Get to Know Little Rock's Family Flavor
As Arkansas' capital and most populous city, Little Rock, AR has plenty to see and do. Most of the excitement is clustered downtown, which is definitely convenient. And it's a particularly family-friendly city, with a number of urban parks and fun, educational attractions geared toward kids and parents. Several destinations and activities don't cost a thing.
Located in the heart of downtown Little Rock, MacArthur Park (601 E. 9th St., Little Rock, AR) is a community and cultural hub and a must-see for getting acquainted with the city. There's lots of open space and a large playground where the kids can burn off excess energy. Your family can also take a few moments to visit the Arkansas Korean War Veterans Memorial, as well as the AIDS Memorial. Don't miss the scenic, serene Contemplation Garden, either.
When the weather's nice for being outdoors, you can easily spend a few hours enjoying this beautiful urban park space, all without spending a dime. Even if it's cold, bundle up and stop by. You might luck out and arrive when there's a free special event going on, possibly in conjunction with the Arkansas Arts Center (9th St. and Commerce St., Little Rock, AR) or the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History (503 E. 9th St., Little Rock, AR ). And, speaking of...
MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History
Admission is free to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History (though it does accept donations). Standing at the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur, this is one of the cultural attractions at MacArthur Park. It offers an educational and engaging look back at Arkansas' military history, from the early days before statehood to the present time.
While historical museums can be a tough sell for children, this one has military photographs, artifacts, weapons, uniforms and other items that kids usually find cool. Plus, it's not a huge place and takes only about an hour to see, so don't worry too much about short attention spans. Check out the place any time of year from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, or 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
This is another section of Little Rock every tourist should see. Set at the north end of downtown on the west bank of the Arkansas River, the River Market district has tons to see and do for the whole family. In addition to all the shops, restaurants and museums, you can easily spend a few hours here having fun for free.
Head to Peabody Park, a play area where the kids can explore all sorts of unique features, like underground rooms and large climbing rocks. There's also a splash pad, so bring bathing suits and towels for the kids if the weather is warm.
Wander over to the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden and the H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden outside the Statehouse Conventions Center (101 E. Markham St., Little Rock, AR). Pick up the Arkansas River Trail here if you're in the mood for some riverfront hiking. Also, River Market often hosts free family-friendly concerts and other events, especially during the summer.
Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center
At the east end of the River Market district in Julius Breckling Riverfront Park (Ottenheimer Plaza, Little Rock, AR), there's a free-entry family attraction called the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center (602 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, AR). This is an educational attraction focused on the area's ecosystem and wildlife. Highlights include a theater, aquarium, living habitat exhibits and some prime outdoor wildlife viewing opportunities near the Arkansas River.
You can also catch special offerings if you time your visit right. For example, there's Wild Tales Story Time on Wednesdays from 10 to 11 a.m., a fish feeding on Wednesdays from 2 to 2:30 p.m. and an alligator feeding on Fridays from 2 to 2:30 p.m. To see what's happening while you're in town, check the calendar here.
The center is open year round, but closed on Mondays and major holidays; hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Just east of River Market, also on the bank of the Arkansas River, you'll find Heifer Village (1 World Ave., Little Rock, AR), operated by Heifer International, an organization dedicated to combating world hunger and poverty and protecting the environment.
Heifer Village features a variety of engaging videos, galleries and interactive exhibits that appeal to kids and adults of all ages and inform about critical global humanitarian and environmental issues in fun and memorable ways. You can also take a tour of Heifer's headquarters, one of the greenest buildings in the country, and special events for the public are held here frequently, as well.
Heifer Villageis free and open year round, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There's also an on-site cafe with a menu built around locally sourced ingredients.
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Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.