Updated for 2021– 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. As someone who loves to travel, 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 on my own and tell everyone about Little Rock. Affordable, centrally located, with way more to do than what’s on my 20 things to do in Little Rock, Arkansas list. One visit and you’ll see why I’m big on Little Rock.
Educate Yourself at Central High School National Historic Site
One of the top things to do in Little Rock and one of the most important historic sites in the country is Central High School National Historic site. The site is the epicenter of Little Rock’s 1957 school desegregation crisis and a must see when visiting Little Rock. Visitors can reserve a ranger led tour of the school, which is still an operating high school. If you prefer a self guided tour then start with the visitor’s center for interpretive information and photos. Visit the nearby gas station where reporters called in their stories during the crisis and tour the memorials that educate and remind us 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.
Visitors can travel through the decades, examining the purses and bags and their contents. 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 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 of having a president elected from your state is that when he leaves office, a presidential library, that holds just about everything 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. Visitors will will have a chance to see a replica of the oval office and items that were used to decorate the White House during the Clinton years. There’s family photos and even President Clinton’s famous sunglasses and saxophone are all on display.
The library also contains hundreds of wooden bookcases that contain in total, 4,536 blue boxes, archiving all the papers, notes and documents of the Clinton administration. And that’s just a small percentage of all the items.
After a tour, visit the Clinton Museum Store and grab a drink or a bite to eat at 42, the restaurant located on the ground floor of the Clinton Library. It has a beautiful view of the Arkansas River and the Clinton Presidential Park.
Search For Little Rock Street Art
In the last few years, Little Rock has exploded with street art. Since the first time I visited in 2018, they’ve added many new murals around town. It’s fun to do a walking tour of all the locations. If you can’t actually make it to the city in person, Visit Little Rock has created a virtual tour you can do online.
In addition to murals, Little Rock is one of the first places I’ve seen drain art. Yes, you heard me right, drain art. As in storm drains that drain water from roadways when it rains. Drain Smart is an environmental and education program that teaches people about the importance of water quality. By putting art on storm drains throughout the city, Drain Smart raises awareness and is educating the public about what happens to trash 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 in Little Rock. Restaurants like the Lassis Inn, Franke’s Cafeteria and Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys are famous for the food they serve. You can visit them and plenty of other wonderful restaurants in Little Rock. The Arkansas Restaurant Hall of Fame even has an app you can download so don’t miss any of them.
A visitor to Little Rock can find anything from fine dining to soul food and everything in between. And I absolutely love the farm to table movement in Little Rock. Since Arkansas is an agriculture state, emphasis has been put on keeping those Arkansas grown products in the state for superior quality foods and beverages and you can taste it!
Enjoy the Arkansas River
Little Rock has made use of it’s location on the river to the fullest. Pedestrian bridges and parks offering everything from wetlands to sculptures, can be found in the Julius Breckling Riverfront Park area along the Arkansas River. Don’t know who Julius Breckling is? Well he’s only the former Little Rock Parks & Recreation director who helped facilitate the purchase of the property in 1970. Because of his dedication and vision, the park was named after him.
Shopping, restaurants, art and live music make up the River Market, the “unofficial cultural center of Little Rock” according to their website. It is THE place to be on a southern summer night.
If walking across or along side the river isn’t enough you, visitors can rent bicycles or book a kayak trip on the river! Rocktown River Outfitters offers kayak, paddle board and bike rentals. They even offer a guided sunset tour y’all.
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 and see the little rock and learn about the history of discovery of the area.
Get Your Locally Labeled Passport Stamped
Long before everybody else offered a beercation, Little Rock came up with the Locally Labeled passport to central Arkansas’s ales, wine and spirits. The participants in this boozy trail include six breweries, two wineries and on distillery. When visitors visit those establishments, they get their passport stamped. Fill up your passport and get a t-shirt for your hard work. Even if you aren’t a t-shirt wearer, the chase of trying them all, is part of the excitement.
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 the show producer’s Arkansas roots. Just a short ride from downtown, it’s a fun thing to do in Little Rock.
Meditate at the Little Rock Nine Monument
After visiting the Central High historic site, don’t miss visiting the Capitol building to see the statues of Testament: The Little Rock Nine Monument. The monument honors the bravery and courage of the Arkansas Nine and the part they played in the 1957 desegregation crisis in Little Rock. The monument is included on the US 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 like Little Rock that’s utilized it’s cute downtown area. To help visitors get around even better, the city 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 downtown events so you don’t have to worry about parking.
Discover a Bridge or Two
One of the best ways to see a city is by walking around. Little Rock comes through again with not one, but four pedestrian bridges that connect some 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. Totally accessible and part of the “River Lights in the Rock” that light up the bridges every night. 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 the bridge up 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
The Capital Hotel is reopening May 17, 2021
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.
Gaze at Sculptures
Another interesting thing to do in Little Rock is explore the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. Located along the river in Riverfront Park, the sculpture garden has ninety works of art. Wander through the park and get lost on the paths and walkways, discovering new sculptures at every turn.
Sample Little Rock Cheese Dip
When I said cheese dip is what brought me to Little Rock to start with, you may have wondered why cheese dip? Because Little Rock is THE birthplace of cheese dip. Legend has it that cheese dip served with chips, was made in 1935 by Blackie Donnelly and served in his restaurant in North Little Rock. Whether you choose to believe or not is up to you but there has to be something to it. Little Rock definitely knows about cheese dip!
Little Rock holds the World Championship of Cheese Dip every fall. Chefs, both professional and amateur, can enter their recipes and compete for the prize of best cheese dip. It’s a big honor. The 2019 competition had 23 different kinds and 15k bags of chips for attendees.
As far as restaurants go, cheese dip can be found in more than just Mexican restaurants. 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 see 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, to 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 Razerbacks. 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 operational 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 is a common area, with a kitchen and a museum with that houses all the firehouse memorabilia. The second floor is where you will find the sleeping quarters. You don’t have to be staying at the hostel to go by and check out the museum. You could plan a visit and then spend time in nearby MacArthur Park, Little Rock’s first city park.
Taste Pastries at a 73 Year Old Bakery
My great grandmother was a baker so I get my love of baked goods from her. For sure, no one has ever had to force me into a bakery. Community Bakery is exactly the kind of bakery I love. Old school with a touch of modern, sunny and airy in case I want to work while I’m there, a super friendly staff and so many choices, your head might explode trying to pick something out.
The bakery specializes in European pastries but has plenty of classics and southern goodies. After looking at everything, I finally decided on my favorite donut, a chocolate iced, a couple of petit fours and one of their specialties, a sausage roll. A roll is what I had after eating all that! Just joking. I didn’t eat it all at once. And If I did, I’m not telling.
READ MORE: Where to Eat in Little Rock
Pet Animals at Heifer Village + Urban Farm
Before my first visit to Little Rock, I had never even heard of Heifer International. Maybe I have been living in a bubble but since I went, I’ve seen it mentioned everywhere. Heifer International is a non profit organization that instead of just gifting food to people in need once, they help and educate communities by providing them with animals that will produce what they need in the future. Long term, this helps communities be more self reliant. Sort of like the “if you teach a man to fish” analogy. If you visit their website, you will have an opportunity to donate money or even gift an animal like a chicken, for eggs, or a cow, for milk 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
Simply put, Heifer’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 clean water, food and even economic opportunities and solutions to make communities better and more efficient.
And it’s not just in other countries. At their headquarters in Little Rock, Heifer practices what they preach about caring for the earth 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 here at home 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.
Some of my experiences in Little Rock were provided by the Little Rock Convention & Visitor Bureau. (Visit their website for the latest info and closures due to Covid-19 before you go). However, I’ve been back to Little Rock, on my own, three times, since that very 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 just what’s on this list, including a zoo, several museums and many more natural areas just waiting to be explored by visitors and me! What’s your favorite thing to do in Little Rock, Arkansas? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out.
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Plan Your Trip to Little Rock, Arkansas
When’s the best time to visit Little Rock?
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 do I 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. That 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 should I stay in Little Rock?
I recommend first time visitors stay downtown because it’s easier to see more and walk around from downtown. The SoMa neighborhood is also one of my favorite neighborhoods and is still close to downtown. The Capital Hotel (mentioned above) and Hilton Garden Inn are two favorites properties. If you want to stay in a different neighborhood, book a room via Booking.com.
is little rock safe?
Yes it’s very safe. Of course, you want to take precautions as you would in any major city. Watch your 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 activities on my list 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 someplace to stay that fits your budget.