Updated for 2021– As a self proclaimed Southern Ambassador, I’m embarrassed to admit that just a couple of years ago, I knew very little about the state of Arkansas. Any first hand knowledge I had, was from driving across I-40 on a road trip to California. So when I was invited to visit Bentonville for a “Savor Arkansas” culinary tour, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about it. And what I learned is: Bentonville is wonderful! It’s got a charming small town vibe with big city activities. A destination perfect for families and with access to so many natural areas, Bentonville is a great choice for those looking for an active vacation. Honestly, there’s a lot of reasons to visit Bentonville but here’s 5 good ones to get you started.
Reason #1 to Visit Bentonville: Delicious Food
If you didn’t already know, Bentonville is home to Walmart’s corporate offices. As a result of doing business with vendors and people from all over the world, the community is bound to be influenced. One of the first things I noticed in Bentonville was the diversity of food choices.
Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Greek and Salvadorian, are just a few of the different cuisines I saw. You want ramen? You got it. Have a taste for arepas? You can get them too. For a Southern town of less than fifty thousand, there are tons of food choices that even many larger cities don’t have.
Two of the restaurants at which I had the pleasure of dining, have James Beard nominated chefs. The Preacher’s Son and The Hive turned out to be two of the best meals I’ve ever had. Who wouldn’t enjoy eating a meal in a church built in 1904 that’s now a restaurant? Or a restaurant in a hotel that has it’s own museum AND serves cotton candy for dessert? If those aren’t reasons to visit Bentonville, then I don’t know what is.
One of the best ways to create community is to create spaces where the community can actually get together and enjoy where they live. Bentonville is full of these kinds of places. One of these is 8th Street Market. In what was once a Tyson facility, there’s now a community focused food hub. Restaurants, shopping, and even a brewery, all under one roof. The space is even designed to host a weekly farmer’s market out front.
With so much growth in the area, there’s a huge need for chefs and food industry workers. Just like they do for everything else, Bentonville met this challenge head on and created Brightwater: A center for the study of food. Located in the same 8th Market building, the culinary school is a division of Northwest Arkansas Community College. They offer training in culinary nutrition, artisanal food, beverage management and food entrepreneurship.
The best part is anyone can take a class. Individuals, students and professionals can get the training they want or need. To give their chefs in training experience, Brightwater caters events on site and works closely with the restaurants in the market. They even have a hydroponic greenhouse and grow a lot of their own food. The focus on local and seasonal food teaches students that what goes into the kitchen is just as important as what comes out.
Reason #2 to Visit Bentonville: World Class Museums
Just like the food, there’s no lack of diversity in the arts in Bentonville either. The Walton family foundation and the community work hard to produce the best museums they can. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Crystal Bridges, a Museum of American Art, is the vision of Sam Walton’s daughter Alice. Since it’s opening, the museum has redefined what’s considered art. Not afraid to take chances with exhibitions, a visitor to Crystal Bridges knows they are in for something special as soon as they see “Yield” by Roxy Paine and “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois outside.
From the placement of the buildings in the woods to the water that surrounds the museum, the setting is simply amazing. Visitors can enjoy walking trails, unique sculptures and an entire Frank Lloyd Wright house, moved piece by piece from New Jersey, without ever going in the building.
Once inside, there are works from famous artists like John Singer Sargent, Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol, all in the same room. In some areas, art is strategically placed to draw your eye outward to nature to give your vision a rest.
Southerner Says: Not traveling right now? Crystal Bridges offers weekly virtual gallery tours. Check the schedule here.
Museum of Native American History
Like a lot of things in Bentonville, visiting the Museum of Native American History was a huge surprise. The museum is FULL of interesting art and pieces. It takes visitors on the 14,000 year journey of Native Americans with a goal to educate people that Native Americans aren’t just what you see on TV and in movies. And they certainly weren’t just in a few areas of the country.
The museum cares for over 10,000 artifacts that represent most tribes from South America to Canada. Kids will love the huge mammoth skeleton, “Tuskers”, from Siberia that guards the door. There’s even a real tee pee outside. Some of the displays are interactive and just in case you want to know what you would have looked like in full tribal makeup, there’s a place for you to see that too.
The Scott Family Amazeum
The Amazeum is perfect for kids, but with 50k square feet of exhibits, play areas and learning spaces, there’s really something for everyone in the family. Part museum, part science experiment, there are all kinds of activities, educational programs and things to climb on. Take time to enjoy the murals and the generally happy vibe of the place. Of course, it’s Bentonville, so you know there’s a small kid sized Walmart to play in.
Last but not least, the Walmart Museum is a must stop when visiting Bentonville. Sam Walton opened his Walton’s 5-10 in 1950, right on the Bentonville Square. Even though he isn’t originally from there, it’s where he created his business and watched his family grow up.
As you tour, you can see Mr. Walton’s office just as it was on his last day there. See the truck he drove and learn about his dogs. You’ll find out that Mr. Walton loved ice cream. In fact, it played a huge part in the success of his store. The Spark Cafe, in the museum is designed to like a vintage ice cream shop with Mr. Walton’s favorite flavor, butter pecan. There’s even a special Walmart “Spark” flavor, named after the bright yellow spark in the logo.
Nature is a Great Reason to Visit Bentonville, Arkansas – #3
With sixteen parks in the area, Bentonville is all about encouraging people to get outside and get moving. Dog parks, kid’s parks and green spaces are just a sample of how Bentonville has taken advantage of their beautiful Ozark surroundings. They’ve created over 40 miles of bike paths and walking trails with different types of terrain. Many of the trails connect downtown with parks and even Crystal Bridges.
Fishing and boating abound in the nearby lakes and rivers and Climb Bentonville, the only of it’s kind, has has climbing and fitness facilities.
Reason #4 to Visit Bentonville: Aviation
Even though I love road trips, there’s enough room in my heart for airplanes too. So it was exciting to see what Bentonville is doing at it’s airfield, Thaden Field.
The Fieldhouse at Thaden Field, named after female aviator, Louise Thaden, gives pilots a place to hangout however, the goal is to make learning to fly easier for anyone. If you’ve ever had the desire to learn and did research into what it takes to get a pilot’s license, you probably found out that for one, it’s not the easiest thing to do. And two, if you find a place for lessons, it’s pretty expensive. The Fieldhouse wants to change that and make flying more accessible.
Not just for pilots, The Fieldhouse is also open to the public. Stop by and visit the exhibition hangar featuring displays and interesting facts about Louise Thaden. It’s noteworthy that Thaden, born in Bentonville, set world records, was a friend to Amelia Earhart and was the first woman to win a National Air Race. She was an aviation pioneer and in true Bentonville style, they want to honor that. There’s even a restaurant named Louise inside.
The Best Reason to Visit Bentonville, Arkansas
Perhaps the best reason of all to visit Bentonville, is the reason I saved for last. And that’s the people that live there. After all, a community is only as good as it’s people and people make a destination worth visiting. Time and time again, throughout my visit, I was amazed at how nice and helpful people were. I was speechless at the effort and planning the city of Bentonville puts into creating a thriving, happy community. At the same time, as they plan for the future and move forward, they honor their past and acknowledge how they got to where they are now.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit Bentonville. Sometimes we just need a little help to see an overlooked place. Even though Bentonville wasn’t on my radar before, it certainly is now. I can’t wait to visit again and see what else they have planned.
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Where is Bentonville + How To Get There
Bentonville is located in the northwest corner of Arkansas in the Ozarks. It’s 215 miles from Little Rock and 209 miles from Kansas City. You could stay downtown and walk to some of Bentonville’s touristy sites but it’s best explored by car. Taxis, Uber and Lyft are also available.
Fly Into Bentonville
The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) located southwest of the city services Bentonville. (Thaden Field is for smaller aircraft) The airport serves the greater Bentonville area, Springdale, Fayetteville, where the University of Arkansas is located, and Rogers, Arkansas. I flew on a direct flight from Atlanta. However, depending where you fly in from, there might be a layover city.
Drive to Bentonville
Arkansas, the Natural State, is a wonderful and easy state for road tripping. With 52 state parks and several national park units, there’s something for everyone and you don’t have to drive far to find it. The Northwest Arkansas area is the perfect place to start a road trip that includes more of the Ozarks and the Buffalo National Scenic River.
Located conveniently off of Interstate 49, Bentonville is easy to get to and to get around in, whether you fly or drive.
Where to Stay in Bentonville
- Hilton Garden Inn – I was hosted at the Hilton and really enjoyed my stay there. The hotel is convenient to Bentonville’s downtown and other features. I stayed in a suite and it would be perfect for families with small children. The hotel has an on-site restaurant, indoor pool, fitness center, is pet friendly and offers free parking.
- 21 c Hotel – even though I didn’t stay at the 21c, we did have dinner at The Hive one night. The restaurant and hotel is beautiful and they even have their own museum on-site.
- If neither of those hotels suits your fancy, Bentonville has plenty of other choices that can be booked via Booking.com.
- From cottages in the woods to downtown apartments, here’s a few of my Airbnb favorites as well.
How Much Time Do You Need to Visit Bentonville?
I recommend at least 3 days to visit Bentonville, if you want to see everything mentioned here. However, there is much more to do in the area. Another museum, The Momentary has been added to the arts lineup. It is kind of a sister museum to Crystal Bridges and features visual, performing and culinary arts. A new park, Osage park, has just opened and it features family friendly elements in an urban park setting. I really thing you could spend a week in Bentonville and include some day trips to nearby state parks and a national forest, and have plenty to do.
Thank you Visit Bentonville for inviting me to get to know a little bit about Bentonville and experience it first hand. Even though I was hosted by them, all the experiences and opinions are my own. If you plan to visit Bentonville in the near future, please check their website before you go to find out what’s open and how to travel responsibly.