Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs is a beautiful place to visit, especially during spring or fall. Although 24 hours is not enough to see and do everything the city has to offer, visitors can hit the highlights, especially if they are on a day trip for horse racing or a parade. Hot Springs may not be the biggest city in Arkansas, but it certainly is one of the gems of the Natural State.
The focal point of Hot Springs' downtown area lies along Central Avenue. Walking the main drag, visitors will notice that boutiques, souvenir shops, art galleries, and restaurants line the avenue. When the weather is nice, the sidewalks buzz with people walking between the various local shops and attractions, of which Bathhouse Row is the most visited. These National Historic Landmarks were the impetus for designation as the country's first national park. In short, downtown is the place to be.
For visitors wishing to spend the night, the Arlington Hotel is in the center of the action. This 100-year-old hotel displays the Spanish Renaissance architectural style that is pervasive across Bathhouse Row. Once inside, guests will soon see why presidents, baseball Hall of Famers, and infamous gangsters have all come to relax in Spa City. With its historical past and prime location, the Arlington is the perfect place to book a room when visiting Hot Springs.
Have Some Fun
If you're looking to see things outside of the downtown area, the "duck" tours are one of your best bets. These amphibious vehicles take visitors from Bathhouse Row all the way out to Lake Hamilton, while captains recount the history of the city along the way.
If a great view is what you're looking for, make sure to make the trek up to Hot Springs Mountain Tower, providing 140-mile views in every direction. It's the best way to get a sense of just why exactly Arkansas is called the Natural State.
Visiting Hot Springs during spring means a mandatory visit to Oaklawn, a horse racing track home to the Arkansas Derby—a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn remains the only place betting is allowed in the state, but even if gambling isn't one of your interests, the food certainly will be. Oaklawn's famous corned beef sandwiches should be a controlled substance since they're so addictive. That's to say nothing of opening day, which is a whole other beast unto itself: 50¢ sandwiches and 10¢ beverages all day long.
During summer, Magic Springs & Crystal Falls, a combined amusement and water park, offers thrills for the whole family. The best park about these two experiences is that they can be whole-day affairs. You won't have to cross town to find a bite to eat during lunch. Simply arrive at mid-morning, enjoy a day's worth of fun, then head back to the hotel room to get cleaned up for dinner.
Speaking of food, while Hot Springs might not be known as a mecca of culinary achievements, it more than holds its own with cities that are even twice its size. For visitors who stick to exploring downtown, lunch can be grabbed at any one of the nearby bistros along Central Avenue. For a unique experience, however, Superior Bathhouse's craft beer tasting room in a converted bathhouse checks all the boxes: different, historic, and delicious. Not only does Superior provide patrons with spa treats, but it also doubles as a brewery and eatery. They have a great lunch menu and over 18 beers made on the premises. Add to this the fantastic view of pedestrians walking the streets of downtown, and you have the perfect place for lunch.
When dinnertime rolls around, look no further than Rolando's. The pungent aroma from the kitchen hits you immediately upon entering, but don’t sit down just yet! Here's an insider's tip: ask if there is room on the patio. Up a flight of steps and out the back door is the perfect al fresco dining area lined with lights and live music. The mellow melodies provide the perfect background noise for friends or couples to chat around. It's a dining experience that will provide something more than just a sensation for your taste buds.
Before you head out of town the next morning, stop by The Pancake Shop to start your drive home with a nice hearty breakfast. They open early at 6:00 a.m. so don't be surprised to find a line along the street by 8:00 a.m. Fear not! Things move along quickly. For those heavy sleepers who may skip the morning's meal, swing by Fat Bottomed Girl's Cupcakes, and grab a tasty treat for the road. You'll thank us later.