Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Postcard From Bentonville: A Guide to the Top Sights, Scenes and Tastes

Imagine my delight upon arriving in Bentonville, Arkansas and discovering that it was more (much more, to be exact) than the Walmart capital of the world.  My discoveries traversed art, culture, inspiring insights into the Walmart legacy, and, without question, scrumptious cuisine.  To say my time there was anything other than indulgent would be to grossly under-represent how, from start to finish, this booming destination wowed me again and again.

The star in the North, Bentonville showcases its bucket list-worthiness across multiple spectrums, and today's postcard installment from my recent travels in Arkansas delivers my guide on what to see, do and taste, to ensure you experience the best of what the Natural State's Northwest has to offer.

See and Do

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
After a morning drive in from Little Rock, I landed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for an afternoon immersed in art, architecture and exploration--nestled on 120 acres of Ozark landscape.  And if you're anything like me, and known to spend half, or even full, days in a museum, then you can imagine my excitement around it all.  Founded by Alice Walton, her vision and philanthropy ensure the doors to this premier art museum are open to all and admission is complimentary.

Lunch Views
After a welcome lunch (more on that later), we embarked on a tour of the Bachman-Wilson House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, tucked away along one of the several nature trails.  From there, we returned to the main museum grounds enjoying self-guided tours of the Crystals in Art exhibition and, gasp, Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room.  It's fair to say that my visit was made then and there, having recouped the opportunity to take in this amazing artist's work after missing her exhibit in Atlanta.

From the Crystals in Art Exhibit
Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room
And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, a personalized, docent-led tour rounded out the visit and revealed another favorite installation by Kehinde Wiley, of Presidential National Portraiture acclaim and beyond. Without question, a day and/or night at this museum is a must-see and do.  Learn more and plan your visit here.

Kehinde Wiley's Signature Is Unmistakeable

Thaden Fieldhouse
How often does your day begin in the middle of a hangar, admiring a collection of helicopters and planes that will make you swoon and contemplate enrolling in the onsite flight school?  Probably not often, but a visit to Bentonville will change that when you take in a tour at Thaden Fieldhouse.  I couldn't resist a photo op inside the 'chopper before leaving.  I mean a girl needs proof of the awesomeness, no?!

The Clubhouse
Museum of Native American History
Culture runs deep at the Museum of Native American History where Indian history, spanning five different periods, is on full display in exhibit rooms designed in chronological order.  The gorgeous artifacts, and audio wands providing narration throughout the self-guided tour, brought this essential history to life in a powerful way that is not to be missed.  Admission is complimentary.

Walmart Museum
If you thought you knew most of what there is to know about Sam Walton, Walmart, and the Walton legacy, think again.  A morning touring the Walmart Museum not only astounded me regarding the phenomenal business empire that is now the number one retailer, Walmart, but the equally humble beginnings of founder, Sam Walton.  This legacy was brought to life with interactive exhibits and ended on a high note at the original Walton dime store, where ice cream, a 50s-style soda fountain, and more, give you the full 'way back when' aura of the early days.  Situated in the heart of downtown Bentonville, this family-friendly museum is worth exploring.

Special mention goes to The Scott Family Amazeum, perfect for kids--and kids-at-heart--and the 8th Street Market, a community-focused food hub in the heart of the Market District.

All that seeing and doing was punctuated by some of the best eats you could hope to get your taste buds around.

Eleven at Crystal Bridges
My arrival to Bentonville and the Crystal Bridges Museum began on the high note of lunch at the resident restaurant, Eleven at Crystal Bridges.  Labeled as High South cuisine, or elevated Southern home cooking, the dining experience at Eleven will satiate those home-cooked cravings, and the gorgeous, accompanying views will astound.

The Hive
Refined country cuisine is what's on the menu at The HiveSituated within the 21c Museum Hotel, the cuisine and beehive decor make for memorable dining. Executive Chef Matthew McClure has been acclaimed by FOOD + WINE and is a six-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef semifinalist (translation: you're in good phenomenal culinary hands.)  And if you know a great photo op when you see one, you won't miss the chance to get up close and personal with the green penguins hanging around. 

Louise Cafe
As if indulging my aviation dreams wasn't enough, my morning at Thaden Fieldhouse was made all the more special with breakfast at the in-house Louise Cafe, a modern all-day cafe that serves diner-style breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.  With both indoor and outdoor seating facing the runway, Louise Cafe provides incredible views of planes taking off and landing as you enjoy a great meal and dining experience.  The restaurant is named in honor of Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden; a proud Arkansan and one of the greatest aviators of her time. 

The Preacher's Son
Inevitably there's always a favorite in the bunch and The Preacher's Son was it for this seasoned foodie. As much for the gluten-free, sustainable and supremely delicious cuisine (I'm talking the best cornbread ever), the story behind this restaurant is equally endearing. As it goes, inspired by Chef Matthew Cooper’s background – as the son of a preacher, the restaurant is located in a beautifully restored, historic church, across the street from where Chef Matt’s father taught his first sermons over 40 years ago.  And during his visit with our party, Chef Cooper elaborated on his commitment to the farmers and other food purveyors that supply his restaurant and the broader food community.  Good eats + good deeds + gorgeous interiors make this restaurant a hallmark on the Arkansas dining scene and not to be missed when in Bentonville.

Special mention goes to Tusk & Trotter, where you'll find the best pork rinds and good BBQ in abundance; The Holler for cheers and games; and Undercroft (the speakeasy counterpart to The Preacher's Son) for an after dinner wind down with mellow vibes.

After my stay, it's clear that Bentonville is a destination filled with depth, commitment to the arts and history, a no-brainer playground for the outdoors lover, and a culinary bastion.  I trust you'll find my discoveries--and your own--to be more than worth the trip.

Happy Travels!



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