This time of year is a busy one in the Spa City. On January 15th, racing season begins at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know if you plan to go -- and information on area attractions, restaurants and lodging you may find helpful.
When the gates open this Friday morning, traffic on Central Avenue will become bedlam. Parking, normally free off-property, will come at a premium. While Oaklawn, with the addition of a gaming section a few years ago, is now a year-round operation, the facility itself sees its major business between January and April.
So, what do you need to know before you go?
However, the facility's gaming section opens at 10 a.m. each day, and it doesn't close until 3 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. You can indeed get to the track earlier, dine and relax before the first race.
Admission is free.
There's also the Oaklawn Club, but it requires a membership and a larger fee.
Learn more about the history of the corned beef sandwich at Oaklawn, here.
Post Parade on the first floor across from the Winning Colors Gift Shop. Silk's Bar and Grill is where you get burgers and dine surrounded by large screens with all sorts of sports going on. Bistro 2705 inside the gaming area offers breakfast anytime (even after midnight) and steaks.Sixteenth Post Beer Garden has one of the area's largest beer selections - it's located on the north end of the facility. There's also an oyster bar and sweet shop. And of course, there's the Carousel Dining Room, which still has TVs at each table for you to follow along with the races while you dine. The Carousel has a buffet.
Getting there. There are parking spots on the Oaklawn property. It's $2 to park during racing season, and even if you're out at the tail-end of the lot, don't worry - there is a shuttle that will take you to the facility.
I would HIGHLY suggest approaching Oaklawn Racing and Gaming from the south, preferably taking the MLK expressway to the Central Avenue exit and proceeding north. This will mean a right-hand turn into the parking lot, and it will save you a lot of hassle.
There are some properties located close to the track, close enough to walk. Of these, the Best Western Winner's Circle is directly across the road and has a lovely little breakfast restaurant on-site. Other hotel properties around the city may also a shuttle to the park during the season. Just take into account that traffic is thick during this time of year, so be prepared to head that way early if there's a race you want to make.
Where to eat. You'll find several restaurants within walking distance of Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, so if you'd like to eat somewhere that's not within the facility, you have options. Sadly, my favorite, Facci's Italian Restaurant, has been gone several years, but there are others to enjoy.
Of these, Rocky's Corner is closest. I won't sugarcoat this -- Rocky's Corner will be busy. But it's good, and if you don't mind the noise of the crowd, it's an excellent option. Rocky's offers lots of great Chicago sandwiches and a Chicago dog, along with big pizzas. Check out this quick video for a brief bite of history and the Pizza Bianca at Rocky's.
The Frontier (bar)
Crosswalk Bar & Grill (burgers)
Phil's Restaurant (southern staples)
Stubby's Hik'ry Pit Bar-B-Que
Of course, Hot Springs is full of marvelous places to dine. Check out my reviews of the following:
The English Muffin
The Ohio Club (Arkansas's oldest bar)
The Pancake Shop
Rod's Pizza Cellar
Other things to do. Hot Springs has stuff going on year-round. Check out some of these attractions and experiences.
Fordyce Bathhouse/National Park Visitors Center
Hot Springs Bathhouse Row
Mid America Science Musem
Gangster Museum of America
Central Station Flea Market
Places to stay. You'll find a lot of choices on the hotsprings.org website. But here's some more information about the Arlington Hotel Resort and Spa, the largest hotel in Arkansas.