Arkansas wasn't on my radar for a must visit place in the United States. As a matter of fact, we only went there because a family reunion in Texas was scheduled and I was going to have to drive from Florida to Waco, Texas with my two toddlers by myself. My choice was I-10 for 600 miles or take a scenic route over several days, so I chose to see some new places.
Day 1 - Arrival: All Aboard, Allsop Park, Knoop Park, Hillcrest Airbnb
We made the drive to Little Rock in just under 9 hours. Amazing. We arrived at our Airbnb and were greeted by our awesome host. Since our stay was centrally located, we dropped our stuff, had a snack and hit the town in search of good food, city views, and playgrounds. We started the evening by heading for Knoop Park which was said to have amazing city views. The park overlooks the downtown area of Little Rock and the views did not disappoint. However, there is no playground in this park. It is more of a walking path, tennis court, relaxing type park. We took a couple photos, then loaded up in search of Allsop Park which is also located in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock. The photos showed a large playground. It should be said that this park is HUGE and it took me quite a bit of driving and a wrong turn to accidentally find it. The kids loved it. Not only did it provide the jungle gym, but local residents have left some sidewalk chalk & sand toys for everyone to play with. I had the chance to meet a local mom who shared so many good places to eat and visit in Arkansas; turned out to be a really great stop for all of us.
We wrapped up the long travel day with a stop for dinner at All Aboard. I had heard of restaurants that deliver food by little water boats or conveyor belts, but this one delivers food by a horn tooting train driving on tracks above the tables. Obviously, my kids loved it and, to be honest, so did I. The food was nothing to write home about; typical fried foods & easy slap-together dishes. The atmosphere, on the other hand, was awesome for families. You walk into a reception area with two giant train tables for the kids to play at while you place the food order at the counter. You are given a little device to set up on your table that tells the train where to go with the food. You do have to get your own drinks, silverware & condiments from a station. The food came out so fast. The kids were squealing and laughing as a train tooted above our table, unloaded its cargo and drove away. Before we left, I sat in the lobby for a while and let the kids play with the train tables. It was a good break for all of us. ** PRO TIP** Be sure to ask for the military discount; our entire dinner was under $19
Day 2: The Root, The Arkansas State Capitol, Bernice Garden Farmer's Market, Loblolly Creamery, Peabody Splash Pad, Museum of Discovery, The Purple Cow
We woke up on a mission; be some of the first in line when The Root opens at 9. This restaurant was recommended by everyone we encountered, so I knew we wanted to go. I also knew it would be busy and I hate waiting in lines with the kids. We left the apartment early and headed toward the Capitol to snag some photos in the gorgeous morning light. We accidentally stopped at the back of the Capitol building, but it turned out to be the best spot. We walked around reading some plaques, climbing on rocks and staircases before heading downtown for breakfast. We parked directly in front of The Root, but were too early, so we decided to walk around Main Street while we waited. We saw an ice cream shop setting up for their first birthday and a farmer's market starting to come together -- I decided we would add those to our day.
We ended up being the first in line at The Root. The front courtyard has a small playground and toys for the kids in case you end up having to wait. We walked in, ordered at the counter and found a table. The drinks are self serve, but they make their ice coffee for you. I ordered the Omelet and the kids shared a stack of pancakes. The food was BETTER than I imagined, the atmosphere was buzzing and the coffee was delicious! I didn't ask, but if you ask for toys from the staff, I have heard they will bring some to your table. Make this a stop on your Little Rock visit.
We followed up breakfast with a visit to the farmer's market. I suggest stopping for some delicious local kombucha and getting some balloons made for the kids. We walked from there down to Loblolly Creamery where we were again first in line. However, before they opened for their birthday celebration, they gave my daughter a 2 scoop cone of Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream for free. We sat on the bench out front and ate our ice cream while the line to get in grew and grew. It was a great morning.
We drove from Ice Cream to the Peabody Splash Pad located on the Arkansas Riverfront in downtown Little Rock. It was about 107 degrees out this particular day, but even so, the splash pad wasn't over crowded. There were plenty of spouts and a big waterfall that the kids loved. The splash pad is free and is part of the larger Riverwalk Park. There is a gigantic playground and the entrance to the gateway walking bridge directly next to the splash pad. By the time we left the Splash Pad, the kids were so tired. We went back to the apartment to clean up and let the kids nap.
After a nap, we went down to the Museum of Discovery. We only had one hour to play since we arrived at 4pm, but it was truly worth every penny. We bee-lined for the room that only allows children under 5. The kids spend about 45 minutes in this room bouncing off everything, taking care of stuffed animals, making music and climbing. The rest of the time we explored some of the more advanced rooms which, even as toddlers, the kids really loved. We were able to get 2 tickets for $16 total with a military discount (Latham was free).
Once the museum closed (AKA had to kick us out LOL), we loaded up and headed for the highly recommended The Purple Cow. This place is famed for it's purple ice cream. We went to the original one on Cantrell and didn't have to wait for a table. I won't lie, I was not impressed with the food, but the kids went crazy when they brought out purple ice cream. It was very reasonably priced too; $27 for 3 meals, 2 desserts and soda! It's worth a stop, especially if you have a kid who loves purple everything.
Day 3: Community Bakery, Garvan Gardens, Hot Springs Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Grateful Head Pizza, Kilwins, Bath House Row Winery, Arlington Hotel, The Venetian
On our third day, we started the morning with breakfast at Community Bakery in downtown. Conveniently, it's located right off of the highway we were taking to get to Hot Springs. If you go here (you should), you HAVE to get the sausage roll. IT IS TO DIE FOR. They also have some decent iced coffee and the kids loved their chocolate chip cookies.
After breakfast, we hit the road. About an hour later we arrived at Garvan Gardens. The entrance fee to enter the actual gardens is $15, but as a PRO TIP: you can skip the gardens and only see Anthony Chapel if you want. It is free to walk the paths to the chapel and to go inside. Anthony Chapel is an architecture dream. The solid glass walls and ceiling make it seem like the outside is inside. My daughter kept asking if she could live in castle. The chapel is 100% worth the stop. They also have very nice free bathrooms, so hit those up before you go!
From Garvan Gardens we headed to Hot Springs proper. We made our first stop at the Hot Springs tower. It was $8 to go to the top and the views were good. If I did it again, I wouldn't go up, but I am glad I had the experience. Instead of going up, consider walking the path down from the tower. There is an incredible view perfectly framed by an overhang. We drove the entire park and stopped to take in all the views. At the exit of the park there is a place to stop to fill up any water bottles or jugs with fresh spring water.
We decided to park our car at our hotel and start walking around downtown. Our first stop was the National Park headquarters to get our National Park Passport Stamp and explore their free, but pretty cool Bath House museum. The museum is on Bath House Row right with the still functioning bath houses. We walked from there to get some lunch at Grateful Head Pizza. The restaurant is up a lot of stairs, so we parked our wagon at the bottom and headed up. The pizza was SO GOOD. The service was great too.
From lunch we headed toward Bath House Row Winery, but stopped for ice cream and chocolates at Kilwins. While Kilwins is a chain chocolatier, it is delicious. The kids both got ice cream while I got some chocolate to enjoy with wine later. The Bath House Row Winery is all local Arkansas wine, but none of it appealed to me. They have a huge tasting menu (maybe 15 different wines) and the tasting is completely free. The ladies working there were very friendly and helpful. They doted over the kids the entire time. If you like white or Muscadine wines, I highly recommend this stop. From the winery, we headed back to the hotel so the kids could swim.
We stayed at The Arlington Hotel; a historic hotel that is the epicenter for the classic Hot Springs experience. The hotel has two pools located on the 7th floor. Conveniently our Mineral Water room (740) was also on the seventh floor, so we walked down the hall and out to the pool patio. The bottom pool is more shallow, so we hung out there. After our swim, we enjoyed an almost private dinner at the hotel restaurant; the Venetian. While it isn't on the menu, they happily made the kids hot dogs. Since I was traveling alone with 2 toddlers, I wasn't going to be able to experience the Spas & Bathhouses (must be 14 years old to enjoy), BUT we were able to choose a Mineral Water room at the hotel. The hotel has the spring water piped into huge soaking tubs for guests to enjoy in their rooms. (in case you're wondering, they will room service 2 glasses of wine to your room) While the kids slept that night, I soaked for an hour. The water came out blue and even on the hottest setting, it was comfortable to enjoy. The hotel has it's own bar, restaurant and mini-Starbucks as well as room service and two pools. They offer Valet parking for $17 a night and a bellhop will bring your stuff to your room. If you're staying in Hot Springs, DEFINITELY consider this hotel for the full experience.
Everything I read about Hot Springs said to make a stop at The Pancake Shop. As I said before, the Arlington is very convenient to everything and The Pancake Shop is directly across the street. We walked over to try out their famed plate sized pancakes. The service was OK, but the food was actually delicious. I ordered a 2 egg breakfast and they over delivered with gigantic pieces of bacon. The pancakes were true to fable and were huge. The kids split one. It was an exceptional breakfast place with reasonable prices.
From the hotel, it took us about an hour and a half to get to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. This unique state park is home to one of the only places in the world you can go dig for REAL diamonds. Oh, and if you find one, you get to keep it!! That's right! Pay $10 to dig and possibly go home with real diamonds. The largest ever found was over 40-carat and the most famous is the triple zero Strawn Wagner diamond estimated to be worth over $1 million. For any one taking their family out to dig, be sure to bring sun screen, bug spray, shovels, gloves, a blanket and some tools to clean rocks. If you don't want to bring stuff, you can rent digging supplies. There are areas to camp at Crater of Diamonds as well as a really awesome water park. The cost to dig is $10 for adults & $8 for kids 6-12 and FREE for kids under 6!
From the state park, we continued our journey into Oklahoma and Texas.
Our time in Arkansas was way better than I ever imagined. I assumed since I was traveling alone with a 1 & 3 year old that my time would be consumed with taking care of all their needs, but I was wrong. The kids were amazing. We had so much fun every single place we went and were happily surprised so many times by the kindness of people, the delicious food and mostly the super awesome activities across the state. Even if you have never considered Arkansas as a spot for a long weekend, add it.
Have any tips or recommendations for families visiting Arkansas?
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