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48 hours in Bentonville

The art capital of Arkansas.

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SEE, STAY, GO: Crystal Bridges Museum of Art is the big attraction.
  • SEE, STAY, GO: Crystal Bridges Museum of Art is the big attraction.

Bentonville is the 10th-largest city in Arkansas, but No. 1 in the number of significant American paintings, thanks to Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is also known as the headquarters of the company Alice Walton's father founded, Walmart. Before the Waltons became the best-known folks in town, there was Thomas Hart Benton, who was from Missouri but supported Arkansas statehood and was thus awarded with the town's name. He was an artist, too. So Bentonville's art cred goes way back. It will go way forward, too, when Walton's nephews open a new haven of the arts, 21st century style, with the Momentary, a multi-use arts space in what used to be a Kraft Cheese factory.

Rather ride a bike than look at art? There are 20 miles of bike trails, both for those who like to glide along and those on mountain bikes who dare to attack the Slaughter Pen Hollow's jumps.

It's not your grandparents' Bentonville.

Day 1

Drop off your bags (and check in later)

Art lovers will choose 21c Museum Hotel, at 200 NE A St., on the northeast corner of the town square. Besides luxe accommodations, 21c's 12,000 square feet of gallery space exhibit contemporary art by nationally acclaimed artists. It also has a great bar and The Hive restaurant. You'll be joined by big green plastic penguins, 21c's trademark bit of whimsy, at various times.

Or, if breakfast with new friends is more your thing, there's the Victoria B and B at 306 N. Main St. No penguins here, but it's not fusty either: There are Jacuzzis and vaulted ceilings and baroque beds. French is spoken there, for an extra je ne sais quois. If you plan to spend two nights, check out Thrive Retreat, 401 SW A St.; your pet can come, too. If you want to do your own cooking, the B Side Loft, 412 SW B St., is a garage apartment. All are within walking distance of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, your next stop. (There are also numerous major chain hotels, including the affordable and recently redone DoubleTree Suites by Hilton at 301 SE Walton Blvd.)

FOR SOME 19TH CENTURY CHARM: Stay at the Victoria B and B.
  • FOR SOME 19TH CENTURY CHARM: Stay at the Victoria B and B.

Head to Crystal Bridges and lunch

The walk to Crystal Bridges from the square is only about 10 minutes along a paved trail through beautiful woods. You'll be ready for lunch when you get there, so head to Eleven, named for the opening date of the museum (11/11/11). On a scale of 1 to 10, it's also an 11, thanks to a menu inspired by American comfort food (shrimp and grits, beans and greens, braised short ribs). The setting, on a glass-walled bridge, with a view of the museum and its ponds, beautiful light, with a Jeff Koons glass heart overhead, is both welcoming and chic. After lunch, it's time for a tour.

The Alice Walton-conceived and financed museum, tucked into a 100-acre ravine of Ozark hardwoods and landscaped to a fare-thee-well with native plants and sculpture, makes looking at art feel like getting a hug — even if that embrace is from Lynda Benglis' metal lumps or Claes Oldenburg's brain-like melting alphabet. The collection, indoors and out, is first-rate, from early masterpieces by Asher Durand, to the mid-century marvel the Fly's Eye Dome by Buckminster Fuller, to Nari Ward's shoelace installation "We the People" (2015). The Crystal Bridges trail, which pulses with the flow of families on foot and the fleet on two wheels, is one way to enter; you can also drive to the west entrance and descend to the museum, where Louise Bourgeois' 30-foot-tall spider sculpture "Maman" watches over the courtyard.

Time for a drink

No matter where you're putting up for the night, the bar at 21c is the place to go for an aperitif. There is probably no label you can't get here, from Balvenie scotch to Bulleit bourbon and beers and wines from around the world. Lots of thought and booze go into the cocktails, like the Rosie the Riveter (rum, apple brandy, cocchi rosa aperitif and mint) and the Kentucky Daisy (bourbon, grapefruit, ginger, lime and orange blossom water). So you don't fall out, the bar offers cheese and charcuterie plates, hummus, hamburger, a wild mushroom ricotta, pimento cheese, etc.

Dinner time

The shortest trek to dinner would be from the 21c bar to the 21c restaurant, The Hive, where award-winning chef Matt McClure dishes up what Northwest Arkansas restaurateurs call "High South" cuisine. Up for dry-aged beef tartare? Pumpkin pureed with apricots? Smoked pork belly? Make a beeline for the Hive. True to form, 21c has extended art to the dining room, which has been given a beehive treatment, complete with giant insects, by Canadian artist Johnston Foster.

Day 2

Eat again!

In good weather, check out Crepes Paulette, which serves sweet and savory crepes from its French-flag blue, white and red food truck near the entrance to the Crystal Bridges trail. Or check out Crepes Paulette's sitdown restaurant with crepes, soups, fancy cold drinks and beer and wine. 213 NE A St. (food truck) and 100 SW Eighth St. (restaurant).

SOME CALL THEM PANCAKES: But they're really crepes, at Crepes Paulette. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SOME CALL THEM PANCAKES: But they're really crepes, at Crepes Paulette.

Brought your kids? You're in luck.

Do your children like chocolate? Then head for the arts and science interactive Scott Family Amazeum, 1009 Museum Way (the road to Crystal Bridges' western entrance), where children experiment with the food of the gods in the Hershey's Lab. They can also tinker, climb in a canopy over the exhibit areas, visit a homestead cabin, control a giant SpongeBob puppet ... . They can even learn about the karst topography of the Ozarks, with the Amazeum's cave, complete with the sound of dripping water, cavefish and bats.

Brought bikes instead of kids?

Like virtually every other new development in Bentonville, the Walton family is behind this attraction: the biking and hiking trails that traverse the length of the town, 22 routes in all that circle Lake Bella Vista in the north to the Razorback Regional Greenway in the south that goes all the way to Fayetteville. There are trails for everyone from cruisers who like to just get from one spot to another to bruisers who tackle the Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Trail.

THE SLAUGHTER PEN: A trail for mountain bikers on Bentonville's Blowing Springs Tour.
  • THE SLAUGHTER PEN: A trail for mountain bikers on Bentonville's Blowing Springs Tour.

Lunchtime!

Matt Cooper is a preacher's son, so it makes sense that he should be the executive chef at The Preacher's Son, 201 NW A St., an upscale venture of the Walton-led Ropeswing Hospitality Group. The restaurant is in a renovated church with windows designed by Fayetteville artist George Dombek; its menu includes gluten-free items that get an extra creative kick from gluten-intolerant Cooper. It's newly opened for lunch. Or head to The Pressroom. A small venue with excellent coffee when it opened, it moved to a bigger edition a few years ago and now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in chic digs at 100 NW Second St. Don't be surprised by the cucumber in your water.

Learn about how Sam Walton made his bundle

The Walmart Museum is set in the former Walton's 5 & 10 on the square. It tells of Sam Walton's rise from running a Ben Franklin store in Newport to opening his own store in 1950 in Bentonville. The rest is history — told with photographs, documents, a recreation of Walton's office, the old red truck he was famous for driving and hauling Old Roy in, a gift shop and a soda fountain.

BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson

Splash with kids

In summer, Lawrence Park Plaza (conveniently located across from the downtown entrance to the Crystal Bridges Trail) is a splash park, with jets of water spouting up to cool your sweaty tykes. In winter, it's an ice rink, where Southerners learn how to stand and move in skates the way Northerners do from the moment they begin walking.

See Native American artifacts

If you can put aside your qualms about how the grave goods in the Museum of Native American History, 202 SW O St., were acquired, you and your kids may enjoy a trip to this museum, which displays the private collection of a Bentonville resident along with items borrowed from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Arrowheads, bows, clothing and ceramics from all parts of North America are on display.

NATIVE ART: At the Museum of Native American History.
  • NATIVE ART: At the Museum of Native American History.

Relax with a drink

Another place to have an adult beverage is back at The Preacher's Son, in the Undercroft Bar below the restaurant. An Undercroft Sazerac, made with Old Overholt rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters and lemon peel in an absinthe-washed glass, adds a little touch of the Big Easy to Bentonville.

Then eat dinner

When Crystal Bridges was under construction, the coastal smarts hired to come to work on the museum heard a new restaurant was coming to town: Tuscan Trotter. That's what they heard, anyway. But what really opened was Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie, 110 SE A St., a name that nods to the Razorback scene in Northwest Arkansas. In a nod to the hog, pork rinds, pork belly, pork shanks and pig ear nachos number among the beef and chicken dishes. Nice bar scene here, and you can get bacon in your booze. Other locally owned places to land: There are many. Check out Table Mesa, 108 E. Central Ave., for Latin cuisine, Thai Kitchen, 707 SW A St., for ... Thai.

Before you leave town ...

Stop by Pink House Alchemy, 1010 SW A St., and pick up one or two or more of the simple syrups this local business creates to flavor your cocktail or nonalcoholic spritzers. Find Ginger Shrub, House Bitters, Grapefruit Bitters, Dark Cherry Grenadine, Mexican Chile Simple Syrup, Hazelnut, and, yes, Pumpkin Butternut Spice — they inspire lots of drink ideas, no? Pink House is only open weekdays, but holds special events on some Saturdays, so you might find them in. Find a schedule on Facebook, @PhAlchemyHandcraftedSimpleSyrups.

DETOUR!

Before you head down I-49 back home Just a half-hour east of Bentonville is the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Even if the idea of a battleground doesn't light your fire, this 4,300-acre park, which commemorates the most significant battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi, is a good stop for all history lovers. You can drive the circumference of the park; stop at the overlook on Elkhorn Mountain and look down into the plain and imagine 26,000 men fighting for two days. The visitor center here has a film and helpful park rangers eager to tell you about minie balls and such.

Bring your kayak with you?

Siloam Springs, just a jog up the road from Bentonville, has something unique for kayakers: The Siloam Springs Kayak Park just south of town. The park is part of the Illinois River, and includes engineered rapids for folks to practice on (best at a flow of between 200 and 600 cubic feet per second). It's also open to tubing and swimming and general recreation; if a flood stage of 13 feet is predicted, the park will close. Check out a video of the park at siloamspringskayakpark.com. If you left your kayak at home so you could bring your bike, you can hit Siloam Springs' miles of mountain bike trails, including a new 5-mile stretch along Sager Creek that connects to other trails on the north and west sides of the John Brown University campus.

After all that activity, you'll be hungry, so go to famed restaurateur Miles James' Twenty-Eight Springs, 100 E. University St. The versatile James has come up with a menu that includes burgers and seared salmon, chicken-fried steak and a spinach, kale and mushroom lasagna. Something for everyone, see. Online reviewers raved over the desserts; make ours a Mai Tai with Plantation Stiggins' Fancy pineapple rum, El Dorado rum, house-made orgeat (simple syrup with almonds), house-made triple sec and lime juice.

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