Named for a small rock formation on the Arkansas River that served as a landmark for early French explorers, la Petite Roche, Little Rock, as it is now known, has grown into the largest city (with a city population of approximately 200,000 and metropolitan area population of 700,000) in Arkansas. It’s a friendly, laid-back community of neighborhoods that meld modern with historic. Find an excellent example of this mix downtown, where the Old State House—a Greek revival showplace finished in 1842, now the oldest surviving state capitol building west of the Mississippi—sits within walking distance of stunning contemporary buildings such as the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and the Heifer International Headquarters.
Lining the Arkansas River downtown, the River Market District has undergone significant revitalization and now includes a hugely popular outdoor farmers’ market with bounties of fresh local produce offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays from late April through October, as well as an indoor market that’s open year-round. The district’s revitalization has paid off otherwise, too; it’s become a hotbed of activity, with new restaurants, bars and shops opening all the time. A short drive west along the Arkansas River, the Riverdale neighborhood teems with lofts, modern housing and some of the city’s most popular restaurants and nightspots, many with river views.
Little Rock’s oldest residential neighborhood, Hillcrest, sits just west of downtown. Here, streets are lined with elegant homes and charming cottages dating back to the turn of the 20th Century. In the adjoining Heights neighborhood, upscale boutiques and trendy restaurants meld with 1920s- and ’30s-era homes on peaceful, tree-lined streets.
Taking in the best of Little Rock often involves hitting the trails. Residents are particularly proud of the new, nearly one-mile-long Big Dam Bridge Pedestrian Bridge that crosses the Arkansas River and connects with North Little Rock on the other side. Complete with eight observation areas and impressive LED lighting, it’s the longest bridge in North America built specifically for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.