There are a lot of good reasons to stay in Hot Springs this summer -- from outdoor fun on one of the area's three big lakes (Lake Hamilton, Lake Ouachita, and Lake Catherine) or at Magic Springs Crystal Falls Amusement and Water Parks -- to air conditioned action at Oaklawn Racing Park. Here's a quick rough guide to great places to eat, stay, and visit while you're in the Spa City.
Eating Hot Springs: Breakfast
Most hotels in the area offer some form of continental breakfast. And of course, what is a bed and breakfast without your first meal of the day? But if you must venture out, you’re making a mistake if you don’t try out The Pancake Shop on Bathhouse Row. Plate sized pancakes, fluffy omelets, and ham steaks grace the simple and inexpensive menu. Arrive early on festival days -- the restaurant fills up fast and you might have to wait.
Pancake Shop * 216 Central Avenue * (501) 624-5720 * pancakeshop.com
Staying near the racetrack and don’t want to head downtown? Among the area’s many chain restaurants, Perkin’s has a great variety. And the franchise’s popular Mega Muffins are easy to pick up and take with you.
Perkin’s * 3630 Central Avenue * (501) 624-5000 * perkinsrestaurants.com
Eating Hot Springs: Lunch Near The Track
Perhaps it’s the long ties Hot Springs has to its gangster history, or maybe it’s just local tastes. But the best places to grab grub near the track are of Italian flavor.
Facci’s is a longstanding tradition. A varied menu of pastas and sandwiches won’t strain your budget. And you can’t get a cheaper fill-up than the restaurant’s $2..99 spaghetti and garlic bread lunch special.
Facci’s Italian Ristorante * 2900 Central Avenue * (501) 623-9049 * faccis.com
For pizza, don’t miss Rod’s Pizza Cellar. The venerable institution’s legendary Rod’s Godfather pizza is a tribute to the pig -- with Canadian bacon, pepperoni, and pork toppings along with peppers and onions on a thick, hearty crust. Rod’s also sports one of the better appetizer platters in the area.
Rod’s Pizza Cellar * 3350 Central Avenue * (501) 321-2313 * rodspizzacellar.com
Closest to the park itself is Rocky’s Corner. The area pub features fantastic grinders (try the sausage), Chicago style pizza and cold cheap beer.
Rocky’s Corner * 2600 Central Avenue * (501) 624-0199 * http://www.rockyscorner.netfirm.com/
Not in the mood for Italian? Stubby’s BBQ is known for prok ribs that reportedly put those at Memphis’ Rendezvous to shame. A rich, sweet sauce and homemade side dishes are great food and easy on the pocketbook, too.
Stubby’s BBQ * 3024 Central Avenue * (501) 624-1552
Head south towards Lake Hamilton, and you’ll find Fisherman’s Wharf. This local favorite, not surprisingly, features Southern style seafood and steaks and a legendary carrot cake served out in a building protruding above the lake.
Fisherman’s Wharf * 5101 Central Avenue * (501) 525-7437 * fishermanswharfhs.com
Out west, you’ll find the barbeque President Clinton had to have when he came to visit his childhood home. McClard’s Arkansas style barbeque comes in beef and pork, and the signature side dish is the restaurant’s own version of the tamale.
Don’t miss out on the homestyle malts.
McClard’s Bar-BQ * 505 Albert Pike Road * (501) 624-9586 * mcclards.com
Eating Hot Springs: Dinner Dining
Signature South American fare and fusion cuisine are tops downtown at Rolando’s. The colorful and bright eatery is one of the most romantic spots you’ll find on Bathhouse Row.
The shop’s legendary quesadillas and burritos levitate those normally plain offerings to a whole new level. Don’t skip Rolando’s Bananas -- the menu says they’re “Heaven in a Bowl” -- and that’s right.
Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restorante * 210 Central Avenue * (501) 318-6054 * rolandosrestorante.com
Beautiful food can be found at Belle Arti, where Arkansas meets Italian. Handmade pastas and the best veal dishes in town paired with a formal, elegant atmosphere make this a great place to take anyone you’d like to impress. Try the tiramisu for a perfect dessert nightcap.
Belle Arti * 719 Central Avenue * (501) 624-7474 * belleartigroup.com
One of Arkansas’ few Three Diamond restaurant as cited by AAA just happens to be something of a secret as well. But you really shouldn’t miss out on Chef Paul’s. The exterior may be unassuming, but inside you’ll find elegance and extravagance with intricately prepared dishes and well-paired wines. Everything is prepared when you order from the finest and freshest ingredients available. Take your time to enjoy lamb, duck, scallops, and more, trusting yourself to the epic epicure’s fantastic creations.
Chef Paul’s * 4330 Central Avenue Suite #A * (501) 520-4187 * chefpaulsfinedining.com
Take your own bottles to fill at one of the many Hot Springs filling spots, like this one along Central Avenue. It's free.
Stay The Night
Planning a longer stay? Depending on your situation and the time you have to spend in town, there are several good options.
Looking to be close to the action, save a little money, but be comfortable? Check out one of the many hotels along southern Central Avenue. Among the more complete offerings: Comfort Inn and Suites. Its location at U.S. 270 (the MLK Expressway) and Central Avenue make it easy to find; an expanded continental breakfast buffet takes care of your first meal of the day, and businesses on the premises take care of your basic needs.
Comfort Inn and Suites * 3627 Central Avenue * (501) 623-1700 * choicehotels.com
If you’re more concerned about making your racing days luxurious, try out the Embassy Suites and Hotel. The hotel offers spacious suites with lots of room to spread out. There’s also a cooked-to-order breakfast for guests, a free shuttle to Oaklawn, and Spa Botanica -- a world class full service spa perfect for relaxing after a day at the track
Embassy Hotel and Suites * 400 Convention Boulevard * (501) 624-9200 * hotsprings.embassysuites.com
Many will opt for the more intimate comforts found at a bed and breakfast. Lookout Point Lakeside Inn is one of several in the area offering customizable packages for your stay. Ray and Kristie Rossett have created a secluded haven for travelers, complete with spectacular views from every comfortable room (named for Arkansas towns) and gourmet breakfasts catering to your needs.
Lookout Point Lakeside Inn * 104 Lookout Circle * (501) 525-6155 * lookoutpointinn.com
If you’re more interested in combining history with gaming, then you’re likely searching for the venerable Arlington Hotel and Spa. The rooms may be smaller than franchise offerings, but they’re packed with history. And the location is prime for those interested in visiting the bathhouses or shopping along Bathhouse Row.
Arlington Hotel and Spa * 239 Central Avenue * (501) 609-2514 * arlingtonhotel.com
Traffic can get hairy on Central Avenue. If you’re going somewhere other than the track, consider using alternate arteries Grand Avenue and the MLK expressway
Go Do Something
Searching for something to do while your traveling companion is watching the ponies or wanting to fulfill some other vacation desires? There are a lot of options.
The Gangster Museum of America opened last year along Bathhouse Row. This still-expanding museum covers the history of bootlegging and gambling in the Spa City, along with a big chunk of history. And it’s the only facility of its sort in the USA. Bring along your camera for a chance to pose with a life-size replica of Al Capone.
Gangster Museum of America * 113 Central Avenue * (501) 318-1717 * tgmoa.com
Check out the cheapest exhibit along Bathhouse Row for a heavy dose of history about the healing waters of the springs that gave Hot Springs its name. The Fordyce Bathhouse is run by the National Park Service and offers all sorts of information about Hot Springs National Park. Best of all, it’s free.
Fordyce Bathhouse Visitors Center * 369 Central Avenue * (501) 624-3383 * nps.gov
To take in everything from a better perspective, head up the mountain behind Bathhouse Row for an overview from Hot Springs Mountain Tower. The view from the 216-foot tower includes Oaklawn Park, Lake Hamilton, all of downtown Hot Springs, and much of the Ouachita Mountains. And yes, there’s an elevator.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower * 401 Hot Springs Mountain Drive * (501) 623-6035
Closer to the Earth but further from town, you’ll find Garvan Woodland Gardens, a little bit of paradise. Whether it’s for a few hours or all day, you’ll find acres of beautiful plant life, considerately placed flora, and gorgeous water gardens. Be sure to check out the striking Anthony Chapel. And if your trip takes you to Hot Springs on a Tuesday, see if you can join in a Tuesday Tea.
Garvan Woodland Gardens * 550 Arkridge Road * (501) 262-9300 * garvangardens.org
Want to bring the kids along? Children and adults alike will enjoy MidAmerica Science Museum on the western end of town. Adults who visited in their youth will rediscover many of the exhibits that once captured the imagination -- and also find new adventures and features to enjoy.
MidAmerica Science Museum * 500 MidAmerica Boulevard * (501) 767-3461 * midamericamuseum.org
Of course, you can’t call it the Spa City without talking about the spas. Many of the hotels in the area offer their own spa experiences. You’ll also find independent operators who specialize in different aspects of the spa experience.
The Swan Song Spa comes highly recommended. While not a traditional experience, the spa offers uniquely private baths and massages for individuals and couples with handmade soaps and rituals.
Spa Song Spa * 504 Park Avenue * (501) 623-5597 * swansongspa.com
One of Hot Springs’ newest attractions to check out is the Quapaw Baths and Spa. Recently opened in the renovated Quapaw Bathhouse next door to the Fordyce, the Spa hopes to welcome visitors to a historical and restorative experience with public baths and intimate massages and facials. The Spa will soon open new private baths to take in the waters to compliment the public baths.
Quapaw Baths and Spa * 413 Central Avenue * (501) 609-9822 * quapawbaths.com
Hot Springs is a mecca for artists. A plethora of galleries dot downtown. Whether it’s contemporary or traditional, paint or glass, sculpture or photography, you’ll find it here. Be sure to check out some of the many art events and happenings in the area at hotsprings.org.