If you know us, you know how much we love Hot Springs, Arkansas… We literally! Can’t stop! Talking about it! Treasure hunting, spa life, retro vibes, crazy festivals, cute downtown, every pizza! You name it, Hot Springs has it. We spent a long weekend there getting all the inside info, so we can help you plan what to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Where to stay in Hot Springs
Vintage lovers will fall for Hot Springs’ Route 66-style motor inns. Our fave? Dame Fortune’s Cottage Court. Two sisters from Texas renovated this adorable roadside retreat bringing back its retro neon sign, vibrantly themed rooms and a furry team of rescue cats that live on-site. Located on historic Park Avenue, it’s walking distance from downtown Hot Springs and one of several recently renovated motor courts nearby. (See Best Court Cottages below!)
What to do in Hot Springs
The Park: Hot Springs National Park just turned 100. Go say HBD to the country’s first and most unique national park along its famous Bathhouse Row. Start with a tour of the Fordyce Bathhouse, which will give you all the historic background of this half-town-half-park built on natural geothermal springs.
The Water: Healing waters put Spa City on the map, and there are a few ways visitors can enjoy them. Buckstaff Bathhouse offers old timey water treatments – like sitz baths and personal-sized steam boxes – they used to treat ailments at the turn of the century. For a more modern approach, you soak away your stress in the pools at Quapaw Bathhouse nearby. Go high-brow and splurge on a massage or spa treatment there. (Book in advance). Or go keep it simple and fill a jug or bottle from the city’s free fountain near the visitor center. Warning: It’s HOT!
Treasure Hunt: We surprised ourselves with how much we loved Ron Coleman’s Crystal Mines. (Note: There are two Coleman mines. We loved Ron’s) Take a tour, look at cool rocks and then you get to dig for wands of crystal quartz. It’s a little bit like pulling the slot machine at a casino – and even more addictive. Thankfully, we had a busy day planned or we would have stayed way too long.
Families bring coolers, lunch and their own digging tools to make a day out of it. You can also purchase digging supplies on site. The best part: You get to keep whatever you find! Pro-tip: Bring sunscreen, a hat and maybe a beach umbrella. Oh! and they even have zip lining! (Which we did not do, because we didn’t want to miss a second of digging.)
Forest Bathing: Garvan Woodland Gardens is a bit of a drive out of town, but a worthwhile botanical retreat. Find gorgeous themed gardens, miles of forested trails along creeks and waterfalls, lake views, picturesque bridges – and a million fantastic selfie opportunities. Don’t miss the airy all wood-and-glass Anthony Chapel. (You’ve definitely seen pics of it.)
Downtown: On one side of downtown’s main drag, Central Avenue, are the bathhouses. On the other are blocks of outdoor venues, kitchy fairway-style attractions, chic boutiques, historic bars and more. Definitely spend some time shopping Central. For every three run-of-the-mill t-shirt stores, you’ll find something really unique. We bought some of our best souvenirs at Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium, where they make soaps, lotions, bath products and more in-house.
And check the calendar to see if you’re in town for one of their super fun festivals. Every Thursday in June and September there is free live music on Bridge Street and, of course, plan to visit for Hot Springs’ two marquee parties: The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade and fun-soaked Running of the Tubs.
Be Dramatic: Vintage theaters are a thing in Hot Springs, and great places to get up to something fun. We missed the magic show at the Malco Theater, but sitting at its circus-sideshow-style bar was almost as good. David Lynch couldn’t have designed a more perfectly weird lounge. We caught a magical drag pageant at the Central Theatre during Pride Month. Check their entertainment calendar, to see what they’re up to during your visit.
What to eat (and drink) in Hot Springs
Best Cafe is so cute! Attached to a roadside motel, it has major vintage diner vibes. The food is great, and they even have a bar.
Lunch, Dinner and Drinks
Superior Bathhouse Brewery actually uses the hot spring water in it’s beer, and it’s the only brewery located in a national park. They also happen to have yummy food and a pretty huge selection of their beers on tap. Taco Mama offers up southwestern flare. We loved the Shane’s Special on the brunch menu. Steinhaus Keller is a German beer garden with an enormous menu. Start with a beer in a boot and a giant pretzel while you study the menu.
Pizza gets its own category because, for reasons unknown to us, Hot Springs got a lot of damn pizza. These three spots all offer a different take on everyone’s favorite pie.
Deluca Pizzeria serves up authentic, thin crust beauties along with a decent beer and cocktail list. We didn’t understand the aesthetic of giant photos of cute waitresses on the wall, but the pizza is very good. Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden gets a gold star for ambiance. Their hilltop patio is heaven, and don’t miss the little adjacent speakeasy they call The Gin Joint. Maxine’s is more bar than restaurant, offering live entertainment, karaoke and craft cocktails alongside Chicago-style deep dish. Named for the madame who, back in the town’s gangster days, ran the on-site brothel (and much of Hot Springs), the building itself has some fun history you can read about on the menu.
Kick off your evening with the best view in Hot Springs. The Rooftop Bar at the Waters Hotel is a beautiful spot high above Bathhouse Row to sip a drink and watch the sun set. Nearby, the world-famous Ohio Club is a hold out from Hot Springs’ gangster era and boasts Arkansas’ oldest bar (like, the actual bar you sit at). Sit on Al Capone’s lap on the bench out front. Look for bullet holes in the ceiling. There’s almost always live music playing at this fun stop. For a dancier crowd, head just beyond downtown to the Starlight Club, where the drinks are strong (sometimes come in Jello-shot form), dance contests frequent and the DJ spins your faves.
That’s it for our best tips for what to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas – until next time! What’s your favorite thing to do here? Read our 2020 Alabama Journey cover story for more on Hot Springs.