My first and only visit to Arkansas brought me up close and personal with a city deeply rooted in arts and crafts, hard work, and community commitment.
Bentonville may be best known for being home to Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, but it finds a happy balance between preserving the past and soaring into the future.
The Walmart Museum
On my travels, I had the pleasure of visiting the Walmart Museum, a well-done museum with historical memorabilia telling the story of how Sam Walton’s uncanny business mind brought the world to know and love the Walmart name.
The Ben Franklin five and dime store, circa 1950, was Sam’s first official store, but it bore the name Walton’s. The Walmart name would not come about for 12 more years in 1962 at their first store in Rogers, Arkansas.
At the museum, signs with data about how many stores, year-end sales, profits, and new openings/endeavors is easy to follow as you make your way chronologically through the store that was once Sam’s Ben Franklin franchise. A man who didn’t show off his position or wealth, you can see Sam’s humble pick-up truck that he used until the day he died. Sam’s perfectly preserved office is in the museum, as well.
Continually running film footage inside the museum shows Walmart workers from around the country sharing thoughts of the stores, his missions, and work ethic run continually. President George H. W. Bush awarded Sam Walton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, the highest civilian award. Sam was sick at the time, so President Bush presented Walton with the medal at this museum. Around 400,000 people make their way through the Walmart Museum each year.
This May Spark Your Interest
At the end of your Walmart Museum visit enjoy a dip of ice cream at the Sparks Ice Cream Café. Of course, you don’t have to experience the museum to come in for ice cream.
Sam Walton was first and foremost a family man; he wanted his customers to be able to come into town and treat their kids to an ice cream for under $5, total. You can still do that at this adorable ice cream parlor where Butter Pecan (Sam’s favorite) is the most requested flavor.
Walmart grew to be the world’s largest corporation by revenue as well as the biggest private employer in the world and at one time Sam Walton was the world’s richest man. Walton credited his success with his people’s attitudes and hard work.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Sam Walton’s daughter, Alice, is the brainchild behind the amazing Crystal Bridges Museum. This huge glass contemporary structure sits on a 120-acre natural property. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a place to visit, wonder, reflect on nature, and see magnificent artworks, both inside and out. The colonial to modern day art museum opened in 2011 and offers free admission to the public.
Visitors range from school groups to locals, visitors from around the world to art connoisseurs; Crystal Bridges is attracting it all! Alice Walton is even kind enough to fund transportation and meals for school kids and teachers to visit Crystal Bridges throughout the year.
Between 300 to 400 pieces of American artwork hang or stand in the main galleries, with works by Andrew Wyeth, Mary Frank, and Charles Willson Peale. Be sure to see the impressive pieces by Evan Penny that will either scare you to death or wow you with the intricate details and how life-like they are. Special exhibits at Crystal Bridges run for months at a time.
Outside, art playfully dots the landscape and makes hiking and walking (four miles of trails) as much fun as exploring the inside of the museum.
Step into Crystal Bridge’s dining hall, Eleven (which reminded me of the Harry Potter movies), to have a casual lunch of farm-to-table fresh salads, sandwiches, and cheese or meat plates.
An Uber Trendy Hotel
Bentonville’s 21C Hotel is the fashionable place to stay while you are exploring the area. One of only seven, this art city museum/hotel combo is fun, trendy, and very picturesque. Art lines the walls, halls, and even includes a green Penguin that moves around the hotel all day long. You have to see this to understand it, perhaps, but it is all very fun.
Rooms are stylish, with high-quality linens, high ceilings, and Malin + Goetz bath amenities. The 21C boutique Hotel is within walking distance of Bentonville’s downtown, which will give you a little exercise as you wander around. 21C is pet-friendly, as well.
The dining scene in Bentonville, Arkansas is a force to be reckoned with, though that should come as no surprise with the growing popularity of the town.
My favorite meal was from The Preacher’s Son, a church turned restaurant with huge windows, dainty bird decorations throughout, and killer eats. I recommend the Chicken Schnitzel with smashed potatoes, Shaved Brussel Salad, Roasted Cauliflower, or Grilled Hanger Steak with parsnip, beets, and carrots. Each dish is fabulous!
Be sure to have a meal at The Hive while you are the 21C Hotel, as the menu and food quality are every bit as high as the hotel’s standards for everything else. Breakfast offers Buttermilk Pancakes with sorghum butter and Egg Sandwiches with sorghum sausage, tomato jam, and pickles.
Bentonville, Arkansas: A Place Naturally Wonderful
My travels afford me opportunities to see amazing places around the country. Bentonville was a place that really got me excited. I enjoyed seeing the city’s dedication to progress and being both a relevant and trendy tourism destination. It also has an unparalleled natural scene that is refreshing and pristine. I had a great first visit to Arkansas and can’t wait to see more of the Natural State.
Bentonville, Arkansas Photo Gallery:
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Thanks to the Bentonville CVB for hosting my stay and meals during our NATJA conference. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.