Hometown, Revisited: Satisfying The Body, Brain And Belly in Bentonville

Finding Our True North by Northwest (Arkansas)
Photo by Gabe Roux

IT’S BEEN SAID that Arkansas has 12 seasons: Winter, Fool’s Spring, Second Winter, Spring of Deception, Third Winter, The Pollening, Actual Spring, Summer, Hell’s Front Porch, False Fall, Second Summer, and Actual Fall. But where can you go to have fun, come rain or come shine (or come pollen)? Bentonville. You can reach for the heights at Climb Bentonville (an indoor rock-climbing gym) or test the waters at the Bentonville Community Center (where there’s an indoor pool, complete with water slides and an accompanying pool-party room), even as you look out the windows to see snow on the ground. You can stretch the limits of your imagination, taking in the paintings, sculptures and installations on permanent display at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art or head to the Scott Family Amazeum for hands-on, sciencey fun. And you can always taste the rainbow of one of the most varied palate-pleasing regions in our nation, whether you’re fiending for brews (at Bike Rack Brewing Co., perhaps?) or bread (Olly Makes Bakery for some gluten-free fare, maybe?) or brunch (we recommend trekking over to The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel, where four-time James Beard Award-nominee Matt McClure is plating gold). So, of course, Bentonville is a great place to work your body, improve your mind and feed your belly, but when is truly the best time to visit this cultural capital of Arkansas? We suggest June—because you’ll want to get outside before Hell’s Front Porch runs you back in.


The Place to ‘B’


Back in 2006, the Walton Family Foundation donated 180 acres of rugged terrain to be developed into trails. Since that time, the foundation has poured more than $74 million into cycling infrastructure in the town, and there are now more than 163 miles of trails in and around Bentonville. This strategy to bring in tourists (and to recruit and maintain Walmart HQ employees) has paid off in a big way. According to a study in partnership with PeopleForBikes, biking in Northwest Arkansas added about $86 million in total health benefits to the region (though the estimated $137 million of economic benefits is nothing to sneeze at, either). Over half a million cyclists now ride these trails annually, and if Slaughter Pen Trail (as the original land donated by Walmart is now called)—with its ladder bridges and wooden walls—is any indication of how cool these beaten tracks are, you should be, too.


Your brain needs just as much exercise as your body, and strolling the streets of downtown Bentonville can provide just such an opportunity. You can stop in at The Walmart Museum to learn about all things Waltonian or head to the 21c Museum and view some fascinating contemporary art. You can shop at the Spice and Tea Exchange, where you can increase your knowledge of food seasonings and fancy afternoon drinks, or at In Season, where they will help you master your own personal sense of style. Or challenge yourself to tease out the sometimes distinct, sometimes subtle flavors of Core Brewing Co.’s Arkansas-made craft beers. Are those notes of bananas and vanilla in the Heisenberg beer, or am I just happy to be drinking it?


You’ll be able to appease even the most insatiable of appetites at BITE NW Arkansas, a three-night food festival being held June 26-28 this year. Located at the 8th Street Market—a food-hub home to a food-truck park, a brewery and a farmers market (to name but a few)—BITE NW Arkansas aims to bring the best cuisines, ingredients, restaurants and chefs to the communal table. On the night of Wednesday, June 26, BITE’s theme will be SPARK, which offers to foster a new love for international fare without having to leave the comfort of home. On Thursday, June 27, BITE invites you to DISCOVER the world-class creativity found in The Natural State. And on Friday night, June 28, CRAFT will celebrate the local, playful side of Northwest Arkansas cuisine—from craft burgers to artisan snacks to local brews. With 72 restaurants and breweries, four James Beard chefs and 9000-plus attendees in 2018, the news of a 2019 expansion foretells a body-stuffing, mind-blowing, belly-busting delight for all.