Earlier this year, I wrote an article about Bentonville’s culinary scene and how it is changing to reflect the people living there as well as those visiting through its offerings. Bentonville is just one of many American cities rising to the challenge of putting diversity on their menu to create a place where all are welcome.
The city’s diversity offerings, however, don’t just stop at food. There is plenty to do in between having good meals that will showcase Bentonville’s history, culture, natural beauty and affinity for the arts.
Come For the Fun, Culture and Art
There is no doubt about it, Bentonville was put on the map by Walmart. For years, the city has been synonymous with the value-priced retailer, but that is slowly changing.
Whether you live in the Northwest Arkansas area, are coming into Bentonville for businesses or looking to discover a new travel destination that is different from what you are used to, here are nine reasons to explore Bentonville this summer and beyond:
1. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – Plan to arrive early and stay late at this beautiful museum that is the vision of Alice Walton. Opening in 2011, the museum offers free general admission to celebrate the power of art and beauty. Nestled on 120-acres of Ozark landscape, Crystal Bridges has welcomed more than 3 million visitors. Its art collection spans more than five centuries, starting with the Colonial times and ending with modern art of the 21st
As you stroll from century to century, you'll see a familiar artist in the Contemporary gallery. Work from renowned artist Amy Sherald, who painted Michele Obama’s portrait, hangs on the wall for the world to see and includes “She Always Believed The Good About Those She Loved” and “She Had An Inside and An Outside Now and Suddenly She Knew How Not To Mix Them.”
Grab a bite to eat at the museum’s restaurant, Eleven, before exploring the four-mile art and walking trails. Finally, a visit is not complete without visiting a rare Frank Lloyd Wright house that was preserved and relocated to the museum's grounds.
2. Museum of Native American History – My lack of knowledge left me surprised that Bentonville would have a museum dedicated to Native Americans. However, once you go, you'll see why. Founded by David Bogle, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation born and raised in Bentonville, the museum houses more than 10,000 Native American artifacts, taking visitors on a journey dating back 14,000 years.
Bentonville is a member of Heritage Trail Partners of Northwest Arkansas which documents the route traveled by five Native American Nations that were forced off their land by the Indian Removal Act signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830. The migration caused by the act came to be known as The Trail of Tears.
“Tusker,” a 12,000-year-old woolly mammoth greets you as you enter the museum to explore exhibits such as the Paleo Period (around 12,000 BC to 8000 BC) and Pre-Columbian Period and artifacts. Education programs and events are held monthly, with a Native artist leading a traditional craft activity each quarter.
3. Thaden Field – If learning to fly is something you’ve been longing to do or if you are experienced and looking for a new flying adventure, be sure to check out Bentonville’s Thaden Field. The FIELDHOUSE is home to a flight school, an exhibition hangar and FAA knowledge testing center. Summit Aviation offers flight lessons (plane and helicopter) as well as flight maps to those who are ready to take off. The OZ1 Flyer Club is a community of passionate aviators focused on reducing the cost of flying for everyone.
Before you lift off or after landing, grab a bite to eat at LOUISE which overlooks the runway. This year, visitors will also be able to rent a canoe to paddle along Lake Bentonville that is adjacent to the FIELDHOUSE.
4. The Walmart Museum – I worked for Walmart while a in high school when they first started opening and so a stop here was definitely on the list. Learn more about the man, Sam Walton, whose vision transformed the retail industry and whose legacy still lives on today through his family. Before entering the museum, walk through the Harrison Variety Store for nostalgic souvenirs as well as the original red and green tiles Walton laid down before remodeling.
A self-guided stroll through the museum will walk you through Walmart's humble beginnings that started in 1960. See Walton's office that is untouched, a collection of images and memorabilia. Before leaving, stop by The Spark Café Soda Fountain for some spark ice cream, sweets and something to drink. The Walmart Museum is open seven days a week and admission is free.
5. Regional Parks – Outdoor enthusiasts will love Bentonville for this reason alone. 16 beautiful parks act as more than just a place to enjoy nature. Orchard Park is the spot for the yoga in the park, 4th of July fireworks and summer concerts. Stay cool as Lawrence Plaza turns into a splash pad during the warmer months and an ice rink in the wintertime.
For hikers and cyclists, Bentonville has some of the single-track trails and paved pathways in the country that go on for miles. Together with its Bike Bentonville initiative, the city promotes a safe bike-friendly culture to residents and tourists with group rides and other gatherings that include an upcoming Bike Summit this August. Bike-friendly hotels in Bentonville allow you to store your bike in your room as well as use installed wash stations and provide a pump and tool kit.
6. Scott Family Amazeum – Get ready to have kid envy and lots of fun. The Amazeum offers 50,000 square feet of learning and family engagement with a play Walmart grocery store, 3M Tinkering Hub, Nature Valley Water Amazements, Nickelodeon Play Lab and fun experiments with Hershey candy in the Hershey Lab. There is a variety of educational programs for the family as well as plenty of outdoor space to enjoy activities inspired by each season. At just $9.50 for general admission per person, it is a family outing you can’t pass up.
7. Arkansas Wine Trail – For all our wineauxs out here, yes Arkansas has a wine trail. Home to around 14 wineries, viticulture in the state dates back to the 18th While the wineries are located outside of Bentonville, they are worth visiting. I had a chance to stop by Wiederkehr Wine Cellars which has been family-owned and operated since 1880. The winery has old charm reflective of the family’s Swiss heritage with a restaurant that features award-winning regional cuisine.
Joining the winery lineup in 2014 is Sassafras Springs Winery and Vineyard with its picturesque views. Voted Northwest Arkansas’s #1 winery, schedule a tour, enjoy tasting red and white wines produced from grapes grown in the vineyard and pair them with bites that include salads and pizzas. Sassafras is also a premier wedding venue with The Lodge offering accommodations for two opening later this year.
8. Haxton Road Studios – If you are a recording artist or aspiring to be one, Bentonville just may an up-and-coming city for music. Rated as a five-star experience with state-of-the-art equipment, the studio also writes songs and has relationships with major music labels in Nashville and Los Angeles. If you need a place to focus on your art and record that next hit, Haxton may be the place to consider.
9. Old Spanish Treasure Cave – The legend goes that more than 350 years ago, Spanish conquistadors traveled to the area to find gold. While they didn’t find it, it is believed that the Spaniards did and hid it before being killed by Indians. Today that treasure is valued at more than 40 million dollars.
Come to find the treasure, take a tour or better yet, enjoy one of the underground movie night events.
Bentonville by all accounts is a city flying under the radar. Its transformation over recent years is not only exciting to those who live there but also individuals and families looking for quality living that includes nature, the arts and culture. I predict the best is yet to come and with that, I certainly look forward to returning to witness it again first hand.