In the 1920s there was an oil boom in southern Arkansas. At the heart of that oil boom: El Dorado, Arkansas. The city was also prominent during World War II within the chemical industry. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the economic development of the city and it makes a wonderful day trip from the Texarkana area.
Most recently, the downtown area welcomed the Murphy Arts District, an entertainment and arts-focused district that welcomes performances of all types to El Dorado. They regularly host outdoor concerts in their amphitheater and have begun hosting events indoors again as well. At the beginning of 2020, MAD partnered with Crystal Bridges to bring an immersive art exhibit to the south-central Arkansas area. The AstroZone exhibit was a futuristic, fully interactive exhibit by Claire Helen Ashley.
The downtown is also host to memorial parks, shopping, and plentiful dining options. There are also state parks and wilderness areas nearby.
Murphy Arts District
Our ideal day trip to El Dorado goes a little something like this.
Start the day at the Murphy Arts District “MAD” playscape! This free, epic playground covers two acres and has something for kids (and adults!) of all ages. My children love the huge climbing structures that offer a challenge even as they are growing older. Another highlight, the seasonal splash pad with a giant razorback hog slide. During the summer months, MAD hosts movie Mondays with a showing of a different family-friendly movie each Monday night at sundown. The movies are shown in the amphitheater outdoors. The soon-to-open Mule Kick Cafe (formerly the Griffin) will also offer food and beverages.
One thing we also love about MAD is that during the 2020 pandemic, they provided FREE virtual art lessons and storytime with a fantastic art teacher from the El Dorado area. My children so enjoyed tuning in each week for a delightful story and art lesson. Those virtual lessons are still available on the Murphy Arts District website and are a great tool for busting boredom.
Once everyone is tired and hungry, walk over to PJ’s Coffee located downtown. Be sure to grab a photo at the London-style phone booth sitting outside that also doubles as a little free library! PJ’s offers a full menu of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and lunch sandwiches. There’s also an ice cream store right next door for an extra sweet treat.
After lunch, be sure to take a walk to Oil Heritage Park to learn a little bit more about the history of the area. Be sure to also check out Jefferson Street Books and some of the other fun shopping available in downtown El Dorado.
Stroll Through Nature
For one last hurrah before you head out, be sure to drive over to the South Arkansas Arboretum for a little stroll through nature. The paths are paved and are full of interpretive signs to help educate about the different types of trees and flowers. For added fun, make it a little scavenger hunt for different types of leaves or flowers! The arboretum, operated by the State Parks of Arkansas, has something to see in every season of the year.
If you’re looking to extend your stay for an overnight or a weekend, be sure to check out the newly opened Haywood Hotel located downtown or the Union Square Guest Quarters.
Be sure to follow the Murphy Arts District on social media to know about all of their upcoming events!
Nichole is a freelance writer located in southwest Arkansas, who loves all things outdoors including gardening, hiking, backpacking, and canoeing. She is a homeschooling mother to two, and they are entering their seventh year of homeschooling! They are an adventure and outdoor-loving family of four, who are often embarking on day trips and road trips to chase some shenanigans. As a family, they love supporting small and local businesses, especially local bookstores and coffee shops. Nichole hopes to inspire others to see the wonder and adventure in both the big and the small, close to home and on the road. You can follow their adventures on Instagram by following them at @coleyraeh.