Wondering how to spend an active weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas? Check out this guide!
I arrived in Little Rock the same way many of my husband’s coworkers did … on orders. As a military spouse, the idea of moving from my rural German home to Central Arkansas gave me preemptive bouts of culture shock. I had lived in the South before, but after spending three years overseas, I had grown very accustomed to a European pace of riding my bike to the grocery store, settling in for pastries and coffee in my local kaffeeshop, and getting lost on scenic trails through lush forests. I prepared myself for what I assumed would likely be a big change, but quickly found myself settling back into that familiar European pace as I explored the sidewalks, cafes, and bike-friendly streets of my new hometown.
Little Rock was actually discovered by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe, who named the town “La Petite Roche” after finding a small rock formation on the banks of the Arkansas River. The rock formation remains today, as does that same pioneering spirit with which the city was founded. Today Little Rock has a vibrant arts culture where locally-owned businesses thrive and creativity is nourished through quirky festivals and city-wide celebrations. Spend a weekend exploring Little Rock’s hottest spots, from the nightly backyard parties at a railyard-turned food truck park to bike-in breweries and a boutique shop selling handcrafted goods and snarky sundries.
Where to Stay
Downtown Little Rock is the heartbeat of the city, home to the Quapaw Historic Quarter, the SoMa (South of Main) entertainment district, and the exciting River Market District. It’s also home to the city’s most impressive accommodations at The Capital Hotel. This luxury hotel first opened in 1870. Rumor has it that the elevator was built to accommodate President Ulysses S. Grant’s horse, and local legends claim there was one time when all 135-members of the Arkansas State Legislature rode to the top floor together. While there’s no proof either claim is true, I can say with absolute certainty that there’s plenty of room to nail an awesome cartwheel if you find yourself in there alone.
How to Spend the Weekend in Little Rock
Start the morning with a coffee at Fidel & Co. Coffee Roasters, where this trendy specialty coffee shop roasts their own single origin coffees and serves them alongside house-made pastries, house-made granola, and healthy salads and sandwiches. If you go with their nitrogen-infused ice coffee, order it black, and don’t forget to ask for extra homemade za’atar seasoning on top of your house-made bagel to fuel your day with just the right spice.
From there it’s about a 15-minute walk along a pedestrian pathway past Heifer International’s Urban Farm and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum to the River Market, where you can buy fresh flowers and vegetables or meet with the artisans at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Many of the city’s best events and festivals happen at the River Market—including the World Cheese Dip Championship.
Photo Courtesy Of Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau Photo Courtesy Of Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau
It’s also where you can rent a bike from Rock Town River Outfitters to check out the famous bike trails in, and around, the city. Mountain biking is a huge deal in Arkansas, and Little Rock’s series of urban trails makes it easy to get a taste of the trails … and a taste of the town. Ride 8 miles along the Arkansas River Trail to the Big Dam Bridge (yes, the actual name!), before heading back into town along the trail to grab a well-earned taco at The Fold: Botanas & Bar. The restaurant is inside a renovated filling station from the 1960s, and the décor is as fresh as the hand-pressed cocktails they serve.
From there, head to the Stifft’s Station Historic District to check out the street art and boutique shops. Stifft Station Gifts sells goods from local artists and is one of the only places in town you can find pieces from snarky local jewelry maker Bang Up Betty, who has made pieces for Julianne Moore, Janelle Monae, and more. Grab a beer at Stone’s Throw Brewing’s newest taproom before heading back out to wander through the outdoor sculpture garden at Riverfront Park.
As the sun goes down the bridges of Little Rock light up, and it’s a sight best seen from a well-positioned park bench at the riverfront. Grab a seat at The Capital Bar & Grill for cocktails to try what will likely be the best Moscow Mule of your life, and, do yourself a favor and order two appetizers, the pimento cheese and the spiced pecans. You’ll thank me later. [Pro tip: They’ll sell you a bag of pecans to-go if you ask!]
Photo Courtesy Of Le Pops Little Rock Photo Courtesy Of Le Pops Little Rock
Walk or drive your way over to The Railyard to end your day with a laid-back backyard party of food trucks, live music, and lawn games. Cross your fingers for an appearance from Le Pops food truck so you can try the gourmet palleta-style ice lollies made from local ingredients.
Sneak out of the city a bit this morning to drive—or take the vintage trolly (currently not running due to Covid-19)—over to the up-and-coming Argenta Arts District in North Little Rock for a cup of freshly roasted coffee at the original Mugs Café or save your caffeine for after a free-spirited yoga class at Blue Yoga NYLA. This award-winning studio is set inside an abandoned school building in North Little Rock, and you’ll need to park in the back lot to enter this truly special space.
Head back across the river for a morning hike. The trails at Allsopp Park are deceptively challenging as they weave through this urban park, but the best trails in Little Rock are found at Pinnacle State Park. Hike the scenic 2.2-mile Rattlesnake Ridge trail or tackle the grueling 1.5-mile vertical Pinnacle Mountain West Summit trail to reach the summit of this 1,011-foot mountain.
After a long morning of hiking, you’ll have earned a seat for the lavish brunch at Lost Forty Brewing. Brunch is served all day on Sundays, from 10AM-9PM, so no need to rush down from the mountain early!
Use the afternoon to check out some of the amazing Civil Rights sites in the city by taking a guided tour of Little Rock’s Central High School. This National Historic Site is where nine black high school students sought an education in an all-white high school following the Brown v. Board of Education decisions of 1954. Only three of those students graduated from Central High School, and their stories of resilience and determination continue to inspire millions.
Swap happy hour with ice cream hour with a hand-crafted cone at Loblolly Creamery in the SoMa district. Their flavors are inspired by local ingredients, and favorites include Arkansas Heirloom Pumpkin Fromage Blanc and Dunbar Gardens Fresh Lavender.
Stroll through the Bernice Garden to walk off your sugar rush before heading to dinner across the street at The Root Café. This unpretentious farm-to-table restaurant has been featured on The Food Network for their seasonally rotating menu that highlights Arkansas ingredients and local brews. End the night with a night cap at 109 & Co. cocktail club, located adjacent to The Capital Hotel, before hopping back in bed to start recovering from your exciting weekend in Little Rock.
How would you spend a weekend in Little Rock? Let us know in the comments!
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Kristy Alpert is a freelance travel journalist with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, Esquire, Fodor’s Travel, and more. Kristy has traveled to 84 countries on seven continents, but her biggest adventure has been her recent journey into the world of parenting. Follow her on Instagram @kristyalpert or order your copy of her Road Trip Activity Book and Travel Journal for Kids.