There are two ways to see the River Market District in Little Rock, Arkansas. The first is as a clunky camera carrying, khaki shorts wearing, tourist (which, now that I consider this stereotype, I am. Maybe, all tourists in denial are travellers.) Anyways, the second is as a local. This guide is a mix for both. Yes, I’m taking you to some of the more popular stops, but I’m also disclosing a few local hangouts (shhh, don’t tell anyone.) Are you ready to start crisscrossing the River Market District?
Oh, the parking options! As we are driving in, we notice the abundance of paid parking spots. There is a parking garage available on Second and River Market Avenue, but we choose to go with the on-street parking spaces (available pretty much anywhere and everywhere). Once there, we have two options. If we want to buzz through the city, we could hop on the Rock Region METRO Streetcar, which tours downtown Little Rock. I love quirky transportation and the bold mustard colour of Arkansas’ historic replica trolley certainly won my heart. The pass is available for purchase inside the Ottenheimer River Market Hall. If streetcars aren’t your favourite mode of transportation, not to worry, there are also several bus stops – the main unloading site is just outside the Museum of Discovery. But, right now, I’m in the mood for some good, old-fashioned walking. Would you like to join me?
Where to Eat?
As we walk, we begin to notice a pattern. Shop. Restaurant. Shop. Restaurant. Shop. Restaurant. There are so many lunch and dining options, it is overwhelming. If it were Saturday, I would have suggested a picnic, made with some locally sourced ingredients, fresh from the Farmer’s Market, right on the grassy lawn of the First Security Amphitheater. From there, we could have enjoyed the best views of the Junction Bridge, a former railroad crossing turned uniquely shaped pedestrian pathway.
But it is a weekday, so let’s see what grub we can find. If we choose, we can go inside the Ottenheimer Market Hall and savor the variety of vendor-sold foods. Middle Eastern? Thai? The Market Hall has every cuisine imaginable.
For sit-down dining, we visit Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro. It’s All-American fare, slightly overpriced, but the theme is a yummy art-deco lover’s dream. The kitschy chandeliers quickly become our favourite staple decor item. They are the eccentric brainchilds of a disco-tech ball and a crystal ball straight from a haunted mansion. You can’t help but fall in love with the kinky ambience.
Afterwards, we decide to wash down the burgers and sandwiches with a freshly brewed coffee. The mild blend of Andina Cafe & Coffee Roastery is a welcome delight. I’ve never been one for coffee with a strong aftertaste, so this (for me, at least) is the ideal coffee house.
We continue walking down the block until we strike a red sign boasting a bold name – Damgoode Pies. We order a six inch “Greek” made from spinach, tomato, feta, and black olives. For a vegetarian option, it is (wait for it) pretty damgoode (excuse the pun).
The River Market District also has plenty of USA-wide chains, ranging from budget to upscale. But you know that I have a fetish for local restaurants, so are you surprised by my top picks?
Where to Shop?
Now that we’ve eaten our fair share of food, it is only acceptable to shop till we drop (or in my case, window-shop till I drop).
We start off at Fringe Clothing, a high-end boutique that carries Bohemian meets modern-country girl styles. If you are looking for billowy blouses and striped bootcut pants, Fringe will be your shopaholic heaven.
We then wind our way to the Freckled Frog, an artisan shop selling a hodgepodge of locally designed items, from soaps to patchwork skirts. It carries the weight of organized disorder.
Alas, it’s time for my personal favourite. Bring down the curtains for the River Market Books and Gifts. It’s located next to the main library campus. Why? River Market Books and Gifts is a collection of gently used reads from the main library system at slashed prices. Imagine your local used bookstore. Now double the charm. And double the size (triple, if yours is only one story). Add a collection of artwork. And maybe add a cafe as well. This is the River Market Bookstore. You can’t help yourself and buy a novel from one of your favourite series (I did and I don’t regret it one bit).
What to See?
Since we have a little time left on our hands (and we hopefully aren’t still hungry), let’s go museum hunting. Most of the museums in the River District are geared towards children, but that doesn’t detract from the excitement that comes from visiting them.
The first museum we poke our heads into is the Museum of Discovery. The exhibits are small but informational and the most insightful is the Tornado Alley Theater. We walk past a set-like entrance and witness a projected rumbling loudness. We watch footage of the destructive 1999 tornado that swung through Little Rock in awe. It’s amazing how much the city has rebuilt itself since then.
But the science center is best for its specialty – science. If we want a deeper look at Little Rock’s history, we should spend the rest of the afternoon in the Historic Arkansas Museum. This museum focuses on Arkansas’ rooted Southern history during the pre-civil war era. It’s a living history museum, like a mini Colonial Williamsburg. And if you are unfamiliar with Arkansas’ past, it is well worth a visit.
Whew! I’m bushed from all that walking but we’ll go exploring again tomorrow. I promise!
Address: River Market, Little Rock, AR
Time You Should Spend: 2 – 3 hours (lunch inclusive)
Did you enjoy this guide to the Little Rock River Market District? Have you ever been to the River Market District? What was your favourite shop there? Let me know in the comments below.