Surrounded by pretty Ozark woodlands in Arkansas’ northwest corner, arts-centric Bentonville has become a hub for culture, mountain biking and big business
By Randy Mink, Senior Editor
As anyone familiar with Arkansas cities knows, Bentonville is the birthplace and corporate headquarters of Walmart Inc. But this community of 56,000 has a lot more going for it, tourism offerings included.
Located in the Ozark foothills of northwest Arkansas, not far from the Oklahoma and Missouri borders, Bentonville is recognized as a world-class arts center and mountain biking hotspot as well as home to the world’s largest retailer.
Thanks to its business climate, cultural attractions and outdoor recreational activities, not to mention small-town friendliness, the fast-growing town ranks high in surveys of the most desirable places to live in the United States.
Fronting the Benton County Courthouse, a traditional downtown square hosts musical sessions, special events and a Saturday farmers market. Restaurants, breweries, coffee shops and boutiques keep the place hopping throughout the week.
Museum Exhibits Tell the Walmart Story in Bentonville, Arkansas
On one side of Bentonville Square resides the storefront where Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, got his start. Now the Walmart Museum, the building on Main Street houses the original Walton’s 5 & 10, a variety store the visionary merchant opened in 1950, 12 years before establishing Walmart Stores, Inc.
Though the Walmart Museum is closed for extensive renovations through spring 2024, visitors to downtown Bentonville can catch the Walmart story a few blocks away at the shrine’s temporary home, called Walmart Museum Heritage Lab. On view are Walmart uniforms through the years, a LEGO model of the original five-and-dime and the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President George H.W. Bush awarded to Sam Walton in 1992 at the Walmart auditorium in Bentonville, three weeks before the entrepreneur’s death. Interactive touchscreens reveal details on the lives and accomplishments of Walton’s children in the fields of business and philanthropy.
The temporary museum’s most engaging feature is Mr. Sam the Hologram, an uncanny digitally generated likeness of Walton sitting on a stool wearing his blue Walmart cap. Visitors to the renovated museum will be able to ask Mr. Sam questions and hear responses from a list of 240 things that Walton said or would have said. Among questions that will be answered in his digitally engineered voice:
- What makes you proud of Walmart?
- Would you tell us your 10 rules for building a business?
- Would you tell us about Ol’ Roy? (Walmart brand dog food)
- What was it like receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
- Would you tell us about your dad?
Walmart Museum Heritage Lab occupies space on the first floor of Ledger, the world’s only bikeable building. Cyclists are able to scale the exterior ramps all the way up to the sixth floor for panoramic views of Bentonville. (Some of the hydraulic cranes on the skyline are stationed at the new Walmart headquarters under construction.) Ledger provides furnished offices for set periods of time on a membership basis.
Biking is Big in Bentonville
A top-rated cycling destination for riders of all levels, Bentonville bills itself as the Mountain Biking Capital of the World. Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, a five-minute bike ride from downtown, offers more than 17 miles of trails and is connected to more than 250 miles of natural-surface trails in northwest Arkansas. The town hosts a number of annual cycling events.
The Walton Family’s Gift to Bentonville
For walking and hiking, some 20 miles of urban trails meander through the town. One trail leads from downtown to Bentonville’s most impressive visitor attraction—the free-admission Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The one-mile Crystal Bridges Trail connects with the sculpture-dotted Art Trail, one of several forested walking/biking trails on the museum grounds, each with its own plant life, terrain and ecosystem.
Hundreds of spring-blooming dogwoods beautify the North Forest Trail. The Crystal Spring Trail features a natural spring that flows from the ground at a cool 50 degrees and feeds into the museum’s ponds.
Overlooking Crystal Spring is the reconstructed, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bachman-Wilson House, which is open by reservation for guided and self-guided tours. The 1954 Usonian-style home was disassembled and then reconstructed at Crystal Bridges after being threatened with flooding on its original site in New Jersey.
Uniting art, architecture and nature, Crystal Bridges is nestled in a ravine surrounded by 120 acres of gardens, manicured lawn and lush Ozark forest. Built over water, the complex of gray concrete pavilions and bridges covered in bands of deep brown copper is the brainchild of Alice Walton, the only daughter of Sam and Helen Walton. Most of the wooded property originally belonged to the family, and it’s where Alice and her brothers played as children.
The billionaire art collector is the founder, a board member and chairman emeritus of Crystal Bridges, an internationally recognized institution that opened in 2011 and is undergoing a major expansion to be completed in 2026. Near the south lawn are an actual-size bronze of Alice’s beloved dog Friday and a water fountain that invites dogs on the trail to have a drink.
Crystal Bridges’ galleries present more than five centuries of American masterworks, from colonial times to the present. Museum-goers will see iconic paintings like Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington and Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, plus works by the likes of Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Weekday tours and meal packages for groups of 10 to 60 persons may be arranged through Crystal Bridges’ group tour department. Public tours lasting 45 minutes to an hour are offered regularly. For an audio tour, individuals may download the Crystal Bridges app on their personal device or check out an iPod pre-loaded with the app.
The museum’s lunch restaurant, Eleven, occupies a glass-walled bridge overlooking the ponds. Its name is derived from the museum’s opening date—the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2011.
Bentonville’s Other Artistic Assets
The Momentary, a Crystal Bridges satellite that opened downtown in 2020 in a former cheese factory, offers the latest in cutting-edge visual art. General admission is free. Its vast industrial spaces also stage culinary experiences, fashion shows and film festivals. Concerts on the green, the region’s biggest music venue, accommodate up to 5,200 people. The top-floor Tower Bar is loosely inspired by 1960s airport lounges.
In Bentonville, art seems to be everywhere you look. The town boasts more than 130 pieces of public art, mostly murals and sculptures, and new pieces are added on a regular basis. A parking garage sports a large neon installation, and there are smaller neon works elsewhere.
For those who want to immerse themselves in art, downtown Bentonville’s 104-room 21c Museum Hotel is the place. A contemporary art museum coupled with a boutique hotel and chef-driven restaurant, it is one of 10 locations of 21c, a hotel group that showcases art of the 21st century in common areas and on guest-room floors. Each property offers curated rotating exhibitions, commissioned site-specific installations and regular cultural programming, often with a regional slant. Overnight guests will find art in their rooms and behind glass at elevator banks. The Hive restaurant has an artistic flair of its own.
The eye-catching art installation outside the hotel entrance is a Fleetwood Cadillac limousine decorated with thousands of pennies, nickels and dimes. Inspiration for the coin motif in Making Change, the creation of artist Monica Mahoney, comes from the original Walton’s 5 & 10. The car was built in 1962, the same year that Walmart was established, and the coins total $952, the dollar amount that, according to the artist, Walmart saves each household annually. The hood features the 21c logo and a bar code pattern, which references the technology that makes today’s global commerce possible.
For more travel ideas about Arkansas and vicinity, be sure to Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel magazine for FREE.
Lead Photo – The original Walton’s 5 & 10, now a museum, resides on Bentonville’s town square. (Photo credit: Arkansas Tourism)