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Mini City Guide: Northwest Arkansas (Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, and Bentonville)

September 4, 2015
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My sister and brother have been living in the Fayetteville area for the past few years.  We’ve made many drives their direction for weekend getaways.  Something about being 2 hours away from the closest load of laundry or dishes just makes for a more restful weekend!  The beautiful rolling hills and the always slightly cooler weather than our hometown always make it a refreshing break from the heat of the downtown Tulsa sun.  My favorite place in Fayetteville happens to be my sister’s back porch.  Her chickens roam free, and she’s always whipping up some delicious home cooked meal with herbs or veggies from her garden out back, but since it might be just a tad odd if you stopped by her backyard unannounced, here are all the other places we love in the area!
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Equestrian Bridges Mini Kentucky Derby, Fayetteville

Okay this is a once a year event on the day of the Kentucky Derby, but if you happen to be in town on the right weekend, put on your best derby hat and teach those kids about an American pastime! My sister and I took the little man on a whim and the look on his face when he realized he was actually going to get to ride on one of the “baby horsies” was priceless.  He stood (mostly) patiently outside the pen waiting his turn until he could have his guided ride on a pony.  He was in heaven the entire time, and we couldn’t stop laughing watching his little self riding a tiny horse.  Almost immediately after his turn was over he was begging to “ride baby horse” again.  We’re still working on this whole sentence structure thing.  Baby steps right?! They also have a mini derby for the ponies, and it’s hysterical.  They tie tiny stuffed jockies on their backs and everyone places bets on which pony will win.  If that’s not enough motivation they also have mint juleps and the real Kentucky Derby on the big screens.  Just go.

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Nightbird Books, Fayetteville

I’m always a sucker for a good bookstore, so when we stumbled across this hole in the wall in downtown Fayetteville while on a mission to find a good latte early on a Saturday morning, I was in heaven.  They have a great selection of classic kids books, so of course we left with a copy of Richard Scary’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go to keep the little man entertained while we got our caffeine fix.  They also have a great selection of local Arkansas titles on everything from raising your own chickens to local folklore for the older kids (or adults) in your life.  The staff was really helpful and didn’t seem worried by our toddler ransacking the shelves!

Crystal Bridges, Bentonville

If you’re looking for a place to introduce your kids to the arts, this is it.  It’s totally free!  Thanks to the Walton Foundation it houses one of the premier art collections in the US, and, added bonus, it’s surrounded by beautiful grounds with walking trails, so if you need a break from the whining toddler on your back in an ergo you can just walk outside and let them run around for awhile before heading back in the museum to admire the art.  It also has the Skyspace, an outdoor art installation that allows you to appreciate the different colors the sky casts on natural stone throughout the day.  Also, the Scott Family Amazeum just opened down the street this summer. We haven’t made it there yet, but it’s supposed to be a spectacular children’s museum that is definitely on our list of places to visit next time we head that direction!

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Oynx Coffee Lab, Fayetteville

I really can’t love a place fully until I’ve found a local coffee shop I love.  Preferably one with a really strong latte where the baristas don’t look at me like I’m totally crazy when I walk in with a toddler in tow for the second time in a day.  I’ve already admitted I have a latte obsession, right?  This place has really beautiful décor, sells tiny pastries perfect for occupying the kids while you enjoy that latte and has outdoor sitting for those days when no amount of pastry will convince the little man to use his inside voice.

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Woodstone Craft Pizza, Fayetteville

This place is delicious.  Our little man LOVES any kind of cured meat.  Can you make them foodies too soon?   He also loves cans of La Crouix and asks for his blue or yellow bubbles – we may have a problem, but I digress.  We ordered the antipasto plate to tide us over till the pizza came and it was amazing, at least the few bites I had before the little man devoured all the meat were amazing.  And then the pizza.  If you don’t have an aversion to eggs and asparagus on a pizza get the Bird’s Nest.  It might even look scary enough you won’t have to share any of it with the kids!  If the kids are being extra crazy and you’re in the mood for a cocktail, they whip ones up with infused liquors made in house with local herbs and produce.  Also the waitress didn’t seem bothered by the fact little man was throwing silverware on the ground or drawing on the table top, and she made sure to get us our appetizer ASAP which is always appreciated when dining with a toddler.

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Little Bread Company, Fayetteville

This place has several perks.  It opens really early on Saturdays, which when you have a toddler comes in handy since our little man likes to be up by 7 no matter what day of the week it is or how late he partied with his aunt and uncle the night before!  Also, the pastries are delicious.  They have both savory and sweet to fit whatever you and the kids are feeling for the day.  Lastly, they have a really cute art deco patio off to the side – which is perfect for rowdy breakfast parties complete with a pile of Thomas trains.  Mary Beth, I want to know the secret to keeping battery toys out of your house!  One time of seeing a Thomas Train at a friend’s house and we were done for.  Those wooden Ikea trains were not going to cut it ANYMORE.

Arsaga’s Espresso Café, Fayetteville

This is a cute little breakfast spot right on the bike trail in downtown Fayetteville.  They have an outdoor seating spot that overlooks the trail and is perfect for entertaining toddlers while waiting for your food.  Who doesn’t like to point at the bikes riding by and discuss the myriad of colors seen?  It’s also a perfect jumping off spot for a leisurely walk down Dixon Street once the shops start opening up and everyone is full and happy.oynx coffee

Pour Jons, Siloam Springs

Again, I’m always hunting down the elusive latte in any town we visit and this little coffee shop in Siloam Springs does not disappoint.  Plus, I asked the little man what he wanted out of the pastry case, and I’m pretty sure he had a heath bar scone.  I mean how can that even be allowed?  It’s also only a block away from a cute outdoor area on the main square of Siloam Springs with a gazebo and a waterfall and a perfect spot for the kids to play in the creek or at least skip rocks depending on how filthy you want them after their exploring!

Flying Fish, Bentonville

Okay this is a greasy seafood place.  You’re forewarned.  But it has a cheap kids’ menu.  And the service is fast.  And who doesn’t like a little fried fish and French fries with ketchup after a trip to the premier art museum in the Midwest?  It’s all about the balance.  And about fast service when you’ve skipped nap time and snack time and forgot it was almost bed time and still there is no dinner in sight.  Our little man thoroughly enjoyed the first official kid’s meal of his short life, complete with a boat shaped box for added entertainment ☺.
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Saturday Morning Farmer’s Market, Fayetteville

There’s a cute central square in Fayetteville and every Saturday morning local vendors gather to sell everything from produce to hand made clothing and toys to fresh flowers.  We love meandering through the stalls with the little man in the ergo dreaming about new recipes to try or some cute bag we probably don’t need but always seem to leave with anyway (please tell me I’m not the only one?!).  If it’s a warm day and you, I mean the kids, need a break from the heat every side of the square has cute little shops.  A few of my favorites are Mustache Goods and Wears for cute attire and accessories for moms, dads, and kids and a fun selection of educational toys, Terra Tots Natural Parenting for fulfilling all the baby wearing, wooden toys, cloth diapering daydreams you may have, and The Anchor.  This one is amazing.  I could buy the whole store from the copies of Kinfolk and Darling to the farmers market cookbooks to the water color prints of herbs to the – okay – you get the idea.  It’s pretty much my Pinterest boards come to life.

Dickson Street, Fayetteville

This is another fun stretch to walk on a Saturday morning with the kids.  There are all kinds of fun places to explore from bookstores to clothing boutiques to record shops – the one we stopped in had Oreos out just for fun.  It’s also full of fun places to stop and grab a bite to eat like Hugo’s burger joint – you’ll just have to make sure you don’t miss its basement entrance!  If you happen to have a babysitter or a relative to watch the kids at night it’s also a really fun place to bar hop.  I say this, but I haven’t actually tried to do this since having had little man.  Can you bar hop at 8:00 pm? Be home in time to be asleep at 9:30 pm?  Okay maybe skip the bar hopping and just double down on the lattes.

Route 59 West Out of Fayetteville Towards Tulsa

We’re almost always in a hurry by the time we finally get on the road back to Tulsa, always trying to squeeze the last little bit of fun out of the time with my siblings and then at some point it hits us we still have laundry and dishes and alarm clocks that will be going off way too soon.  One Sunday afternoon we left earlier than normal and decided to try a route other than the turnpike back to Tulsa, and we may never take the fast route again.  This two-lane highway curves through the Ozark National Forest south of Siloam Springs and it is beautiful – windows down, listening to Ryan Adams, toddler in the back seat asleep beautiful – and that was in June when it was still 90 degrees out.  I can only imagine what it will be like in the fall with the leaves changing.
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Northwest Arkansas is full of so many amazing outdoor spots for the whole family to enjoy that it’s really hard to narrow it down to a few favorites!  Not to mention every time we’re there we seem to be stumbling across another beautiful spot.  That being said, here are some of our current favorites.

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Lake Wedington, Just West of Fayetteville

Little man has this serious love for boats.  Riding boats, talking about boats, asking when we can see a boat next and on and on.  We decided we would head to Arkansas for a weekend and try floating the Buffalo River with him, but then it rained for six straight weeks and the river was at flood stage.  I count myself a pretty adventurous mom when it come to trying things with the little man in tow, but I figured spending four paranoid hours floating down a river the rangers we’re recommending avoiding for all humans, not just toddlers who have a tendency to rock the boat (pun intended), was probably not my brightest idea.  Plan A turned into Plan B: take a canoe to Lake Wedington.  I wish you could have seen the look on the little man’s face when he realized we were going to actually let him in the red canoe in his ridiculous little life jacket.  It was priceless.  The lake is a perfect size for paddling around with little kids and if you don’t happen to have your own canoe they have canoes and kayaks for rent at the park.  They have a little swimming area roped off if you’re one of those who can brave the cold water plus plenty of shady spots for picnicking.  They also have cabins available if you have a whole weekend to relax instead of just an afternoon.  It’s definitely on our getaway list for a slightly cooler weekend in the fall.

Gordon Long Park along Scull Creek, Fayetteville

This was one of the parks my sister and I stumbled upon while trying to find something to do early on a Saturday morning with a fully awake and ready to go toddler.  There’s a fun little playground right by the bike path, but the best part was hidden just a bit down the trail.  We wandered around and found a little paved bridge over a shallow portion of the creek and we spent an hour chatting while the little man thoroughly soaked himself while splashing in the water and throwing rocks.  He could have spent all day in that same spot, but we ran out of coffee.

Natural Falls State Park, Just West of Siloam Springs

This is one of our favorite spots to spend an afternoon picnicking and hiking.  The main attraction is the falls which is just a short, easy walk from the entrance.  If you’re in the mood to mostly eat cheese and crackers in a scenic spot, this is the trail to take.  It also has little signs along the way talking about the local flora and fauna if you want to sprinkle in a little extra educational time!  If you’re up for a little more challenging trek, the rest of the trail system is also really pretty.  It’s nothing too crazy, but with a 30 pound toddler on your back even those little hills can be killer.  There’s also a Frisbee golf course that meanders through the park.  As a family, Frisbee golfing has actually become one of our favorite pastimes.  It’s a great excuse to get outside and explore areas to which you wouldn’t normally venture, it’s not too physically taxing, and watching a toddler trying to throw a Frisbee is just hysterical.   We may have just booked our next vacation because it’s supposed to have an amazing Frisbee golf course.  There is a small fee to enter the park, but it’s per vehicle not per person.

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Siloam Springs Kayak Park, Just South of Siloam Springs

This is another perfect spot for hot summer afternoons.  They’ve engineered rapids into a section of the Illinois River, and it’s perfect for tubing (or kayaking if you happen to be that skilled at life!).  How intense the rapids are depends on the water level in the river so be sure to check that before you head that way with the little ones. I took the little man over the rapids in an inner tube, and we promptly fell off in the middle of the rapids.  He thought it was hilarious – I was slightly more terrified but we made it to the shore safe and sound and of course had to try it again.  To the little man’s cries of “not so bumpy mama” we made it all the way down, tube intact, the second go around ☺.  If you aren’t up for the rapids, there are perfect shallow spots for just letting the kids play around in the water.  This place is pretty off the grid so make sure to bring plenty of snacks and water along to ward off the grumpiness!

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