Why the Wal-Mart Town Is Your Next Weekend Escape
When you’re writing a wish list of places to visit for your next getaway, Arkansas doesn’t usually make the cut. However, a tiny town called Bentonville is making a lot of noise. This cultured community is a symbol of modern suburbia in the southeastern state, with gourmet restaurants, a world-renowned modern art museum, and trendy food trucks.
So what makes this town so different? Since the 1980s, Bentonville has been home to Wal-Mart's headquarters, which has about 28,000 employees. The retail giant’s founder, Sam Walton, and his family have invested heavily in the town. Just last year, the Walton Family Foundation funded $27 million in grants. Walton's daughter, Alice, spent billions on creating the town’s major tourist attraction, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and thanks to the family's continued sponsorship, there is no cost to visitors. Other attractions are on the way.
In a bid to attract young professionals (the home office usually has around 1,000 jobs open), Troy Galloway, Bentonville's community and economic development director, told The Washington Post “there’s a major effort regionally and locally to step up our game,” with plans to create a “place where people want to live, where they can spend their free time doing things they enjoy.”
Scroll down to see why you should consider Bentonville as your next getaway.
This modern gallery is sure to impress; even people who aren't art enthusiasts will love Crystal Bridges. If the museum’s permanent collection of American art doesn’t inspire, the trails and grounds surrounding the gallery will. This must-see maze takes you on 3.5 miles of winding paths through the 120-acre site with bumbling brooks, wildlife, and 460 species of plants. The museum recently acquired the rare the Bachman-Wilson House, originally built in 1954 by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The house will be available for study and tours in the fall.
This French crêperie might look like just another humble food truck from the outside, but the long line to order tells otherwise. Hidden off the street near the Crystal Bridges Museum trail entry, Crepes Paulette is a local foodie’s favorite. Made with buckwheat flour, the menu is split into savory (spinach, ham, egg, feta, salami, pesto, chicken, and bacon) and sweet (bananas, caramel, dark chocolate, fruit jams, and apple butter) options. These might be the best crêpes outside of France; it’s worth the trip just to have one or two.
Sam Walton opened his first store, 5&10, back in 1950 on Bentonville's town square. The store has been returned to its former glory, complete with the original floor tiles and tin ceiling. Even the same toys, candy, and books from that era can be purchased in the store. A walk through the back features an gallery showcasing the history of the Wal-Mart store and a glass-encased view of Sam’s first office. To finish the tour, visitors can enjoy an ice cream or drink at the Spark Café, an old-fashioned soda fountain.
Located just north of Bentonville, the Bella Vista area is home to several lakes, and they’re breathtakingly beautiful. They are the pride of the town, and are popular for many recreational activities, including fishing, boating, skiing, swimming, or for just for viewing the wildlife, such as bass, sunfish, hawks, owls, turtles, and water snakes.
This stunning chapel was designed by famed Arkansas architect Euine Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, using the principle of organic architecture, or designing to fit the environment. It was built to honor Mildred Borum Cooper—wife of Cooper Communities founder John A. Cooper Sr.—who “had a deep spirituality and love for nature.” A winding trail leads you to the towering monument, which is tucked away among the trees. This is a rare opportunity, and it is not to be missed.
Prepare for your trip to Bentonville with our picks below.
Have you heard of the Wal-Mart town? Would you choose Bentonville for your next visit? Let us know in the comments.
Opening photo: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art