When I came to Little Rock, I was most familiar with the city’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement and President Clinton.
But as I soon discovered, it has so much more to see and do. In addition to its numerous museums and attractions, it also has an exciting food and beverage scene, year-round festivals, breathtaking natural features and a unique Southern charm and hospitality that draws people from all over the world.
Clinton Presidential Center: A Chronicled Legacy
My first stop was the Clinton Presidential Center & Park, home to the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. President Clinton spent much of his career in Little Rock. It’s fitting that many attractions bear the Clinton name, including the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, which was the first institution in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service degree. There’s also the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, formerly the historic Rock Island Railroad Bridge, which is adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Library. The bridge itself was built in 1899 but was renovated to be the easternmost connector of the Arkansas River Trail, a 17-mile loop that connects Little Rock and North Little Rock via several pedestrian and bike-intended bridges. Its renovation was funded in part by a donation from the Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Library also houses his administration’s archives.
My favorite exhibit at the museum is a full-sized replica of the Oval Office, appearing the way it did when President Clinton held office. It even includes a replica of clay letters that spell out “DAD,” a gift from Chelsea on Father’s Day that now adorns his desk. Throughout the Center, I found artifacts that chronicled both his personal and political life and offered insight to a President who inspired a generation.
Replica of the Oval Office at the Clinton Presidential Center and Park
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site: Where History was Made
Just 10 minutes away by car, I made sure to visit Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. It is where nine African-American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, bravely integrated a previously all-white school. This happened three years after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, which stated that separate schools for black and white students were unconstitutional, and inherently unequal. It is also the only operating school located in a national historic site in the U.S.
When it was built in 1927, the American Institute of Architects named Central High “America’s Most Beautiful High School”—and strolling its campus today, it’s hard to imagine the turmoil that occurred here over 60 years ago. As one of the country’s most important Civil Rights sites, it reminds us of the hardship and struggles that these civil rights pioneers endured in seeking a better education, and it’s humbling to see their actions remembered and honored at this site. The National Park Service also makes it very easy to learn about the Little Rock Nine and what happened here by providing free guided tours with advance reservations. Should you be interested, Little Rock has other attractions dedicated to African American history and civil rights that you can explore.
A park ranger-led tour at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Main Street Creative Corridor and River Market District: Comfort Food and Brews
While in Little Rock, I was lucky enough to explore both its River Market entertainment district and Main Street Creative Corridor during its Main Street Food Truck Festival, where I was met by an eager crowd – understandable given the turnout for last year’s festival, which attracted more than 50,000 visitors. There were local and international selections, but also mash-ups including a waffle barbecue sandwich, which was the perfect combination of sweet and savory flavors. Local breweries also set up tents, one of which was Lost Forty Brewing. I sampled their deliciously light-flavored Love Honey Bock, a beer I’ll remember for its subtle honey sweetness. The city is known for its vibrant food and beverage scene, with numerous food-related festivals and great restaurants. I also visited one of the Creative Corridor’s permanent restaurants, Three Fold Noodles & Dumpling Co., and loved its authentic and flavorful dishes. Finally, take time to explore downtown’s beautiful, 33-acre Riverfront Park, located along the Arkansas River. It contains several attractions including the city’s namesake, “La Petite Roche,” the Arkansas River Trail and the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. Take time to explore the unique sculptures featured throughout terraces and walkways at the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. Also, don’t miss a stroll down scenic Riverfront Park along the Arkansas River.
Taking in the scenery from the Downtown River Market District
Pinnacle Mountain State Park: A View from the Top
For a perfect end to my trip, I visited Pinnacle Mountain State Park, which features a handful of trails, and is just 30 minutes from downtown. You can hike or bike your way around the park, or even take a stroll through its Arkansas Arboretum. Since I enjoy climbing and wanted to see the best views possible, I had my eye on the Pinnacle Mountain Climb where the peak rises above the Arkansas River Valley. The namesake trail is a little over a kilometer in distance, and rises about a 300-meters from its base to its summit. As I approached the peak, the trail consisted of large boulders, making it a unique and challenging hike. Nevertheless, the payoff was definitely worth the effort, and its summit provides you a beautiful vista overlooking Lake Maumelle and the Arkansas River – not to mention a stunning, panoramic 360-degree view of the beautiful horizon.
Capturing the incredible view after climbing to the top of Pinnacle Mountain
Little Rock is a wonderful city to visit – and offers a bustling downtown scene, rich history and culture. Located in the center of the state, Little Rock is a great destination for those looking for an affordable and beautiful vacation, with friendly locals and lots to see and do – it’s no wonder people find it so charming and appealing. Check it out for yourself.