The Scout Guide Northwest Arkansas Editor Rebekah Lawrence in front of the original Walton’s 5 & 10 in Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Meredith Mashburn.
Bentonville, Arkansas, attracts business travelers from all over the world heading to meetings with the town’s growing list of major companies, and one in particular (that would be Walmart, which is headquartered there). Being home to the world’s largest retailer’s corporate office has its perks; the town is not only on the business map, it’s also enjoying prosperity in the form of a thriving local food scene and one of the nation’s most impressive art museums, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Plus, direct flights from most major cities regularly come and go from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA). Add in the natural beauty of the Ozarks, and this charming town has landed on the top of our summer getaway must-visit list. To help us plan the perfect weekend trip, we asked Rebekah Lawrence, Editor of The Scout Guide Northwest Arkansas, for her insider tips on exploring and enjoying all Bentonville has to offer. Here, she provides recommendations for exploring Historic Downtown by foot or on two wheels (the preferred method of transportation in this bicycle-friendly city).
WHAT TO DO
“What the Louvre is to world art, Crystal Bridges is to American art,” says Lawrence of the institution that houses a permanent collection featuring five centuries’ worth of American masterworks. The institution (600 Museum Way; closed on Tuesdays), which takes its name from a nearby natural spring, was designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, and it’s an architectural gem in and of itself. The building is situated amid 120 acres of lush forest in the foothills of the Ozarks, bringing art, architecture and nature together for visitors to enjoy simultaneously.
While it’s well worth a visit any time of year, this summer brings an especially compelling reason to book a trip to Crystal Bridges: the highly anticipated Chihuly: In the Forest and In the Gallery exhibit opens June 3, and runs through August 14 (the forest portion will continue until November 13). This dual exhibition will feature a brand-new outdoor sculpture garden in the forest in conjunction with an indoor exhibition, featuring new works by the artist alongside his more iconic pieces.
There are two ladies you’ll want to make sure you visit while you’re in the galleries: Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton. Put an architectural landmark on your must-see list, too: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House was transplanted from its original location in New Jersey to Crystal Bridges grounds. Visit this architectural gem for a rare glimpse into Wright’s classic Usonian architecture.
Left: Skyspace at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Right: Niijima Floats by Dale Chihuly at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. The floats, which are illuminated at night, are part of the exhibit Chihuly: In the Forest and In the Gallery.
Finally, if you’re here in July, you’ll be one of the first to experience Buckminster Fuller’s 50-foot Fly’s Eye Dome on the North Lawn. This geodesic dome, featuring 61 circular openings or “occuli,” modeled after the eye of a fly, has found a permanent home at Crystal Bridges after decades travelling among international art shows.
“At Crystal Bridges, you really have the freedom to explore at your own pace,” says Lawrence. Make sure you allot plenty of outdoor time to explore the grounds, which are open sunrise to sunset daily. Crystal Bridges is surrounded by miles of nature trails that take hikers to sculptures, natural springs, native plants, waterfalls, and more. Lawrence recommends you take the Crystal Bridges Trail, which connects to the museum’s Art Trail to Skyspace, a James Turrell installation that transforms the sky, visible through a circular oculus, into something unforgettable through mesmerizing color changes at sunrise and sunset.
When planning your day at the museum, keep in mind your visit doesn’t have to end at closing time. You can catch the Chihuly Nights Music Series in the forest, featuring performances, family-friendly acts and activities, and a food truck (free with your Chihuly ticket and running every Saturday night, June 3 through August 12, 6 to 10 p.m.). Or stay for dinner at the museum’s renowned restaurant, Eleven (open Wednesday through Saturday evenings).
WHERE TO STAY
Lawrence’s first pick for out-of-towners—or staycationers, for that matter—is the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville (200 Northeast A Street). “It’s in a convenient location, and you can walk or bike the trails directly to the museum,” she says, noting that the hotel provides complimentary bikes. “In fact, you don’t even have to get in a car after you check in.” Staying at 21C will really round out your art lover’s weekend, since the hotel itself is a museum, with exhibition space featuring rotating contemporary works. As a bonus, from June 3 through August 14th, they’re offering a special package coinciding with the Chihuly exhibit that includes two tickets to Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest, among other perks, so be sure to mention the Chihuly package when you book.
The 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville.
If you’re looking for more of a B&B experience, check out The Victoria Bed & Breakfast (306 North Main Street), also within walking distance of the Crystal Bridges trail and Bentonville square. This charming, five-bedroom inn is located in an old Victorian mansion. “The breakfasts prepared fresh each morning are fabulous, Lawrence says. For a more immersive experience, THRIVE (401 Southwest A Street), located in the Bentonville Arts District, is a short-term vacation rental in a chic apartment building right around the corner from the downtown Square.
WHERE TO EAT
Bentonville may be a small town, but it comes with a very big list of dining options. Lawrence loves to take visitors out to eat on the square, and many of her favorite Bentonville dining locations are within walking distance of the accommodations listed above.
For weekend brunch, indulge in the popular ricotta doughnuts with coffee dipping sauce at Oven and Tap (215 South Main Street, Suite 3), or go lighter with the Green Machine Toast at PressRoom (100 Northwest 2nd Street, Suite 100). For a decadent brunch spread, try Table Mesa (108 East Central Avenue, Suit 10), which offers a range of options from a fajita bar to brioche French toast. If you’re looking for something quick and easy, then start your day like a local with a cup of small batch coffee from Onyx Coffee Lab (100 Northwest 2nd Street, Suite 106) and grab a crepe from Crepes Paulette Food Truck (213 Northeast A Street in Lawrence Plaza). Lawrence loves the fresh strawberry crepes—“Try them with Nutella,” she recommends—and the savory spicy chicken option.
Rebekah Lawrence on the Bentonville Square.
For dinner, The Preacher’s Son (201 Northwest A Street), located in a newly renovated church just steps off the square, has a locally inspired menu (Lawrence recommends the chicken schnitzel). In the mood for Italian? Then hit local favorite Tavola Trattoria (108 Southeast A Street) for the signature Sicilian ball (a risotto ball stuffed with Bolognese and mozzarella) and their signature special, the flaming moonshine pasta.
For a chef-planned menu, reserve a table at MOD Restaurant and Social (110 Northwest 2nd Street), which stands for Modern Ozark Dining, and enjoy a multi-course meal that features seasonal local ingredients, with no decisions necessary (other than red or white, of course). Or hop over to 21C’s restaurant The Hive to indulge in Chef Matthew McClure’s High South cuisine, which highlights the state’s unique local ingredients like pork, chicken, black walnuts, and peaches in summertime. Lawrence says you’ll want to try the chicken liver mousse for an appetizer and the wood fire-grilled pork chop, and if you’re going to have dessert, this is the spot. Try the always popular pecan pie, or Lawrence’s preferred sweet treat, housemade sour apple cotton candy.
WHERE TO WET YOUR WHISTLE
In Bentonville, the time to grab a drink is happy hour (things tend to shut down on the early side). Whether you’re in the mood for a handcrafted cocktail, a glass of wine, or a local brew, your options are plentiful.
In the basement of The Preacher’s Son, you’ll find a local secret, an underground speakeasy called The Undercroft. “It’s dark with soft, comfy seating. The perfect place to totally chill out,” says Lawrence. Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie (110 Southeast A Street) is known for its dinner menu, but Lawrence also loves the restaurant’s pub side, where you can come as you are to sample its famous housemade pork rinds and enjoy one of the inventive Bloody Marys on the cocktail menu.
If it’s a beautiful day, enjoy a glass of wine and charcuterie in the lovely outdoor garden at Ramo d’Olivo (217 South Main Street), a delicatessen and olive oil and vinegar store by day and wine bar complete with live music and an extensive list of by-the-glass options by night.
Finally, beer enthusiasts should get a taste of the burgeoning Bentonville craft beer scene at Bike Rack Brewing Co. (410 Southwest A Street), the town’s first and oldest brewery (it was established in 2013, not long after Bentonville became a wet county). Be sure to try the Urban Trail Golden Ale, Lawrence’s favorite Bike Rack brew.
WHERE TO SHOP
While you’re walking around the charming town square, pop into some of the unique shops to find local treasures and get to know the proprietors. A good place to start is In Season (220 North Main Street, Suite 1), which has a beautiful selection of made-in-Arkansas gifts, and if shop owner Debbie Matteri is in, chat her up. “She can tell you anything you need to know about Bentonville,” says Lawrence.
Looking for souvenirs? Then try The Mustache Store (100 Northwest 2nd Street, Suite 110) for unique, proprietary Arkansas t-shirts and whimsical gifts. Bleachers (110 East Central Avenue) has a selection of University of Arkansas sports memorabilia and Bentonville souvenirs and novelties. Remedy Road (114 West Central Avenue) sells unique, artisan-made clothing and accessories with a social conscience.
Selina Aguirre of Rollie Pollie with her Great Dane, Luna.
If you’re looking to round out your wardrobe, check out Label (116 West Central Avenue), a hip, contemporary women’s boutique that features this season’s must-have pieces along with the coolest brands of premium denim. If you’re shopping for him, stop into modern menswear store The Independent Denim and Essentials (110 Northwest Second Avenue, Suite 106) to browse stylish accessories (small leather goods, jewelry, and apothecary) and handsome, on-trend denim options. Connected to The Independent, Lola, a well-edited, eclectic, California-chic apparel and accessories boutique, will make you think you’ve stepped into a shop in L.A. Lawrence says to make sure you take a look at the collection of Thatch Jewelry while you’re there—the 14-karat pieces are handmade in San Diego, and the creator/owner of the line also happens to be a northwest Arkansas native and founder of Lola. Finally, pick up something for the kids and pay a visit to beloved shop dog Luna the Great Dane at children’s clothing boutique and toy store Rollie Pollie (112 East Central Avenue).
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday, then you can’t miss the Bentonville Farmer’s Market (Bentonville Square), which is open 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and features produce and products from local farms as well as crafts, flowers, and jewelry. “The road is closed off on the square for the market,” says Lawrence. “It is so much fun, with a band playing and dogs and kids everywhere.”
WHERE TO LEARN ABOUT LOCAL HISTORY
A trip to Bentonville would not be complete without taking in the Walton family legacy. Lawrence always recommends that first-time visitors stop by The Walmart Museum (105 North Main Street), an intimate space full of memorabilia that includes an exact replica of Sam Walton’s office. The original Walton’s 5 & 10 and Spark Cafe Soda Fountain are well worth the visit for a little nostalgia and a scoop of Arkansas-made Yarnell’s ice cream.
A sweet treat at Spark Cafe Soda Fountain.
For more insider tips on Northwest Arkansas from Rebekah, follow TSG Northwest Arkansas on Instagram.
Photography by Meredith Mashburn.