By Heather Baker with additional reporting by Mak Millard. Photos by Ryan Parker

The phrase “Can’t miss” gets thrown around a lot when talking about northwest Arkansas, but when it comes to the best way to spend a beautiful fall weekend in the Ozarks, there really is no beating a college town like Fayetteville. Thanks to our friends at Experience Fayetteville, my husband, Ryan, and I were able to enjoy a few days of great food, drinks, shops and sights in this truly “can’t miss” destination.

When we rolled in on Friday, our first stop was the visitor’s center, where we picked up our itinerary and a few other goodies. The visitors center has a great selection of Fayetteville gear and all the information you need to explore the city. From there, we headed down to the newly revamped South Yard development for lunch at not one, but two tasty spots located right next door to each other: Central BBQ and Fayetteville Taco & Tamale Co. After all, there is no need to pick favorites between classic Southern barbecue and tasty taco plates when you can have the best of both worlds at the South Yard.

After lunch, it was time to check into our room at Graduate Fayetteville, conveniently located right off the downtown square and just moments away from the University of Arkansas campus. The hotel is full of unique touches that mix local history, Razorback traditions and the natural beauty of the Ozarks. From the rustic lobby and its reclaimed wood floors and furniture to the camouflage carpet and vintage touches in our room, the Graduate makes you want to kick up your boots and stay a while in a way that only Fayetteville can. It is also a short walk from all the shops, restaurants and more that Dickson Street has to offer — what more could you ask for?

rock house fayetteville

From the Graduate, we walked along Block Avenue to visit Rock House 205, a home built in 1916 that has been transformed into a storefront with vintage artwork, cookware, antiques and other home goods — it is a must stop when visiting Fayetteville. While perusing among the coasters and hand towels, we found some kitchen bowls that we just could not resist buying. Our next visit was to the Ramble, a natural getaway in the middle of town. The once-overgrown patch of shrubs has been reclaimed and turned into a park, providing ample access to nature and Tanglewood Branch Creek.

Running right through the Ramble is another crown jewel of northwest Arkansas, the Razorback Greenway. This multi-use trail is the paved backbone of the region, connecting seven cities and tons of popular community destinations. In Fayetteville, the connected trails link the Fayetteville Public Library to the Ramble’s tree canopy before curving downhill near a scenic creek and overlook bridge, with access to a stone amphitheater for live music and hands-on arts activities.

 

 

By the time we finished exploring and strolled back through downtown, we had more than worked up an appetite. For dinner, we made our way up to Leverett Lounge, a cute little restaurant with an elevated menu whose unofficial mascot is The Muppet Show’s own Swedish Chef — a mix of fun and fancy that reminds you what Fayetteville is all about. For a starter from the small plates, we went for the “Mel’s Diner,” and it did not disappoint: two slices of Leverett’s famous garlic cheese grits, breaded and deep fried, served with remoulade and garnished with scallion.

Our entrees raised the bar even further. I went for the special, “Howl’s Moving Castle,” with miso-marinated salmon, Japanese-inspired Gomaae green beans and mung bean salad, all drizzled with house-made togarashi hot honey and topped with scallions. Ryan had “K.F.C.” — Korean Fried Chicken (or Cauliflower) — that is tossed in sweet chili sauce and served with a side of jasmine rice and mung bean sprout salad. Mouthwatering does not even come close.

There is no shortage of delicious grub and lavish lodgings in Fayetteville.

To drink, Ryan paired his plate with “Yard Games,” a non-alcoholic mix of lime juice, orgeat, Peychaud’s and butterfly pea flower. The menu promised a drink that would look like a bubblegum sunset and taste like childhood, and Leverett more than delivered. I opted for the more adventurous “Burnin’ Down the House,” which consist ed of house-infused habanero cimarron reposado paired with apricot liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice and Chamoy and served with a Tajín Chamoy rim.

Our dessert, the “Dream of Coconut Cake,” was just as delicious as everything else we had had so far. Made by Fayetteville’s Hip Cafe, the vegan-style Southern cream of coconut cake featured a cream filling and a light and fluffy buttercream topped with toasted coconut and strawberry coulis. Pieces of unique, nostalgic decor, reminiscent of something you would find at a parent’s house, only added to our five-star food experience.

fayetteville heather's favorites

One-of-a-kind fare pairs with unique attractions found only in Fayetteville.

From there, we made our way back in the direction of the Graduate, but it was not time to turn in just yet. Just a street over from the hotel, we stopped at Pinpoint, a pinball bar, for a bit of Friday night old-school gaming. Pinpoint was in the middle of their monthlong “Nightmare on Block Street,” so the place was all decked out for
Halloween with games featuring Michael Myers, the Addams Family and more to match.

We started out Saturday bright and early with a morning stroll through the Fayetteville Farmers Market on the square. Our favorite store was City Supply, a “modern-day mercantile” running the gamut from game-day essentials to nostalgic home goods and more. It is an unforgettable experience, and I could have easily spent all day just checking out the Razorback t-shirts and tailgate serveware. Their hunting season collection is out now too, making fall an even better time to stop in.

After pulling myself away from all the one-of-a-kind Fayetteville gear, we jumped on a couple of e-bikes and cruised over to Little Bread Company for lattes and fresh-baked pastries. The artisan bakery, coffee and sandwich shop serves up all kinds of goodies for students and parents from all over town, so be prepared for a short wait at this popular spot. Of course, that means you will also have time to strike up a conversation or two with the locals, so what is the rush?

Sufficiently caffeinated, we made our way to each of the stores in the square before stopping by the visitor’s center again. There, we caught up with Jill Rohrbach, a freelance writer and staff writer for the Arkansas Tourism Department, who graciously signed a copy of her latest book, 100 Things To Do In Fayetteville, Arkansas, Before You Die. Rohrbach is a Fayetteville local, and this book is full of ideas and unexpected experiences for residents and visitors alike.

With books on the brain, we decided to drop in at Pearl’s Books, just off the square on East Center Street. Pearl’s believes that books make us better, and based on the standing-room-only crowd that showed up to celebrate the store’s second birthday, it looked like the patrons agreed. The store was running a BOGO sale, which we were eager to partake in. After adding a couple of titles to our “to be read” piles, we went up to Pink House Alchemy, a company housed in a 100-year-old pink house that produces farm-to-bottle simple syrups, bitters and shrubs. The mixologists at Pink House whipped us up a couple of awe-inspiring drinks, and it was clear to see we were in the presence of the flavor experts.

You cannot call it a trip to northwest Arkansas without taking some time to enjoy the stunning views, so we headed up to Mount Sequoyah to do just that. Founded in 1922 by the South Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Mount Sequoyah today operates as an independent nonprofit and community gathering space. The lighted cross at Mount Sequoyah is a picturesque place to watch the sunset or sunrise, or to just take in a bit of peace and quiet overlooking the city.

Eventually, our hunger became too much to bear, so we decided to trek over to City Park, a new restaurant inspired by Fayetteville’s original city park and its mission to create an open space where people can gather “in a place of beauty.” True to NWA’s bike-centric philosophy, City Park is located right off the Skull Creek Trail section of the Razorback Greenway. The menu is as diverse as the people City Park serves — we could smell the sweet aromas of barbecue as we approached, and that is not even to mention the tacos, smash burgers and rice bowls — so we did not have any trouble finding the perfect bite after another full day of exploring the city.

fayetteville

Since City Park is all about community and connection, the open yard and plentiful outdoor seating gives visitors plenty of excuse to play cornhole, catch a game on one of the big screens or just hang out for a while. It is a shame to miss out on Dickson Street during football season though, so in anticipation of Saturday’s game, we took a short scooter ride a few blocks over to visit Tin Roof. Two levels, three patios and multiple stages and bars means you will not want for a place to settle in and enjoy the food, drinks and entertainment, whether you are there to catch the game or check out some live music.

With our perfect weekend coming to a close, we chose to brunch at Southern Food Co., where staff are serving up breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner with a heaping side of Southern hospitality. Local artwork — pieces featuring adorable farm animals that you can even take home to decorate your own walls with — gave the place a charming, homey feel that made the meal that much more delicious.

We decided on a breakfast hash, which included a ground sausage and pepper medley sautéed and topped with cheese and two sunny-side-up eggs alongside our choice of biscuit. The spinach avocado flatbread was an immediate favorite for Ryan, boasting scrambled eggs, avocado, spinach, cheddar and swiss cheese on a toasted flatbread. He paired his meal with a vanilla latte from another NWA favorite, Onyx Coffee, which the Southern Food Co. also proudly serves.

 

Throughout every part of our weekend getaway, there was something about the visit that made it hard to say goodbye — but since there is always more to do and see every time we are in Fayetteville, it was more like “See you later.”