Located in south-central Arkansas’ Union County, El Dorado had a population of fewer than 20,000 residents at the time of the last census.
It’s the county seat, and the economy is mainly reliant on the natural gas, timber and chemical industries. It’s also home to South Arkansas Community College.
Often referred to as Arkansas’ Original Boomtown, the city grew rapidly during the early part of the 20th century and again during World War II, at a time when fuel, chemicals, and wood products were being used rapidly by the war machine.
Below are 14 things to do in and around El Dorado.
1. Magnolia Murals
There’s no better way to kick off a visit to a new area than to take in some local art and do it without spending a cent.
Magnolia’s historic downtown is home to a few large murals that depict the lives of the city’s citizens. Since they’re conveniently located on Main Street, you can stroll around town afterward and take in some sights.
Most of the murals depict aspects of different eras in the city’s history; there’s even one that’s supposedly signed by Charlton Heston. Check it out and see for yourself to see if that signature looks authentic.
2. South Arkansas Arboretum
Located on Highway 82 just outside El Dorado, the South Arkansas Arboretum is the region’s preeminent destination for those who’re interested in checking out the natural wonders that the area has to offer.
Though it’s probably most magnificent in the spring, the arboretum grounds are nice to visit whenever your schedule permits.
During the spring and summer months, the arboretum hosts a number of educational and interactive activities, some of which are designed specifically for children.
The outdoor portion is filled with lots of walkable trails, and there’s even a butterfly garden that’s always a big hit as well.
3. Murphy Arts District
The Murphy Arts District is El Dorado’s hippest district. It’s a great place to hang out with locals, see some interesting art and live events, and have a bite to eat, a cold one, or a gourmet cappuccino.
During the warm months, the outside concert venue is a big hit, and since you’ll be right in the entertainment district, you’ll be surrounded by trendy bars and eateries.
The concert venue is pretty small, and for popular concerts, the seating can get pretty tight, so if you want to get a good seat, consider heading downtown early and staking your claim before the masses arrive.
4. John Newton House
El Dorado’s John Newton House was built in the 1840s and is the oldest original structure in town. It’s located on North Jackson Avenue and is part historical house, part museum.
It’s interesting to note that the house now sits more than 200 yards from its original location. It’s conveniently located just a block from a few other museums and historic homes downtown, so it’s a great way to spend an hour or two learning about the city’s past and getting some exercise.
Check their hours before making a special trip, as the John Newton House isn’t open every day.
5. Mina Rea’s Antiques
No matter where you find yourself, antique shops are like looking glasses into the past, and though not everything you’ll see is a treasure, sometimes with a little luck and patience you’ll find a proverbial gem.
Mina Rea’s Antiques is located in El Dorado’s historic downtown. In addition to selling antiques, knick-knacks, and collectibles, they offer custom print, embroidery, and furniture painting.
They’ve got friendly staff who’ll answer your questions and help you find whatever you’re after; it’s a great place to pick up something to display in your house as a reminder of your trip to El Dorado.
6. The Pottery House
If you’ve never painted your own pottery, it’s something you should try, especially if you’re the creative type.
The Pottery House is a unique El Dorado business – the only one of its kind in the area. Guests can choose from a wide array of pottery, like bowls, cups, plates, and vases, then custom decorate them with their own colors and designs.
They’re located inside Main Street Antiques, and guests can pick from a number of paints to customize the piece.
It’s a relatively inexpensive activity and will definitely get those creative juices flowing. If creativity isn’t exactly your forte, you’re more than welcome to buy an already finished piece.
7. Jefferson Street Books
Since the late ‘80s, Jefferson Street books has been the go-to place for those residents of south-central Arkansas who can’t get enough of books.
It’s one of the few independent bookshops in the area, so when you buy something from them, the money stays in the local economy.
They carry children’s books, fiction and non-fiction – and even a few titles from some local authors.
It’s an excellent place to pick up a history book that focuses on the region’s past. After your visit, you’ll probably recognize many of the places you’ve already seen, and learn a few more interesting historical tidbits about them too.
8. Mattocks Park Lake
Mattocks Park Lake is a favorite spot of locals who want to try their luck at a little fishing without going on a road trip into the country.
The lake is mainly known for its largemouth bass, bream, and catfish.
Primarily for those anglers who are children, elderly or disabled, there are some strange age restrictions on those permitted to fish, so check them out thoroughly before heading out.
Bass must be released immediately, but if you’re up for a fried fish dinner, you’re able to keep bream and catfish; their limits are 25 and 3 respectively.
9. Lake Columbia
For those fishermen who have access to a car and don’t mind hitting the road to find some world-class bass fishing, a trip to Lake Columbia in Magnolia would be a wise way to spend a day.
Though the lake isn’t full of small and easily catchable bass, it is known for its whoppers, many of which are in the six to eight-pound range.
The lake can get busy on the weekends during the spring and summer months, so if you’d rather enjoy some peace and quiet and avoid the crowds, consider going during the week if your schedule permits.
Remember that residents and non-residents alike need an Arkansas fishing license.
10. Lions Club Municipal Golf Course
Conveniently located within El Dorado city limits, the Lions Club Municipal Golf Course is a favorite spot for golfers who want to enjoy a day on the links without breaking the bank in the process.
Though you won’t see any big name professionals teeing up here, previous guests have noted that the greens and fairways are well trimmed and maintained. The course features plenty of treed areas, sand traps, and water hazards to keep things interesting.
On the weekends in the summer, it can get hectic, so book your tee time in advance if that’s when you plan to play.
11. MAD Playscape
Comprised of more than two acres of kid-friendly activities, MAD Playscape is El Dorado’s number one spot for summer fun for families with children.
The Playscape is free for everyone. In addition to the ever-popular splash pad, there’s a massive playground which includes slides, tunnels, ropes and lots of things to climb on.
Regardless of the age of your kids, there will be something that’s appropriate for them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that things can get a bit hectic during peak times, so resign yourself to a crowd or hit the Playscape during the week or morning hours if you’d rather miss the crowds.
12. Logoly State Park
Located in southwest Arkansas near the town of McNeil, Logoly State Park is a bit different than most in that it’s been designated to provide environmental education in addition to the typical roles of a state park.
That means you’ll not only have access to lots of outdoor space and activities, but there will be instructional, educational and interactive opportunities as well -many of them have been specifically designed with children in mind.
The state park is full of trails, and it’s pretty standard to see lots of wildlife, especially if you’re in the less crowded areas during the morning and afternoon hours.
13. Barton Library
Full of comfy chairs, books, and air conditioning, public libraries are great places to hang out and take a load off.
Though as a visitor you may not be able to check books out, you can still peruse the shelves or read a newspaper. They often offer instructional and educational activities and book club groups, so you never quite know what you’ll find.
There’s a special children’s area, and during the summer months, there’s a children’s story time. They offer free internet access and can do in-depth genealogical searches as well, which can be coordinated with other public libraries in the area.
To see what’s on the schedule for when you’ll be in the area, check out their website.
14. Old City Park
Though it’s not exactly brimming with exciting things to do, El Dorado’s Old City Park is convenient to get to. It’s a great place to spend a few hours relaxing, reading a book, or strolling around the grounds.
Located at the corner of Camp Street and North College Avenue near the historic downtown area, you can enjoy it in conjunction with other local attractions like historic buildings.
The park features well-maintained treed areas and a few covered seating areas with picnic tables, so it’s a great place for a picnic or to let the kids burn off some excess energy without bothering anybody.