Hurray to Hot Springs!
What to Do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Bathhouse Row and Central Avenue are the centerpieces of downtown Hot Springs. In its heyday, a dozen elegant bathhouses greeted visitors to the area. Today, only one, the Buckstaff Bathhouse, operates as a spa. Others, such as the Fordyce Bathhouse, have found other ways to welcome vacationers. The Fordyce, a 1915, impressively restored, Spanish Renaissance building, is now the town’s visitor center. Once inside, the Fordyce takes you back to another time, with marble, mosaic floors and the former sunroom’s elaborate stained glass ceiling.
Art galleries, featuring regional and internationally recognized painters, sculptors, and textile artists, line the downtown streets. Over forty antique stores also call Hot Springs home, offering unique furniture, glassware, linens, vintage clothing, and ceramics President Bill Clinton spent his youth in Hot Springs and graduated from Hot Springs High School. Take the tour and see his boyhood home and many of his favorite haunts. Clinton fans will also enjoy the newly opened Clinton presidential Library, just an hour’s drive away in downtown Little Rock.
Music is important to Hot Springs, where Memphis and New Orleans jazz combines with Tennessee bluegrass. Enjoy the sounds of Arkansas at the Music Mountain Jamboree, a two-hour comedy stage show, featuring country/western, gospel, and patriotic music. In addition, many small jazz and country music clubs entertain visitors to the area. Each September, the city hosts the annual Hot Springs Jazz festival, featuring musicians from another the region, the country, and the world.
As charming as the town of Hot Springs is, no trip there would be complete without exploring the natural beauty that surrounds the city. Hot Springs is nestled in the valley of the heavily forested Zig Zig Mountains. Lake Catherine and Hot Springs National Park, just east of Hot Springs, offer fishing, hiking, camping, boating, and all sorts of watersports. Rent a bike and set off along the lake or go horseback riding at the edge of the forest.
Getting to Hot Springs Arkansas
Just 50 miles southwest of Little Rock, Hot Springs is easy to get to by car. It’s about a nine-hour drive from Atlanta, via Birmingham and Memphis. Alternately, you can take a non-stop flight to Little Rock and drive an hour to Hot Springs. Current roundtrip airfare from Atlanta to Little Rock starts at around $300 for the hour-and-a-half journey. New York to Little Rock is around $350. The lowest airfare requires a two-week advance purchase and is nonrefundable.
Where to Stay in Hot Springs, AR
The Grand Dame of Hot Springs accommodations is The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, nestled just outside of town in the Hot Springs National Park. This luxurious, 484-room resort offers an attached thermal bathhouse and spa, a championship golf course, tennis courts, three restaurants, and is adjacent to the Oaklawn racetrack and all the activities offered by Hot Springs National Park.
Lakeside lodges and hotels are ideal for families and those wanting to take advantage of the outdoor activities of Hot Springs. Rustic cabins, some constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, have a timeless charm as well as wood-burning fireplaces and full kitchens. Campsites are available in Hot Springs National Park on a first-come, first-served basis for $10 per night. American citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. over 62 can buy a Golden Age passport for $10. This lesser known pass entitles holders to free lifetime admittance to all of the nation’s parks as well as a 50 percent discount on park facilities, such as camping, parking, and swimming.
Bed and Breakfast inns are another charming way to get to know the people and the culture of Hot Springs. The gracious 1905 Victorian, Gables Inn treats visitors to stained glass windows and period antiques as well as warm service and affordable accommodations. Room rates start at $99 per night and include breakfast and complimentary coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Rooms boast unique amenities, such as claw foot tubs, eleven-foot ceilings, and one suite even has a heart-shaped whirlpool tub.
Taking the Waters
The thermal waters of Hot Springs have attracted visitors since Native Americans used the area as a neutral meeting ground where they would settle inter-tribal disputes. In 1832, the U.S. government set aside four sections of land in and around Hot Springs for the preservation of the natural thermal springs there. A proliferation of bathhouses cropped up and Hot Springs became a fashionable Victorian age vacation destination. Most of these original bathhouses have ceded to new vacation spots and new arthritis treatments, but one charming spa remains: the Buckstaff Bathhouse. In continuous operation since 1912, the Buckstaff invites visitors to take advantage of the thermal waters. Try a 20-minute tub bath, a sitz bath, or experience the vapor cabinet. After the steam, cool off with the invigorating needle rinse and finish the session with a Swedish massage. Prices are surprisingly affordable. The steam treatments are $20.25 per person and a 20-minute Swedish massage is $23. You don’t need a reservation for the steam treatments. Just walk in. The whole process takes about an hour and a half. The Buckstaff also offers manicures, pedicures, and facials at reasonable prices. Reservations are recommended for these services. Don’t leave Hot Springs without tasting the water. It’s crisp and refreshing and available free at the drinking fountain in the city center, at Central and Reserve Streets.
Specialties of the House
Hot Springs is known for its spicy barbecue. One of the best places to sample it is at McClard’s Bar-B-Q, a family-run restaurant on Albert Pike near the city center. In business for over 75 years, all of McClard’s meat is cooked and smoked in an old-fashioned pit style and everything they serve is made from scratch. Make sure that you buy a bottle of their special barbecue sauce to take home with you.
Mexican cuisine is also popular and an economical choice for a Hot Springs lunch or dinner. Generations of Mexican immigrants have settled in the area and have brought their delicious cooking with them. Try On the Border Mexican CafÃ?Â© on Pakis Street for hand-made tamales, spicy fajitas, and a wide-range of over Mexican specialties.
Another dinner option is a relaxing and romantic sunset dinner cruise on Lake Hamilton aboard the 400-passenger riverboat, “The Belle of Hot Springs.” This charming vessel treats visitors to a choice of a shrimp, prime rib, or salmon dinner with all the fixings, followed by dancing under the stars.
You won’t go hungry in Hot Springs. The 140 restaurants within the city include many major chain favorites as well as independent Asian, Mexican, Italian, French, German, Cajun, and seafood eateries.
Stay close to home this vacation season and let the southern hospitality of Arkansas envelope you as you explore the small-town charm, natural beauty, and healing waters of Hot Springs. Hurry to Hot Springs soon.