Bentonville, Arkansas attracts different types of people for different reasons. Outdoor enthusiasts. Art lovers. Families. When my friend, Rox, heard we were headed to Bentonville, she said “Go for the mountain biking. Stay for the art.” It could be the town’s new tourism slogan. Keep reading to hear about the fun things my family enjoyed in Bentonville, from art to outdoor fun.
Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Visit Bentonville. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.
Where is Bentonville?
Bentonville is nestled in the picturesque Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, not too far from the Missouri border. For a town of about 57,000 people, it’s an unexpected gem of a place to visit, especially for families. We left wanting to return! Since we visited in the winter, a spring or summer return is already in the works for us.
The charming town, best known as the birthplace of the retail giant Walmart, offers small-town hospitality and world-class attractions. Seriously, they are rich with cultural attractions and beyond lucky to be surrounded by so much art and natural beauty. From the stunning architecture of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to the vibrant downtown area lined with charming storefronts, Bentonville is a place where history, culture, and natural beauty intersect.
Our visit to Bentonville was part of a longer road trip, but Bentonville could easily be a destination of its own. When we explored Bentonville, it was winter and it was such a pleasant visit, the entire family decided we need to return when the weather’s warmer so we can experience more of it!
Outdoor Winter Activities in Bentonville
One thing you need to know: Bentonville is for outdoorsy families no matter the season. And if you love bike riding, you’re doubly in luck. This is your kind of town. The first place to go to get a taste of the outdoors is Coler Mountain Bike Preserve.
Obviously, Coler is geared toward mountain bikers. There are trails for all ranges of experience levels, including several beginner-friendly (and still scenic) trails. There’s also a paved trail for those wanting a smoother ride.
The same trail is perfect for walkers. My daughter and I scouted it out one cool morning. We did a little bird watching, snapped a few photos, and looked for Airship Coffee located in the preserve.
From November to February, Lawrence Plaza in downtown Bentonville turns into the city’s most popular outdoor ice skating rink. I visited the ice rink with my two kids one evening, skating to music under twinkle lights. Families, couples and groups of teens joined us. It’s pretty reasonably priced to rent skates and skate for an hour!
Indoor activities in Bentonville
There are a couple of interesting museums in Bentonville that are perfect places to warm up on a cold winter day. The amazing thing was that all of the museums we visited — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Museum of Native American History, and The Walmart Museum — were all free to visit.
My favorite stop was Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, located in a building that’s as much of a piece of art as the collections inside. The museum features art spanning centuries in its permanent galleries, as well as temporary exhibitions. We were lucky enough to catch the “Annie Leibovitz At Work” while there. That particular exhibition was an additional ticketed fee. What’s interesting with the museum is the curation of each area of the museum — it’s unexpected and done extremely well.
If you’re visiting with kids, be sure to check out The Studio for hands-on activities and art projects to make-and-take with you. I’m fairly certain your kids will also experiencing Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room,” a colorful and immersive exhibit by the artist known for her use of polka dots.
Tip: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is located super close to the Amazeum, a children’s museum!
And just to reiterate how much Bentonville loves the outdoors, Crystal Bridges has several walking trails, including the Art Trail that’s dotted with sculptures. The museum property is also home to the Bachman-Wilson House, a gorgeous home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. General admission to the home is free, but tickets are required due to limited capacity.
Another extension of Crystal Bridges is The Momentary, a gathering place for visual arts, live performances, food and more. As they say on their website: “If it moves you, we’re into it.” The campus is free to visit.
The Museum of Native American History is pretty much one man’s collection of artifacts. Now, if that sounds unimpressive, know that there 10,000 of items on display from tribes all over North and South America. There’s a self-guided audio tour to explain what you see.
Kids will like looking for modern-made, hand-knapped arrowheads hidden in the rocks in front of the museum and around the tipi. They can keep one for free! They may also be impressed with the wooly mammoth skeleton on display inside.
Finally, there’s The Walmart Museum, which was at a temporary location (called The Walmart Museum Heritage Lab) during our visit. Walmart has a massive presence in Bentonville. Sam Walton opened his first Walton 5&10 in Bentonville in the 1950s, and then in the 1960s, Walmart was born.
The museum explores the evolution of the company, and features displays of everything from innovations to uniforms through the years to a hologram of Mr. Walton (or should I say, Mr. Sam the Hologram). My favorite? The display of the comical customer returns over the years. Seriously, if you go to see just one thing, go to see the Wall of Returns.
While we were only in Bentonville for two days, we had a chance to try a variety of food. Our breakfast served a complimentary hot breakfast, so we didn’t dine out in the morning. But, if you’re into light breakfast with really good coffee, check out Airship Coffee. There are a few locations in Bentonville to choose from!
For lunch and dinner, you’ve got choices. For pizza, head to The Pedaler’s Pub for delicious wood-fired pizza. Try the Alpe, a pizza topped with thinly-sliced ribeye steak, spinach, feta cheese, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and chopped basil on an olive oil and roasted garlic base. It really hit the spot!
The atmosphere at The Pedaler’s Pub is super fun, as well, especially if you love biking. Bike jerseys line the walls and great music plays throughout the room.
Another place that wins for fun atmosphere is Flying Fish. While you wait for your food, soak up all the funny decor. My favorite wall to inspect was the World’s First Billy Bass Adoption Center, which had dozens of Bill Bass on the wall, many with very unique custom decorations added to them. The food, by the way, is Cajun with an emphasis on seafood.
YeYos is a colorful Mexican restaurant in a great little area of Bentonville called Eighth Street Market, which is home to some locally-owned shops and eateries. YeYos was a busy spot when we went for lunch. Be very careful with their addictive warm, fresh tortilla chips served with salsa cruda. You can overeat before your meal even arrives!
Tip: Explore Eight Street Market while you’re there. You can’t miss the smell of Markham & Fitz, the chocolatier next door to YeYos. And, there’s also a cute textile store called Hillside and a bookshop called Two Friends Books. Plus, for the kids, there’s a boulder for climbing off to the side.
Even in the winter, my family trips have to include ice cream. There are several options in Bentonville, but the night we were looking for the sweet treat, only one was still open at the late hour: Superfine Sweet Shoppe. The shop serves up housemate ice cream in 12 flavors. The memorable part of the place was that it was super, super brightly decorated. The interior was washed in pinks and yellows.
Where to stay
When traveling with two kids, finding a hotel that had both a pool and complimentary breakfast is important. And if it can be centrally located to most activities, well, even better. That was the case for La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Bentonville. The indoor pool and hot tub was a welcome sight after a day of exploring Bentonville outdoors!
The free breakfast at the hotel had both hot food, like eggs and waffles, and continental-style fare like cereal and oatmeal. The whole family found plenty of food to fuel us for the morning.
Will we return?
Without a doubt, my family will be back to Bentonville. The northwestern region of the state has a lot of unexplored territory waiting for my family to experience, and Bentonville (and its trails) are top on our list. I think your family will also enjoy visiting this community that takes pride in its rich history, culture, and natural beauty.