Story by Caleb Talley
Fayetteville is a lot of things. It’s hip. And it’s historic. It’s green, and it’s diverse. It’s a college town, home of the state’s flagship university. It’s the startup city of the South, averaging a new business a day. It’s the third-largest city in Arkansas, and it’s growing by the minute.But most of all, Fayetteville is fun. And it’s downright funky.
“We get teased a lot in this region,” says Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. “People say Fayetteville is funky. Well, we like that. You may ask, ‘what’s funky?’ It’s whatever you want it to be.”
According to Clark, Fayetteville is the epicenter of the universe. That’s because whatever you’re looking for, you can find it there.
“If you like good food, we’ve got it in all kinds – locally prepared, farm to fork, James Beard chefs, food trucks. We can give you a culinary experience at a very high level,” says Clark. He gets a little excited when he talks about his town, and it shows.
“Do you like music? We’ve got the venues,” he adds. “We have, typically, 12 to 15 venues where you can find live music. Do you like the outdoors? Well, you can hike, walk, bike, swim, fish. You name it, we got it. You want the most in refined culture? Whether it’s TheatreSquared, the Walton Arts Center, the School of Art, we’ve got that, too.”
Clark, along with other city leaders, is working hard to grow Fayetteville’s offerings and make it an ultimate destination for visitors and those looking to put down roots, regardless of preference.
“I like to think we’re on the cutting edge,” says Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan. He’s served the city since 2008 and has led the expansion of Fayetteville’s outdoor biking trails, arts district and urban greenspace. He was also instrumental in the passage of the city’s historic nondiscrimination ordinance. “You’ve got to be willing to go where nobody’s going… If you never depart, you’ll never arrive. That means you can’t stay where you are. That’s just what we do.”
Those efforts include miles of biking and walking trails that will soon encapsulate Fayetteville, forming a square around city known as the Mayor’s Box. Soon, cycling enthusiasts will have a serious mountain biking option, too. According to Clark, the city is moving forward with plans to create a 220-acre mountain biking park in the heart of town, between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Wedington Drive.
A longtime destination for lovers of the arts, Fayetteville is also working to extend the city’s culture corridor, from Dickson Street to the bottom of Archibald Yell. The $10 to $20 million project will have a little bit of everything, according to Clark. “It’ll be another part of the livable, walkable way we are.”
Regardless of what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance Fayetteville has it. And not only do they have it, they’re bolstering it, growing it and spreading it. Whether it’s been years since you’ve paid a visit, or just a few weeks, plan a trip to the Hill. And here are some places to hit when you do. They’re not all the city has to offer; there’s not enough pages to include them all. But it’s a start.
There are plenty of places to stay when visiting Fayetteville, including all the major franchise hotels. But if you really want to feel the pulse of the city, consider making your reservations with the Dickson Street Inn or Inn at Carnall Hall. These historic, boutique hotels couldn’t be closer to the action.
Dickson Street Inn, as you might have guessed, is located on Dickson Street, smack dab in the middle of Fayetteville’s bustling entertainment district. The Inn at Carnall Hall is just around the corner. A women’s dormitory at the turn of the 20th century, this historic lodging is considered the university’s front porch.
If the arts are your thing, be sure to add Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared to the list of places to visit.
Walton Arts Center, Arkansas’ largest and busiest arts presenter, showcases a variety of artists, live performances and entertainers year-round. Upcoming performances include The Young King, The Sound of Music and the Charlie Daniels Band. Sitting just around the corner, TheatreSquared is a locally produced, nationally recognized professional theatre that offers acclaimed productions in a more intimate setting.
Fayetteville is also home to some of the best outdoor activities around. Take in the profound beauty of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, home to twelve themed gardens and the only butterfly house in the region. Or, take a stroll through venerable Wilson Park, the city’s first park, which stretches across more than 22 acres in the of Fayetteville.
If you’re up to take a drive, cruise up charming Mount Sequoyah on Skyline Drive. From there, you’ll have a panoramic view of nearly every inch of Fayetteville. Come at dusk and watch the sun set over the Ozarks, beside the glow of the iconic Mount Sequoyah cross.
In the heart of downtown Fayetteville, the historic square is often the setting for exciting outdoor and indoor activities. This month, the square will play host to such events as this year’s inaugural First Thursday and Foam Fest.
On May 3, Experience Fayetteville will kick off their First Thursday events, transforming the downtown square into a budding arts district with live music, street performances, food trucks and more. First Thursdays will take place on the first Thursday of every month, from May through October.
On May 12, Foam Fest also returns to the square. The craft beer sampling festival, a fan favorite, offers visitors a chance to taste dozens exceptional craft brews, all while raising funds for local charities.
The square is also home to the longest continuously running farmers market in the state, a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike. There, you’ll find fresh produce, flowers, jellies and jams, arts and crafts, live music and so much more.
It’s a favorite of both Clark and Jordan. “On a beautiful weekend, I’ll be at the farmers market,” says Clark. His office at the chamber overlooks the square, where vendors gather to showcase their wares. “We like to be downtown, solving the problems of the world with the people we meet down here.”
The Fayetteville farmers market is open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. Get there early and stay a while.
For more shopping, you can find several popular boutiques and unique shops on or around the square, as well. Step inside Riffraff or Savoir-Faire for exceptional women’s apparel and accessories. Next door, the Mustache Goods & Wears offers clothing for men and women, along with some of the most unique gifts you’ll find anywhere. At Cheap Thrills, you’ll find a curious collection of vintage clothing – from zoot suits to snazzy ‘80s windbreakers.
For the music lover, Block Street Records is just a few feet away. This unique store sells a wide array of both new and used vinyl records. Regardless of what type of tunes you’re into, you’ll find them there.
For those interested in a good book, the revered Dickson Street Bookshop is nearby. Open since 1978, this labyrinth of learning covers every topic imaginable. Like a good book, it’s easy to get lost in. And you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
Exploring Fayetteville is bound to work up an appetite. If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee with your snack, stop by Onyx Coffee Lab or Arsaga’s.
Onyx offers a wide range of incomparable coffee options, regardless of preference. Order a geometry espresso and a macaroon and sit a spell. Or enjoy some coffee to brew at home. Next door, you can grab a savory sandwich, soup and some fresh baked bread at Stone Mill Bread.
Along with a cup of joe, Arsaga’s at the Depot offers up delicious crepes and omelets. At Arsaga’s at Church & Center, you can order satisfying signature toasts. Here, too, you can pick up some coffee to brew at home.
Breakfast is always on the menu at haunts like The Farmer’s Table Café and Little Bread Company. Both serve up amazing plates cooked with fresh, local ingredients. For a shot of nutrition and a burst of energy, stop by Juice Palm. There, you’ll find healthy, organic acai bowls and superfood smoothies.
Still hungry? If it’s pizza you’re after, it’s Wood Stone Craft Pizza or Mojo’s Pints & Pies you want. Wood Stone, a scratch kitchen, uses locally sourced ingredients to create sophisticated artisan pizzas. At Mojo’s, expect some of the most delicious, hearty pizzas around. They also offer a wide selection of Northwest Arkansas’ finest craft beers.
For burgers, look no further than the iconic basement dwelling of Hugo’s. If you can stand to wait – and you will likely stand to wait at the popular joint – you’ll be treated to one of the best burgers in Arkansas. Interested in a unique gourmet grilled cheese? Hammontree’s has them in all kinds.
If you’re hungry for barbecue, head to Sassy’s Red House. They have it in all shapes and sizes – nachos, tacos, sandwiches and more. For some more down home ‘que, stop by Wes’ BBQ. Tucked away on South University Avenue, Wes has been serving up smoked meats for years. Your taste buds will thank you.
Fayetteville is also home to a number of unique and enticing food trucks. On College Avenue, you’ll find the Yacht Club, a gravel lot that’s home to several mobile restaurants. On Dickson, there’s Shulertown Food Truck Court, an alleyway lined with trucks that vary from Chinese to fried chicken. And there’s no better place to grab dessert than Burton’s Creamery. The appropriately named cones from this truck will blow you away.
If you’re staying downtown for dinner, check out A Taste of Thai or Wasabi. Both offer great indoor and outdoor seating and appetizing meals from the Pacific Rim. For fine dining and tempting cocktails, try Theo’s, Bordinos or Vetro 1925.
Venture further into the city for dinner at Bocca, one of Fayetteville’s newest Italian restaurants. It has quickly become a favorite of many, so expect to wait for a table. For a little fun with your food, head across town to JJ’s Beer Garden and Brewery, or JBGB. This playground – for children and adults – features live music, volleyball, shuffleboard and more. And, of course, great food.
Fayetteville has much to offer; it would take an entire magazine to scratch the surface. It has one of the state’s last drive-in theaters, upscale flea markets, SEC sporting events, venerated museums, impressive craft breweries. No simple list can do it justice. To know, you have to go.
And when you do, you just might want to stay a while.
“We’re a welcoming city,” says Mayor Jordan, a grin stretched across his face. “No matter the color of your skin, your religion, what country you come from or who you love, you’re welcome in this city. If you’ve never been here, I welcome you. But be careful, you may never want to leave.”
This story originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of AY Magazine.