Article updated April 2022 by Brianna Goebel

Hot Springs, Arkansas, has quite a storied past. In the early 1900s, it was on the fast track to becoming the Las Vegas of the South, complete with gambling, casinos, and brothels — which happened to exist in plain sight on the town’s main drag. Later, the locale became a popular destination for the thermal mineral water that bubbled up naturally out of the ground and was thought to have healing power.

Local folklore says the water on one side of the street could cure you of everything you caught while dabbling in the casinos and brothels on the other side. In the late 1800s, doctors would even write prescriptions for people to come to Hot Springs just to take a bath.

In its heyday, gambling wasn’t actually legal in Hot Springs; it was just allowed. Gangsters like Al Capone, who used to rent out the entire fourth floor of the historic Arlington Hotel for himself and his bodyguards, were notorious visitors in the town where police turned a blind eye.

At one time, there were 50 bathhouses in Hot Springs using thermal waters to treat people seeking relief from ailments ranging from fatigue to syphilis. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Winthrop Rockefeller became governor, that the casinos were shut down. This ultimately led to the decline in the bathing industry. Sadly, the number of bathhouses has dwindled to two on Bathhouse Row. Although they offer spa services and access to thermal water for soaking, the “bath” has been reduced to somewhat of a novelty by today’s standards.

Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, AR
Eighty stately bathhouses sit on Bathhouse Row, but only two of them still offer bath-like services. They are all owned by the National Park Service and were constructed between 1892 and 1923. Image: Visit Hot Springs

In the aftermath of all this rich history, Hot Springs was left with some fabulous architecture, a quaint walkable main street (Central Avenue), and the legendary Bathhouse Row houses that still stand as markers of a bygone era. The historic Fordyce Bathhouse, built in 1915, now serves as a visitor center and offers a glimpse of what the baths were like in their original glory.

We spent four days kicking around Hot Springs so we could bring you the essential list of where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Hot Springs. Happy exploring!


Hands-down, the best hotel in Hot Springs is The Waters. A lovingly restored historic building that dates back to 1913 when it was constructed as The Thompson Building, this space is equal parts modern convenience and historic beauty. Original features like ceramic tile floors still proudly display cracks and blemishes, and frosted glass windows still display the numbers from the building’s original use as a medical building.

The town’s first rooftop bar sits atop The Waters, which provides sweeping views of the city, while the second floor’s back door has direct access to more than 10 miles of hiking trails. Hotel rooms offer complimentary Mountain Valley Spring Water (in fabulous green glass bottles), soaps, and coffee from local vendors.

Exterior of The Waters Hotel
Located directly across the street from Bathhouse Row, The Waters is within walking distance to most of Hot Springs’ main attractions. Image: Melonee Hurt
Exterior of Mountain Valley Water building in Hot Springs, AR
The Mountain Valley Spring Water company not only bottles and sells the delicious spring water native to Hot Springs but also houses a museum detailing much of the history of the town’s unique natural water supply. Image: Visit Hot Springs

A boutique hotel offering nine luxurious guest suites Hotel Hale is a newer addition to Hot Springs’ lineup. Originally Hale Bathhouse, the hotel was recently renovated to provide guests with a one-of-a-kind experience and opportunities to explore downtown Hot Springs. Eden, the on-site restaurant, offers everything from happy hour to dinner and brunch. The best part of Hotel Hale? Each room is equipped with a large soaking tub pumped with hot spring mineral water.

SB TIP: Other places to stay in Hot Springs include the historic Arlington Hotel, Oak Lawn Racing Casino Resort, Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, and The Reserve.


Hot Springs’ main thoroughfare, Central Avenue, is lined with wonderful locally-owned businesses. Grab a cup of java and order breakfast at Kollective Coffee + Tea to get you going for a day of shopping and sightseeing. The coffee rivals any major coffee chain and serves it in a much more organic and comfortable environment. Then, pop into The Savory Pantry, a beautiful market offering culinary creations primarily sourced locally and regionally.

Another great sit-down breakfast option is The Pancake Shop, which offers arguably the largest pancake on the planet. We tried the blueberry and made the mistake of ordering a stack. Then we made the even bigger mistake of eating the whole thing, which was enough to feed a small family.

Your sweet tooth will thank you for making a stop at Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe — the ‘Chocolate on Chocolate’ cupcake is mind-blowing. They even offer sturdy to-go boxes that will survive your journey home!

(SB TIP: Fat Bottom isn’t the only store on Central Avenue named after a classic rock song. The candy store down the street is aptly titled Pour Some Sugar on Me.)

Breakfast dish and tea from Kollective Coffee + Tea
Kollective Coffee + Tea serves a great cup of coffee in addition to hearty breakfast options. Image: Visit Hot Springs
Three stacks of pancakes from The Pancake Shop in Hot Springs, AR
Open only for breakfast and brunch, The Pancake Shop serves up a mean stack of flapjacks. Image: Facebook
Four boxes of various cupcakes from Fat Bottomed Girl's Cupcakes
The cupcakes from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcakes are worth every calorie. The business has even been featured on The Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” Image: Facebook

If you do nothing else in Hot Springs, absolutely do not miss a stop at Deluca’s Pizzeria. Owner Anthony Valinoti doesn’t take table reservations — only pizza reservations. Call ahead to reserve your crust and ensure your scratch-made circle of deliciousness doesn’t get eaten by someone else.

For a fun, festive take on Latin cuisine, stop at Rolando’s on Central Avenue. Dishes are presented with artistic flair and vibrant flavor.

For a more upscale dining experience, pop into The Avenue. The restaurant offers a window seat to Central Avenue from the street level of The Waters, and the menu rotates seasonally. Additionally, it derives some of its ingredients from the rooftop garden, which also houses the bees that provide honey for the restaurant.

Across the street, pop into Superior Bathhouse Brewery at the Arlington Hotel, which is not a bathhouse anymore, but a super cool woman-owned craft brewery. Try some of brewmaster Rose Schweikhart’s ingenious creations, such as Madden’s No. 1, a blonde ale that uses a recipe from gangster Owney Madden.

For something more family-friendly, spend an afternoon at 420eats, a food truck court offering everything from Thai and Japanese to Cajun, Mexican, and Indian. Guests can also enjoy outdoor games, live music, picnic tables, and covered pavilion seating.

Anthony Valinoti of Deluca's Pizzeria
Anthony Valinoti owns Deluca’s Pizzeria, which offers brick-oven pizzas made from hand-made dough and fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Image: Visit Hot Springs
Person filling glass with beer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Superior Bathhouse Brewery is the only brewery in the world that uses thermal spring water as the main ingredient in its brews. Image: Visit Hot Springs


While on Central Avenue, pop into Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium and plan to leave smelling better than when you arrived. Not only does this shop offer locally crafted soaps and lotions, but it also steps outside the box with cleansing oils, shaving butter, natural deodorants, and hand-crafted perfumes.

Nature lovers can enjoy countless options to get fresh air and exercise at Hot Springs National Park. Central Avenue fronts the park’s edge and offers miles of hiking trails and natural attractions. The park is also home to Northwoods Trails, located about five minutes from downtown and offers over 26 miles of world-class mountain biking trails.

If fishing is more your speed, Hot Springs draws professional anglers from all over the U.S., thanks to its spectacular lakes. Options include Lake Hamilton, Lake Catherine, and Lake Ouachita.

If you want to experience the baths, you can soak in a public thermal mineral water bath at Quapaw Baths & Spa or Buckstaff Bathhouse, which offers a traditional bathing package, among other traditional spa services.

Take a spin up to the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower for a beautiful panoramic view of the Ouachita Mountains and the valley in which the town of Hot Springs is nestled.

Exterior of The Quapaw Bathhouse in Hot Springs, AR
Quapaw Baths & Spa is one of only two bathhouses on the original Bathhouse Row that still functions as a source of relaxation using the thermal mineral waters of Hot Springs. Image: Visit Hot Springs
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
The observation deck atop the Hot Springs Mountain Tower gives a beautiful view of the town of Hot Springs, which is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Ouachita Mountains. Image: Visit Hot Springs

The Garvan Woodland Gardens is another not-to-be-missed spot. Upon her death, local industrialist and philanthropist Verna Cook Garvan donated 210 acres of her personal gardens to the University of Arkansas’ landscape architect program, with the stipulation that they are to be used for educational purposes. The gardens transport you to a fairyland with water features, seasonal blooms, and some of the most enormous azalea bushes you’ve ever seen. Check out the Anthony Chapel, too — a six-story structure made entirely of glass, wood, and stone.

If you’re looking to learn something new, visit the Mid-America Science Museum to experience over 100 hands-on exhibits, including the Marvelous Motion Gallery, the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, the Oaklawn Foundation Dinotrek, and more.

Another great family-friendly option is Magic Springs Theme & Water Park. From roller coasters to a log flume, bumper cars, and more, this is an excellent place to spend the afternoon with your family. (SB TIP: Magic Springs offers a summer concert series every year. You can find the schedule HERE.)

Hot Springs also offers fun-filled events throughout the year. Annual favorites include the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March, the Running of the Tubs in June, and the Hot Springs Documentary Festival in October.

Evans Tree House at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, AR
Garvan Woodland Gardens introduced its four-story Evans Tree House in 2018. Image: Visit Hot Springs
The Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk at the Mid-America Science Museum
Standing 40 feet above the ground, the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk at the Mid-America Science Museum offers breathtaking views of the 21 acres surrounding the museum. Image: Visit Hot Springs
Gladiator-themed bathtub at Running of the Tubs in Hot Springs, AR
Costumed teams race through Historic Downtown Hot Springs during the annual Running of the Tubs while pushing customized bathtubs through obstacles. Image: Visit Hot Springs

While the mobsters and Hollywood elite might not be seen coming and going from The Arlington anymore, Hot Springs remains a destination with something for everyone. There’s a little bit of new mixed in with a lot of fabulous history from a town that saw its original glory more than 100 years ago.


For more fun getaway ideas, check out our travel archives, and start dreaming up your next vacation!

About the Author
Melonee Hurt

Melonee is a native of East Tennessee who spent six years as a writer in NYC before returning to the South. She enjoys coaching CrossFit, traveling, cycling, camping and spending time outdoors with her family.