Whether you’re dealing with budget issues or time constraints, sometimes leaving the city for a vacation just isn’t in the cards. This spring break, keep your family entertained with these mom-approved itineraries from Mandy Stanage Shoptaw; you can mix and match to make your own agenda or add in a spring break camp or workshop. Most importantly, have a fun and safe spring break with your family.

1. Walk It Out
2. Historic Drive
3. I Like to Move It
4. Arts Education
5. Keep ‘em Busy

1. Walk It Out

Start the day by picking up a portable breakfast. A special treat, like donuts at your favorite shop, will surely rally the troops. Head to downtown Little Rock and park for free near the Clinton Presidential Center (374-4242). Picnic on the grassy mounds in the Presidential Park overlooking the Arkansas River and after, take a walk along the scenic trails of the William “Bill” Clark Wetlands. If you’re feeling brave, bring along some large cardboard pieces and “sled” down the grassy hills.

Next, use the walking path along the Arkansas River to head towards the River Market. The path leads you behind the storefronts on President Clinton Avenue; you’ll feel like you’re going behind the scenes to get to your next destination: the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center (907-0636). The Nature Center is completely free and a wonderful way to show your little ones the beauty and wonder of the Natural State. A geocaching program is offered Tue.-Sun., and visitors can watch fish feedings at 2 p.m. Wed. or alligator feedings at 2 p.m. Fri.

A pedestrian walkway leads to President Clinton Avenue, where you’ll find the Museum of Discovery (396-7050). There’s something for every age at this science center. My elementary school-age son enjoys the permanent Tornado Alley exhibit. Using first-person interviews, as well as archived news footage, the exhibit immerses visitors in a simulated tornado experience based on a real storm that hit downtown Little Rock in 1999. In March, families can also explore engineering and urban design in the traveling exhibit “Tech City.”

If you didn’t pack a lunch, venture inside the River Market food hall, where you will find numerous cuisines, from Japanese to Middle Eastern. Or, cross the street to grab a seat at the popular Flying Fish (375-3474). If the weather is nice, make your order to-go and picnic around the First Security Amphitheater. Remember, there are public restrooms inside the River Market building.

After lunch, stroll over to Peabody Park. There, little ones can burn off energy in tunnels and on climbing contraptions, or cool off in the splash park. If your kids aren’t tired out, walk across the pedestrian bridge to North Little Rock, enjoying the scenic views of downtown Little Rock along the way. Tour the USS Razorback at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum (371-8320)—it’s amazing to see what tight quarters the sailors lived in during war.

The park running along the Arkansas River next to the USS Razorback is filled with walking paths, green spaces and lovely views, a great place to let the little ones run and play. If your children are older, take a walk from the North Little Rock Riverfront Park to the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. Or, hop on the River Rail Electric Streetcar ($1, $.50 for children ages 5 to 11 and seniors citizens; under 4 ride free) at the Verizon Plaza Stop at 120 Main St. in North Little Rock. The bright yellow trolley will take you on a scenic ride through the downtown areas and deliver you right back where you began at the Clinton Presidential Center.

Final stop of the day: the Clinton Library. The exhibit “Presidential Pets” is sure to delight and will be available through April 27. Kids ages 11 and up will enjoy the intrigue of history in “Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America,” an exhibit from the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

2. Historic Drive

Little Rock offers some amazing activities which showcase our state’s history, but get ready: This day-long tour requires a little bit of driving and a lot of hopping in and out of the car.

Start the day off at the Arkansas State Capitol (682-5080). Free tours of the century-old building and grounds are offered 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays; call ahead to schedule a personally-guided tour. From the Capitol, head over to the corner of 9th and Broadway and visit the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center (683-3593), where free exhibits tell the story of Arkansas’ African-American history, life, and arts and culture. Continuing this theme, drive to the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center (374-1957), also a free attraction. I was in awe the first time I saw Central High—here was this place I had read about in 5th grade Arkansas History. The visitor center sits across the intersection from the school, and teaches about the 1957 desegregation crisis through interactive exhibits—just steps away from Central High, your children can listen to recordings from the courageous African-American students who sought an education at the all-white school.

Leave the Central High Visitor’s Center on West 14th and it will become Daisy Bates Drive. Continue until you reach Broadway, where you can take a right, drive to West 18th, turn left and cruise past the Arkansas Governors Mansion (324-9805). Request a free tour of the estate in advance or ease over to Main St. where you can get out and stretch your legs at The Bernice Garden (410-3938). Examine the sculptures in the park or settle onto a park bench with your packed lunch. If you’re dining out, you’ll have plenty of options at one of the lovely restaurants along Main, such as The Root Café, Boulevard Bread Company, South on Main or Community Bakery. Don’t forget to stop by The Green Corner Store (374-1111) for a homemade soda or a scoop of Loblolly Creamery ice cream.

After lunch, give the Esse Purse Museum (916-9022) a whirl. Girls young and old will delight in exploring history through handbags from different decades. Next, drive over to the Old State House Museum (324-9685) to visit the free exhibits housed in the oldest standing state capitol west of the Mississippi.

Hop back in the car and drive a few short blocks to the Historic Arkansas Museum (324-9345), where you can snag free visitor parking on the corner of 3rd and Cumberland. Outside, visit the restored 19th-century homes to get a glimpse of what pioneer life was like for early Arkansans. Indoors, you can peruse galleries of art made by Arkansans, and visit a children’s gallery where children can play dress up, put on a puppet show and more (indoor exhibits are free; admission to historic grounds $2.50, children under 18 $1).

3. I Like to Move It

This option gets little people (and grown-ups) moving with a full day of fun. Start the day in West Little Rock with a hike at Pinnacle Mountain State Park (868-5806). Bring along some outdoor toys and enjoy the green spaces and playground equipment after your hike to the summit. Don’t forget healthy snacks and bottles of water. If you or your kids can’t climb to the top of the mountain, then there are also less challenging trails, including some that are accessible for wheelchairs, strollers and jogging prams. You can also go to the nearby Visitor Center where you can see Arkansas wildlife up close and personal (and take a potty break, of course).

After Pinnacle, nip over to the new Altitude Trampoline Park (479-763-5867), which is 35,000 square feet of indoor bouncing fun. While in West Little Rock, consider lunch and a movie at the Promenade at Chenal. The dining options are diverse, and include Local Lime, A.W. Lin’s Asian, Maggie Moo’s, and even McDonalds; on the other end of Chenal Parkway there’s family favorite The Purple Cow.

After lunch, slow down with a trip to the movies. Theater options on this side of town include Chenal 9 IMAX Theatre at the Promenade, the Colonel Glenn 18 + Extreme, as well as Breckenridge Theater.

Now that the kids have rested up from the busy morning, consider getting them up and going again at the Little Rock Climbing Center (227-9500). The staff provides all the instructions on using the gear and your kids will be scrambling up the indoor rock climbing walls in no time. Smaller children might enjoy burning off steam at the The Wonder Place (225-4050), an indoor play space with activities geared toward preschool to 1st grade kids.

4. Arts Education

I love to take opportunities to expose my child to culturally enriching activities, you know, something besides TV, movies and video games. One of my favorite ways to do this is to take a tour of the free exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center (372-4000). I love the calm reverence that seems to come over us as we wander through the galleries, which currently includes an exhibit on 20th-century Southern artists. When you visit during spring break week, you’ll also have the opportunity to attend a special matinee performance by the Children’s Theatre.

Just next door to the Arts Center is the free MacArthur Military Museum (376-4602). Little boys of all ages enjoy wandering around inspecting artifacts from all wars, including a World War II Jeep. Don’t skip over the collection of World War II photographs, saved by a sports writer working for the Houston Press. Outside in MacArthur Park, you’ll find the Korean War Veterans Memorial along with a playground, dog park, large lawn where kids can run and play, and a pond that’s home to geese and other wildlife.

Picnic on the lawn during warm, sunny days, visit the Arkansas Arts Center’s café, Best Impressions, or head downtown to the Café @ Heifer, located in Heifer Village. After lunch, you can engage in the free exhibits at Heifer Village; it’s like taking a mini-trip around the world.

Hop on the trolley at the nearby stop (see Itinerary 1) or drive over to the Central Arkansas Library System Main Library (918-3000) in the River Market. Relax in one of the cozy reading nooks in the children’s area. Register for a library card and borrow books, movies and video games to keep your family occupied for the rest of the week. You can also let your kids take part in story times, games and other activities scheduled for spring break week. Next door, visit the free art galleries at The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (320-5700), which will be showing an exhibit of quilts beginning March 14.

If your little ones aren’t tuckered out yet, finish out the day at one of the several painting studios in town. Two local favorites are in the Heights: visit The Painted Pig Studio (280-0553) to glaze pottery or splash paint on a canvas at Spirited Art (296-9903). Both offer hands-on opportunities for children to create.

5. Keep ‘em Busy

After a few days of meticulously planned fun, you may just need to get out of the house and keep the family going. Here are a few go-to ideas:

Do your kiddos love to bike? Little Rock is the place. You probably don’t want to take in the entire 88-mile loop that makes up The Arkansas River Trail, but you can certainly enjoy parts of it. My favorite is the stretch between the Big Dam Bridge and the loop at Two Rivers Park, both of which are ideal for walking or riding.

Murray Park near the Big Dam Bridge provides playgrounds, soccer fields, dog parks, and lovely views of the Arkansas River. It’s a great place to picnic too, so after you’ve made a loop on your bike (or on foot) you can eat, rest and play.

If golf is your thing, are you in luck. Little Rock has several public courses such as Rebsamen Golf Course (666-7965) near Murray Park, and War Memorial Golf Course (663-0854). If spring break heats up, War Memorial also hosts a great splash park with climbing rocks and underground tunnels.

You’ll probably hear the monkeys howling at the nearby Little Rock Zoo (666-2406), where there’s always something happening, from keeper chats to animal feedings. My son has a love-hate relationship with snakes. He is terrified of slithery creatures, but each visit means a trip through the herpetarium to see the reptiles. If you visit over spring break, try to spy the baby tigers born at the zoo over the winter—the adorable cubs are expected to debut in March.

For one last round of fun, skip down to the new Big Rock Fun Park (455-3750), near Bass Pro Shops. Currently, families can visit the indoor arcade, complete with air hockey, Dance, Dance Revolution, Skee-ball, pinball, and two televisions set up with Wii game systems. Visitors can also race on the 400-meter go-cart track, take a swing in the batting cages and float around the pool in the bumper boats during warm weather. Two mini golf courses are tentatively scheduled to open in mid-May or early June.


Mandy Stanage Shoptaw has called Little Rock home for more than 15 years. She takes in the sights and sounds of the capital city with her son and husband while working as a freelance writer and photographer. Learn more about Mandy at MandyShoptaw.com.