Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, is an ideal mix of traditional and modern and the perfect place to soak up history while indulging in a burgeoning foodie scene and enjoying the great outdoors. There truly is something for everyone here, no matter how old you are or what you're into. As they say, big things happen in Little Rock.
Little Rock was a pivotal city for civil rights. Little Rock Central High School was home to the Little Rock Nine, nine African-American teenagers who were among the first in the south to attend a desegregated high school. The reception to the Little Rock Nine caused such a reaction in the city that the president ordered the National Guard to safely escort the students to their classes. Today, the building is no longer a school but functions as a museum that takes a sobering look at tolerance and diversity.
The River Market has been a Little Rock staple since the 1990s. Don't let the name fool you. Yes, it's home to the Little Rock Farmer's Market, but the River Market also has theaters, bars, bistros, and boutiques. It hosts special events, too, like jazz festivals, holiday caroling, and outdoor concerts. Whether you're looking for a fun night out with food and drinks or a place to take in public art while you shop and have lunch on a weekday afternoon, the River Market has what you're looking for.
Funland is a small, old-fashioned amusement park in North Little Rock known for being charming and affordable. You won't find modern amusement park prices here. The park's motto is, "spend a day, not a fortune!" Each ride costs one ticket or $2, or you can get an unlimited pass for the carousel, Scrambler, Ferris wheel, miniature railroad, and other rides. Funland also hosts special events, like Fall Fest and an Easter egg hunt. Kids will love the rides, while adults will enjoy the stroll down memory lane and maybe even a giant ice cream cone.
The Arkansas River Trail is a great way to see the city while spending time outdoors. It covers 88 miles in total and spans the entire city of Little Rock and its surrounding areas. Whether you run, walk, jog, or cycle, this trail connects nearly 40 parks, recreation areas, and landmarks. The trail is free to use and encompasses the Big Dam Bridge, Clinton Bridge, and Two Rivers Bridge.
At 1,700 acres, Burns Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S. The park has everything you'd expect, like hiking and biking trails, camping areas, boating, water skiing, and picnic tables, but there's so much more to do here. At Burns Park, you'll also find a log cabin used as a store before the Civil War, a World War II tank, two golf courses, two disc golf courses, horse trails, an amusement park, a three-acre dog park, and much more.
If you're interested in learning more about the state's history, check out the Historic Arkansas Museum, which takes up a whole city block in Little Rock. The museum grounds are home to many of the oldest buildings in the state, including houses dating as far back as the 1820s, a reconstructed Arkansas Gazette print shop, a plantation house, and a blacksmith's shop. Performers dressed in period garb bring history to life, and you can see treasures and artifacts from Arkansas's past, including furniture, paintings, clothing, and quilts.
The Bernice Garden is a privately owned garden open to the public and built on an old fast food restaurant site. The grounds are home to gorgeous flowers, like roses, zinnias, cosmos, and bronze fennel, along with a small sculpture garden. You'll also find many special events here, like live music, a weekly farmer's market, and even the Arkansas Cornbread Festival.
If you're interested in learning how various types of alcohol are made, stop by the Rock Town Distillery. Here, they'll show you the process of turning corn, rye, and wheat (all grown within 125 miles of the city) into gin, vodka, and bourbon. Take a tour of the back rooms full of aged wooden barrels and sample spirits made on-site. Rock Town Distillery is a popular spot in Little Rock, so it's a good idea to make reservations ahead of time if you plan to visit.
The Big Dam Bridge is part of the Arkansas River Trail, but it's an engineering marvel all its own. This bridge holds the record as the largest bicycle and pedestrian bridge in North America. With more than 14 miles of scenic riverside trails connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock, this system connects tens of thousands of acres of parks and provides easy access to museums, restaurants, and the River Market. Walk, bike, or jog this elevated trail, taking in gorgeous views of the city while you explore.
Arkansas is called the Natural State, and if you want more time in the great outdoors, head to Lake Ouachita State Park, a few miles west of downtown Little Rock. This destination is ideal if you're looking for a place to hike, kayak, swim, fish, or scuba dive. There's inline skating in the winter, too, and amazing views for stargazing year-round. The park has 92 campsites, some right on the lake, and full-service cabins if you aren't up for roughing it.