One could argue that Ozark—Netflix’s critically-acclaimed, award-winning drama whose final episodes dropped on the streamer this week — has not done any favors for the destination it’s named after. As per its portrayal onscreen, the vast region of serpentine lakes and verdant mountains that spans Missouri and Arkansas is not much more than a cesspool of corruption, drugs, and violence underneath its glistening veneer: a “sunny place for shady people,” if you will.
But in reality, if Angelenos have Montecito and New Yorkers have the Hamptons, affluent Midwesterners have long retreated to the Ozarks for their summertime respite from city life (even Missouri native Brad Pitt is rumored to have a house here in a tony enclave known as Millionaires Cove). Revelry naturally centers on the area’s many lakes (swimming, boating, fishing, floating bacchanals, etc.), though there is also plenty to do on land to fill up a languorous warm weather afternoon, from golfing and hiking, to even highbrow arts and culture.
While the Netflix series is mostly set around Lake of the Ozarks, near the northern edge of the region — the show’s creator Bill Dubuque was inspired by his teenage summers spent working at a local lodge — the Ozarks actually span a colossal 47,000 square miles. Down along the southern border lie the star attractions, including Bentonville, the posh and artsy Arkansas city that is home to the billionaire Walton family and their Walmart empire, and — less than two hours away — Payne’s Valley, a gorgeous new golf course designed by Tiger Woods. T&C‘s advice? Spend a few days in town before venturing into the green and blue calm of the country. Below, our guide to the best places for a decidedly un-Ozark holiday in the Ozarks.
Watch Ozark on Netflix
Where to Stay
21c Museum Hotel, Bentonville
First stop: the city that Walmart built. As home to some of the best art in the country (see: the Crystal Bridges Museum, below), not to mention the richest family in the world, polished Bentonville has much to see. Make the 21c Museum Hotel home base — the chain of properties was founded with the ethos of combining an immersive art experience with boutique metropolitan hospitality. As with its other locations in Nashville, Chicago, and Louisville, this means huge exhibition spaces to highlight both regional and internationally-known artists, site-specific installations, fabulous decor throughout, and a buzzy restaurant featuring local ingredients. The one here, called the Hive, is run by James Beard Award nominee Matthew McClure.
Big Cedar Lodge
If Bentonville is the Waltons’ kingdom, Big Cedar Lodge, a sprawling, 4,600-acre resort in prime Missouri Ozark wilderness (and less than two hours from Bentonville), is the domain of another billionaire, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. As a noted conservationist who is often referred to as the “Walt Disney of the Outdoors,” he has created a veritable playground of alfresco pursuits and adventure. On the very long list of amenities here: five swimming pools and six hot tubs, several lodging options from cabins to cottages to glamping tents, five golf courses, an 18,000-square-foot spa where treatment rooms each have their own fireplace, a 10,000 -acre wildlife preserve (see: Dogwood Canyon, below), and a custom 65-foot luxury yacht for private cocktail cruises on the lake.
Camp Long Creek
In 2019 Big Cedar Lodge added glamping to its accommodation offerings. Visitors to Camp Long Creek, which is located along the water, can choose from luxury tents, which have outdoor tubs and firepits, or cabins and huts, which come with small kitchens. As for activities at this family-friendly, perfect-for-the-kids spot: there is lakefront “beach” access, a vintage Airstream that serves food and drinks, a pool, a dog park, and s’mores kits.
Nestled on 500 acres on a quiet corner of Table Rock Lake is one of the region’s best kept secrets: the intimate, all-inclusive, family-run Stonewater Cove. Here, you can be adventurous — ATV rides, zip lining, fishing excursions, and helicopter tours are offered — or simply relish the low-key lakeside vibes, partake in a treatment or two in the treehouse spa, and live for a few days as well-heeled weekenders might.
What to Do
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Founded a decade ago by Walmart scion Alice Walton, the Crystal Bridges Museum has grown into a palatial, state-of-the-art, Moshe Safdie-designed institution with a stellar collection of blue-chip art from the likes of Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, John Singer Sargent, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Elsewhere on its 120-acre grounds: a James Turrell Skyspace, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House, and four miles of trails to discover it all.
Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum
Thanks to Johnny Morris’ voracious appetite for preservation, the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum boasts an impressive array — about one-third of his personal collection — of prehistoric skeletons and Native American artifacts that chart the eons-long history of the area. Civil War relics are also on display, including uniforms, cannons, paintings, and even a locket containing a strand of Abraham Lincoln’s hair.
All five of Big Cedar Lodge’s golf courses were recently awarded Audubon Signature Sanctuary status, a distinction reserved for places that meet the highest standards of conservation and sustainability. Payne’s Valley, the first public golf course designed by the legendary Tiger Woods, joined the portfolio in September 2020 and was named 2021’s best new public golf course in North America by Golf Digest.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
Endangered species like owls, bald eagles, and rare white bison have made their home in Dogwood Canyon, a 10,000-acre nature preserve that is also perfect for kayaking, trout fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and guided foraging classes.
What to Eat & Drink
Chateau Aux Arc
Yes, there is wine country in Arkansas. Chateau Aux Arc — whose name refers to the French etymology of Ozarks (one of the theories is that aux Arcs was short for in Arkansas) —Is the first and only winery in the state to be run by a female vintner (Audrey House) and specializes in the Cynthiana grape, also known as the “Cabernet of the South.”
At this no-frills counter restaurant in Bentonville, which began its life as a food truck, brisket, ribs, and pulled pork are made the OG way — on a pit over an open flame of 100% pecan wood sourced from the Arkansas wilderness. Garth Brooks has even called it the best BBQ he has ever had.
The Worman House Bistro
Last year, Big Cedar Lodge took over the former 1920s country retreat of railroad magnate Harry Worman, meticulously restored it, and turned it into a new restaurant with views of Table Rock Lake, a bistro-style menu with an Ozarks twist, and a cocktail list that pays homage to the Roaring Twenties, with Sidecars and French 75s aplenty.
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