Over the past two years, I have found a true home away from home. I used to think that such a place for me was reserved for the shores of the Gulf of Mexico — places like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. And while I do still feel a fond sense of comfort with sand in my toes and a wave-filled backdrop, there is another spot that has grown very close to replacing the beach in my heart. The best part: I don’t even have to leave the state of Arkansas to get there.
Just before the holiday season began, I took yet another fulfilling trip up to the Northwest Arkansas hub. Like every visit, it was filled with adventure, excitement, hospitality and (of course) delicious food.
Like most of my trips to Bentonville, this one began with check-in at the 21c Museum Hotel, which I have always admired as one of the best hotels in the entire state. The people, the amenities, the rooms, the cleanliness and the experience is always top-notch, a cut above. Fitting the motif of the city in general, stepping inside the doors of the hotel is like arriving at a destination much further from home. (Picture Austin, LA, New York, Nashville, etc.) Their tagline is, “Contemporary art museum meets boutique hotel,” and I can’t think of a better way of describing it — other than, “Spectacular.”
When I have time, I love to incorporate a visit to the Walmart Museum in my NWA adventures, and this round was no exception. It’s such a rich experience to learn more about the man (and the family) that has really put and kept Arkansas on the map in a lot of ways. The wonderful guide, Karen Singleton, led me on a tour through all the different exhibits, which includes a mock-up of Sam Walton’s original office, interesting facts about the history of Walmart, and a one-of-a-kind rooftop experience. The setting includes Walton’s original 5&10 store on the Bentonville square, which takes the whole experience to another level.
Afterward, I journeyed over to Scotch & Soda to check out the cocktail list at one of the city’s favorite places to drink. I ordered the Mai.Tai.Thai.Tea. It was a mouthful in more ways than one; a delicious blend of spiced and Jamaican rum, curacao, Thai tea syrup, coconut condensed milk and lime. And I think I might love the atmosphere of the joint just as much as the drinks, which — believe me — is saying something. It’s a great spot for any occasion, be it a date, a night with friends, or even just a relaxing evening to reflect and unwind alone (on this occasion, I was the latter).
For dinner, it was back to my hotel for the delectabilities of The Hive. I’ve probably eaten more food there than at most of the restaurants in my home community of Central Arkansas, which should tell you just how good the fare is here. Every time I come to town, I make it a point to at least grab one meal from The Hive. (Bonus points for the convenience of being in the very hotel I was staying at.) On this occasion, I ordered the steak, which came with a side of crispy potatoes. It was divine, and I don’t use that word lightly. Chef’s kiss!
Oh, and did you know that the North Forest Lights is not just an exhibition singular to the holidays? This Crystal Bridges event carries on until mid-February, so I of course took another tour through this wonderful light show after dinner. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is my favorite thing to do in Arkansas. Words don’t do it justice; pictures only get a little closer. It’s just one of those things you have to see for yourself.
For brunch the next morning, I was welcomed with a smile by the staff at LOUISE, the cafe in the Fieldhouse at Thaden Field. Both the eatery and the venue are two that I also try to make a point to hit every time I’m in this part of the state.
The same can be said for the coffee at the Meteor Cafe. Coming into another busy day of sightseeing, I needed an extra jolt of caffeine, so a chocolate mocha from Meteor was calling my name. It’s one of the best cups of joe in the state.
Rejuvenated and ready to roll, I hit a few more of Bentonville’s wonderful attractions: the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve and Crystal Bridges to check out the Ansel Adams exhibition. Then, keeping it close to home for the Crystal Bridges folk, I made sure to also spend some time at The Momentary. Again fitting the motif of the city itself, these are all experiences that feel displaced from the reality we feel we have here in Arkansas. Each is so unique and stimulating in incredibly original ways. We are so fortunate to have access to these destinations in Arkansas. You can’t find them anywhere else.
Given the timing of my trip, I was also treated to the Christmas Lights on the Bentonville square during this venture. While you might not see these lit up again until next year, there is still plenty to see around the city that are, like the lights, free and open to the public. It is definitely worth spending plenty of time driving around and/or walking around to try and experience as much as possible. Some of my favorite sights are simply the art and murals scattered throughout the downtown area.
On my last morning in town, I found that familiar, bittersweet feeling of my time away being up. To remedy that back-to-reality moment, it was breakfast at The Buttered Biscuit. I’ve never met a meal I didn’t like at this local favorite, and it’s always clear that the general consensus is the same. The restrictions related to the ongoing pandemic have put getting a table here in even greater demand, but the food and the wonderful waitstaff always make it more than worth the wait.
Yeah, I’d say “home away from home” may not even do it justice. Bentonville has a piece of my heart I didn’t even know I had to give. It’s a true testament to not only the hardworking business owners, but the people behind the strings. Folks that I have grown to know well and respect dearly over the years, like Kalene Griffith and Aaron Mullins at Visit Bentonville. Their humble attitudes may not admit it, but I will: They are among the masterminds that have created such a destination in our home state. We owe them a great deal of respect and appreciation.
To all my new friends in Northwest Arkansas: See you soon. I can’t wait to come back.