The Best Things To Do in Little Rock: Food, History & More
November 28, 2021
Little Rock is the capital city of Arkansas and has no shortage of great food, historic sites, and interesting things to do. The city was incorporated in 1931 and derives its name from a small rock formation on the south bank of the Arkansas River. There is something for everyone in Little Rock. It’s an underrated destination that is worth visiting!
The historic Capital Hotel is the most historic and iconic hotel in Little Rock. This luxury hotel has a grand lobby, two nice restaurants and considers itself the “Front porch of Little Rock.” While it has been renovated and changed hands over the years, the hotel first opened its doors in 1873. It is conveniently located downtown and a great base for exploring the city.
If you are looking for something a bit more affordable, there are several more riverfront hotels nearby that may have slightly lower rates. Check out the Little Rock Marriott and the DoubleTree by Hilton.
If you are okay with being slightly outside of the main downtown area, you can save more money by staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Little Rock Downtown or the Comfort Inn & Suites Presidential. Both are located near Lost Forty Brewing and are still close to many of the main attractions in Little rock.
The best time of year to visit Little Rock is in the spring or fall. Springtime temperatures are typically in the mid-60s to the low 80s. Springtime events such as the Arkansas Italian Food & Wine Festival take advantage of this weather. I visited in the fall and temperatures averaged from the 50s to the 70s. There was beautiful fall foliage around town and it was a great time to hike Pinnacle Mountain.
Temperatures in the summer are hot and humid, often in the 90s. The summer months also bring more tourists, so things may be more expensive and crowded.
In the winter, there are sometimes freezing temperatures but the winter is mild compared to many parts of the country. Lows tend to be in the 30s with highs in the 40s and 50s.
Little Rock is centrally located in the state of Arkansas right along the Arkansas River. The Little Rock airport receives flights from all of the major US airlines. If you are driving, Little Rock is located 2 hours from Memphis and 4.5 hours from Dallas.
The Little Rock Central High School was a very important location during the civil rights era in the late 1950’s. It was the site where nine Black students were enrolled at the all white school, a test on the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation unconstitutional in schools. The students were not welcomed by the school, causing President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send federal troops to escort the students into school daily.
The high school is still in operation today and there is a national park service museum located next to the school. The museum is free and goes into depth on what happened here as well as other historic moments in the civil rights movement. It is definitely worth visiting. After the museum, you can walk around the grounds in front of the school. Visitors are not permitted inside and be sure to be respectful to the students still going to school there. Guided tours are offered Tuesday - Sunday at 1:00 PM if you make an advanced reservation, but do not include access inside of the school.
One of the most beautiful Little Rock attractions is the Old Mill! The Old Mill is a gem in North Arkansas that was in the opening scenes of the movie “Gone With The Wind.” It is a historic re-creation of an 1880’s water-powered grist mill that was completed in 1933. It is meant to look a little bit decayed and abandoned. The mill is free to visit and there is beautiful landscaping and unique bridges surrounding it. You can walk inside of the two levels of the mill and explore the grounds.
The park is a beautiful place to relax and take in the views of the nearby lake. There is free street parking and restrooms available. This is a very popular photography spot so you may see wedding photos or other professional photography sessions taking place. The mill is open daily from 8:00AM to sunset and guided tours are available if you call ahead.
The Little Rock River Market is located downtown and has a large variety of international food options. Cuisine options include Indian, Middle Eastern, pizza, BBQ, Chinese, Japanese and more. You can try multiple places and eat around the world! I enjoyed a falafel gyro from a Middle Eastern food stall. The food hall is right next to the Arkansas River trail and the Junction Bridge, which pedestrians can walk across.
The market is typically only open for lunch and closed on Sundays. There is street parking available surrounding the market for a fee.
The Museum of Discovery is a great thing to do in Little Rock with kids! Little Rock's science museum offers tons of hands-on exhibits and there is something to learn for all ages. Exhibits include a Tesla coil demonstration, a Tinkering Studio where you can tinker with electronics, a Tornado Alley Theater and more.
Adult admission is $10 and the museum is within walking distance of the Bill Clinton Library.
The Big Dam Bridge crosses the Arkansas River northwest of Little Rock. It is the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in North America and was specially built for walkers and bikers. The bridge spans 4,226 feet across and is built on top of the Murray Lock and Dam. The bridge is wide with plenty of space to share with other pedestrians. As you walk across the bridge, there are multiple spots where you can take in the views through a telescope and signage that shares what you’re seeing in the distance. When you look to the Northwest, you can even see the unique shape of Mount Pinnacle State Park.
There are parks on both sides of the river where you can park and enjoy additional trails. The bridge connects with over 14 miles of additional trails in North Little Rock and Little Rock, so you could cycle along the river from this bridge to downtown Little Rock.
The Big Dam Bridge connects to the Arkansas River Trail, which can lead you all the way to downtown!
If you enjoy hiking, be sure to visit Pinnacle Mountain State Park for some amazing hiking in Little Rock! Pinnacle Mountain is located 30 minutes away from downtown Little Rock and is an amazing place to get a view of the surrounding valley. The mountain seems to come out of nowhere as a giant cone towering into the air. Hiking to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain is the most notable thing to do in the park. To reach the summit, you can either hike up stone steps on the west side or scramble up boulders on the east side. The west side is easier but either way, the hikes are strenuous so make sure you’re prepared!
Pinnacle Mountain is free to enter and also has mountain bike trails, the Arkansas Arboretum and over 22 total miles of trails. The park gets crowded so go early and on a weekday if you want to avoid the crowds.
A wonderful free activity in Little Rock is riding the streetcar! The streetcar that makes several stops around downtown and North Little Rock. This is a great opportunity to not only see the sites, but also learn about the area. The drivers make announcements about the area and provide recommendations for restaurants, things to do and more. This is a great way to get around and learn more about life in Little Rock.
The Esse Purse Museum is a small museum of vintage handbags located in the SOMA neighborhood of Little Rock. All of the purses in the museum are part of the collection of owner Anita Davis’. The museum is small but the handbags span across multiple decades are full of interesting details.
Adult admission to the museum is $10 and there is also a store with a variety of purses and accessories for sale.
The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum is a museum centered around the USS Razorback. The submarine was used in both WWII and the Cold War and today you can explore inside of the vessel. Admission costs $10 and guided tours are offered to learn about the submarine and its history.
The Bill Clinton Museum & Library is full of exhibits based on Clinton’s time as president. There are a ton of photographs, timelines and memorabilia, as well as an app that will guide you through an audio tour. There is also a replica of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. There is a lot of information to take in, so it’s easy to spend hours if you’re interested in the history. The museum is also an interesting piece of architecture. The glass building extends out towards the Arkansas River and is meant to evoke the feeling of the Dublin Library with two levels of bookcases.
Adult admission is $12 and all visitors had to present proof of vaccination during my visit in 2021.
The SoMa area of Little Rock refers to an area of shops, restaurants and more on South Main Street. The area is just about 4 blocks long and easily walkable. There is a ton to do here, from visiting the Esse Purse Museum to enjoying ice cream from Loblolly to having a picnic at Bernice Garden. The food section of this blog describes several of the restaurants located in this area, but it’s worth taking some time to walk around and explore what it has to offer for yourself. Street parking is available around the area and some of the businesses have their own parking lots.
Argenta Arts District is an area of North Little Rock that has buildings more than a century old, murals, theaters, art galleries and more. Explore along North Main Street between Broadway and W 6th Street to discover great nightlife, including a comedy club, an Irish pub, a wine bar and more. This is also where Capeo is located, mentioned in the food section. There is street parking and some paid parking lots around the area.
The Heights is an affluent neighborhood that got its name from being built high up on the bluffs above the Arkansas River. There are several great restaurants and shops on Kavanaugh Blvd and the surrounding area. Spend an afternoon enjoying coffee at Mugs, lunch at Boulevard Bread and shopping at places like the Ozark Outdoor Supply store.
The Root Cafe is located in SoMa and is a wonderful place for vegetarians and visitors who love eating organic and local food. The restaurant prides itself in sourcing as much as possible from local small farms in Arkansas. The decor is eclectic and colorful and there’s a fun vegetable mural in their parking lot out front. I enjoyed the tofu plate, which included fried tofu that reminded me of fish sticks, a salad, mashed potatoes and corn bread. I also loved the lemonade bourbon cocktail.
The Community Bakery is another restaurant in SoMa. The bakery and coffee shop has been in business since 1947 and serves cakes, sandwiches, pastries and more. There are also seasonal specialities such as pies at Thanksgiving, King’s cakes for Mardi Gras and more throughout the year. I enjoyed the caprese sandwich and loved that the bakery has a drive thru.
Three Fold Noodles + Dumplings is a popular Chinese restaurant located downtown. The restaurant offers dumplings, noodle bowls, steamed buns, potstickers and more. They also do half and half bowls where you can have a noodle and dumpling bowl in one. I tried the tofu steamed bun and the half and half bowl with veggie dumplings and noodles, and everything was delicious.
Boulevard Bread is located in the Heights neighborhood and has a wide menu that includes freshly baked bread, pastries, sandwiches and more. You’ll find different specialty breads available each day of the week. Specialities include monkey bread, olive sourdough, chocolate babka, Jal-cheddar brioche and so much more. I had a delicious sandwich here and enjoyed the atmosphere.
If you are looking for a high end meal during your time in Little Rock, Capeo is a great option. The Italian restaurant exudes old world charm with exposed brick walls, archways and dim lighting. I really enjoyed the bruschetta, the made-from-scratch pappardelle pesto pasta, the creme brulee and the wine. The service here is also fantastic. Capeo is a wonderful place if you’re looking for a nice Italian dinner.
Fassler Hall is a German beer hall that also has locations in Oklahoma. The restaurant is spacious with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and serves an extensive beer menu with German dishes. They have a variety of sausage options and even serve a vegan brat and a falafel dog for vegetarians.
Big Orange is a burger restaurant with three locations in Arkansas. They have a wide selection of creative burgers and have both a veggie pattie and a falafel and lentil patty for vegetarians. I enjoyed the falafel sandwich and appreciated the wide selection. The West Little Rock location was super popular and crowded, so go during off hours if you want to avoid a wait!
If you love ice cream, be sure to visit Loblolly Creamery during your Little Rock trip! This ice cream spot serves small batch ice cream treats that change based on the season. Every flavor is created from scratch without preservatives. They also have vegan options, house-made cones, ice cream cakes, macaroons, huge marshmallows, hot chocolate and more. Some of the flavors are also very unique - try the hot cheetos flavor if you’re feeling adventurous! And if you can’t decide, order an ice cream flight and try multiple flavors! I really enjoyed the ice cream and purchased one of their hot chocolate kits with house made marshmallows to take home.
Nexus Coffee is a downtown Little Rock coffee shop that strives to be a place for meeting and a creative hub of the city. The shop is spacious and is a great place to get some work down or catch up with a friend. They have fantastic pastries made by Nona Bakes that include cinnamon rolls, cookies, danishes and more. They also serve alcohol and often host community events.
Fidel & Co is a cute coffee to visit near the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. They have a colorful mural outside and several great breakfast options like an acai bowl, ricotta toast and pastries. They have both indoor and outdoor seating.
Leiva’s is the perfect coffee stand to visit if you hike Pinnacle Mountain, as it’s located right outside of the park. Leiva’s is family owned and the coffee is all roasted at their family farm in Guatemala. You will order at a trailer but there is a ton of covered outdoor seating and even fire pits where you can sit outside and enjoy your drink. In addition to the classics, they have rotating flavors of sweet coffee drinks. I ordered a dulce luna, a mix of both dark and light mocha, and it was delicious.
Mugs is a coffee shop located in both the Heights and Argenta neighborhoods. They have a great breakfast menu that includes breakfast burritos, french toast, pancakes and more. They also serve a large variety of sandwiches for lunch.
Little Rock has a great brewery scene! Here are two of the best Little Rock breweries to visit during your trip, along with a fantastic cocktail bar.
Lost Forty Brewing is a popular microbrewery in Little Rock that serves a variety of craft beer. They offer a mix of both small batch specialties and year round favorites. They also serve several flavors of hard seltzers such as black cherry, raspberry lemonade and more. There is a lot of indoor and outdoor seating and a great food menu. I enjoyed the pizza and the cauliflower wings along with the beer.
Diamond Bear is a North Little Rock brewery with a great atmosphere and a wide menu of beer and food. There is both indoor seating and a dog friendly patio outside. I really liked the Little Red Strawberry Lager and the fried cheese curd appetizer.
Rock Town is a SoMa cocktail bar that serves delicious artisan craft cocktails. The distillery opened in 2010 as the first legal distillery of any kind in Arkansas since prohibition. Their spirits include vodka, whiskey, moonshine, gin and more. I enjoyed the Poison Apple Cocktail and the Red Queen cocktail. The distillery also offers tours and cocktail classes.
There are several beautiful locations that make for wonderful day trips from Little Rock.
- Hot Springs, Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park is an hour outside of Little Rock and home to historic bathhouses, hiking trails and a storied history.
- Petit Jean State Park: Petit Jean is an incredibly beautiful park with waterfalls, caves and expansive views. It is located a little over an hour from Little Rock. In my opinion, Petit Jean is definitely one of the best places to go in Arkansas!
- Mount Nebo State Park: Mount Nebo is about an hour and a half from Little Rock and offers some of the best views of Arkansas and miles of hiking trails.
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