Guide to Summer Fun
Arm yourself with this list of fun things to do around Central Arkansas, and be ready to battle that dreaded summertime boredom
By Amy Gordy
Be a Tourist
Central Arkansas has tons of museums and cultural activities that tourists travel to enjoy. Take some time this summer to experience the Natural State like a newcomer with the whole family. Many of these attractions are free (or have free days) and they all provide hours of fun!
Learn about Pres. Bill Clinton’s time in the oval office then take a stroll through the museum’s kid-friendly temporary exhibit, “Xtreme Bugs,” through July 3 at The Clinton Presidential Center. The exhibit features larger-than-life animatronic bugs from around the world and gives visitors the chance to learn all the interesting facts about them. Don’t miss Super Summer Saturdays each Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 17-July 29, with special hands-on programming and educational activities for kids; clintonfoundation.org.
Visit the Museum of Discovery’s new exhibit, “Human Plus,” and enjoy interactive opportunities to explore and create a range of low-tech and high-tech tools that extend human abilities. Exhibits include the experience of riding a mono-ski in a simulated ski race, controlling a DJ station using the wheels of a wheelchair and more; museumofdiscovery.org.
The Witt Stephens Nature Center is a cool, nature-themed retreat on a hot day. Exhibits highlight fish and wildlife native to the Natural State and projects by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; centralarkansasnaturecenter.com.
Climb aboard one of North Little Rock’s biggest attractions, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, and explore exhibits on the submarine USS Razorback (SS- 394), the tugboat USS Hoga (YT-146), the battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33), and the missile cruiser USS Arkansas (CGN-41); aimmuseum.org.
Wild out any day of the week at the Little Rock Zoo! Little ones will love the Arkansas Heritage Farm where they can touch, feed and groom animals; littlerockzoo.com.
Enjoy the sights of downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock aboard the trolley! Buy a day pass and ride to your favorite destinations, or take advantage of the Youth Summer Pass Program, which offers unlimited rides for $30 for students enrolled in Greater Little Rock elementary and secondary schools. The pass is good for three months, June 1-Aug. 31, 2017. To purchase the pass, students must present a current report card to the River Cities Travel Center at 310 Capitol Ave., as proof of enrollment.
Heifer Village is home to interactive exhibits that provide a stimulating educational experience for all ages. Kids love the scavenger hunt (grab a list at the front desk) and the on-site farm animals. heifer.org.
Delve into Arkansas’s rich history at the Historic Arkansas Museum, which utilizes artifacts and living history to tell the story of the state’s beginnings on a site that includes the oldest building in Little Rock, the Hinderliter Grog Shop, built in 1827; historicarkansas.org.
Kids will love the temporary exhibit “Cabinet of Curiosities” at the Old State House Museum through Dec. 31. Explore this collection of fascinating artifacts from around the globe, from dinosaur bones to Ming Dynasty pottery to a machine gun taken from Bonnie and Clyde’s car; oldstatehouse.com.
Hop in the car and head to Hot Springs to enjoy attractions like the renovated Mid-America Science Museum or fun-filled amusement and water park Magic Springs and Crystal Falls. Save some money on food and beverages at Cooler Sundays through Aug. 13, when families are invited to pack what they can and bring a cooler to the theme park.
When temperatures rise you’ll need to cool things off, and luckily there are several nearby options for water fun! Make a day of it at Wild River Country in North Little Rock, and let the big kids attempt the thrilling rides while the littles chill in the Tad Pool. There’s also a smaller-scale water park that’s great for little kids in the Splash Zone Water Park in Jacksonville.
Local pools are a great option for cooling off, and there are plenty of public swimming spots including the Jim Dailey Fitness and Aquatic Center; the North Little Rock Parks and Recreation pools at the Sherman Park and North Heights community centers; and the Leawood Pool, which opens membership up to nearby neighborhoods.
Lake swimming is always a great idea, and luckily The Natural State has tons of family-friendly lakes to enjoy, like Lake Sylvia in Perryville or DeGray Lake near Bismarck.
Take sprinkler fun to another level at a free local splash pad like the one at War Memorial Park and Riverfront Park in Little Rock, or at Tyndall Park in Benton.
Need to get out of the house and burn off some energy? There are tons of places where kids can move, climb, roll and play! Test your courage at Big Rock Fun Park’s new attraction, The Amazing Maze and Aerial Adventure maze and high-ropes course are now open. Take the kids to climb above the park or enjoy a game of mini-golf, go-karts, bumper boats or the arcade; bigrockfunpark.com.
Roll or glide for hours at the Arkansas Skatium, which houses a roller rink and ice skating rink. Don’t miss Cheap Skate Family Nights from 6 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, admission is $7 and includes skate rental; arkansasskatium.com.
The littlest ones can play, learn and explore at The Wonder Place, which caters to ages 8 and younger with and indoor play area of 5,700 square feet. Children ages 2-12 can bounce for hours within the walls of Jump!Zone, a playcenter in North Little Rock featuring massive inflatables, mazes and slides. Older kids can burn some energy bouncing through Altitude Trampoline Park with offers more than 200 interconnected trampolines, a foam pit, dodge ball and kids zone.
If your kids are hooked on video games they’ll love the Z82 Retrocade in Sherwood filled with refurbished, retro arcade games including Tron, Galaga, Ms.Pacman, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug and more. A single admission price allows unlimited gaming. If you like pizza and singing animatronics with your games, Chuck E. Cheese never fails to entertain, and Playtime Pizza combines gaming with go-karts, laser tag, mini-golf and more.
Chill Out Indoors
At some point every summer, the heat is just too much to handle. Escape to some air-conditioned bliss and catch a movie with the kids. Riverdale 10 offers reclining electric seats, tons of food options and wine and beer for Mom or Dad. The Ron Robinson Theater downtown offers ample kid-friendly movie screenings at low admission prices or free. Check their website for showings; cals.org/ronrobinson.
The Central Arkansas Library System offers a full calendar of events to keep kids busy and reading this summer. Visit the main branch for storytime, crafts, movie screenings, music, magic shows and more.
If your household loves all things sports related then grab your gear and head to the batting cages at D-Bat Little Rock, or the driving range at North Shore Golf Range.
The Little Rock Climbing Center offers hours of active fun to challenge kids’ strength and courage, and auto-belay stations make it easy for first-time climbers to jump right in. All young athletes need balance and strength, and Barefoot Studio offers a class just for tweens (ages 7-12) on Wednesday afternoons. Exercise doesn’t get any more fun than learning acrobatics at Arkansas Circus Arts. Check out youth classes in cirque skills and aerial arts that will send them back to school in the fall with a whole new set of impressive skills. Cool Off With A Chill Treat
There’s nothing like a frozen treat to take the heat out of summer. Grab a snow cone at any local stand (we love Cozy’s near Burns Park in North Little Rock); get a scoop or two at Kilwin’s or Loblolly Creamery; mix anything you want into a concrete at Scoop Dog; or cool off with a gourmet frozen pop or shaved ice at Le Pops.
Kids love any excuse to get dirty and will come home with a loot of shiny crystals after a trip to Ron Coleman Mining just outside of Hot Springs. Bring a sturdy shovel, bucket, gloves and a treasure-hunting spirit with you!
Arkansas State Parks offer tons of opportunities for outdoor exploration. Climb the hard or less hard side of the mountain at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, or take the kids on a nature walk around the base trial and enjoy the playground. Petit Jean State Park has ample hiking opportunities and a fantastic waterfall after a heavy rain. Stay the night at Mather Lodge or book a cabin or campsite and make a weekend of it! Teach kids where food comes from at any of the great U-pick sites in Central Arkansas. Fill a bucket with fresh blueberries, blackberries or raspberries at Wye Mountain Flowers and Berries in Wye, then take them home and invite the whole family to make a pie or delicious berry ice cream.
Get their creative juices flowing at the Arkansas Arts Center Junior Arts Camp, a two-week day camp dedicated to art and theater. Pop into the Painted Pig Studio and learn how to DIY pottery, jewelry, mosaics, glass and more. The options are endless at Argenta Bead Co., when it comes to designing jewelry. Choose from thousands of beads, then sit down to create your own jewelry design. The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub offers a long list of creative opportunities in multiple mediums including pottery, painting, drawing, illustration, graphic design, printmaking and more. They have several youth day camps available throughout the summer.
Get your kids involved in helping the community at an early age! There are many opportunities that are great for kids. Raise money together selling lemonade and baked goods in the neighborhood and let them pick their charity of choice to give the proceeds. Get hands-on with Habitat for Humanity of Central Arkansas and pitch in to help build a home for a family in need; habitatcentralar.org. Head to your local animal shelter and volunteer to love on the animals until they find a forever home.