If you follow us on social media, you may have noticed we’ve been spending a lot of time in Arkansas lately. Tom landed a great new remote job with a company that’s headquartered in Little Rock, giving us the perfect excuse to explore The Natural State when he was visiting the office. Recently, we spent a relaxing weekend in what is thought to be America’s first resort town – Hot Springs. This trip surprised us in so many ways and was without a doubt the best little getaway we’ve had since moving to Oklahoma City. Hot Springs is located in the Ouachita Mountains, which sprawl across the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Half of our drive out wound through these green, rolling peaks which made for a very scenic little road trip. It’s about five hours to Hot Springs from OKC, a bit further than we’d normally prefer for a weekend trip. However, we were heading to Little Rock on Monday about an hour away, so this was the perfect little detour.
Why Hot Springs?
As the name suggests, Hot Springs is located among several natural thermal springs whose waters are thought to have healing properties. The town took advantage of the springs by building a row of extravagant bath houses, or spas, now known as Bathhouse Row. People came from all over to soak in these medicinal baths, and while most of the houses are closed today two still remain in operation. And while it was the idea of a spa weekend that drew us in, the unique history of the city and the natural setting really sealed the deal. Let’s jump into everything we loved about our weekend in Hot Springs!
Beer, Gangsters AND You Can Take the Dog!
We arrived mid-day on Saturday, to weather that certainly put the HOT in Hot Springs. With Ashton along for the ride, we were worried about finding indoor dog-friendly activities and having to dump him off at the hotel for the entire trip. Luckily, we had unknowingly stumbled upon one of the most dog friendly locations we’ve ever visited. We were able to hit the ground running and explore, pup in tow, without missing a beat.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Starving after the long drive, we hopped over to Superior Bathhouse Brewery for lunch and some brews with the pup. Previously abandoned for 30 years, the Superior Baths building has taken on new life as a craft brewery. Superior is the first brewery in a U.S. National Park and the first in the world to use thermal spring water as its main ingredient.
We shared a turkey sandwich and an order of deviled eggs, and of course sampled several of the beers. The food was good if a little pretty basic, but the historic building was oh-so-charming and the beer was great! There’s a long bar at the front of the restaurant that looks out onto Central Ave (Hot Springs’ main strip), perfect for people watching while you eat and drink.
The Gangster Musuem
Our server at Superior informed us that most public buildings in Hot Springs were dog friendly, including the Gangster Museum of America. This place was already on our must-visit list for the trip, so we went straight there.
Before there was a Las Vegas, Hot Springs actually served as a hotbed for illicit activity starting in the 1920s. Notorious gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano were drawn to Hot Springs as a respite from New York City, basking in the ample gambling halls and luxuriating in the bathhouses. The entire town was in on the corruption, including law enforcement, which makes for a lot of super twisted tales. Any trip to Hot Springs would seriously be incomplete without a stop at this fun museum.
Incredible Dining and Drinks with a Side of History
Throw a rock down Hot Springs’ bustling Central Avenue and you’re more than likely going to hit a building with historical significance. Our time in Hot Springs was short, but our few meals were incredibly memorable.
Date Night at The Avenue at The Waters Hotel
Our favorite meal of the trip was at The Avenue at the historic Waters Hotel, built in 1913. The building originally housed doctors’ offices where physicians set up shop to administer to traveling patients who had come to Hot Springs for its healing waters. It’s now a modern and luxurious hotel complete with an artisan-style restaurant helmed by award-winning Le Cordon Bleu alumnus Casey Copeland.
We had a perfect date night at The Avenue, complete with impeccable service, to celebrate Tom’s new job. Highlights of the meal included the broccoli tots with parmesan and roasted Guajillo cayenne and the pork al pastor board, a deconstructed version of our favorite tacos.
After-Dinner Drinks at The Ohio Club
After dinner, we went next door to the iconic Ohio Club for drinks and live music, commonly thought to be Arkansas’ oldest bar. The venue is over 100 years old and was once a bustling casino that commonly saw the likes of infamous figures like Bugsy Moran, Al Capone and Mae West.
The band playing that evening wasn’t quite to our taste, but we enjoyed a cocktail and the atmosphere before moseying along.
An Audacious Brunch at Maxine’s
Maxine Temple Jones was the well-known madame of Hot Springs’ most notable brothel, and a shrewd business woman at that (learn more about her at the Gangster Museum!). The second floor of the current bar and music venue, Maxine’s, was home to her famous bordello. We stopped in on Sunday morning for a tawdry little Bloody Mary, which came as stacked with toppings as the building is with dramatic history.
No your eyes do not deceive you, there is in fact a slice of pizza adorning that Bloody Mary – along with a variety of pickles, bacon, sliced pepperoni and an artichoke. It’s a meal in a glass!
An Iconic (and Possibly Haunted?) Stay at the Arlington Resort Hotel
One of the first structures you’ll notice upon driving into Hot Springs is the towering Arlington Resort Hotel. This aging beauty is as much a part of the the city’s soul now as ever. Is it the fanciest hotel? No. But if you love history, there’s no accommodation more storied than The Arlington.
We chose to stay at The Arlington due to its central location and because it’s dog friendly. While our room was far from glamorous, the lobby bar and dining room are reminders of its former grandeur.
As with the rest of the town’s stalwart institutions, The Arlington was once the home to celebrities like Babe Ruth and the notorious Al Capone – whose suite is memorialized on the 4th floor.
Nature Trails and City Sidewalks Side by Side
One of the coolest things about Hot Springs is that the downtown is part of a national park – Hot Springs National Park. Central Avenue is punctuated by beautiful rock formations, centuries-old buildings and modern shops and murals. From our room at the Arlington, we could be on a hiking trail connected to the hotel within minutes. The trails have severals “exits” that will pop you out right back in the center of town. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen!
Unfortunately, we missed the Garvan Woodland Gardens. Somehow they slipped under our radar until we arrived in Little Rock and all of Tom’s coworkers sang their praises. Honestly, it was way too hot to be outside on our first day in town and our second day was packed so we wouldn’t have had time anyway. But now we just have a reason to go back!
“Taking the Waters” on Bathhouse Row
Of course, no visit to Hot Springs would be complete without a little spa action on Bathhouse Row. Tom and I had actually never gone to a spa together, so this was a momentous occasion for us! There are two operational spas on Bathhouse Row – Buckstaff Baths and Quapaw Baths and Spa. We opted for an afternoon at Quapaw for a private bath (pretty much a glorified jacuzzi tub) and 25-minute couples massages. The massages were life changing. We’re now working on rearranging our budget to include at least quarterly spa visits going forward.
Onto Little Rock!
From Hot Springs, we hit the road for a working week in Little Rock. We felt so relaxed and recharged after our little getaway. We can’t wait to return to Arkansas to explore more of The Natural State. Stay tuned for our first impressions of Little Rock!
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Loved this article about Hot Springs. You must visit us again and go to Garvan Gardens. A trip to Hot Springs is not complete without visiting one of the major lakes in the area. Lake Hamilton, Lake Ouachita or Lake Catherine. Gorgeous! And Oaklawn Park in the spring is quite the experience!
Yes we were so bummed to miss out on the lakes and the gardens. I hope to go back sometime soon and maybe stay on one of the lakes!
Mary Smith says
We love Hot Springs and a couple of years ago spent a wedding anniversary weekend there. We too stayed at the Arlington and were not very impressed with the rooms although the tile work in the bathroom was straight out of my Grandparents 1920’s “mansion”. The art galleries are awesome too. Hope you make it back soon.