My love of Little Rock started with cheese dip. As an introduction to this wonderful city, I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a “Savor Arkansas” press tour that included the World Cheese Dip Championship held annually in the fall. I love to travel and there’s nothing I enjoy more than finding places that make me want to return again and again. Especially when it’s a southern place.
Little Rock is one of those places now. In fact, I’ve been back several times since then, on my own, and I keep adding Little Rock things to do. I also tell everyone I can about Little Rock. It genuinely is one of my favorite places in the U.S. Friendly, centrally located, affordable and way more to do than what’s on my 23 things to do in Little Rock, Arkansas list. One visit and you’ll understand why I’m big on Little Rock.
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Educate Yourself at Central High National Historic Site
One of the most important historic sites in the country and one of the top things to do in Little Rock is Central High School National Historic site. This site, on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, was the epicenter of Little Rock’s 1957 school desegregation crisis and is a must see when visiting Little Rock.
There are a couple of ways to see Central High. Since it is still an operating high school, visitors can reserve a ranger led tour of the inside of the school. Or if you prefer a self guided tour, then start with the park’s visitor center for interpretive information and impressive photos. Move on to the nearby gas station where reporters called in their story during the crisis. Lastly, visit the school and the memorials that have been erected to remind us of what happened and that we’ve come a long way but still have work to do.
If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?rep. john lewis
Peruse the ESSE Purse Museum
There are only three purse museums in the world and the ESSE Purse Museum in Little Rock is one of them. What’s so impressive about ESSE – besides the purses – is that everything in the museum, is from a private collection! That’s right. One woman loved purses so much, she collected enough to create a museum.
Travel through decades while examining all sorts of purses and bags and even their contents. It’s interesting to see how things have changed over time. It’s founder, Anita Davis’s belief that a woman’s purse is not just a bag but an extension of her and her things – her essence. Therefore ESSE!
The ESSE museum is located in the SoMa neighborhood of Little Rock – another don’t miss – and has special exhibits that rotate quarterly and a museum store with some beautiful bags from around the world for purchase.
Browse the Clinton Presidential Library
One of the perks of having a president elected from your state is that when he leaves office, a presidential library that holds memorabilia from that presidential term will be built somewhere in the state.
The 42nd president of the United States and Arkansas native, William Jefferson Clinton’s library is in Little Rock. Besides learning about Clinton’s time in the White House, you’ll have a chance to see a replica of the oval office and items that were used to decorate the White House during those presidential years. Personal belongings like family photos and even President Clinton’s famous sunglasses and saxophone are also on display.
The Clinton library houses hundreds of wooden bookcases that contain in total some 4,536 blue boxes holding all the papers, documents and notes from the Clinton administration. And that’s just a small portion of all the items.
After a tour, stop by the Clinton Museum Store for souvenirs and grab a drink or a bite to eat at 42, the restaurant located on the ground floor of the library. It has a beautiful view of the Arkansas River and the Clinton Presidential Park.
Search For Street Art in Little Rock
In the last few years, Little Rock has exploded with murals and street art around town. Since the first time I visited, there are quite a few new ones. The good news is even if you can’t actually make it to Little Rock in person, Visit Little Rock has created a virtual tour you can do online.
In addition to murals on walls and buildings, Little Rock is one of the first places I’ve seen drain art. Yes, drain art. As in storm drains that drain water from roadways when it rains.
Drain Smart is an Arkansas based environmental organization is educating the public about the importance of water quality. So, by putting art on storm drains – that you might ordinarily overlook – throughout the city. Drain Smart is raising awareness about where litter goes when it enters a drain and makes it’s way into the river or stream that connects to the drain.
You’ll find drain art all around Little Rock. So be on the lookout.
Eat Delicious Arkansas Grown Food
Good food is so celebrated in Arkansas, there’s even an Arkansas Restaurant Hall of Fame. Some of the inductees can be found right in Little Rock. Restaurants like Lassis Inn, Franke’s Cafeteria and Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys have all won awards. Just so you don’t miss any of these famous places when visiting Little Rock, the Arkansas Restaurant Hall of Fame has created an app you can download to keep up with award winners.
In addition to these restaurants, Little Rock has just about any kind of food you could want – from fine dining to soul food and everything in between. And I absolutely love the farm to table movement going on. Since Arkansas is an agriculture state, emphasis has been put on keeping those Arkansas grown products at home for superior quality foods and beverages that you can taste. Find out my favorite restaurants in The Lowdown on Where to Eat in Little Rock article.
Enjoy the Arkansas River
Little Rock has made perfect use of it’s location on the Arkansas River. Pedestrian walking bridges that cross the river and lush parks along side the river offer visitors everything from wetlands to sculptures. All this can be found in the eleven block Riverfront Park on the river downtown. Within the park, there are playgrounds, a splash park and other fascinating historical markers and information about the history of Little Rock.
River Market – also located in the park – is the “unofficial cultural center of Little Rock” according to their website. This lively entertainment district has plenty of delicious restaurants, local shopping, and live music. It’s the place to be on a southern summer night.
Touch the Real Little Rock
Yes, there really is a little rock in Little Rock! Le Petit Roche or little rock, is the rock – along with the big rock on the north side of the river – that Bernard de la Harpe described when he wrote about his 1722 voyage up the Arkansas River. Visitors to Little Rock can visit the Le Petit Roche plaza in Riverfront Park and touch the little rock for themselves.
Get Your Locally Labeled Passport Sticker
Long before everyone else offered beercations, Little Rock came up with the Locally Labeled Passport to central Arkansas’s ales, wine and spirits. The participants on this boozy trail include five breweries, two wineries and one distillery.
To participate, all you have to do is pick up a passport and get a sticker when you visit a venue on the list. Once you’ve filled your passport, you’ll get a t-shirt to show off your accomplishment. Even if you don’t like t-shirts – the quest of trying them all, is just part of the fun.
Admire the Designing Women House
Anyone old enough – like me – to remember the hit television show Designing Women, might remember the beautiful home in the opening credits that represented the office of the Sugarbaker sisters. Even though the sitcom was set in Atlanta, Georgia, the real house is actually in Little Rock. Villa Marre, as it’s known, was picked for the show because of the show’s producer and his Arkansas roots. The home is just a short ride from downtown and a fun thing to do in Little Rock.
Visit a Replica of the U.S. Capitol
While you’re in Little Rock, don’t miss the chance to visit a complete replica of the U.S. Capitol building. The Arkansas State Capitol building was designed to look exactly like the real thing in Washington D.C. So much so, it’s even been used in movies.
Visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour. Both options are free.
See the Little Rock Nine Monument
After visiting the Capitol, head around the corner to see Testament: The Little Rock Nine Monument. Located on the Capitol grounds, this Civil Rights memorial honors the bravery and courage of the Arkansas Nine and the part these children played in the 1957 desegregation crisis in Little Rock. The monument is included on the U.S. civil rights trail. Visitors can admire the statues as well as plaques with quotations from each of the nine students.
Ride a Streetcar
I love a city that utilizes its downtown area. To help visitors get around better, Little Rock offers a free streetcar service. The METRO streetcar service operates two routes seven days a week. The blue line even takes you across the Arkansas River into North Little Rock. Check their website for schedules and even a downloadable app. The streetcar is the best way to get to Little Rock’s crowded downtown events so you don’t have to worry about parking.
Walk a Bridge or Two
One of the best ways to see a city is by getting out and walking around. Little Rock has not one, but four pedestrian bridges that make getting around easy. These bridges connect fourteen miles of scenic trails in a loop around the city on both sides of the Arkansas River.
Connecting downtown Little Rock to North Little Rock, is Junction Bridge. This bridge was originally a railroad bridge and has been renovated for pedestrians and cyclists and is totally accessible. It’s part of the “River Lights in the Rock” that light up Little Rock every night.
Southerner Says: fun fact – if you’ve ever want to get married on a bridge, now’s your chance. The Junction Bridge is for rent for weddings and events. You can even light up the bridge with the color of your wedding.
Clinton Presidential Park Bridge is another pedestrian bridge located in the Presidential Park near the Clinton Library and is also part of the “River Lights in the Rock” light show.
Big Dam Bridge is the longest pedestrian and cycling bridge in North America built for that purpose. Part of the Arkansas River Trail, the bridge connects downtown with North Little Rock via Campbell Lake Park.
Two Rivers Park Bridge connects visitors to Two Rivers Park as part of the Arkansas River Trail.
Relax on the Front Porch of the Capital Hotel
Only in the south would you find a hotel with a front porch. The gorgeous Capital Hotel is already a Little Rock favorite but to be able to enjoy sitting and sipping on a front porch makes a guest feel right at home in Little Rock. The Capital Hotel is conveniently located in downtown, close to the River and all the attractions. Guests could stay all weekend and never once need a car. Stay in, go out. It’s up to you. Just don’t forget some front porch time.
Stroll Through a Sculpture Garden
Another interesting thing to do in Little Rock’s Riverfront Park is to visit the sculptures in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. The sculpture garden has over ninety works of art on display. It’s so much fun to wander through the park, get lost on the paths and walkways and discover new sculptures at every turn.
Indulge on Cheese Dip
When I said cheese dip is what brought me to Little Rock, you may have wondered why cheese dip? Well, that’s because Little Rock is the birthplace of cheese dip. The story goes that cheese dip – with tortilla chips of course – was first served in 1935 by Blackie Donnelly in his North Little Rock restaurant. Whether you choose to believe the cheese dip legend is up to you but there has to be something to it. Ask just about anybody in Little Rock and they all have a cheese dip story.
To celebrate the birth of cheese dip, Little Rock holds the World Championship of Cheese Dip every fall. Chefs, both professional and amateur, compete for the honor of best cheese dip. It’s kind of a big deal. The 2019 competition had 23 different kinds of dip and volunteers packed 15k bags of chips for attendees.
As far as restaurants go, cheese dip can be found in more than just Mexican restaurants. It seems everyone has some connection to cheese dip and their own spin on it. A couple of my favorite places are Heights Taco & Tamale Co. and Red Door.
Tour a Real Submarine
A submarine is not what you expect to find in a land locked, southern state but that’s exactly what you’ll find when you visit Little Rock. The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum is the only place in the world where you can tour a tugboat that participated in Pearl Harbor – the beginning of World War II – and a submarine that was actually in Japan during the formal surrender that ended the war.
On the tour, visitors get an up close look at the USS Razorback. After all, Arkansas is the home of the Razorbacks. The submarine is a 90% operational submarine that’s been kept almost as it was in wartime.
Sleep in a Hostel That Was a Firehouse
The HI Little Rock Firehouse Hostel & Museum is one of the most unique hostels I’ve ever stayed in. The building, a beautiful Craftsman style constructed in 1917, was a real working firehouse. When it became too small for bigger, modern fire engines, it was used as city offices and storage. Ironically after a fire damaged the building, the firehouse was gutted and reconfigured to be used as a hostel.
The first floor of the hostel is a common area with a kitchen and a museum with all the firehouse memorabilia. The second floor is where you’ll find the sleeping quarters. You don’t have to be a guest of the hostel just to go by and get a peek. The hostel is conveniently located near MacArthur Park – Little Rock’s first city park – so these two activities could be combined for a fun day.
Paddle a Kayak on the Arkansas River
If just walking across or along side the Arkansas River isn’t enough for you, how about renting a kayak or taking a tour on the river? Rocktown River Outfitters has paddle board, kayak and bike rentals available for the day. They also offer offer guided tours and a sunset tour if you don’t feel comfortable doing it alone. Now that’s the way to see the river.
Eat Sweets at a Historic Bakery
My great grandmother was a baker so I get my love of cakes and sweets from her. For sure, no one has ever had to force me into a bakery and Community Bakery is exactly the kind of bakery I love. Old school with a touch of modern – sunny and airy just in case I want to work while I’m there. Fair warning, your head might explode trying to pick something out here’s so many choices.
Community Bakery has been in business since 1947. Their specialty is European desserts and pastries but they also make of classics and southern goodies. After looking at everything, I picked out a chocolate iced donut – my fav – a couple of petit fours and one of their famous sausage rolls. A roll is what I had after eating all that! Just kidding. I didn’t eat it all at once. And If I did, I’m not telling. Put this bakery on your things to do in Little Rock list.
Pet Animals at Heifer Village + Urban Farm
Before my first visit to Little Rock, I’d never even heard of Heifer International. Maybe I was living in a bubble but ever since I went, I’ve seen it mentioned everywhere. Heifer is a non profit organization, who’s mission is to end hunger and poverty, while caring for the earth. Through work with farmers and communities all around the world, they provide food, clean water and even economic opportunities to make communities more efficient.
One of their projects is instead of just gifting food to people in need one time, they help and educate communities to better themselves by providing them with animals that will produce what they need in the future.
Long term, this helps communities be more self sufficient. Sort of like the “if you teach a man to fish” analogy. On their website, you can donate money to their programs or gift a chicken – for eggs – a milk cow and other animals to an area in need. How cool is that?
We refuse to stop until every person is living a dignified life with access to nutritious food, resources, education, healthcare and money saved for emergenciesheifer international
And it’s not just their mission in other countries. At their headquarters in Little Rock, Heifer practices what they preach. Caring for the environment starts at home with their platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designed “green” office building. The on-site Heifer Urban Farm provides volunteer and job opportunities right in Little Rock. They donate food from their urban garden to those in need and work closely with local farmers in Arkansas.
Visitors can take a tour of the grounds and the village to learn more about Heifer’s involvement in global projects and what we as individuals can do right to help. Kids big and small, will love visiting the animals at the farm. You’ll come away wanting to help out in some way or another.
Sip Award Winning Spirits
Rock Town Distillery offers visitors to Little Rock a chance to sip award winning whiskey and gin. Owner Phil Brandon’s story of sheer determination to make great whiskey is almost as good as the alcohol itself. As part of Little Rock’s “Locally Labeled” passport, Rock Town offers tours, a tasting room and a store where you can pick up your favorite whiskey, gin or flavored vodka.
Going Camping is One of the Best Things to do in Little Rock
One of the things I love most about visiting Little Rock is that there are so many natural spaces right around the city. With the Arkansas River running through town and parks galore – there is plenty of opportunity to get outside. I love to camp so imagine my surprise when I discovered I could pitch my tent near Little Rock and still be close enough to pick up tacos from Local Lime. Now that’s a win win.
Located right on Lake Maumelle and the Arkansas River, Maumelle Recreation Area & Campground is less than fifteen miles from downtown. This park is a real gem. It has both reservable and walk-in campsites with electricity and water. There’s even nice heated bathhouses.
From the park, it’s easy to explore downtown Little Rock or some of the other neighborhoods and it’s convenient to Pinnacle Mountain State Park – the highest peak near an otherwise fairly flat Little Rock.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Little Rock?
With temperate weather, there’s really not a bad time to visit Little Rock. However, summers are hot and humid and winters are on the cool side. Ideally spring and fall are the best.
How to Get to Little Rock
The Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) is conveniently located just east of the city. Visitors can fly into the city via major airlines. Little Rock is also located near several major US interstates. This makes the city a great stop for road trippers.
Do I Need a Car in Little Rock
To explore Little Rock thoroughly, a car is the best way to get around. Visitors staying downtown can walk and use public transportation and the free streetcar. There is also Uber and taxi services.
Where to Stay in Little Rock
If you decide to visit Little Rock, I recommend first time visitors stay downtown because it’s so easy to get around and see many of the things mentioned in this article. Additionally, the SoMa neighborhood is also one of my favorite areas and is still close to downtown. The Capital Hotel – mentioned above – and Hilton Garden Inn downtown are two of my favorites properties. If you want to check out hotels in other areas use this map from Booking.com.
Is Little Rock Safe?
Yes it’s very safe. Of course, you’ll want to take precautions just as you would in any big city. Watch your purse or wallet, never leave things visible in your car and don’t invite trouble by drinking too much or drinking and driving.
Is Little Rock Expensive?
No! Many of the things to do in Little Rock are free. Visitors can buy passes for the METRO public transportation, use an America the Beautiful pass for Central High School Historic site and tour the Clinton Library for a minimal fee. Little Rock is a great place for families since accommodations are very affordable and you can find a place to stay that fits within your budget.
Even More Things To Do in Little Rock
Some of my experiences in Little Rock were provided by the Little Rock Convention & Visitor Bureau. However, I’ve been back to Little Rock, on my own, several times, since that first visit. All opinions are my own and my opinion is: I love this city! There’s much more to do in Little Rock, Arkansas than what’s on this list, including a zoo, several museums and many more natural areas just waiting to be explored by visitors and me! So what’s your favorite thing to do in Little Rock, Arkansas? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out.