The capital of Arkansas, Little Rock has a storied past that belies its standing as small city. It was here where President Clinton celebrated his election victory at the Old State House, with Little Rock now home to the captivating Presidential Library.
35 years before that, the Little Rock Nine became known across America as they attempted to attend school but were blocked, an event that helped spur integration and the Civil Rights Movement.
However, travelers won’t just find enlightening history in Little Rock. They’ll uncover beautiful parks, local mountains, a thriving market scene, and even classic streetcars. While families won’t be found short of things to do in Little Rock as well.
17. Old State House Museum
Before Arkansas’ current state capitol building came to life, the house of government could be found within the Old State House. The breathtaking building is a fine example of Doric architecture and, when complemented by its surrounding grounds, is a sight to behold.
Construction on the Old State House began in the 1830s and was completed a decade later. Now complete with an insightful museum, you can learn about the home’s history which includes a fatal duel between politicians and where Arkansas once voted to leave the United States. The Old State House Museum is also home to several prominent pieces of art and displays showcasing state history and culture.
16. River Rail Electric Streetcar
The heyday of the streetcar in Little Rock may have come and gone, but you can still experience the classic form of transportation in the 21st century. Streetcars first appeared in town during the 1870s and ran for almost three-quarters of a century. After lying dormant for many years, they were revitalized in 2004 for our enjoyment.
The River Rail Electric Streetcar follows a 3.4-mile trail through town, across the Arkansas River to North Little Rock. The streetcar features much of the original designs and is a great way to explore Little Rock without having to take a step. Along the way, you’ll pass the River Market District and the Presidential Library.
15. Little Rock Zoo
Comprising over 700 animals from more than 200 species, the Little Rock Zoo is the biggest in the state. It has been open since the 1920s and has grown dramatically since starting with a single bear and timber wolf.
Little Rock Zoo features four geographical zones from around the world. Within each well-thought-out habitat, you’ll find a range of big cats, playful elephants, and towering giraffes. You’ll also have the opportunity to see huge apes and bears with your own eyes.
For a behind-the-scenes experience, sign up for a tour to learn more about the animals and wildlife conservation. When the legs get tired, jump on the zoo train to make your way around.
14. Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum
Arkansas may be a landlocked state, but its Inland Maritime Museum is well-worth a visit. On and along the Arkansas River, the museum is home to two historic World War II vessels, including the USS Razorback submarine and a tugboat that is a National Historic Landmark.
Visitors can begin in the museum to learn about local and international maritime history before exploring the museum’s submarine on a guided tour. Get an intricate look into life on board the submarine and how it all works. The USS Razorback is 90% operational and has changed little since it was stationed in Tokyo Bay on the day the Japanese surrendered.
13. Heifer International Center
In an effort to eliminate world hunger and poverty, the Heifer International Center helps to empower and train farmers. By doing so, they hope to create sustainable economies that work for everyone. Heifer is an international organization, however, its headquarters are here, in Little Rock.
Today, you can explore the center which is home to an interactive museum where you can learn about Heifer’s international movement. You’ll also discover a working farm where alpacas and goats roam along with greenhouses and an aquaponics space. Learn more on a tour or join a program to spend time working on the farm.
12. Esse Purse Museum
If you can’t go anywhere without your clutch, then the Esse Purse Museum is a must-see. As the only museum of its kind in the United States, it’s a unique opportunity to learn about the history and evolution of the handbag.
The Esse Purse Museum has a central location on South Main Street. The main exhibit is called A Century of Woman and Handbags. Covering the entirety of the 20th century, you can go right back to 1900 and see how the bags have changed over the years and even take a peak into the ever-changing objects found inside. It’s a fascinating exploration of our ever-developing culture.
11. Arkansas River Trail
From the River Market District, travelers can embark on the scenic Arkansas River Trail that runs for 88 miles. The trail will take you through the Riverfront Park, over the Big Dam Bridge into North Little Rock on your way to Maumelle, Conway and back to where you started.
88 miles will be a journey for most. Those getting about on foot can still walk to the local Riverfront area to enjoy a range of local scenery and attractions. This includes the President Library, the Old State House, and the Medical Mile. You can also hire a bike to complete the amazing journey in a single day.
10. Arkansas State Capitol
Built over the course of 16 years, the captivating Arkansas State Capitol is made of white marble and limestone. The building is on the site of a former state prison. In fact, inmates helped with the construction of the capitol, which remains the home to Arkanas’ house of government.
The highlight of the beautiful architecture is the 24-carat cupola that stresses the dome structure on top of the capitol. The front doors to the state capitol are made of bronze and on the inside, you can explore a number of public areas on a guided tour. These include the Governor’s Reception Rom and the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
9. Rock Town Distillery
You can learn a lot about Little Rock’s history in its distilleries. Rock Town Distillery opened in 2010, yet, it has the interesting distinction of being the first legal distillery in Arkansas since Prohibition.
It didn’t take long for Rock Town to garner a strong reputation, quickly receiving multiple coveted awards. In downtown, the distillery creates a range of spirits from bourbon and vodka to gin, using grains in the immediate regions around Little Rock.
You can tour the facilities to learn about the process and passion that goes into every barrel, from start to finish. The tour lasts half an hour with the chance to pick up some of the exceptional spirits in the distillery’s gift shop.
8. Pinnacle Mountain State Park
With over 40 miles of hiking trails and peaks that rise sharply out from the valley floor, outdoor enthusiasts will love Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Those that wouldn’t classify themselves as avid hikers can still get out and enjoy nature while in Little Rock. The state park has several easy trails, including the paved and accessible Kingfisher Trail.
Afterwards, gather in the picnic areas where you’ll find restrooms, playgrounds, and tables to enjoy. You can also learn all about the park’s geology and wildlife in the visitor center. For more adventurous treks, join the East Summit Trail or tear down one of the two mountain bike tracks.
7. Museum Of Discovery
Whenever the kids get a bit restless in Little Rock, take them on a journey to the Museum of Discovery. A museum designed explicitly with young ones in mind, from start to finish, they’ll have a blast at every interactive exhibit.
The Museum of Discovery encourages creativity and stokes curiosity, allowing children to learn about the world through a series of hands-on experiments. Here, the parents are also encouraged to unlock their inner-wonder and take part. Highlights of the experience includes Earth Journeys, which explores the environment and weather in Arkansas, and the Tinkering Studio. The latter allows participants to build with an entire range of interesting materials.
6. The Old Mill
In the opening scene of Gone with the Wind, Little Rock’s Old Mill plays a starring role. It’s no surprise the grist mill would be chosen as the filming location as it boasts a beautiful locale surrounded by old-growth trees and manicured gardens. The structure itself may look historic, but it’s actually a recreation of a mill from the 19th century.
Visitors can enjoy free entry into the Old Mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Around the building you’ll discover a series of beautiful sculptures by the famous Dionicio Rodriguez, while those who’ve seen the film will no doubt receive plenty of deja vu. Those traveling in groups of ten or more can sign up for guided tours.
5. River Market District
In the 1990s, the city of Little Rock revitalized the downtown core with the creation of the River Market District. At any time of day, the district boasts a boisterous atmosphere and features some of the top attractions in town. These include some of our top sites, such as the Riverfront Park and the Clinton Presidential Library.
However, as its name suggests, the River Market District is all about shopping, eating, and good times. It’s a gathering place for locals and travelers alike who can enjoy Little Rock culture and hospitality. Be sure to check out the Ottenheimer Market Hall, a food hall selling everything from sushi to high-end burgers.
The River Market District also plays hosts to the best farmers market in town. While after dark, you can grab yourself a drink to enjoy as you walk around the pedestrian-friendly district.
4. Riverfront Park
Between La Harpe Boulevard and the Arkansas River, Riverfront Park is a downtown oasis perfect for family gatherings, romantic picnics, or just to enjoy some peace and quiet. The park covers an expansive eleven blocks, with several playgrounds for the kids to run amok and a series of historic markers along the nature trails.
These trails not only take you through ornate gardens but showcase local history. Prominent markers along the way include a civil war marker, the history pavilion and the Clinton Presidential Bridge. While you could spend all day under the shady trees reading a page turner, Riverfront Park is also home to a nature center, a children’s splash park and the beautiful Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden.
3. Big Dam Bridge
It’s not always that you would go out of your way to visit a bridge, but you should make an exception for our next attraction. The Big Dam Bridge, is indeed damn big. In fact, it’s the longest pedestrian and cyclist bridge in all of North American. The total length of Big Dam is 4,300 feet, extending all the way across the Arkansas River.
Starting in Little Rock, walk or ride across the bridge enjoying exceptional views of the record-breaking structure along with the city skyline. On the other side, you can then explore the neighboring town of North Little Rock. Stick around after sunset, to see Big Dam Bridge lit up under the night sky.
2. Little Rock Central High School
In the three decades after opening, the Little Rock Central High School never once had a single black student. The tides of change began to occur, however, when in 1954, the Brown V Board of Education ruled educational segregation to be unconstitutional. Three years later, nine black students enrolled at Little Rock Central High School, beginning a wave of events that helped spur the Civil Rights Movement.
On their first day, the Little Rock Nine received a barrage of abuse and were in fact blocked from entering by the Arkansas National Guard under the guise of “protection”. It took multiple days and help from President Eisenhower in order for the students to begin their classes. The events became national news and were a key moment for school integration.
The school still functions and is also a National Historic Site. You can sign up for guided tours of the school to learn more about the Little Rock Nine.
1. William J. Clinton Presidential Library
Having been born in Hope, 100 miles from Little Rock, Bill Clinton has a long association with Arkansas. Of all the presidential related attractions in town, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library is most worth a visit. The library is an archival facility home to millions of photographs, several interactive exhibits and research facilities.
The most memorable aspects of the library, however, are the many replicas that you can explore. Inside, you’ll find an amazing adaptation of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. These include exactly furnishings and decor from when Clinton was in power. It’s easy to place yourself in his shoes and imagine what it would feel like to sit in the White House.
You can sign up for a guided tour of the Presidential Library, while there are regular events and programs on offer.