Little Rock is the most populous city in Arkansas and the political hub of the state. Its central location within the state and location along Interstate-40 make it a breeze to visit. Once you arrive, you’ll find a mid-size city with the laid-back atmosphere of a small country town combined with big-city amenities.
Colorfully lit bridges cross the Arkansas River that defines the northern boundary of the city. Nearly everything you’ll want to do is no more than a 15-minute drive away. And while there may be some congestion around rush hour, true traffic jams aren’t really a thing here. If you’ve ever tried to visit a popular restaurant in a big city on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll know hours-long waits aren’t surprising. If you’re waiting more than 10 minutes for a table in Little Rock, there’s probably another restaurant that’s just as good right down the street you can walk into.
In short, Little Rock has some big offerings for visitors. And none of them will break the bank. To help you plan for your own visit, these are our favorite 15 attractions in Arkansas’s capital city.
15. Live Theater
(image via Robinson Center)
Get your live theatre fix with an evening show. The Arkansas Repertory Theatre, affectionately known as The Rep, is Little Rock’s long-running regional theater. Each season The Rep puts on around six productions that are a mix of well-known plays, musicals, and even some world-premiere local productions.
Larger Broadway national touring productions come to Robinson Center, an historic 1939 building on the National Register of Historic Places. The performance center is also the home of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Arkansas’s seasonal production of The Nutcracker.
14. Craft Brew Scene
(image via Lost Forty Brewing)
Even though nearly half of Arkansas’s counties are dry (meaning you can’t buy alcohol within their region), the state actually has a pretty robust craft beer scene. Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas, which Little Rock anchors, are the two main hubs of craft brew activity.
Lost Forty Brewing is the largest brewer in the state by volume. Not only do they have tasty beers, but their tap room is also a favorite of locals for the top-notch food! Stone’s Throw has two locations around the city (one downtown and one in the Stifft Station neighborhood). These locations host rotating food trucks to complement their ales. Lastly, Vino’s is an NYC-style pizzeria and brewpub that makes its own beer in-house. They’ve been around for over 30 years.
13. Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
Central Arkansas’s home for the visual and fine arts is the newly renamed Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (formerly the Arkansas Arts Center; some locals may still call it by its former name). Currently, the museum is undergoing a massive renovation and has relocated its exhibitions to a temporary space in the nearby Riverdale neighborhood.
The new building’s design includes architectural front and back “porches” that will lead to revitalized landscaping and event lawns. It’s sure to be a hub of activity for locals and out-of-towners alike.
12. Old Mill in North Little Rock
(image via City of North Little Rock - Government)
A short trip across the Arkansas River to North Little Rock is worth an afternoon of exploring. One of the most well-known and beautiful symbols of Little Rock’s neighboring city is the Old Mill. This recreation of an 1880s water-powered grain mill was built in the early 1930s. Its big claim to fame is appearing in the early seconds of the opening credits of Gone With the Wind.
The concrete sculpture work around the mill is notable for looking like naturalistic wood, a technique pioneered by artist Dionicio Rodriguez. Today the Old Mill is popular for proposals, engagement pictures, proms, and weddings because of the beautiful flowers and natural setting. While you’re in North Little Rock walk around the downtown Argenta Arts District and have lunch or dinner.
11. Food Scene
(image via Heights Taco & Tamale Co.)
Little Rock may be a mid-sized American city with a population of just over 200,000 people, but visitors are routinely surprised to find a plethora of high-caliber food options throughout the city. The city claims to be the birthplace of cheese dip (Not queso. Don’t call it that.). Some of our favorite places to get some authentic Little Rock cheese dip are Heights Taco & Tamale Co., Loca Luna, and Dizzy’s.
Barbecue is serious stuff in the Mid-South, and you won’t be disappointed in Whole Hog Cafe. In fact, they’ve won top honors multiple times at the Memphis In May barbecue championships. Little Rock even has top-notch restaurants featuring flavors from around the world. Three Fold is a unique Chinese restaurant that offers your choice of protein either on top of noodles, inside dumplings, or between steamed buns. Star of India is the city’s long-time favorite for authentic Indian flavors, especially the daily lunch buffet.
10. Rock Town Distillery
(image via Rock Town Distillery)
Rock Town Distillery is the first legal distillery to open in Arkansas since the Prohibition Era. The distillery makes a variety of liquors including vodka, gin, and flavored moonshine. What put them on the international map, however, is their renowned Arkansas bourbons and whiskeys. In particular, their rye whiskey offering, made from Arkansas-grown rye, has won gold medals and high ratings from the International Wine and Spirits Competiton, Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
In addition to guided tours of the distillery, Rock Town also has a tasting room where you can try their products straight out of the bottle or in crafted in-house cocktails.
9. SOMA District
(image via The Bernice Garden)
After visiting Rock Town Distillery, you can explore the rest of the SoMa District. SoMa stands for South Main, the portion of Main Street south of Interstate 630. This funky area is lined with shops and restaurants. Local favorites include South on Main, a restaurant serving elevated Southern fare with a stage for evening music shows, and Root Cafe, a unique establishment that focuses on locally-sourced ingredients.
If you want a snack or dessert, stop by Loblolly Creamery, a local homemade ice cream joint. Shops include The Green Corner Store gift shop, Moxy Modern Mercantile, and Sweet Home antique store. There’s even the unique Esse Purse Museum & Store, one of only two museums focused on purses in the world.
8. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
When the current building was completed in 1927, it was the largest and most expensive high school in the country. However, Little Rock Central High School took on a more infamous reputation in 1957. That year nine black students (known as the Little Rock Nine) enrolled at Central High. President Eisenhower had to order the Arkansas National Guard to escort the students, who were still subjected to verbal and physical abuse by mobs, into the school.
Today, a welcome center is operated by the National Park Service where visitors can learn more about this important Civil Rights moment and can even tour the school grounds. It may have been a dark time in Little Rock’s history, but it’s important to remember.
7. Day Trip to Hot Springs
(image via Visit Hot Springs)
Little Rock is about an hour’s drive from Hot Springs. This historic resort town is the home of the first national park in the country and the only national park that has an urban downtown component. Hot Springs National Park‘s main draw is the historic thermal water baths that line Bathhouse Row. These thermal spas helped to market the city as a “spa town” in the early 1900s which led to it being a location for spring baseball training, Prohibition-era speakeasies, and horse racing.
The horse racing (and other gambling) continues today at Oaklawn Racing Casino and Resort. There are also three major lakes that are popular for recreational boating and other water sports. These are Lake Ouachita, Lake Hamilton, and Lake Catherine. We have a whole separate Hot Springs getaway guide that includes more activities if you plan to venture there.
6. Little Rock Zoo
(image via Little Rock Zoo)
The Little Rock Zoo is the largest zoo in Arkansas and is home to over 700 animals. Some of the newest residents include African penguins and cheetahs. One of the most popular areas of the zoo is the Arkansas Heritage Farm where you may get up close to chickens, goats, sheep, and more! There’s also a train that smaller children love to hop on and ride around the area.
Besides animals, the zoo also hosts other events throughout the year. During October, their “Boo at the Zoo” trick-or-treating event is popular. A recent evening exhibition focused on beautiful light displays set up throughout the grounds. Admission is $13 for adults, $10 for ages 3-12, and free for infants and toddlers.
5. Museum of Discovery
(image via Museum of Discovery)
The Museum of Discovery is located in a historic building right in the middle of downtown. This children-focused museum is noted for its hands-on exhibitions that allow kids to participate in active learning. Most of the exhibits focus on STEM topics such as the science of the body or how gravity and other forces act upon an object. The museum even has its own in-house animals that are brought out for demonstrations.
If you happen to be visiting Little Rock on a Thursday evening without the kids, Science After Dark may interest you. This after-hours event is adult-focused and has topics like “the science of beer” or “the science of superhero movies.” General admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children under 12 years old.
4. Clinton Presidential Center
(image via Clinton Presidential Center)
Not many states can claim they have a presidential library, especially one run by the National Archives and Records Administration. Former President Clinton decided to locate his library in Little Rock. Visitors can tour the permanent collection that takes you through the history of the Clinton administration and showcases portions of its expansive archive that include over 79,000 artifacts, two million photographs, and eighty million pages of documents. There’s even a scale model of the Oval Office you can step into.
Besides the permanent exhibit, the Clinton Presidential Center also hosts traveling exhibitions. These run the gamut from the fine arts to educational programming for children. Plus, the bottom floor has a great restaurant, 42 Bar and Table, which is honestly a hidden gem. Ask many people around town and they won’t know that it has a wonderful patio overlooking the river. Admission to the exhibitions is $12 for adults, $7 for youth aged 6-17, and free for children 5 and under.
3. River Market
(image via Little Rock River Market)
The River Market District is the entertainment hub of downtown Little Rock. A stay at a hotel here puts you in the center of the action, as well as a central location for checking off all of the activities we suggest on this list. Ottenheimer Market Hall is one of the distinctive buildings in this area for its tall “River Market” and “Little Rock” signs on the roof. Inside, the large open space houses numerous food stalls. The open-air pavilion behind the hall is the home of the Little Rock Farmers’ Market.
President Clinton Avenue is the main thoroughfare through the River Market, and it is lined with restaurants, shops, and even piano bars that stay open later into the evening. Some of our favorite places include Buenos Aires Grill & Cafe, Willy D’s, and Flying Saucer.
2. Pinnacle Mountain
(image via The State Parks of Arkansas)
Only a short 30-minute drive from downtown Little Rock, Pinnacle Mountain State Park occupies the area between the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle. The namesake mountain soars 1,011 feet over the river and gives expansive views from the top of the surrounding area. The “West Summit Trail” is the easier of the two trails to the top, and is one of the most-hiked paths in the state. If you’re visiting on a weekend, arrive in the early morning not only to beat the heat but to also beat the crowds.
Besides the mountain itself, the area also has 22 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of mountain biking trails. You can also stroll through the Arkansas Arboretum nearby (it’s heavily shaded). The western trailhead of Pinnacle Mountain also has numerous picnic tables, pavilions, and a large playground.
1. The River Trail
(image via Big Dam Bridge 100 Cycling Tour)
The Arkansas River runs along Little Rock’s northern border and separates it from North Little Rock on the other bank. Encircling the river on both sides is a 15.6-mile pedestrian and bike loop known as the Arkansas River Trail. You can walk along the downtown Little Rock side to explore playgrounds, splash pads, and sculpture gardens. You’ll even see the actual namesake “little rock.”
On the North Little Rock side just across the pedestrian bridges, the North Shore Riverwalk Park has markers denoting Civil War and Trail of Tears points of interest. There’s also the nearby Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum where you can explore a submarine. If you want to explore more of the loop, rent a bike from Rock Town River Outfitters on the Little Rock side. The full loop will take you to the Big Dam Bridge on the western side. An extension off the loop goes further west to Pinnacle Mountain, but that extension partially shares the roadway with vehicles.
As you can see, Little Rock has a lot to offer everyone. If you want to do more in the area, check out other weekend trips from nearby Little Rock.
These locations are great for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore some of our favorite activities or read through some pre-planned itineraries.