Hot Springs, Arkansas is known as America’s First Resort Town, where the thermal springs provided what was thought to be healing properties for athletes, gangsters, celebrities and everyday people. Early Native American tribes came here to quarry rocks for their weapons. Locals set up crude shelters above the springs and charged money to come use them. Victorian structures were set up on what’s now known as Bathhouse Row, where people could go for treatments. Some of these spas still exist today for visitors to enjoy. The first baseball spring training took place here, so there’s a sports tradition as well. The first baseball spring training took place here, so there’s a sports tradition as well. Among the yearly events are the Arkansas Derby at nearby Oaklawn Park, Arts at the Park, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and Hot Springs Music Festival.
What to Do
Hot Springs National Park– Perhaps the biggest reason to visit the town is to see the national park, which predates the National Park System itself. It includes acres of land and trails in addition to much of downtown, including Bathhouse Row. Start at the Mountain Tower, which provides views of the surrounding area, before hiking one of the trails. 369 Central Avenue, (501) 620-6715
Garvan Woodland Gardens– Local philanthropist Verna Cook Garvan established the gardens as a place for locals to come to see natural beauty. It also protects land on Lake Ouachita for future generations to enjoy. The Anthony Chapel, pictured above, is one of the most visited areas in the gardens. 550 Arkridge Road, (501) 262-9300
The Gangster Museum of America– This small museum and hat shop details the history of gangsters in Hot Springs, including Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and other notorious names. 510 Central Avenue, (501) 318-1717
Bathhouse Row– Start your trip at Fordyce Bathhouse, where the National Park has a visitors center that explains the bathhouse traditions. From there, book an afternoon at one of the spas, including Quapaw Baths & Spa or Buckstaff Bath House.
Other kitschy attractions are on offer in Hot Springs if you’re looking for more. There’s the duck tour, a dinner theater, magic shows and Maxwell Blade‘s Museum of Oddities. Active travelers should seek out mountain biking, some of the best in the world, in addition to hiking and kayaking. There’s also wineries nearby and Oaklawn, where you can bet on horse races and take advantage of the casino.
Where to Eat
Superior Bathhouse Brewery– The former bathhouse has been transformed into a brewery and restaurant in downtown Hot Springs. Superior offers their own brews, including their Kolsch, wheat, and stouts. Food options include gyros, sausages, burgers and more. 329 Central Avenue, (501) 624-2337
McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant– Get your meat on at this classic barbecue eatery on the outskirts of town that has been feeding hungry locals and visitors since 1928. Try the ribs, Frito pie, and tamales if you’re feeling extra adventurous. Pair it with an Arkansas beer. 505 Albert Pike, (501) 623-9665
The Pancake Shop– This breakfast spot has been a favorite since 1940. Start with a strong cup of coffee before ordering one of the mammoth pancakes, but be careful not to pour syrup all over yourself. Omelets and eggs are other options. 216 Central Avenue, (501) 624-5720
Luna Bella– Italian food and martinis come together at this lakeside restaurant, which makes for the perfect date night. The menu features pasta, seafood, and other dishes. It’s only open for dinner. 104 Grand Isle Way, (501) 520-5862
Kollective Coffee & Tea– This downtown coffee shop offers light breakfast, like bagels and pastries, as well as coffee drinks and hot tea. The relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to spend the day to get away from the busy atmosphere of Hot Springs in tourist season. 110 Central Avenue, (501) 701-4000
Deluca’s Pizzeria– Straight from New York City , Deluca’s offers the real-deal pizzas wood-fired to order. Ingredients are top notch, including the best mozzarella, meat and more. Antipasti are the way to start your meal and finish with cannoli. 407 Park Avenue, (501) 609-9002
The Ohio Club– Drink where Al Capone and Mae West hung out in Hot Springs. Open since 1905, Arkansas’ oldest bar is still a place for a stiff drink and live music. The former speakeasy also has a full menu, including their beloved burgers. 336 Central Avenue, (501) 627-0702
Maxine’s– Named for the madam who once ruled over the brothel that formerly inhabited the building, this bar, restaurant and music venue is a late-night favorite. It only closed as a house of ill repute in the 1960s so much of its sordid history is remembered in the minds of Hot Springs locals. The menu includes craft beer and cocktails. 700 Central Avenue, (501) 321-0909
Where to Stay
Accommodation options are limited in downtown Hot Springs, especially considering how many visitors the town gets, but you’ll find more places closer to the highway and Lake Ouachita. On the top end, you’ll find the new Hotel Hot Springs, a modern highrise downtown. Arlington Hotel is a historic hotel where President Clinton and Al Capone both stayed over the years.
You’ll also find smaller, independent motels, rental cabins, chain hotels, and bed and breakfasts nearby as well. Lookout Point Lakeside Inn offers scenic views of the water and a homey feel. Camping is available for both RV and tent sites in the national park and at the nearby Hot Springs National Park KOA. Rentals are also available through websites like VRBO like this downtown loft.
My stay was arranged by Visit Hot Springs and Geiger Public Relations.