For 10 great years, I lived in Bentonville, Arkansas—home to the famous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Walmart. But the secret to Bentonville’s allure that has kept so many families in the area and visitors coming back is the quaint community that holds it together and the locals’ knowledge on the best spots to visit. Mom of two boys Regina Barnes has lived in Bentonville for over 20 years and knows that area like a Walton knows a Walmart. She let us in on where to find the family fun.
For the true Bentonville experience
The Bentonville Square is the hub of Bentonville. From First Fridays to Saturday Farmers Market, there is always something going on. Pro tip: If you visit in the summer, the splash pad at Lawrence Plaza, which is right off the Bentonville Square, will be running, but if you go in the winter, the splash pad turns into an ice skating rink with Christmas movies playing on a huge projector next to the rink.
Located on the square is The Spark Café Soda Fountain, which makes the ’50s ice cream parlor dream a reality. It’s attached to The Walmart Museum and came about because of Sam Walton’s, the founder of Walmart, love of butter pecan ice cream. Find a jukebox and employees wearing bowties and paper hats all in the ’50s fashion.
If you make your way to the museum, be sure to browse around the front to look at all the retro toys and candy from Walton’s childhood. “[The kids] like to walk through the museum [and] ask if their daddy has worked on any of the signs in there—he’s an artist in Walmart Corporate Marketing,” Barnes says.
For the learner
Drive just a couple of minutes away from the Bentonville Square to find the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Admission to Crystal Bridges is always free, unless you want to see the special exhibitions for the season. The first room in the museum has art from the colonial era, and as you walk through the museum, you walk through different eras of paintings, sculptures and photographs until the end, which houses the modern art. There’s a kids’ area, The Studio, where little ones can engage in activities that rotate throughout the months.
For a full interactive experience, take the children to the neighboring kids’ museum, the Scott Family Amazeum. Littles can interact through science, technology, engineering, art and math activities, or they can stretch their legs through the Canopy Climber, an indoor climbing play area. “[My boys] love playing in the area that’s set up like a warehouse,” Barnes says. “There are blocks that they put on a device to move upstairs, where another child gathers them in a bin and delivers them back downstairs.” There’s also a grocery store and diner for kids to pretend play, as well as a natural outdoor play area. Admission is $9.50 for age 2 and up.
For the outdoors kid
Located in the Natural State, Bentonville houses multiple breathtaking trails and parks that will even make the kids say, “Wow!” The art trail, part of the Ozark Trails, that is behind Crystal Bridges has both paved and dirt trails for hiking. Along the way, you can spot different sculptures to pose next to.
For a local experience, hike on Bella Vista’s Tanyard Creek Nature Trail (a short drive from Bentonville) to reach the waterfall, where kids can splash in the water or at least get a selfie to document that you made it. “I always have a backpack while hiking,” Barnes says. “It includes drinks and snacks, and we always take empty cups and nets because the kids love to try to catch fish.”
FYI: Look for #BentonvilleRocks, which are painted rocks that people hide around town for others to find and then rehide. Search the Facebook page Bentonville ROCKS to see where different people have taken the rocks.
For the adventurer
Get ready for some monkey business at Climb Bentonville, an indoor rock climbing facility that has a special children’s climbing area that has Tetris, fossils and more themes to keep the difficulty down and the fun up. “My little daredevil son loves this place,” Barnes says. The first time you go, the parent and child will go through a training session, and after that, it’s the parent’s responsibility to secure their kid to each wall from then on. Barnes says littles as young as 4 can start on the walls.
Image courtesy of The Walmart Museum.