On Monday, April 8, 2024, umbraphiles across the country will make their way to Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s one of the two official national parks — Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley is the other — that will be within the total solar eclipse’s path of totality. While this astronomical event hasn’t happened in the state since 1918 and won’t occur again until 2045, it’s far from the only draw to Hot Springs.
As the name suggests, Hot Springs is home to dozens of thermal springs that flow from the Ouachita Mountains. In 1832, these natural features were designated as the first federal reservation for recreation, though archeologists have found evidence that Native Americans have lived in the area, and Arkansas as a whole, millennia before the arrival of Western settlers. It’s thought that they used the waters for their healing powers, a practice that continues to this day. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Hot Springs transformed from a frontier town into a spa destination known for its eight Victorian-style bathhouses along Bathhouse Row. The thermal waters are also part of the reason Hot Springs boasts the title of the “birthplace” of baseball spring training; many Major League teams sent their players (Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron among them) to Hot Springs to take advantage of the water’s curative properties ahead of the season.
Modern-day Hot Springs embraces its history and natural resources, but it also continues to evolve and expand. Katelyn McMurry, the managing director of The Reserve at Hot Springs, describes Hot Springs as a “quirky small town full of history” as well as “a sportsman’s paradise with a backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains accented with beautiful lakes along with biking and hiking trails galore.” Rose Schweikhart, the owner of Superior Bathhouse Brewery, adds that “there is always something fun going on,” whether it’s Spa-Con, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, The Güdrun – Northwoods Mountain Biking Festival, Bridge St. Live concerts, or the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Interested in planning a visit? Read on to discover the best things to eat, see, and do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Related: 13 Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
Best Hotels and Resorts in Hot Springs
The Reserve at Hot Springs
Opened in the summer of 2021, The Reserve at Hot Springs is relatively new to the scene, but it quickly became one of T+L readers’ favorite resorts in the South, as voted in the World’s Best Awards. Formerly a mansion, the 12-room property features “beautiful décor, plenty of antiques, and one-of-a-kind landscaping,” according to Chef Joshua Garland of Dons Southern Social.
Intimate, historic, and conveniently located, Hotel Hale certainly tops the list of the best places to stay in Hot Springs. Mineral water is pumped into each of the nine suites — all of which have their own soaking tubs. The building itself (formerly known as the Hale Bathhouse) is the oldest structure on Bathhouse Row, with origins dating back to 1892.
The Waters Hot Springs, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Travelers who have their hearts set on downtown accommodations can opt for The Waters Hot Springs, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. The property is directly across from Bathhouse Row and just a five-minute walk to Hot Springs National Park.
Lookout Point Lakeside Inn
Self-described as “an oasis for romance and well-being, indulgence, and luxury,” Lookout Point Lakeside Inn takes relaxation seriously. No matter which room you book, you’ll get a gorgeous view of Lake Hamilton, room service breakfast, and access to the outdoor fire pit and patio.
Best Things to Do in Hot Springs
Bathe in the thermal waters.
If you’re making your way to this part of the country, you’ll definitely want to “bathe in the thermal springs to relax and experience the history of Bathhouse Row,” says McMurry. While visitors can’t soak in the springs outdoors, they can head to Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Baths and Spa for some relaxation. Schweikhart also recommends touring the Fordyce Bathhouse, the park’s museum and visitor center. “The museum gives visitors a chance to see a bathhouse setup as things were in the heyday of bathing in the Spa City, but [it] also provides accurate historical information on important local topics like civil rights and local Native American tribes,” she says.
Go for a hike.
“For the more outdoorsy visitors, I always recommend hiking our myriad trails… which range in difficulty from doable-in-flip-flops to a whole-day, 13-mile loop that circles the entire valley with spectacular views,” says Schweikhart. Chef Garland also suggests visitors stretch their legs on a hike, with Cedar Glades Park and Lake Catherine being his favorite spots.
Get out on the water.
Bathhouse Row isn’t the only water-related activity in Hot Springs. “Rent a boat and go to Lake Hamilton, and spend the day riding around and going to any of the lakefront restaurants, [like] Sam’s Pizza Pub and Bubba Brew’s,” says Chef Garland. Or, head to Arkansas’ largest lake, Lake Ouachita, and swim in what McMurry describes as “crystal-clear” water.
Attend a horse race at Oaklawn.
Since 1905, Hot Springs has hosted thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn. The 68-day season runs annually from December through early May, and visitors can check the schedule and book tickets online.
Best Shopping in Hot Springs
“Hot Springs has many talented local artists,” says McMurry, who recommends shopping at Justus Fine Art Gallery and Legacy Fine Art Gallery. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, you can attend the Gallery Walk, where many of Hot Springs’ studios and galleries are open late for browsing new and existing exhibitions.
Thrift and Antique Shopping
“I am a huge fan of antiques and thrift shopping, and the adventurous shopper can spend an entire day hunting for treasures at the 20-plus vintage, consignment, thrift, and antique shops all within a 5-mile radius,” says Schweikhart. Stops to add to your itinerary include The Retro Fit, The Vintage Ranch, Bath House Row Antiques, and Iron Crow Antiques.
For a useful Hot Springs souvenir or thoughtful gift, consider Bathhouse Soapery, which Schweikhart says makes “amazing soaps and cosmetics.” Located across from Bathhouse Row, the flagship store has a variety of products, including whipped soap and soap slices.
Best Restaurants in Hot Springs
Dons Southern Social
McMurry says Dons Southern Social, a modern-day speakeasy, offers a “unique menu and a lively ambiance.” Reservations are highly encouraged, and when you book, you’ll receive an email with instructions on how to find the entrance as well as the password you’ll need to enter.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
“We are the only brewery in the world that makes our product with thermal spring water,” says Schweikhart. Along with 18 craft beers — brewed with the aforementioned special ingredient — Superior Bathhouse Brewery has a food menu full of classics, like burgers, soft pretzels, and chicken tenders. As a bonus, travelers can boast that they’ve been to the only brewery in a national park.
McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant
McClard’s has been serving up barbeque since 1928 — and it’s remained a family-owned business ever since. Load up on their famous hickory-smoked beef, pork, and ribs alongside coleslaw, hand-rolled hot tamales, and spicy barbeque beans.
“The best pizza in the state, or even the South, is at Deluca’s,” says Chef Garland. The 18-inch pies are all made with homemade dough and cooked in a 725-degree brick oven. Pizza-craving travelers should note, however, that Deluca’s is only open Thursday through Sunday, so plan your trip accordingly.
The Ohio Club
If you like history and live music, keep a night free for The Ohio Club. The so-called “oldest bar in Arkansas” is known to have been frequented by both gangsters and baseball players in the early 1900s; Al Capone and Bugsy Segel are most often associated with the establishment. The Ohio Club first opened in 1905, turned into a speakeasy during Prohibition, and continues to host live music Thursday through Monday.
Best Time To Visit Hot Springs
“The best time of year to visit Hot Springs would be the end of the race season in April through July,” says Chef Garland. It won’t be as crowded, and “there are so many outdoor activities you can do,” he adds. McMurry also says early spring and late October are good times to travel to Hot Springs if you want to see the blooming cherry blossoms or colorful foliage.
How to Get There
If you’re flying into Hot Springs, you have two options: Little Rock’s Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) or Hot Springs Memorial Field Airport (HOT). Southern Airways Express is the only airline that serves the latter, but Allegiant, Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, United, and Frontier all fly in and out of Little Rock.
How to Get Around
You’ll need a car to navigate most of Hot Springs, although downtown — and particularly Bathhouse Row — is very walkable. Uber and Lyft rides are also available.