You read that right.
Northwest Arkansas is absolutely delightful.
I know many of my friends were surprised by this declaration, but no one more so than myself. I think I left a part of my affection there.
As you’re planning summer trips, and family vacations this year, take a look, and find some time and space for your family to explore the many delightful surprises in Northwest Arkansas.
When I first landed in Bentonville, Arkansas I had no idea what to expect. My first impression as I stepped into the airport, was how clean, and quaint this regional airport was. They even have these darling rocking chairs in the airport for folks to rock out to. I had a feeling this was part of that “southern hospitality” I’d heard so much about over the years.
As our group of travel and lifestyle bloggers pulled up to the building of our hotel, it was unassuming, and almost industrial looking. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Right off the bat, we were greeted with two works of art, “The Orange Tree” by Alexandre Arrechea made up of a tree that sprouts basketball hoops, and “Making Change” by Monica Mahoney, a Cadillac covered in nickles, dimes, and pennies. As the friendly doorman ushered us through the entrance, it was easy to wonder if we were at the right hotel. I thought I was staying in just a typical hotel, instead I discovered I was staying in a significant museum, that just happened to also moonlight as a chic hotel.
If you asked me where you should stay, when you visit Northwest Arkansas, I’d say, without a doubt, you and your family must stay at the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville. As a longtime reader of this blog you know that my family and I absolutely love to travel. My girls will generally pick room service 10 out of 10 times, if I give them a choice; they also love art, and museums, and exploring new places. While I was visiting Northwest Arkansas I had some downtime to face-time with my daughters. I gave them a virtual tour of my room, as well as the hotel and museum, which they loved, but also made them quite upset with me, that they weren’t invited on the trip.
I would live at 21c if they would let me. First off, they do the hotel bit, so well. The amenities, the decor, the hospitality, is on par with large market hotels, but done in a way that gives personal attention, without being intrusive. They’ve mastered the details that elevate an ordinary hotel room, to a place you easily feel at home in. I’ve been to boutique hotels that take their personal attention too far up to the creepy factor, where I just wanted to be anonymous again. 21c has the right balance. Then there’s the food from The Hive restaurant, located inside the hotel. I wasn’t expecting it to blow me away. I’m kind of a food snob, living in California. However, this food snob was effectively humbled. The Hive in one word, delectable.
I explored all the art available at the 21c Museum Hotel. They have some collections that change from time-to-time throughout the year, and some permanent collections. Visit their website to stay up to date on the art they curate. The art collection includes pieces that are thought-provoking, interesting, and fun. While viewing the art, all I could think about was how much I wished 21c would open a museum hotel in my neck of the woods, here in Northern California. Why? So that my kids and their friends could have the luxury of viewing culture in their own community, freely, and as often as they’d like, all done in a sophisticated and inviting way.
I can’t say enough of how much I adore 21c. When you go, please take a selfie with the green penguins for me. They’re super sweet.
The Hive at 21c is a must. I had their breakfast, and I tried grits for the first time. Something about the name, grits had always made me a bit wary. I tried my first grits here, and they made something that sounds rather rough into a lovely, smooth, creamy, luxurious dish. The Hive takes food from the high south and refines it. The decor and ambiance of the restaurant makes this restaurant the it place to be in Bentonville.
Oven + Tap could not be more hip and cool. If someone had told me this is what was in the south, I would’ve raised an eyebrow. The vibe here is casual, and the food is what you’d want if you want a night on the town. I especially loved the duck and the brussels sprouts dishes. The duck was tender and the herbs on it were flavorful, like a party in your mouth. The brussels, just please, keep shoveling them in, thank you. I love that their menu changes with the seasons, and that they focus on made-from-scratch, and locally sourced ingredients. It’s like they speak my food love language.
Table Mesa Bistro is where it’s at for live music and modern latin flavors. One of their most popular dishes, which I will swear by, is found on their tapas menu as “Cheap Dates.” What is a cheap date? They take Medjoohl dates, and stuff them with creamy gorgonzola, cream cheese, and then they wrap those perfect gems into hardwood smoked bacon. You’re going to need two orders.
Pressroom Coffee is a darling little cafe that serves brunch and dinner. I was there for brunch and I loved how they served their tea. Big hot mugs and a tea bag balanced on a wood stick, steeping perfectly. I also had their brûléed grapefruit. Oh my heavens. Why have I not thought of this before?
Let’s just say that if you visit Bentonville, you won’t starve. In fact, you’ll bring your food souvenirs home with you, on your body. In other words, you’ll leave happy. You’re welcome.
I love how you don’t need a car in Bentonville. Take a walk, ride a bike and enjoy the scenery. In fact, when you step into Bentonville’s town square, you’ll swear you stepped back in time, right into the town of Hill Valley, from Back to the Future. All that’s missing, is a clock tower. The downtown area is filled with darling little shops, restaurants and if you want to learn more about Walmart, they have their own Walmart museum. The Walton family who founded Walmart, plays a large role in Bentonville. They donate a lot of their resources to Bentonville, and as a result, the community benefits from fantastic food, and world-class, cultural experiences.
Crystal Bridges is definitely the crown jewel in Bentonville, and all of Northwest Arkansas. I feel like photos and words won’t do this place justice. So I will simply, strongly encourage you to visit yourself. First off, the architecture of the museum maximizes the views from the gorgeous land it sits on. You get a view of the water and the natural landscape, that in and of itself is a sight to see.
The layout of how they curate the museum’s art is also done in an organized, beautiful manner. You can easily spend the day alternating between enjoying the works of art, and settling down at one of various alcoves for sitting and contemplating, as you enjoy the natural scenery. The building itself is a work of art. I’ve been to many art museums, and very few combine culture, sophistication, and a sense of humor, and whimsy. Crystal bridges encourages fun, and offers effervescent surprises and wonder to its participants. In what museum can you shout into Beethoven’s ear and hear his music play in response? I was unsure how loud to shout, but the usher in that room, told me to shout louder. That never happens in museums I’ve visited. This place is just wonderful.
I have to also mention a particular exhibit that I feel like was a once in a lifetime experience; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House. If you want to see true mid-century modern design, this is it. The home is gorgeous. The lines, the use of space, the history and philosophy behind his architectural style came alive for me, as I walked through this home. Wright was a fan of a great room for people to congregate together. He purposefully built bedrooms, bathrooms, entryways and hallways very small and tight, because he wanted to squeeze everyone out of those individual spaces, into a communal area. Walking around in the Bachman-Wilson House brought his sensibilities to life.
Wright also built carports, because he didn’t want families to have clutter. I totally agree with the decluttering movement, and am working to curb it in my life. Wright fascinates me with how he used architecture to promote how he believed we should live.
Scott Family Amazeum is an example of a kids museum done right. If you’ve visited other exemplary museums like San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, San Diego’s Reuben H. Fleet Science Museum, and Boston’s Science Museum, you’ll feel right at home at the Amazeum. The Amazeum has capitalized on the experiences and exhibits that work, and scaled them for their community in Bentonville. If you live in the area, and have kids, you need a membership. If you have kids and don’t live here, but are visiting, definitely treat the kids to this museum of play and exploration. I’m a fan of museums like the Amazeum that focus on providing opportunities for all children to play, without knowing they’re really learning.
Shindig Paperie, with locations in Bentonville and Fayetteville, is a darling stationary shop in the area. They hosted a lovely lettering class for us, by Alex from the Prarie Letter Shop, and Retrotender provided delicious drinks for us as well. I felt completely immersed in southern hospitality as I learned how to create beautiful hand-lettering. Well, let me rephrase, I tried. In the end, it’s the trying that matters. Luckily, I can keep practicing.
Razorback Regional Greenway is a 36-mile trail that links six downtowns from Bentonville to Fayettville. It’s a mixed-use trail that allows running, biking, walking, and beautiful views. I rode just a short portion of this trail, and it was fun. I’m not a serious biker, but I can see how you could easily become one having this in your community.
See, I told you I found some delightful surprises in Northwest Arkansas. Have you been to Northwest Arkansas? What are your favorites from the area?
ps. I was a guest of Northwest Arkansas for this trip to the area. They paid all expenses related to the visit. I am not being compensated for this post, all opinions, change of heart, and adoration are all mine.