When we embarked on our journey to Bentonville, Arkansas, we were prepared for the unexpected—and that’s certainly what we got. We now understand why the art world is abuzz, and why publications like The New York Times (“…undeniable brilliance...”) and USA Today (‘Mayberry Goes Manhattan’) had struggled to reconcile what it was they were seeing in the heart of the Ozarks.

But one only needs to stand before the museum marvel that is Crystal Bridges to get it. At first glance, copper, concrete, glass, cedar and Arkansas pine seem to have risen from the depths of a ravine to forge an architectural feat in the form of Moshe Safdie’s dazzling monument that in and of itself is a work of art. The building, nestled among 120 acres of gardens, trails, ponds and lush forest near downtown Bentonville, houses one of the premier collections of American art in the world.

Founded by Walmart heir Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art contains pieces rarely seen prior to the museum’s opening. Its permanent collection spans five centuries and includes artwork that have been part of the fabric of American lore: Charles Willson Peale’s George Washington, Winslow Homer’s Spring, Roy Lichtenstein’s Still Life with Stretcher, Mirror, Bowl of Fruit, Andy Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle, and even the original Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell all are here…and that’s just the beginning of a very impressive list. Make plans to spend at least one full day exploring, although a two-day visit is better.

There is no other way to experience Crystal Bridges than to complement it with a stay at 21c Museum Hotel downtown. As its name implies, the ‘museum’ part of the building shares top billing with 21c’s impeccable accommodations. The hotel, located on the northeast corner of the town square and within walking/biking distance via scenic trail to Crystal Bridges, boasts its own curated rotating contemporary art exhibitions, from paintings to indoor and outdoor sculptures. And despite its sleek, contemporary appearance, the hotel blends seamlessly into its surroundings—and that’s by design.

21c also is a dining destination. Its lively restaurant/bar The Hive is helmed by Arkansas native Matthew McClure, who does wonders with ‘country cooking,’ using locally sourced black walnuts, freshly milled corn meal, melons, hickory smoked hams and pasture raised chicken. And dessert was just as satisfying, with choices like Mascarpone Cheese Cake with strawberries and rhubarb, and Chocolate Satisfaction, a cake served with coffee ice cream and garnished with hazelnuts.

Another dining experience on Bentonville Square can be had at Tusk & Trotter, where the pig reigns supreme. Chef/owner Rob Nelson has mastered the culinary art of crafting porcine delicacies, from Pig Wings (smoked mini pork shanks), Crispy Pig Ear Salad and Hogzilla (a wild boar patty with bacon and bacon jam), to house-made desserts like Trot on Over Here (a sticky pudding cake with maple bacon brittle ice cream). By the way, the restaurant’s Risotto Balls have been singled out as Best Bacon Dish in the South by Southern Living magazine.

For breakfast/brunch, do yourself a favor and stop by Press Room, where the vibe is as easy as Sunday morning. The café-by-day/bar-by-night hybrid not only has a menu brimming with local ingredients, it also has the friendliest wait staff around. Enjoy a well-crafted mug of mocha with Kale and Eggs, served on a bed of quinoa, and Shroom Sandwich on an English muffin with spinach, caramelized onions and Mornay sauce.

Just like any small town, the town square is front and center. But Bentonville Square has one very notable dweller: the original Walton’s 5 & 10 on Main Street, the prelude to what is now the world’s largest retailer. The building now has the family-friendly Walmart Visitor Center attached, and includes interactive exhibits and memorabilia, as well as a retro soda fountain. Back in 1950, the 5 & 10 was advertised as the “most up-to-date modern, variety store in Northwest Arkansas.” Little did they know…

And little did we know. Bentonville and its star museum was an unexpected delight. And if you’re an art lover, this destination most definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list.


Bentonville is a five-hour drive from St. Louis. Visit bentonville.org for more information. 

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Open every day except Tuesday. crystalbridges.org.

21c Museum Hotel is on  200 NE A St. in downtown Bentonville; (479) 286-6500 or 21cMuseumHotels.com.