Date: June 1, 2023 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Bailey Dougan |
There’s something for everyone in Spa City
Hot Springs is a multifaceted destination. Whether your heart is set on spending time in nature, relaxing at one of the country’s first spas, or exploring the historic downtown, the city is rife with possibilities.“I think Hot Springs has a lot of everything for everybody,” says Chris Ho, vice president of marketing for Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. First, he explains, there’s Hot Springs National Park and the Northwoods mountain biking trails, which draw outdoor enthusiasts looking for adventure. Lake Hamilton offers the opportunity for boating, swimming, or simply “parking and chilling” in a pontoon boat. There’s the downtown area, with Bathhouse Row and myriad restaurants, shops, and hotels. Finally, there’s Oaklawn, which is its own ecosystem of food and entertainment. “There’s a lot going on here, from the hotel to the new Mainline Sports Bar,” Chris says. “We also have two fine dining restaurants, the casino, the spa, and our event center, where we have headline acts.”
While those attractions are open year-round, during the racing season, it’s all about the horses. At the Arkansas Derby in April, Oaklawn drew approximately 65,000 people to the track—that’s close to double the city’s population of 38,000. “There is this excitement and buzz in Hot Springs around the start of race season, and then again at the start of summer,” Chris says. “The mood changes.” While horse racing is a centuries-old sport, Oaklawn’s recent additions aim to make it accessible to every generation. “A lot of our audience are diehard race fans, and we have to be able to evolve to attract a younger audience,” he says. Swanky new bars and restaurants, a concert series, and promotions aimed at college-aged students are all ways Oaklawn is diversifying its offerings. “We’re really trying to focus on bringing in younger age groups, families, and people who may not be race fans, but still can come here for fun and entertainment.”
Downtown Hot Springs keeps it interesting 12 months out of the year, as well. “Downtown is a huge draw for out-of-state traffic,” Chris says, recalling his first trips to the city as a student at UCA. “Seeing that area and how different it was, how many people were out and about; that was alluring to me.” One of the city’s most well-known traditions, the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, is a quirky celebration every March that showcases the city’s sense of humor. Similarly, Stueart Pennington’s World Championship Running of the Tubs (this year on June 3) is a one-of-a-kind event that invites teams to don costumes and race modified tubs down Bathhouse Row. It all adds to the feeling that no matter who you are, you’ll find something that suits your style in Spa City. Read on for more of our favorite ways to discover Hot Springs.
“I think Hot Springs has a lot of everything for everybody.”
—Chris Ho, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
Art lovers should plan a trip to Riley Art Glass Studio (rileyartglass.com), a gallery owned by brothers and operated out of a remodeled 1904 fire station building. Live glass-blowing demonstrations are available. For those who enjoy antiquing, Bath House Row Antiques (bathhouserowantiques.net) and Iron Crow Antiques (@ironcrowantiques_hotsprings) are favorites for locals and visitors alike; plus, they’re conveniently located on the same block of Central Avenue. If your home could use a design refresh, find out why Sandy Sutton’s Design Center (sandysuttonsdesigns.com) has been a trusted name in Hot Springs interiors for decades with a visit to her new showroom.
Best Café and Bar (@bestcafeandbar) is part of the revived Best Court Cottages, a 1933 motor court updated into accommodations for those with a penchant for nostalgia. With French toast, eggs Benedict, and mimosas, this spot has become the must-visit brunch place in Hot Springs. Trejo’s Del Lago (trejosdellago.com) offers Latin dining situated right on Lake Hamilton, and it is accessible by car or by boat. Mainline Sports Bar (mainlinesportsbar.com), the newest addition to Oaklawn, is a family-friendly atmosphere in the racetrack’s grandstand. In addition to sports-bar favorites such as burgers and wings, the restaurant features three Topgolf Swing Suites, ax-throwing lanes, and 90 TVs—so you can cheer on any team your heart might desire.
Home to 210 acres of botanical gardens, the flora is obviously one draw to Garvan Woodland Gardens (garvangardens.org). However, don’t miss the park’s architectural wonders, including the Evans Tree House and Anthony Chapel. Those with kids in tow will also enjoy the Mid-America Science Museum (midamericamuseum.org) for hands-on exhibits and learning opportunities based around technology and the natural world. For a grown-ups-only activity, visit Crystal Ridge Distillery (crystalridgedistillery.com), a moonshine distillery that embraces and celebrates the city’s bootlegger history.
With 198 luxury rooms, including two presidential suites, The Hotel at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort (oaklawn.com) is large enough to accommodate groups of any size. Book one of its comfortable, modern suites and enjoy the convenience of Oaklawn’s casino, spa, and restaurants just steps from your room. Hotel Hale (hotelhale.com) offers a chance to spend the night in one of the eight historic former spas on Bathhouse Row. Each suite—there are only nine—is outfitted with a large tub where you can soak in the hot springs mineral water the city is named for.