Little Rock Arkansas combines the best of the south with a vibrant foodie scene, a buzzing downtown and a historic feel. The city is steeped in history and manages to embrace its past, whilst maintaining a modern feel. If you are looking for the best things to do in Little Rock Arkansas, this guide will point you in the direction of foodie hotspots, outdoor activities, neighbourhoods and culture.
Best things to do in Little Rock Arkansas
I spent some time exploring Little Rock as a guest of Little Rock CVB, who did a great job of hosting us and showing us the best that the city has to offer. There are so many exciting things you can pack into just a few days in this historic city. Make sure you take the time to research the best things to do in Little Rock to make the most of your time in this uber cool city. If you are flying into Little Rock, be sure to check out the best flight deals on the Skyscanner website or download the Skyscanner app for flight deals to Arkansas on the go. It’s definitely a city you have to visit in the USA.
Clinton Presidential Center
The Presidential Center is an impressive structure on the banks of Arkansas River. The large complex includes the offices of the Clinton Foundation, the magnificent Clinton Presidential Library and the offices of the Clinton Foundation. The Presidential Centre is a celebration of Little Rock resident and the United States’ 42nd president, Bill Clinton.
The uber-modern library has a range of exhibits that chronicle the presidency of Bill Clinton. You could spend hours getting to know the man behind the Oval Office with a range of documents and exhibits that give an insight into the day-to-day running of the White House. There’s a sequential timeline that documents the years of Clinton’s presidency, featuring key events and decisions. There’s also an exhaustive daily schedule of the Clinton Presidency. If you fancy seeing what dear old Bill had for breakfast on the 30th of January 1995, chances are you can find out here. I bet it was chocolate chip pancakes. What’s interesting is that the exhibits don’t shy away from the more controversial aspects of Clinton’s presidency as well. There’s no point pretending that Clinton wasn’t a Wiley old cad, [I wouldn’t say no] and the Lewinsky scandal amongst others is addressed.
Possibly my favourite parts of the centre are the exact replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. Never underestimate the sheer joy of pretending to dial up Kim Jong-un on the Oval Office bat phone and threaten to drop 1000 megatons on his supreme ass. For those who are far less childish than me, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the insider secrets of the oval office and its colourful history.
There is also a range of interesting temporary exhibits at the Presidential Center that keeps things fresh. Some of the current exhibits include the White House Collection of American Crafts. This innovative collection includes contemporary metal, glass and wood works that were previously displayed in the formal public rooms of the White House. I have to say, nearly all the pieces are highly Instagrammable, which I am sure is exactly what the artists were striving for.
Cycling in Little Rock
River Market District
Little Rock’s River Market District is the heart of Little Rock’s downtown area. There’s a selection of cool bars, shops, the Ottenheimer Market Hall that regularly hosts events and of course, the beautiful riverfront park. This 10 block area has so much to offer residents and visitors and is worth a day’s exploring.
This once, disused area, full of condemned buildings has had millions of dollars worth of facelift to become hipster central. This is where the cool kids come to hang out, shop and relax. The enhancement of this area not only brings a renewed quality of life to the residents but also marks Little Rock out as a happening destination for tourists. There’s an electric vibe in this area and you can’t help but feel that this is the place to be. Several cocktails might have also contributed to this feel-good buzz. It’s hard to say really?
Make sure to try out several of the foodie hot spots in this area including Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Blue Canoe Brewing and Nexus Coffee and Creative. Many of the food and drink outlets at River Market are independent, so by eating there, you are supporting thriving local businesses. Food that gives you the ‘feels’ is the best kind after all. Plus, you can Facebook brag to hipster friends about how you eat local yah?
After sampling delicious local cuisine be sure to check out the glorious Riverfront Park area. There are 33 acres of picturesque urban parkland to discover and enjoy. Several of the park’s attractions include Peabody Splash Park, Junction Bridge, the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden and the William E. “Bill” Clark Presidential Park Wetlands.
You can also ride the heritage Metro Streetcar through the River Market district. The Little Rock streetcar has three historic replica streetcars that ride along a 3.4-mile route, operating in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The Little Rock Streetcar fayre is $1.35 one way for an adult. An absolute bargain way to see the city. Hop aboard and start exploring downtown the old fashioned way.
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Little Rock is perhaps best known for its role in America’s civil rights struggle. The city was the epicentre of the segregation crisis in the 1950s. It also had the national spotlight shone on it during this dark episode of history. The world looked on as nine brave African American young people [the Little Rock nine], attempted to enrol in Central High School in 1957 and were prevented from entering.
Their attendance at Little Rock Central High School was the result of a landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education. This ruling declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. You can take a guided tour of this still operational school site. Walk the halls and learn more about how President Eisenhower was forced to intervene in the crisis and what the students had to endure to get the education they were newly entitled to.
During the tour, you can walk the path that the students had to walk as they were escorted in by federal troops. This was due to Governor Orval Faubus calling in the Arkansas National Guard to block the black students’ entry into the school. It’s a heartbreakingly reflective moment to imagine what it must have been like to walk past angry locals jeering and shouting as you made the short, yet emotionally long, walk into the school. It certainly put my minor problems, which currently include buying the wrong sort of houmous, [seriously though, onion houmous is the worst], into perspective. The Little Rock high school tour can be booked online and advance booking is recommended as this is still a functioning high school during term time. Make sure to also swing by the Monument to the Little Rock Nine, located on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.
The Southside Main Street District (SoMa) is the very essence of a kooky neighbourhood. The area’s main focal point is the 63-year-old Community Bakery that is the very heart and indeed, bakery epicentre, of this local community. This once thriving area was split ears ago by Interstate 630. It divided Main Street into “downtown,” that fell north of the freeway, and then “South Main,” which quickly became an area people rarely ventured to and so fell into a desolate state.
This area has now gone through extensive revitalisation and now features vibrant street art, a range of hip cafes, gardens and boutique shops. Make sure to visit some of the popular foodie places including Loblolly Creamery, Root Café and the Green Corner Store, for good eats in achingly middle-class surroundings. Exploring this quirky area is definitely one of the best things to do in Little Rock, to get a flavour of the local community and residents.
Esse Purse Museum
Two words that are sure to set my husband running to the nearest bar are “purse” and “museum” and yet, the Esse Purse museum managed to surprise us both. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of handbags [or purses as you inexplicably call them in the States]. I don’t understand women’s fascination with a vessel for holding your crap in. What the ESSE Purse Museum & Store effortlessly does is provide historical context to purses and their contents.
It is one of only three purse museums in the whole world [and actually the only one in the U.S.]. This museum features the creativity and curation of owner Anita Davis’ fascination with the history of purses. The museum is laid out into decades that feature not only purses of the time, but what their likely contents would have been.
It’s an interesting prism in which to view history and the various artefacts really bring the various decades to life. Wander around to follow the historical timeline and evolution of the 20th century, through handbags and the secret contents within them. There’s also a beautiful boutique store attached to the museum selling pretty purses, scarves and jewellery. Husbands, it is advisable to hide the credit card upon entering the store as it is likely to be on the receiving end of some severe retail punishment.
Why not spoil yourself with a Boutique hotel in Little Rock and book a stay at Hotel Frederica? This former Sam Peck Hotel is full of history and charm. Weirdly Rockefeller obsessed husband was delighted to learn that they were frequent guests. It is certainly one of the best hotels in Little Rock in terms of design, value and character.
This landmark hotel is in a very convenient downtown location and also has all the amenities one might expect of a hotel of this standard. Rooms include coffee making facilities, free Wi-Fi, hairdryer, iron and ironing board. Breakfast is also included and there is also a gym, for those who like a workout on their vaycay. Hotel Frederica has kept many of its historic features including cherry wood furnishings, and classic marble making it a most photogenic hotel. Get those #hotel Instagram snaps and be the envy of friends at home with your smug and exquisite hotel taste darlings. Duck faces at the ready!
Search now for a Little Rock Hotel Stay
Rock Town Distillery
Rock Town Distillery has the accolade of being Arkansas’s first ‘legal’ distillery since prohibition. These guys are knocking out some seriously good whisky, bourbon, vodka and gin. They have also won numerous international awards for their spirits. Rock Town’s artisan craft distillery is truly grain-to-glass perfection for booze fans. You can visit the distillery for tours and tastings and learn more about the entire process of making spirits.
Rock Town Distillery uses local Arkansas wheat, corn and rye for their bourbons, gin, rum and vodkas. Things are really kept at a local level here and by running a tight ship it means that the products are of a very high standard. They have many bragging points by being named the 2015 American Micro Whiskey of the Year by Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, for their single barrel reserve whiskey.
After an informal but informative tour, you arrive at the main attraction, the tasting portion of the day. This is where things can start to unravel rather quickly. Previous experience has taught me that if my darling husband is given one too many samples of whisky he can get rather animated. He has been known to yell “I am the king” in the local boozer after one too many ‘Old Fashions’. [For reference, he is most definitely not the king, I run this show]. If your tour companion is equally as delightful when inebriated, it might be worth having a sly word with the bar staff about reining in the liberal pouring policy.
Luckily as we worked our way through the many delectable spirits on offer everyone was well behaved and thankfully no wobbly renditions of ‘ Total eclipse of the heart” were performed. The bar staff here will also make you a pretty mean cocktail should you wish to purchase additional drinks after your tour and tasting. Rock Town Distillery tours are held three times a day on Tuesday through Sunday, at 2 PM, at 4 PM, and 7 PM.
If you happen to be visiting Little Rock when the Acansa Arts Festival is on then you are in for an artsy treat. The visual and performing arts festival is dedicated to building a dynamic and engaging community through the arts. There is a range of creative performances involving collaborations among artists, the public, businesses and several community institutions.
We were lucky enough to bag seats at a performance of jazz sensation Chuchito Valdes, in a rundown railway shed. Sipping beers bought from a makeshift booze truck, watching Valdes jam to electric Caribbean rhythms and jazz meant that the hipster dial was cranked up to 11.
Chuchito creates an exciting and energetic blend of spicy music that drives audiences rather wild. This piano master captivates with his sensitivity and drives excitement with his dynamic band. It was a raucous evening and I definitely recommend checking out the festival if you happen to be in town when it’s on.
The area west of Little Rock downtown along Markham Street is known as the Hillcrest Historic District. This charming area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places collection and is one of the first residential areas of Little Rock. It’s always nice to get out the main downtown area of a city and explore some of the local neighbourhoods. This can give you a flavour of life in the city beyond the tourist attractions.
There is an abundance of trendy shops, adorable eateries and historic homes here. It is definitely worth setting aside some time to explore this cutesy part of town. Head to Box Turtle for a unique shopping experience in a veritable treasure trove.
This eclectic shop is housed in a beautiful 3 story house and has an impressive range of clothes, jewellery, candles and quirky gifts. They also allow local designers and artist to showcase their impressive work. Everything here is also displayed splendidly and makes for an enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing shopping experience. For shopping fans, it’s one of the best things to do in Little Rock.
Even if you aren’t really that into shopping like me, it’s a really interesting store to browse. If you are lucky the owners may even invite you into the back room for a little tipple and a chat. Nothing like a shot of hard liquor at 10 am to start your day the right way.
Make sure to call into Mylo Coffee Co when in the neighbourhood for moreish sweet and savoury pastries, as well as some pretty kick-ass coffee. It’s certainly one of the best places for Coffee in Little Rock judging by the quality cup I sipped on.
Another great place to check out in Hillcrest is Izard Chocolate, an artisan chocolatier shop. Izard Chocolate was founded in 2014 by Nathaniel Izard and is a high-quality bean-to-bar chocolate company. It holds the accolade of being the first chocolate-making company in Little Rock as well.
You can actually see Nathan at work in the shop and he is happy to talk you through the chocolate making process and even give you some samples to try. I highly recommend the chocolate-dipped, sea salt caramels. Needless to say, the chocolate is incredible and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with the Little Rock natives. It’s really dangerous to spend too much time in this store though, as there is every chance you can end up consuming your body weight in chocolate. I felt like I needed a little nap after my rampant over-indulgence.
Little Rock Kayaking
Discover Little Rock from the water by kayaking on the Arkansas River. Kayak rental in Little Rock is available from Rock Town River Outfitters. It’s quite something to see the city skyline on one side and lots of greenery and trees on the other. Kayaking in Little Rock is a peaceful way of gazing at the city sights whilst you bob along on the water. It’s certainly one of the best things to do in Little Rock if you are an outdoor enthusiast.
Rock Town River Outfitters offer tours and rental of kayaks. You can go on a Rockwater Marina to North River Landing kayak tour of Little Rock. Or perhaps do a sunset paddle, and see downtown Little Rock’s skyline as the sun goes down?
You can also rent kayaks in Little Rock from Rock Town River Outfitters. You can rent stand up paddle boards and sit-on-top kayaks by the hour from them. The best part is after your rental period is up you can kick back on the marina with a cheeky wine or two. The staff here don’t so much sell wine as give you any that is lying around in the fridge. These are my kind of people.
The Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock is a historic, residential neighbourhood of the city. It was first given its name in 1961, honouring the Quapaw Indians who lived in the area centuries ago. There are a range of historic homes from the Antebellum and Victorian eras as well as examples of Craftsman-style architecture. Spring, Scott, Center streets are where many of these homes still stand today.
We were told of Quapaw Quarter that it might contain some ‘characters’, so immediately I made it my mission to find said ‘characters’. It wasn’t long before we stumbled across an eccentrically dressed gentleman who shouted at husband Luke, “Is that your woman?”. Luke replied “yes” in a rather nervous tone. “Damn, a woman that fine shouldn’t be with no fool”, exclaimed the gentleman. This was a response that obviously delighted me. Luke less so.
The area is also home to The MacArthur Park Historic District which features the Arkansas Arts Center and the Little Rock Firehouse Hostel & Museum. You can actually stay in the hostel and be surrounded by fire station paraphernalia. It’s a really reasonably priced stay if you are looking for budget accommodation in Little Rock. The staff are also really friendly and helpful, which is always a bonus.
If you are in the area, the Arkansas Arts Center is definitely worth a visit. It’s home to an art museum with a world-class international collection. You can stroll around pretending you know about art for an entire afternoon if the mood takes you? A few tricks to this involve throwing in some key phrases such as “artistic process” and “use of colour”. If you are feeling bold, “the artist is conveying a preconceived hierarchy of cultural values” is some bloody great generic art speak. If all else fails, just loudly gasp as you pass artworks, as if you have somehow recognised breathtaking genius at work.
Where to eat in Little Rock
Little Rock has a huge range of eateries and is somewhat of a foodie hotspot these days. Dependent on your budget and tastes there is a whole range of places to eat in Little Rock. I’ve tried to include some of the best places to eat in Little Rock. I am very aware that there are so many more in the city.
42 bar and Table
42 bar and Table is a beautiful restaurant inside the Clinton Presidential centre overlooking the Arkansas River and the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. The dishes here are fresh and contemporary featuring local favourites as well as internationally-inspired cuisine. It’s perfect for a spot of lunchtime dining after learning more about the 42nd president.
Lost Forty Brewing
Lost Forty Brewing brews up a storm with a selection of craft beers. Offerings include Azacca Imperial IPA, Rockhound Imperial IPA and Lost 40 Pale Ale. They also serve a range of comfort food dishes that are sure to satisfy and fill you up. I would highly recommend the open-faced Fried Italian Bologna & Egg. Feast upon Mortadella luncheon meat, fried egg sunny side up, Rockhound IPA Mustard and mayo. Served with a side of Space Invaders style potato chips. Utter filth.
One Eleven at the Capital.
Located inside the swanky hotel, One Eleven at the Capital is the place to dine in Little Rock. CBG’s culinary vision focuses on provincial comfort food, with a particular emphasis on the ‘bounty of Arkansas’. There’s a range of popular signature dishes, however, the menus change frequently at this upscale eatery. Typical dishes include Lamb shank with roasted potatoes, seared diver scallops and prime beef fillet. They take meat rather seriously in this joint.
Community Bakery has the most wonderful retro vibe. They also have the most delicious cakes and loaves of bread you can imagine. Its long history means that many of the recipes used 60 years ago are still in use today. Their cake cabinet is a sight to behold and I had to fight the urge to buy “all the cakes”. I am currently trying out this new thing called ‘self-restraint’. I’ll let you know how it goes. Make sure to order one of their legendary ‘sugar cookies’, which are a taste sensation. There’s also a great selection of soups, sandwiches, bagels and baked goods if you are in a savoury mood.
This charming Little Rock-based creamery specialises in making small batches of delicious ice cream, sodas, and other sweets. Loblolly Creamery certainly is a strong contender for the best ice cream in Little Rock. A lot of love goes into the ice creams and every recipe is created from scratch. There are no shortcuts in artisan ice cream darlings. Seasonal ingredients are sourced and there’s no nasty preservatives, premixes and artificial flavours here. If you are struggling to decide what flavour to have, why not treat yourself to a flight of ice cream? You deserve it.
The Root Cafe
The Root Cafe has all the bohemian buzz words going for it, “Sustainable”, “Farm-to-table” and “locally-owned” to name a few. Unlike other establishments of similar ilk, there’s not a shred of pretentiousness here. Root Cafe sources from as many small farms and producers in Arkansas as they can. Because he Root Cafe has a relaxed, community feel to it is a popular place for locals. When we arrived, the line for brunch was out the door. Definitely order the ‘Root Benny’ for brunch. It’s a moreish serving of two farm-fresh poached eggs served over a bed of local, seasonal greens. There’s also Grass Roots ham and homemade hollandaise to boot.
Is Little Rock worth visiting?
Little Rock might not be the most obvious choice as your holiday destination. You might be justified asking yourself is Little Rock worth visiting? I personally believe it’s a fantastic Arkansas vacation idea. You can spend an entire vacation here as there is a huge variety of things to do in Little Rock. There are foodie finds, art and culture and outdoor adventures here in Little Rock. You just need to come and experience it for yourself and get a flavour for Southern culture at its finest. What do you think of my guide to the Best things to do in Little Rock? What else should be added to the list? Let me know in the comments below!
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Thanks to Little Rock CVB, who did a great job of hosting us on a press trip and showing us the best that the city has to offer. Why not check them out and start planning your Little Rock vacation?