THE ART OF MAKING AN IMPRESSION: Bentonville's unique draws include the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Timothy Hursley/Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

From a world-renowned museum with works by Edward Hopper (not to mention an art gallery and a hotel all in one) to miles of bike trails and ONE DARN-GOOD BARBECUE TACO TRUCK, there’s more than meets the eye in this quaint little town.

In Bentonville, Ark., the 800-pound gorilla is — of course — Walmart. And a city of 38,000 can’t be the headquarters of the world’s largest retailer without some of its characteristics rubbing off. What’s surprising, then, is how un-Walmart-like Bentonville is. From its bustling downtown filled with small shops and eateries to world-class art, this small town doesn’t feel like a big-box store.

If You Go:

Downtown Bentonville
301 NE Blake St.
(479) 254-0254

Phat Tire Bike Shop
125 W. Central Ave.
(479) 715-6170

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
600 Museum Way
(479) 418-5700

Walmart Visitor Center
105 N. Main St.
(479) 273-1329

21c Museum Hotel Bentonville
200 NE A St.
(479) 286-6500

Laughlin House Bed & Breakfast
102 NW 3rd St.
(479) 268-6085

The Mustache Goods & Wears
113 W. Central Ave.
(479) 876-8248

The Paisley Place
116 S. Main St.
(479) 715-6610

Black Crow Antiques & Curiosities
120 S. Main St.
(479) 790-3441

Big Rub BBQ
213 NE A St.
(479) 372-3802

Flying Fish
109A NW 2nd St.
(479) 657-6300

Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie
110 SE A St. (479) 268-4494

Start with a walk around Bentonville’s historic downtown square, where you’ll find beautifully restored buildings dating from the late 1800s and a statue honoring former Arkansas Gov. James H. Berry and Confederate soldiers. If you’re in town on a Saturday between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 27 through Oct. 26, you’ll find the square filled with vendors selling locally grown veggies, fresh bread, handmade wooden furniture and the like at the weekly farmers market. Rent a bike at Phat Tire Bike Shop and explore the 36 miles of trails — from paved and smooth to gnarly single-track — that stretch from Bella Vista in the north to Fayetteville in the south.

When it comes to art, Bentonville punches far above its weight. With works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and George Bellows in its permanent collection, the Crystal Bridges ­Museum of American Art wouldn’t be out of place in New York. The building and grounds — ­designed by architect Moshe Safdie — alone are worth the trip. Why is this cultural heavyweight located here? Stroll over to the Walmart Visitor Center on the downtown square for the answer to that question. Crystal Bridges is backed by Walton family money, and the Walmart Visitor Center documents the rise of Sam Walton’s empire, from a single Walton’s 5-10 variety store (now the Visitor Center) to a global retail colossus.

Speaking of art, Bentonville boasts one of the country’s three 21c Museum Hotels. The sleek, contemporary structure near downtown houses 104 guest rooms and a modern-art gallery open to the public 24/7. For a more nostalgic feel, try the Laughlin House Bed & Breakfast, built just before the turn of the century and updated to reflect the tastes of modern travelers.

You can’t leave The Natural State without something emblazoned with a Razorbacks logo, be it a T-shirt, necklace, tie, etc. The Mustache Goods & Wears, a locally owned boutique, has you covered. You never know exactly what you’ll find at The Paisley Place, but whatever you do come across will probably involve refurbished furniture, photography, art and clothing, and it will be creative. If you have any room left in your bag, a trip to Black
Crow Antiques & Curiosities
will fill it. Its employees comb estate sales so you don’t have to.

The sabroso tacos at the Big Rub BBQ food truck will spoil you for street tacos the rest of your days; cooks smoke their brisket for several hours before stuffing it in a soft shell and covering it with lime, cilantro and brisket sauce. The Flying Fish puts a delicate scald on meaty catfish fillets and loads its bowls with spicy gumbo. And in 2011, Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie brought more than a hint of sophistication to the square when it opened, emphasizing local food and craft beer in an upscale — but not stuffy — atmosphere. Dare you to try the Crispy Pig Ear Salad.