If Hot Springs, Arkansas were its own country, the national bird would be the “rubber duckie.” Yes, Hot Springs can rightfully claim the status of “Bathing Capital of the South.” And just to prove we’re not blowing bubbles, the area remains Arkansas’ #1 tourism attraction, with more than 2 million visitors annually.
The city is indeed charming and accessible. Several filling stations along Bathhouse Row on Main Street let you fill up bottles and jugs with fresh spring water for free. Take an afternoon stroll down Main Street, which is broad, very walkable and lined with boutiques and antique shops. At the north end of Bathhouse Row is the inimitable art-deco styled Arlington Hotel, which offers mineral bath guestrooms for only $105 in the off-season.
Despite the squeaky clean visage, Hot Springs is a city with a steamy past. Politicos, movie stars, sports heroes and gangsters alike rolled through here in the 1920s and 40s to soak their bodies and entertain their vices. Gambling, racketeering, violence and prostitution ran rampant before lawmakers cracked down on all illegal activity in the 1960s, ending the mischief – and consequently, the mystique.
Trips to Hot Springs now are usually connected with some element of nostalgia: family reunions, weddings, anniversaries, etc. Modern fat cats looking to blow a ton of dough on spa retreats usually turn to the fancied likes Palm Springs; Sedona, Arizona; or Hawaii, areas that blend hydrotherapy with spiritualism or outdoor pursuits.
That’s not to say Hot Springs, as a destination, is forever stuck in a powder-blue leisure suit (even though one of the hotel owners does drive an old Excalibur). You’ll always meet tons of nice folks and enjoy a great meal here. The Brau Haus is still our favorite place to grab brats and kraut.
Some other reasons to like Hot Springs:
Quapaw Bath & Spas 413 Central Ave. Hot Springs/501-609-9822 The recently reopened and restored Quapaw is a bathhouse situated in a beautiful 1920s era Spanish-colonial mansion. Features a mosaic-tiled central dome and several private soaking rooms. In addition to massage and facial treatments, you can soak in one of three gigantic community pools.
Bathhouse Soapery and Caldarium 120 Central Avenue, Hot Springs/ (501) 318-0997. This place makes soaps and sundries that smell delicious and look good enough to eat. They also have a healthy assortment of salt scrubs, lotions, and performs, all of which are handmade right there in the back of the store. It’s scrub-a-dub good.
The Poet’s Loft 514-B Central Avenue, Hot Springs/ (501) 625-7704. This local haunt is actually a renowned center for local, national and international poet alike. In addition to open-mic Wednesdays, the Loft hosts several annual poetry competitions and showcases local singers and songwriters. The coffee bar serves up terrific Joe, plus soups, salads and desserts.