Whether you’re honeymooning or wanting to escape for a romantic weekend, Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a destination to unfold and enjoy. The city, wrapped around Hot Springs National Park, is a place to enjoy year-round, with activities and attractions that span the calendar.
Known for its world-famous Bathhouse Row, water from the 47 springs inside Hot Springs National Park are pumped to several locations where visitors can take the therapeutic baths. At the Buckstaff Bathhouse, the treatments remain virtually unchanged from those received by bathers in the 1910s and 1920s, while at the Quapaw two doors down more modern experiences and common bathing pools are available. Several hotels, including the Arlington Hotel and The Springs, also offer thermal baths. The National Parks Visitor Center, located within the restored Fordyce Bathhouse, is a free opportunity to look back at the history of the Spa City and to view the restored facilities that hark back to a different era.
Superior Bathhouse, the smallest of the eight original edifices along the row, has been converted into a brewery and distillery, and is the only place in the world where you can sample brews created directly from thermal waters. It also offers a fine selection of Arkansas-made beer, a small tapas menu and housemade gelato.
The other side of Central Avenue, where Bathhouse Row is located, is packed with history, dining experiences and attractions of all sorts. Among these are Arkansas’s oldest bar, The Ohio Club. Open since 1907, this watering hole offers one of the best burgers in the area, along with live music every night of the week. Take a moment and pose with Al Capone, a frequent visitor back in the day, out front.
Capone and his contemporaries are remembered and their exploits shared at the Gangster Museum of America. Located across from the Buckstaff Bathhouse, this museum explores the rise of gangs in big cities such as New York and Chicago, and how individuals from those organizations interacted when they were in Hot Springs, which was considered the neutral ground.
A couple could spend an entire week on Bathhouse Row, taking breakfast at the 76-year-old favorite The Pancake Shop, lunching on South American fare at Rolando’s Restaurante, supping at the ever-romantic Belle Arti Italian Restaurant. Just north of Central Avenue, finer dining at the acclaimed Central Park Fusion can be found. Within blocks, two can happily dine at the historic Bohemia Park Bistro, or enjoy a fine hand-thrown Neapolitan style pizza adorned with fresh Arkansas produce and locally-sourced meats at DeLucca’s.
Science fiction fans should venture out further into the city and delve through the eclectic collection at Galaxy Connection, a museum dedicated specifically to the Star Wars movie franchise. Packed with actual costumes, models and set pieces from the original films, this is a great place for a photo op or for two to get their geek on.
Romance can be fanned and enjoyed with a stroll through the legendary Garvan Woodland Gardens, located on the southeast corner of town along four and a half miles of wooded shoreline on Lake Hamilton, near Carpenter Dam. Verna Cook Garvan donated the 210 acres to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture in 1985. The gardens feature more than 128 species of ornamental and native shrubs and wild flowers, 160 different types of azaleas, a four acre Asian garden with a 12-foot waterfall, and the Anthony Wedding Chapel, one of the most stunning places to marry in the state.
For explorers, Hot Springs is a great anchor point for adventures throughout the Ouachita Mountains. Of note is Hot Springs’ location along a rich vein of crystal deposits that stretch in a band into Oklahoma. While a few crystal mines, notably those operated by the Coleman family, operate in the Hot Springs area, a larger concentration appear in and around Mount Ida, thirty miles to the west on US Highway 270. Most of these mines allow amateur rockhounds to come in and dig up their own crystals for a flat admission fee, and you keep what you find.
Staying in Hot Springs? The city offers a wide array of lodging options, ranging from fine full-service hotels to cabins in the woods. Of note are several bed-and-breakfasts, many of which are located within walking distance of Bathhouse Row. One of my favorites is the 1884 Tinkerbelle’s Wildwood Bed and Breakfast, north of the national park on Prospect Avenue. This three story edifice on a low hill offers a variety of rooms, including the Ruyard Kipling Suite, a jungle-themed apartment in leopard print and black. Another great opportunity on the south side of the city, Lookout Point Bed and Breakfast, stands on the shore of Lake Hamilton with a lake view for every room and suite.
Hot Springs is well known as the home of Oaklawn Racing Park, a 113 year old facility that offers paramutual betting and a games-of-chance facility in the heart of the city. Open January through April, it is busiest during the Racing Festival of the South, where some of the nation’s top thoroughbreds compete for a place at top races, including the Kentucky Derby.
Other events of note include the world-famous Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (October), the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade (March 17th), and both the Hot Springs Jazz Festival and Hot Springs Blues Festival (both in September). For more information about Hot Springs, along with discounts and coupons for lodging and attractions, visit hotsprings.org.
Story by Kat Robinson // Photos by Grav Weldon