By Paige Ort
While it’s not known for charisma, Little Rock, Arkansas does have its charm. In fact, it’s a good place to spend a long weekend getaway.
Many know the Arkansas capital only for its ties to politics and social change in America. While the city’s reputation is undoubtedly tied to Civil Rights issues and the Clintons in many minds, it also offers much more.
In fact, that “more” includes some unique and interesting attractions, such as the only museum of purses in the U.S. Also, many visitors are charmed by the city’s riverfront area, a world of good restaurants, clubs, cafes, and shops. Others find charm imbibing locally made Arkansas whiskey and vodka. The city also supports an active lifestyle and is a favorite place for bicycling.
Better yet, since Little Rock is a lesser-known vacation spot, prices there are lower than other nearby cities. That $300 chain hotel in New Orleans, Atlanta or Memphis is less than half that price in Little Rock. Other travel costs follow suit.
To get you thinking, here are 10 of the top things to do in Little Rock.
ESSE Purse Museum
Of the three museums in the world dedicated to handbags, Little Rock is home to the only privately owned one. It’s one of the unique places to visit in Little Rock.
Named after the Latin infinitive for “to be,” the ESSE hosts an interesting tour that tells us about American history through women’s purses and their contents. In this museum, one learns that a purse isn’t merely something in which a woman keeps her possessions. It’s a glimpse into her life, her persona, and the world around her. It is a museum women will enjoy. There are also some very high-end purses for sale in its gift shop.
William J. Clinton Library Museum
Little Rock is also home to the park, library, and museum dedicated to the 42nd U.S. President. Some travelers, especially those interested in things historical, find it one of the top things to do in Little Rock.
Whether a fan of Bill Clinton or not, here you’ll learn a lot about his presidency and life outside of it. The short film featured in this museum will give those who are too young to remember the time a feel for the Clinton era. The museum is filled with relics of the Clinton presidency including the presidential limo, letters to him from citizens, gifts from other nations, and even a replica of the Oval Office.
River Market District
You can’t visit downtown Little Rock without wandering through the River Market District, which despite its urban roots exudes a unique Arkansas country flavor. Day or night it’s one of the more popular places to visit in Little Rock.
The area is filled with unique shops, many promoting health and vitality, and exudes a youthful, upbeat atmosphere. Here find everything from local fruit markets to coffee shops and restaurants of many genres. You’ll also want to check out the fascinating art galleries while you’re there.
The River Market District also provides a nightlife scene, with many bars and live musical entertainment. It’s a perfect place to have dinner or a drink with your friends and listen to original Arkansas music.
Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter
Quapaw Quarter is a nine-square-mile area of Little Rock filled with the oldest buildings in the city, some dating back to 1870. If you’re interested in history or are with someone who is, you’ll likely find this to be one of the more interesting places to visit in Little Rock.
On 9th Street is The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, which is also the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur. It’s a great place to learn about the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.
On Main Street, you’ll find the beautiful Bernice Gardens. If you come by Quapaw Quarter on Mother’s Day weekend, you can go on a tour of the area that lasts the entire weekend.
Rock Town Distillery
Along with being a great place to have a drink, the Rock Town Distillery will show you how your favorite spirits are brought to life. This is a groundbreaking spot as it is where Arkansas’ first legal distillery opened following the end of prohibition. In fact, in bars and restaurants around the state, you’ll find many of Rock Town’s products.
It’s an award-winning family distillery where they serve some wonderfully made drinks. Take a tour and see where all the magic happens in turning grain into whiskey. As you might guess, there’s a tasting following the tour, where you get to sample the fruits of their labor.
The Old Mill
Movie lovers will mark this as one of the top things to do in Little Rock.
More than just providing a scenic view, it’s also seen in a famous American film. In the opening scenes of the iconic movie Gone with the Wind, you’ll find glimpses of this old mill. Out of all the structures used for the film, this is the only one that still remains today.
Other artifacts, such as two millstones laid out by Jefferson Davis, can be found here. You can experience this historic site on your own time or on a guided tour that will take about 30 minutes.
Little Rock Zoo
If you’re an animal lover, the city’s zoo should be one of the places to visit in Little Rock. As the largest zoo in Arkansas, it covers thirty-three acres and offers an in-depth glimpse into the appearance, behaviors, and lives of over 200 species of animals.
Immerse yourself in the wildlife by visiting the Heritage Farm, which allows visitors to get close to the animals. If you enjoy birds, head to Lorikeet Landing to feed the vibrantly colored lorikeets. Along with providing information about the animals, this zoo takes an active role in preserving the lives of endangered species by implementing the AZA Species Survival Plan.
Big Dam Bridge
The Big Dam Bridge provides a vast scenic view, reaching across the entire Arkansas River. In fact, you won’t find a longer pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the United States. It provides quite a workout as you travel along its winding path above the lake.
If you don’t have a bicycle, never fear. You can rent one from the Chainwheel, the Community Bicyclist, and River Trail Rentals, just to name a few of the bicycle rentals in Little Rock. In September, an annual bicycling tour takes place on this 4,226-foot long bridge known as the Big Dam Bridge 100.
Arkansas State Capitol
If you’re an Arkansan, the State Capitol is likely one of your top things to do in Little Rock. It’s also suitable for out-of-staters who want to get a glimpse of “The Natural State’s” DNA. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century to emulate the appearance of the U.S. Capitol.
Inside you’ll learn more about past and present political figures through plaques, paintings, and numerous other items. You can even get a glimpse of the governor’s office to see lawmaking in real time. The state’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is also on the Capitol grounds.
Little Rock Central High School
One of the very top things to do in Little Rock is to visit historic Little Rock Central High School. The school is symbolic of the desegregation of public schools throughout the U.S.
In 1957, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in U.S. public schools unconstitutional, nine African American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” attempted to enroll at Little Rock’s Central High School but were denied entry at the direction of the governor. The confrontation and subsequent use of troops placed the school at the center of the nation’s integration struggle.
The school, still in use by approximately 2500 students, is now a National Historic Site that is well worth visiting.
All photos courtesy of Arkansas Parks and Tourism