After arriving on a Friday evening, the best way to acquaint yourself with Hot Springs is a walk around downtown. As if the marvel of a national park encompassing part of a town’s downtown isn’t enough, make sure to check out the galleries and specialty shops that characterize downtown. Familiarize yourself with historic Bathhouse Row.
Kick your Saturday morning off with breakfast at legendary The Pancake Shop (www.pancakeshop.com), the 70-plus year old Hot Springs icon. It’s a popular place, so you may be directed next door to the Savory Pantry (www.savorypantry.com) while you wait for a table. But that’s okay – you get the best of both worlds with the best breakfast in town following shopping at the best gourmet, import market in town.
Feeling satiated from breakfast, walk or bike it off while en route to the signature destination of your visit – one of Hot Springs’ spas. Where else to start than Bathhouse Row, with its eight historic and architecturally diverse bathhouses that collectively hosted a lengthy list of high profile figures in history? Check in at The Fordyce, which is now a visitor’s center. Then either take in the services at The Buckstaff (www.buckstaffbaths.com), the last operating bathhouse on the Row – in operation since 1912; or choose from one of the many other spas in the vicinity. After a casual lunch in town, consider checking out the ponies and gaming at Oaklawn Park (www.oaklawn.com) or take the family to Magic Springs and Crystal Falls (www.magicsprings.com) for amusement park and water park action as well as in-season entertainment.
Dine Saturday evening at any of the myriad casual restaurants in Hot Springs or else enjoy J&S Italian Villa (www. jandsitalianvilla.com) or Angels in the Park (www.angelsinthepark.com) for something more memorable.
Sunday morning, either return to The Pancake Shop or head over to the Sunday brunch at The Arlington (www. arlingtonhotel.com). Enjoy the rest of your day outdoors, either strolling the Grand Promenade behind Bathhouse Row and the little scenic trails that are near it, or enjoy more active sporting options that take advantage of the setting – from boating, jet skiing and other watersports nearby to horseback riding, biking and birding.
Of course, Hot Springs events can influence even the best-planned itinerary, and there are numerous throughout the year, including the Hot Springs Music Festival (www.hotmusic.org/web), and the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (www.hsdfi.org), Legends Balloon Rally (www.hotairballoon.com/Legends-Balloon-Rally/) among many others.
Whether it’s the relaxation or romance, the water or the wilderness, Hot Springs has a way of forging lasting memories.
Stay in Style
Although most accommodations in Hot Springs fall into the middle-of-the-road category, there is a relatively sizeable array of options you might consider.
The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa: The most prominent building in the heart of historic downtown, The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa has all of the ambiance and hospitality of a traditional, grand old Southern hotel, as well as full spa service and the thermal bath house, three fabulous restaurants and a national park outside any door. Rooms range from quaint to historic suites favored by the likes of Al Capone and President Ronald Reagan. www.arlingtonhotel.com
Clarion Resort on the Lake: This full service franchised hotel located on the shores of beautiful Lake Hamilton features 149 rooms rising seven stories, and most guests will enjoy wonderful views of the lake and surrounding mountains from private balconies. The resort features on site seasonal boat rentals, Jacuzzi rooms, a lakeside outdoor swimming pool and volleyball court among other amenities convenient for travelers of all types. Just minutes from downtown and most area attractions. www.hotspringsclarion.com
Park Hotel of Hot Springs: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Park Hotel exemplifies the architectural brilliance of the 1920s and 1930s, and that architecture has been preserved through renovations over the years. Both serene and conveniently located, the Park Hotel is located at the upper entrance to the National Park Grand Promenade, moments from most area attractions. www.parkhotelhotsprings.com
At a Glance
Surrounded by three scenic lakes and sitting at the base of Hot Springs Mountain, Hot Springs, Ark., has long been defined by the natural thermal water that flows from 47 springs on the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain in the historic downtown district of the city.
Access: Most regional visitors opt to drive, with the trip taking from several hours to a short full-day depending on departure point. It’s a scenic drive, particularly in the fall, but it can be a slow one as well because of two-lane stretches.
Population: Approx. 40,000
Climate: Hot Springs has four distinct seasons, but they are generally mild.
Main Attractions: Historic sites. Spas. Culture abounds in art and music. Oaklawn Park is a major thoroughbred racing park; and the Magic Springs and Crystal Falls theme park appeals to many families. Plenty of outdoor opportunities.
Collect: Hot Springs’ Oaklawn Park has regularly attracted high-profile celebrities, particularly those with local connections such as former President Bill Clinton and Hollywood’s Billy Bob Thornton, making it prime territory for autograph seekers.
Spelunk: Take home a unique souvenir by collecting a quartz crystal from one of the many “dig” sites open to visitors in the area.
Must-See: The Garvan Woodland Gardens (www.garvangardens.org) houses hundreds of rare and very old plant and flower species.