2018 was a capital year for us, as it relates to traveling. We were able to visit four state capitals, including Little Rock, Arkansas. In each of these cities, we spent the majority of our time in the downtown areas. Each one offered a different experience, but we found a common thread between all of them. In each city, they are seeing a resurgence of interest in their urban cores. This has led to an increase in commerce, which gives visitors plenty of options for food, shopping, and entertainment. The Clinton Presidential Library sits downtown Little Rock, and draws thousands of visitors annually. With so many already in the know about this place, we decided to skip a visit and focus on some of the other attractions that can be found during a stay in Rock Town. Of course, we still had to take a stroll down to the site to examine the architecture and surrounding landscapes.
We want to thank Little Rock CVB and the local businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
History Comes to Life in Downtown Little Rock
Getting a historical foot up on learning Little Rock’s start is easy at the Historic Arkansas Museum. Located in the heart of downtown Little Rock, this collection of buildings is used to help educate visitors on life during the early days of the town. Tour guides escort guests through the museum buildings where character actors relate stories of the first citizens. This is a family friendly attraction that feels hidden from the modern world. (Read more about the History Museum here.)
An Education in Equality
Little Rock Central High School has a long history of serving the city’s residents. During the late 1950’s, desegregation was being instituted throughout the nation. This created an atmosphere of conflict in many cities, and Little Rock was thrown into the national spotlight. This local high school would be the setting of a battle of wills between the Arkansas Governor and President Eisenhower. Lessons learned here still resonate today. (Read more about Central High here.)
Rolling By the River
One of the interesting backstories we learned during our visit had to do with the city’s name. Little Rock refers to a rock formation located along the river, which runs through the middle of the city. These days the area is part of the Arkansas River Trail system and runs on both sides of the Arkansas River. At the Little Rock Riverwalk, an assortment of playgrounds, sculpture parks, and even pedestrian bridges help make the area accessible to locals and visitors alike. An unexpected bonus is that the bridges are equipped with color changing LED lights that offer interesting light shows after the sun sets. (Read more about the Riverwalk here.)
If you’ve looked around our website then you probably realize we are two big kids. A visit to the Museum of Discovery offered us a chance to roll up our sleeves and get scientific. Science centers are the type of attraction we watch for wherever we travel. It’s always interesting to explore the various displays and exhibits that help explain various scientific principles. Downtown Little Rock has a premier center with an engaged staff who make learning exciting. (Read more about the Science Center here.)
It’s Only Natural
We like the convenience that downtown stays offer. With so many cities seeing a rebirth, we can sometimes have difficulty seeing everything the area has to offer. Quite often, we will have to prioritize our stops to try to showcase as many as possible for you to choose from for your vacations. Fortunately, in downtown Little Rock many of the sites we planned to see were fairly close to each other. As a matter of fact, the Central Arkansas Nature Center sits right behind the science center. That made a stop so easy, and the free admission was an extra bonus. (Read more about the Nature Center here.)
Rooms with a View
As with many cities we visit, the local tourism bureau handles our lodging arrangements. Little Rock planned our stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown, which put us right in the heart of all of the action. The hotel has the only rooftop bar in downtown, and offers some fantastic views of the skyline. Although we don’t spend a lot of time in the hotel, it’s still nice to have one that has nice amenities.
Riding the Rails in Downtown Little Rock
Kansas Citians were excited when the streetcar started its route a couple of years ago. We can imagine that someday a time will come that it will be considered a standard fixture of the city. Little Rock began running their Metro Streetcar in 2004 and runs two routes in the downtown Little Rock area. These mechanical chariots whisk passengers around and across the Arkansas River region. It’s a fun way to get around and in 2019 you can ride Fare-Free.
Getting a Handle on Esse Purse
When we discovered that downtown Little Rock has one of only three purse museums in the world, we knew a stop would be required. While Crystal was probably a little more excited about this stop, once we got into our visit, I became intrigued with the history of this accessory. The Esse Purse Museum has artifacts that span the decades of changes that have affected lady’s handbags. It was interesting (and sometimes amusing) to see the various styles that have splashed across the fashion scene. (Read more about the Esse Museum here.)
Taking a Top 10 Tour
While a lot of our stops are designed to be attractive to all ages, sometimes we enjoy a little adults only time. At the southern edge of downtown Little Rock, we found Rock Town Distillery. This small batch distiller creates a good variety of spirits that can be purchased for use at home. For those wishing to learn more about the creation process, they host tours that are rated in the top 10 in the nation. After an informative tour, why not relax at the bar and let them whip up one of their unique cocktail creations. (Read more about Rock Town here.)
Keeping it Local
Like most of you, we enjoy doing a little shopping when we visit new destinations. It’s always fun to see the creative items that local artisans come up with. In downtown Little Rock, we found a few moments to peruse a couple of the local shops, and we were not disappointed. Inside we found a great variety of handmade jewelry, artwork, and small goods that made for memorable souvenirs. We also found some interesting shopkeepers who loved to share their insight on the city. Be sure to set aside a little time, during your visit, to support the local merchants.
Straying From Downtown Little Rock
We enjoy the convenience of having multiple sights nearby, but the reality is that not every attraction can be located in the center of a city. While downtown Little Rock had tons of fun, there were a couple of spots that required some driving. One morning we wandered over to the Little Rock Zoo to check out their newest addition. They had recently seen the birth of a new baby gorilla and she was old enough to now be outdoors. During our visit, we found her resting comfortably with her mother. A newer exhibit at the zoo is the Arkansas Heritage Farm, which was filled with kids. (both kinds!) Be sure to swing by this area to let the wee ones run off some energy.
An Excursion into North Little Rock
Before our trip, we reached out to a group of locals for suggestions. While we specified that we were focusing on downtown Little Rock, there was one stop that they kept mentioning north of the area. Here’s where we learned a little geography lesson. Little Rock consists of two cities that sit on opposite sides of the Arkansas River. While some may find this difficult to discern, being from Kansas City means that we face the exact same scenario. Much like our hometown, the city dividing lines really only show up on maps, since the people and commerce flow freely between the two municipalities. Our one excursion into North Little Rock landed us at The Old Mill. The T.R. Pugh Memorial Park may look familiar, since it was used as the opening scene for the movie “Gone With The Wind”. As we explored the space, we realized that what appeared to be wooden planks was really intricately designed concrete replicas (faux bois).
Plan Your Escape to Downtown Little Rock
Our time in downtown Little Rock was limited to just three days, but we packed in tons of fun during that period. Of course, you may want to explore at a slower pace, so you should plan for a four or five day trip to get a true flavor of the city. We suggest selecting a downtown base, which will allow for you to see many sites without the need for your vehicle. If you need more assistance in planning, be sure to engage with the Little Rock Visitors Bureau. They would love to hear from you, and be sure to tell them you found them through our articles. It helps them understand the true value of partnering with travel bloggers to get the word out about their city. Travel safely!