The Ozarks are old. The hills of southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas were among the original geographical features on the continent, with some rocks on the ground there having been made upwards of a half-billion years ago.
But grab a stool at the new German beer bar in the booming town of Springdale on a busy Saturday night or make your way down to the ultra-modern coffee shop inside a mountain bike preserve and you’d be forgiven for feeling the opposite.
The region that includes Bentonville, Springdale, Rogers and Fayetteville is one of the best weekend road trips from KC. This month, we set out to see some of the new attractions that have popped up since the pandemic.
America might run on Dunkin’, but NWA—as the locals tend to call the area—runs on coffee from Airship and Onyx, two of the nation’s premier third-wave roasters who seem as omnipresent as Coke and Pepsi here.
Along with coffee, other themes woven through many of the region’s offerings are visual art and bicycling. Those happen to be passions of Walmart heiress Alice Walton and her nephews Tom and Steuart Walton, who have lavished funding on the arts and bike-related projects in the homeland of “Fortune 1”—as locals refer to Walmart, the world’s largest company.
The largesse of the Waltons (as well as the Tyson Foods heirs) has fueled a distinctive local culture and economy in which you’ll see mountain bikes rolling around city streets like it’s the nineties and where artists are moving to town to pick up projects.
Brand new in downtown Bentonville—we were given an exclusive hard hat tour in advance of the building’s opening—the Ledger (108 S. Main St., Floor 2, Bentonville) bills itself as the first-ever bikeable building. How do you make a building bikeable? The eastern side of the six-story building is made up of switchbacks that lead to an event space and outdoor patio with views of the city and the ancient hills that surround it.
Most visitors will grab a cup at the Airship Coffee in the ground-floor lobby and then bike up the switchbacks, where they’ll cross over inlaid tile insects that send a message up top.
“We are an extension of the coffee experience, the biking experience and the art experience here in Bentonville—you’re not going to fill your whole cup here, but you’re going to get a nibble of all of it,” says Mary Best, the building’s operations director.
Best is an Olathe native who moved down to Arkansas for the project. She’d only passed through the area on her way to a wedding before moving down and buying into the Bentonville lifestyle. She’s become an everyday bike commuter and taken up waterfall hunting after mountain rains.
“You have bar-raisers here, and that’s something that’s kind of unique,” Best says. “This is where the bar gets raised and everyone is trying to one-up the person before them and do something bigger and cooler.”
The Ledger will have a specialized bikes demo center on the ground floor and will be the temporary home of the Walmart Museum, which is renovating its space down the street.
Listening Forest at Crystal Bridges
Any visit to northwest Arkansas should include a visit to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, Bentonville), one of the nation’s top museums. Among the things that make the museum special—beyond a collection that includes Pollock, O’Keefe, Warhol and Rothko—is the wooded grounds, which have art installations sprinkled throughout.
If you visit before the end of the year, be sure to visit Listening Forest. Created by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, it was installed in the woods on the north side of the grounds and uses light, projections and music by electronic musician Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) to create an immersive experience.
Also at the museum now through the end of January, you’ll find the special exhibit “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour”, which is the museum’s first foray into fashion. The exhibit shows American fashion as a “powerful emblem of global visual culture” and includes a hundred pieces ranging from Anna Sui’s Western-inspired ensembles to period zoot suits.
Coler Mountain Bike Preserve
Coler Mountain Bike Preserve is a three-hundred-acre public mountain bike park in Bentonville with seventeen miles of single-track trails. They range from beginner-friendly routes that you’ll see toddlers riding to double black diamond cliff launches for experts only. The park officially opened just before the pandemic but has grown into itself since, with attractions like an off-the-road cafe run by Airship Coffee, which you’ll have to walk or bike to. That cafe is worth the effort, with swing seating and a rooftop garden overlooking a lush forest. If you’re a cyclist, the preserve has a national reputation for a reason. It’s also a nice place for a walk or to spend the night camping (see sidebar).
Yeyo’s El Alma de Mexico
Yeyo’s isn’t new, having started as a food truck a decade ago and opened its flagship taqueria way back in 2017. But it’s getting new attention thanks to the sitdown Yeyo’s El Alma de Mexico location (801 S.E. Eighth St., Suite 41, Bentonville) being named among the fifty best restaurants in the country by the New York Times this year.
Yeyo’s makes Mexican street food in the style of the family’s native Michoacán—a state that enjoys a stellar reputation for food among Mexicans, as you can see from the number of taquerias that advertise themselves as Michocán in KCK. But what makes it special is where it sources the ingredients. All of the restaurant’s produce is grown on a small farm just a few miles from the Bentonville town square.
The tacos are stellar, and the $6 house margaritas are nearly as nineties as those moutain bikes on city streets.
The town of Springdale is home to Tyson Foods and is among the most diverse in Arkansas—the city has a huge Latin population and is also home to a large number of migrants from the Marshall Islands.
It’s now home to an arty new German beer bar and restaurant called Bauhaus Bistro & Biergarten (326 Holcomb St., Springdale) run by Jennifer Hill Booker and her business partner Daniel Hintz. All of the beer is imported, and the sausages are brought down from Hintz’s hometown of Milwaukee.
Hintz spent a decade directing the downtown associations of Fayetteville and Bentonville and then worked on the downtown master plans for both Rogers and Springdale. “I’ve been very involved in a lot of the development throughout northwest Arkansas,” Hintz says. “So I’ve been involved in the big regional conversations around food.”
Hintz saw an opportunity to do some redevelopment projects in downtown Springdale and bought the building where Bauhaus is as well as a former church across the street. “This building was actually built in 1947 by a doctor who actually flew over German artisans right after the war to build this building,” he says. “So there’s a real connection.”
21C Museum Hotel
Bentonville’s town square is home to a branch of the 21c Museum Hotel (21cmuseumhotels.com/bentonville), which Kansas Citians will know from our own downtown location. Bentonville’s 21c has a hundred rooms and is walkable to everything in downtown Bentonville.
Rosebud at Flamingo Springs
We’ve written about Flamingo Springs Trailer Resort (15475 Greasy Valley Road, Prairie Grove, Ark.) in these pages before. The resort has turned old trailers into relatively posh cabinets with their own themes, including a popular Friends trailer. The newest trailer, which just opened this spring, is called the Rosebud and is themed for the cult hit TV series Schitt’s Creek.
Coler Mountain Bike Preserve
The Coler Preserve just outside the city (2003 N.W. Homestead Lane, Bentonville) also has one of the nicest semi-urban campgrounds you’ll ever stay at, with seventeen hike-in tent spots and five places to park camping vans. The surgically clean modern latrine and bathhouse is also architecturally impressive. The sites are very reasonably priced but book up fast.