Travel Diary: Hot Springs, Arkansas

In June Lin and I made the decision to have a very last minute, spontaneous moto trip to Northwest Arkansas and I am just now finding the time to share a Hot Springs travel diary with you. We stayed at the ever so charming 1890 Williams House Inn and you can read all about that magical gem here. I highly recommend booking your stay with them!! And if they are booked, stay at The Arlington. Even if you do not stay at The Arlington--you must get a drink in the gorgeous ornate lobby. This Hot Springs landmark hotel was Al Capone's hangout during his vacations to the area. There is live music on Friday and Saturday nights too. Both are super close to Central Avenue, where you will want to leisurely stroll and explore the historic town. 

And for something off the beaten path is the Hamilton House Estates Bed and Breakfast over looking Lake Hamilton. We have yet to stay there but many rave about it. 

Visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas will never go out of favor in my books, I've done it countless times already and I'll happily keep going back for more as long as I am in the states. We are already brainstorming a trip for the eclipse in a few years as Hot Springs will be in the total path of totality that go around. Like Bentonville and Fayetteville, there's something new to do and see each time you go and no matter how long I visit for, it never seems enough. We love being surrounded by the gorgeous Ouachita Mountains. Nestled in a wooded valley, Hot Springs is the oldest protected property in the National Park System with undeveloped mountain trails mere steps from downtown. President Bill Clinton spent his formative years here too which I find so interesting. I am after-all a huge fan of The Clintons if you didn't know this about me already. 


For those planning a visit to Hot Springs, I urge you to carve out some time to take it easy and really explore this beautiful little gem.  It’s known for naturally heated springs, many of them in Hot Springs National Park to the north. Bathhouse Row has 8 bathhouses from the 19th and 20th centuries. These include Buckstaff Baths, with thermal baths. The elaborate, stained-glass-and-marble Fordyce Bathhouse has a lobby fountain and houses the park’s visitors center and museum. Every detail is just stunning so do not forget your camera.  Hot Springs is a gem of a mountain town. The healing waters the town is named for have been attracting everyone from Native Americans, to early-20th-century health nuts, to a good chunk of the nation's organized-crime leadership. When Hot Springs was at full throttle in the 1930s, it was a hotbed of gambling, bootlegging, prostitution and opulence. 

HOT SPRINGS loves the ponies. The races are on at Oaklawn Park -- from mid-January to mid-April . I like to refer to it as the Arkansas derby.

Hot Springs also loves the films. We love The Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival which is actually going on right now through the 15th. Check it out here


Okay so Hot Springs must-do's......

-Indulge in the legendary baths:

 A few of the downtown hotels provide traditional spa services, but for the full historic experience it's tough to beat the Buckstaff Bathhouse (509 Central Avenue, 501-623-2308). It's my personal favorite on Bathhouse Row.  Highlights of the complex six-stage bathing process include a 20-minute soak in a deep tub of natural 102-degree mineral water (pumped from mountain hot springs, of course), a session inside the spring-fed steam room and a mummy-like hot pack treatment, above. In between, you can sip on the mineral-rich waters and rest in marble-clad cooling rooms. 

Don't forget to stop by the elaborate, stained-glass-and-marble Fordyce Bathhouse that I mentioned earlier.It houses the park’s visitors center and museum. So take the free tour and explore. You will most definitely get some great photos here too.

-Get some BBQ: (and yes this has it's own category)

Clinton's 'Cue In business since 1928, McClard's Bar-B-Q  (505 Albert Pike, 501-623-9665), below, has two claims to fame: tender smoked spare ribs and a long-standing status as Mr. Clinton's favorite barbecue joint. The house specialty is a platter of meaty ribs slathered in a tangy spicy tomato sauce topped with a generous mound of crispy French fries. Another standout is the Tamale Spread, a mushy conglomeration of hot tamales, spicy beef, beans and crunchy corn chips topped with chopped onion and a layer of bright orange shredded American cheese. Mr. Clinton has a consistent soft spot for McClard's: a wall of photographs includes images of him as commander in chief and relaxed ex-president. And those crispy French fries are so freakin' delicious!

-Treat yourself to some great food and sips: 

The semi-swanky Porterhouse (707 Central Avenue, 501-321-8282) is the perfect date night --Start with a few shots of good small-batch bourbon. The crab cakes are divine and I love the escargot artichoke dip. And the steaks of course are perfection. A couple of doors down in the subterranean Hot Springs Brau Haus and Biergarten (801 Central Avenue, 501-624-7866) lives some amazing German cuisine. The sauerkraut and potato salad is delish and there is an impressive selection of German beers (over four dozen most nights). On a nice night enjoy some amazing Latin American fare, on the patio with twinkling lights at Rolando's Restaurante. (210 Central Ave, 501-318-6054) The queso flamado is a must. And the Sopicaldo De Pollo which is a traditional Ecuadorian chicken soup makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Don't miss Arkansas's oldest bar--The Ohio Club. (336 Central Avenue, 501-627-0702) For over 100 years the Ohio Club has been the place to be. It all started in 1905 as a Bar and Casino. The Ohio Club has been a stop off place for many a celebrity. Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, just to name a few of the gangsters and it was also visited by many Major League Ball players since they had springs training in Hot Springs in the early 1900's. Babe Ruth was the most famous to visit. Because of all the gambling that went on in Hot Springs, many headliner talents were brought to Hot Springs. In 1915 Al Jolson performed at the Ohio Club, Mid 30's saw Mae West perform and an entire host of Blues and Jazz performers played though the 60's. Live entertainment is still the mainstay at the Ohio Club with music 7 nights a week. And don't miss out on the the most important meal of the day which is breakfast. The Pancake Shop (216 Central Avenue, 501-624-5720) has been a downtown institution since 1940. The no-frills breakfast joint features a long list of comforting morning standards, including savory buckwheat pancakes studded with blueberries and slabs of ham beside eggs cooked your way. Sixty years of tradition also means that the Pancake Shop is anything but secret, so arrive before 8 a.m. if you want to avoid a long line.

-Get outside in nature:

Arboretum Day Cap off your visit to Hot Springs with a long walk through Garvan Woodland Gardens (550 Arkridge Road, 501-262-9300), above, about seven miles south of downtown. The 210-acre park on Lake Hamilton is a meticulously designed garden and botanical preserve maintained by the University of Arkansas architecture department. Originally a native pine and hardwood forest, the gardens feature a series of waterfalls and curated displays of local plant life. With its fields of daffodils outside or solitary cranefly orchids indoors, it's the perfect segue between Saturday's race-day chaos and the upcoming Monday morning grind. Check out the beautiful Anthony Chapel too. It's a stunning unique structure at Garvan Woodland Gardens made of native wood & glass, with a 57-ft. ceiling. I am dying to attend a wedding here one day! Hint hint single lady friends!

Looking to celebrate a girls weekend here in December for a pre holiday celebration so let me know your faves so I can add them to my list!!!