In the center of Arkansas, Little Rock is most famous for two things. First: It’s the Arkansas state capital. Second: President Bill Clinton was governor here. Little Rock should be much better known. Little Rock is a surprising destination with lots to see and do, a vibrant food scene, and great places to stay.
Things To Do In Little Rock
Little Rock is rich in experiences. Learn about political, military, civil rights, and women’s history. Plus, the city features two science museums. Ride your bike or walk on Little Rock’s extensive trail system. The Arkansas River Trail extends 18 miles to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, where you can enjoy some great hikes. Many of Little Rock’s attractions are on or near the trail. Download a trail map (PDF).
Turn Back Time At President Clinton’s Library
As a presidential site collector, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum was my first priority in Little Rock. The museum returns visitors to the 20th century’s final years. It highlights Clinton’s successful presidential campaigns and the work of the president, Vice President Al Gore, and First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Year-by-year timeline exhibits capture developments in technology, pop culture, and events. How did we ever function on those computers? Other exhibits include gifts that people showered upon the president, including a sculpture of Clinton playing his saxophone.
After touring the museum, stop at 42 Bar and Table on the bottom level. If the weather permits, sit on the patio to enjoy views of the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
Pro Tip: A photographer will take your picture at the president’s desk in the Oval Office replica. Sit at the table in the Cabinet Room. Imagine your name engraved at a cabinet member’s place.
Step Into Farmers’ Boots At Heifer Urban Farm
East of the Clinton Museum, Heifer International’s mission is to shift global agriculture from subsistence to sustainability. At Heifer Village and Urban Farm, learn about their mission and watch it in action.
Pro Tip: The Cafe at Heifer offers food made with local vendors’ ingredients.
Experience Delta Country And Learn How To Make Rain
Explore the environment at two attractions west of the Clinton museum. At the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, follow the water through a series of habitats, from the Ozark Plateau to the Delta Country/Big Woods. Check the calendar for special events.
The Museum of Discovery is aimed at kids, but it’s fun for adults, too. Just try to resist playing with tools in the Tinkering Studio exhibit. Make rain in the Earth Journeys exhibit.
Experience World War II Naval Life And Honor An Eternal Grand Master And A Five-Star General
Continuing west, look for Little Rock’s namesake stone east of the Junction Bridge. Formerly a railroad bridge, it’s now a pedestrian/bicycle bridge. Cross the bridge to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum. The tugboat USS Hoga was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked the Hawaiian base on December 7, 1941. The submarine USS Razorback was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945. Board the sub via a 14-foot ladder to experience a taste of the submarine service. Topside, explore a missile cruiser and a battleship, both named the USS Arkansas, and walk in the Peace Garden.
Pro Tip: The University of Arkansas’s teams are nicknamed the Razorbacks, wild Arkansas hogs. The USS Razorback is not named for a hog. It’s named for a type of whale.
After the maritime museum, cross the Main Street Bridge. The H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden is on the Statehouse Convention Center’s grounds. Eternal Grand Master Lee’s organization became the American Taekwondo Association (ATA). In his memory, ATA developed the beautiful South Korean-style gate and garden.
For more Arkansas military history, visit the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Future General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was born in the museum’s tower, and some of his possessions are displayed. The Korean War Memorial is especially touching. In the memorial, American soldiers are depicted interacting with a Korean woman and child.
Pro Tip: The tower is said to be haunted, and the museum annually hosts a paranormal event.
Visit A Place Where Politics, Race, And Gender Intersect
The Old State House Museum, Arkansas State Capitol, ESSE Purse Museum, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center may seem not to belong together. But discussions of race and gender often present political issues.
Old State House And State Capitol, The Seats Of Formal State Power
This Greek Revival-style statehouse was finished in 1842. The statehouse held the secession debates and became the capital of the Arkansas Confederate state government.
The government moved into the new capitol building in 1911 and the old statehouse became a museum of history in 1947. During the interval between capitol and museum, the Arkansas School of Medical Sciences used the building to house research on hookworm infestation and malaria prevention and cures.
Pro Tip: The balcony offers lovely views of the Old State House Museum’s fountain and grounds.
At the current Arkansas State Capitol, follow the state’s timeline and learn about Arkansas’s official symbols. “Meet” the state’s 20th-century governors, including Clinton and Mike Huckabee. Clinton, a Democrat, and Huckabee, a Republican, face each other across the rotunda. Both ran for president.
Find Testament: The Little Rock Nine Monument on the capitol grounds. It faces the governor’s office window, a reminder that the governor represents all Arkansans. It’s the first civil rights monument installed in the South. Learn more about the Little Rock Nine at Central High.
Pro Tip: Ride a shuttle (PDF) from the capitol parking lots to the capitol. The building offers both guided and self-guided tours. For a bite to eat, visit the 500 Grill.
Civil Rights Takes Center Stage At Central High
In 1957, Little Rock Central High School became a symbol of segregationists’ fierce resistance to civil rights. The 1957 events are hard to stomach. After a three-week standoff, President Dwight Eisenhower had enough of Governor Orval Faubus’s segregation-preserving actions. He federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent part of the 101st Airborne Division to escort nine black students into Central.
Pro Tip: Central is the only operating high school designated a National Historic Site. Because of this, guided tours are only available on select weekdays. Reserve your tour a month in advance and confirm your reservation 48 hours ahead. When reserving, inform the visitor center about accessibility needs.
Black Heritage Is Preserved At Mosaic Templars Center
The Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Foundation is housed at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. The Mosaic Templars was a black fraternal organization. At the center, learn about West Ninth Street, Little Rock’s “City Within a City,” a place where black-owned businesses thrived, and other examples of black entrepreneurial spirit.
Pro Tip: Park for free in the lot west of the building or on Arch Street.
Track Women’s Herstory Via ESSE Purse Museum’s Unique Collection
More than 3,000 handbags form ESSE Purse Museum’s collection, one of only three purse museums worldwide. The museum examines women’s history through the contents of her purses and explores how purses and their contents tell much about a woman’s larger world.
Pro Tip: ESSE’s museum store is, not surprisingly, full of purses. And such purses! Buy your statement purse, jewelry, and/or scarf here.
Cheer Baseball’s Future Stars
The Seattle Mariners AA affiliate Arkansas Travelers play in North Little Rock. Watch baseball’s up-and-coming players at Dickey-Stephens Park. Founded in 1887, the Travelers are one of baseball’s oldest teams.
Pro Tip: Visit the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Museum on the main concourse.
Best Restaurants In Little Rock
Downtown Little Rock features several distinct neighborhoods with distinctive clubs and restaurants.
In River Market, buy produce, cottage food, and handmade arts and crafts at Little Rock Farmers Market. Flying Saucer Draught Emporium features nearly 200 beers, 75 of which are on tap. After you eat, dance salsa and the tango at Club 27.
On the Main Street Creative Corridor, satisfy your sweet tooth at Cocoa Belle Chocolates. Try the Pecan Pie Bark and one of the classic boxes. For the ultimate in Southern cuisine, try the Soul Fish Cafe. Order the hickory-smoked chicken or the catfish.
On South Main (SoMa), explore two ultimate farm-to-fork culinary destinations. Rock Town Distillery’s Orange Creamsicle cocktail will take you back to childhood — with a kick. Building community through local food is The Root Cafe’s mission. Try the Old World-style brats and the jerk chicken dinner.
Where To Shop In Little Rock
Start your shopping spree at The Galleries at Library Square. Find Arkansas artists’ works and gently used books in their gallery and bookstore.
Experiment with art creation at The Painted Pig. Take a class and create your own artwork. Argenta Bead Company teaches jewelry making and sells supplies. You’ll love wearing your creation.
Midtown Vintage Market says they offer everything “from Shabby Chic to Classic Antique.” With more than 22,000 feet of booths, you’ll find something to bring home. South Main Creative combines art, crafts, and antiques, plus classes that will inspire you to give your home that personalized vibe.
Best Places To Stay In Little Rock
The Empress of Little Rock bed and breakfast defines opulent living. Four of the suites feature spas.
Enjoy pet-friendly, self-contained private cottages with no shared spaces at Rosemont Bed and Breakfast Cottages.
RVers, stay at the Downtown Riverside RV Park. Much of what Little Rock offers will be within walking distance.
Pro Tip: Parking is no worry when you ride Little Rock’s Metro Streetcars. The Blue Line runs from the Clinton Presidential Center to North Little Rock. The Green Line serves Little Rock.