton Presidential Center to parks and playgrounds for children to shopping. Visitors can refuel at the Ottenheimer Market Hall, which features 15 shops selling everything from coffee to sushi to burgers. This section of town is also home to numerous events, including live music performances and the seasonal farmers market.
While River Market is a great daytime spot, don't discount it for your evening activities. There are several clubs and bars in this area to explore. It's also home to the River Market Entertainment District, which allows visitors to purchase alcoholic beverages and enjoy them within the confines of the district. This means that you can purchase a beer at one spot then take it with you to a public area like the Galleries at Library Square and the River Market Pavilions. Note that if you want to participate, you need an official RMED wristband as well as an RMED cup. You can find a full list of participating businesses, program rules and a map of the RMED here.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Little RockMuseums, Free, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Free, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Heifer International is a global organization dedicated to ending world hunger and poverty. The nonprofit seeks to empower and train people to become farmers, ranchers and business owners to create sustainable economies, secure food and protect the environment. Heifer also places a focus on empowering women in the process.
Visitors can stop by Heifer's headquarters in Little Rock, which houses a hands-on museum, to learn more about Heifer's mission. There's also a 3-acre working farm that has an aquaponics space, greenhouses, gardens and animal ambassadors like alpacas and goats. While you're welcome to visit on your own, there are also more structured experiences, such as tours and learning programs. When you're done exploring, stop by the on-site cafe or the gift shop to purchase fair-trade wares.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Little RockMuseums, Free, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Free, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
In 1911, the General Assembly convened for its first session in the near-complete Arkansas State Capitol. It would be another four years before the neoclassical structure would be completed. Totaling 247,000 square feet, the stately building features marble walls and floors, a limestone exterior and a cupola covered in gold leaf.
During a visit, travelers can peruse exhibits that detail the capitol's lengthy building process, Arkansas' history in the civil rights movement and the state's role in wartime efforts. Visitors can also book a free guided tour of the building or take a self-guided tour using one of the pamphlets available at the on-site visitor center. Be sure to wander the surrounding gardens as well, which feature more than 50 varieties of roses and house a monument to the Little Rock Nine. For an extra treat, time your capitol visit to coincide with a legislative session so you can watch lawmakers at work.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Little RockEntertainment and Nightlife, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Little Rock's history is even evident in its local drinks. Rock Town Distillery is the first legal distillery in Arkansas since Prohibition. It was founded in 2010 and ships its liquor nationwide as well as to the U.K. and Canada. The distillery crafts a variety of liquors, including vodka, bourbon, whiskey, rum and gin from ingredients grown by local farmers. It also creates its own moonshine. Visitors can taste the liquors at the on-site bar and sample locally made wine and beer.
Rock Town Distillery also offers behind-the-scenes tours of its facility where visitors can learn how grains become their favorite libations. It also offers cocktail-making classes.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Little RockMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Founded in 1927 and reimagined in 2012, the Museum of Discovery has long been the place in Little Rock for patrons to learn about the sciences. Permanent exhibits include "Earth Journeys," which explores Arkansas' weather patterns and its native fauna; "Amazing You," which explains how our bodies function; and "Tinkering Studio," where patrons can build and play with all kinds of materials. Visitors can also enjoy the Tornado Alley Theater, which explores the devastation of the 1999 tornado that ripped through Little Rock, and the Tesla Theater, which houses a Tesla coil that produces a high frequency of plasma (or lightning) that can be manipulated to play songs.
Families raved about the museum, saying it's the perfect place to take kids on a rainy day. They also encouraged future patrons to make time to see the Tesla coil demonstration.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Little RockMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Unlike other museums that just have artifacts on display, the Historic Arkansas Museum has both exhibits with local artifacts as well as historic buildings. The facility has several antebellum homes that have been restored as well as the Hinderliter Grog Shop, the city's oldest structure that dates back to the 1820s. Other buildings include a cabin where enslaved peoples used to live, a blacksmith shop and a carriage house. Throughout the grounds, you'll be treated to the museum's Living History program, in which actors and actresses portray people who used to live in Arkansas' frontier times and provide demonstrations of different tasks.
Inside the museum center, visitors will find numerous permanent and temporary exhibits. Permanent displays include "We Walk in Two Worlds," which describes the lives of native Caddo, Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes, and the "Knife Gallery," which tells visitors about the history of the bowie knife, which was invented in Arkansas. Temporary exhibits share everything from art to photographs to metallic items.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Little RockZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Little Rock Zoo opened in 1926 with just two residents: a timber wolf and a bear. In the ensuing years, the zoo has grown to incorporate more than 700 animals and multiple habitats to keep those critters happy and healthy. Visitors can see and learn about sloths, monkeys, zebras and reptiles among other critters. Behind-the-scenes tours as well as education programs are also offered to provide further information about the zoo's animals and how to conserve nature. There's even a train and carousel (though both cost $3 per person to ride). The zoo also hosts several events throughout the year such as Wild Wines, an annual food, wine and music event held at the zoo.
Previous travelers said that the zoo was worth visiting and is a great activity for the kids. However, many caution future patrons that the zoo is undergoing a renovation, so certain exhibits may be closed and the animals may not be out and about.
- #12View all PhotosfreeBig Dam Bridge#12 in Little RockFree, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
A bridge may not seem like an exciting activity, but hear us out. Little Rock's Big Dam Bridge is the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in North America. It stretches nearly 4,300 feet across the Arkansas River. The bridge connects a series of walking and biking trails in Little Rock and its neighboring city, North Little Rock. It's also the namesake of the Big Dam Bridge 100, Arkansas' largest cycling tour. From atop the bridge, you'll see beautiful views of the structure itself as well as the cityscape and the river. If you stop by at night, you may be treated to the bridge lit up in brilliant colors.
Past visitors had nothing but positive things to say about the bridge. They recommended taking extra time to walk the paths leading up to the bridge, especially on a nice day.
- #13View all Photos#13 in Little RockMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This museum wins top marks from travelers for its intriguing exhibits and extensive collection of handbags despite the museum's small footprint. At the Esse Purse Museum, visitors can explore the evolution of purses throughout the 20th century along with the ever-changing nature of what women carried inside their bags. The exhibit also explores the women's rights movement and how women's position in society changed throughout history. In addition to this permanent exhibit, Esse puts on temporary displays that it changes about four times per year. Past exhibits have detailed wedding dress designs, historical objects associated with the Girl Scouts, hats and the style of the 1970s. There is also an on-site store where visitors can purchase handbags, accessories and souvenirs.
The Esse Purse Museum is currently operating on a limited schedule due to COVID-19. It is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is open by appointment only Sunday and Monday. Tickets cost $10 per person and $8 for students, seniors and members of the military. Children age 6 and younger visit for free. The museum is located downtown and is a 5-minute walk south of Rock Town Distillery. To learn more about the museum, or shop its purse selection online, visit its website.
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