The 11 Best Things to Do in Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock Arkansas Skyline

ChrisBoswell / Getty Images

Located along the Arkansas River, Little Rock, the bustling capital city of Arkansas, is known for its William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, the Old State House Museum, Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Esse Purse Museum, and the Little Rock Zoo, among other popular sites and attractions.

Next time you’re in town, make time to visit the historic Quapaw Quarter, a 9-square-mile area that encompasses some of the oldest sections of the city. History buffs and those wanting to learn more about Little Rock's involvement in the civil rights movement should stop by the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, which played a major role in the desegregation of public schools throughout the United States during the 1950s. Without further ado, here are the best things to do on a trip to Little Rock.

01 of 11

Learn About Little Rock’s Role in the Civil Rights Movement

Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas

Ramesh Lalwani / Getty Images

1500 S Park St, Little Rock, AR 72202-5843, USA
Phone +1 501-447-1400

Formerly an active high school, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is now a museum meant to educate visitors about the events that occurred here in the 1950s and how they led to the desegregation of public schools throughout the U.S.

The “Little Rock Nine,” a group of Black students who bravely attended the formerly all-white school, made national news as intense protests led by anti-integration mobs descended on the school in an attempt to block their entry following the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, a 1954 ruling meant to integrate the students. View photos, news reels, and interviews at exhibits in the visitor center or attend a ranger-led tour to learn more.

02 of 11

Get Outdoors in Pinnacle Mountain State Park

Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas

Nicolas Henderson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Arkansas 72135, USA

Just a 20-minute drive from the city center, Pinnacle Mountain State Park is where Little Rock locals go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The park boasts more than 22 miles of hiking trails (including 14 miles of mountain bike trails) and outdoor recreation possibilities along the Big and Little Maumelle Rivers. Spend some time kayaking, canoeing, hiking, cycling, enjoying a picnic, or wandering among the trees at the Arkansas Arboretum.

The park is also recognized as a Trail of Tears National Historic Site, so take time to reflect on the many Native Americans—from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations, among others—who were forcibly removed from the area as the U.S. expanded its territory west during the early 19th century.

03 of 11

Check Out the Only Purse Museum in the U.S.

Purses on display at The Esse Museum & Store in Little Rock, Arkansas

Esse Museum & Store

1510 Main St, Little Rock, AR 72202-5038, USA
Phone +1 501-916-9022

Learn all about the history of handbags at the only purse museum in the country, located in Little Rock’s chic Quapaw Quarter. Permanent exhibits at the Esse Purse Museum & Store examine the role this vital accessory has played since it came onto the scene in the early 1900s—a time when women began to enjoy their independence and needed something to carry their essentials outside the house—through its incorporation into everyday ensembles (often with a coordinating hat and gloves), and the various styles that have evolved over the decades. Temporary exhibits focus on specific themes and other accessories like shoes and sunglasses that are meant to accompany the almighty purse.

04 of 11

Tour the State Capitol Building and Old Statehouse Museum

The Old State House Little Rock

Jeff Amann / Flickr

300 W Markham St, Little Rock, AR 72201-1423, USA
Phone +1 501-324-9685

Arkansas actually has two capitol buildings: the Old Statehouse, which is now a museum, and the newer Arkansas State Capitol Building, which looks very similar to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Whether you choose to tour the buildings with a group, roam the halls on your own time with a downloadable self-guided tour, or just admire the architecture from the outside is up to you; either way, admission is free.

The Old Statehouse Museum, which started out as the original state capitol building when it was constructed in 1833, illustrates the timeline from statehood through a point in history when Arkansas seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy in the Civil War era. Inside the State Capitol Building, you'll find special exhibits highlighting the state’s role in American history as well as highlights of things to do and see throughout Arkansas.

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05 of 11

See the "Little Rock" the City is Named For

La Petite Roche

Archive Photos / Getty Images

Arkansas River Trail, Little Rock, AR 72201, USA

If the weather is nice, go and see the "Little Rock" (or, La Petite Roche) the city is named after in Riverfront Park, located at the north end of Rock Street at Le Petit Roche Plaza. As the story goes, explorer Bénard de la Harpe wrote about his journey and recorded noteworthy area landmarks. Across the river was the "French Rock," now known as the "Big Rock," while the "Little Rock" marked the other side of the river. The historical marker and interpretive storyboards at the plaza indicate that the rock itself was once used as a mooring for barges and boats visiting the area.

06 of 11

Go Shopping at the River Market Entertainment District

River Market District Little Rock

Eukesh / Wikimedia Commons

400 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock, AR 72201, USA
Phone +1 501-375-2552

While the River Market Entertainment District is jumping at night, it’s also full of great breakfast, brunch, and lunch spots. From May through October, the Farmers Market is open at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays, featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, while restaurants and specialty shops selling creative souvenirs are open all day. For a real treat, head to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, where the recipe is a closely-guarded family secret.

Jazz in the Park, put on by The Modern Jazz Collective, happens each Wednesday in September, offering free, family-friendly entertainment. Bring along some lawn chairs and blankets and enjoy the music in the natural stone amphitheater at the east River Market Pavilion.

07 of 11

Stroll the Historic Quapaw Quarter

Quapaw Quarter

Carl & Ann Purcell / Getty Images

Quapaw Quarter, Little Rock, AR 72202, USA

The Governor's Mansion is located in what’s known as the Quapaw Quarter, a 9-square-mile area where you'll find some of the oldest residential homes in the city. Go for a stroll or take a drive to view the fancy homes near the Governor's Mansion, MacArthur Park, and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods, some of which date back to before the Civil War. While the architectural styles you’ll see here date from as early as 1840, the homes here were constructed between 1890 and 1930. Villa Marre, built in 1881 and featured in the television series "Designing Women," can be found in this area as well.

08 of 11

Explore The Old Mill

The Old Mill

Arkansas ShutterBug / Flickr

3800 Lakeshore Dr, North Little Rock, AR 72116, USA
Phone +1 501-791-8538

While the Old Mill is actually in nearby North Little Rock, it's worth the trip to the other side of the Arkansas River to see this replica of a historic mill, located at Fairway Ave. and Lakeshore Drive. The water-powered grist mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was featured in the film "Gone With the Wind," and makes for a beautiful place to spend some time outdoors; the scenery and feel make you feel like you're stepping back in time. Visit anytime from 8 a.m. to sunset and enjoy free admission.

Continue to 9 of 11 below.
09 of 11

Commune With the Animals

Little Rock Zoo

Josh Grenier / Flickr 

1 Zoo Dr, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA
Phone +1 501-661-7200

Small but dense, the Little Rock Zoo covers about 33 acres and is home to more than 725 animals representing over 200 species. It's a great place for kids to check out, with plenty of interesting exhibits featuring grizzly bears, penguins, big cats, and great apes, among other wildlife. Visit the reptile and tropical bird houses, feed fish at the duck pond, ride the antique carousel, and learn more about your favorite animals at daily feeding presentations.

10 of 11

Visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum

Clinton Library

PunkToad / Flickr

1200 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock, AR 72201-1749, USA
Phone +1 501-374-4242

No matter how you feel about politics, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum is definitely worth checking out during a trip to Little Rock, with documents, photographs, and artifacts from President Clinton's presidency, replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, and displays about daily life at the White House, among other exhibits. 

While there is a small fee to enter, children under age 6, active duty military members, and Clinton Center members get in free. Admission is free to the public each year on Presidents Day as well as the Saturday before President Clinton’s birthday (Aug. 19), while all active and retired military and their families get free admission on Veterans Day as a thank you for their service.

11 of 11

Meet Local Artists at the Second Friday Art Night

Arkansas Arts Center

Arkansas Arts Center and Children's Theatre 

501 E 9th St, Little Rock, AR 72202, USA
Phone +1 501-372-4000

Art lovers will enjoy the Second Friday Art Night—a monthly event that showcases local galleries and museums in a celebration of art, history, and culture, with free admission to after-hours events. The event includes several area museums including the Historic Arkansas Museum, Old State House Museum, the Galleries at Library Square, and the Central Arkansas Library System’s Bookstore. Stop by some of the themed exhibits, which change month-to-month, sample fare from local restaurants, and spend some time checking out the River Market District and Creative Corridor while you're in the neighborhood.

Nearby, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, formerly known as the Arkansas Arts Center and also worth a visit anytime you’re in Little Rock, is undergoing massive renovations and is reopening in Spring 2023.

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The 11 Best Things to Do in Little Rock, Arkansas