Hot Springs, Arkansas has recently been named one of the top ten Small Destinations on the 2017 U.S. Tourism Quality Index, and I can say from first hand experience that this is with good reason. I expected to enjoy my recent visit (my first) to Hot Springs, but I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this town. From the food to the unique history to the healing spas and National Park, Hot Springs has a lot to offer. During my trip, I ate my way through most of downtown. It was a tough job, but I accepted the challenge in order to bring you this Hot Springs, AR: Where to Eat and Other Travel Recommendations Guide. 😉 If you didn’t read Part 1 yet, click on over to check out where to eat for breakfast and lunch.
This Part 2 article includes places to eat for dinner, places to have a drink, live music, the Hot Springs National Park, Garvan Gardens and, of course, healing hot springs treatments!
Where to Eat Dinner in Hot Springs, AR
All the restaurants I visited for lunch (reviewed in Part 1) — including Angel’s in the Park, The Ohio Club, Rolando’s, Copper Penny Pub and Kollective — are also open for dinner. Here are additional restaurants to try and some other suggestions and info.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery
If you partake in beer drinking, you must have a beer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery while you’re in town. They are the first brewery in a U.S. National Park and the world’s first to utilize thermal spring water as their main ingredient.
The building was, originally, the Superior Bathhouse, one of the city’s hot spring bathhouses. After lying vacant for 30 years, owner Rose Schweikhartwe re-imagined this historic building into a brewery, craft beer tasting room and full service restaurant. Before you go, it’s good to know: this restaurant/brew house sits on National Park property, so they can’t serve you beer unless you’re seated. When I went for dinner, there was a wait, and I couldn’t have a beer while I waited, which was fine, but if I had to do it over, I would have gone earlier or later, not at peak dinner time. Speaking of dinner, I ordered their salmon and green beans and washed it down with one of their lighter beers. Delicious!
Angels in the Park
For many reasons (from the food to the staff to its location in my hotel), this place won my heart. What I wrote in Part 1 bears repeating: Chef Rosario’s creations were, by far, the best meals of my trip.
My favorite was the Chicken Rosario, which I ordered the first and third time I ate dinner there. The homemade bread is so delicious that I ate a bit too much (plus my entire entree) the first night. I learned my lesson and controlled myself on the bread inhale on later visits. The second time I ate dinner there, I ordered the fried calamari with marinara and the spinach salad, which is topped with a house-made orange vinaigrette and fresh bacon bits.
At Angels in the Park, everything is made fresh from scratch (even my chicken salad for lunch), so wait for an evening when you aren’t in a big hurry. It’s also an old, historic building, so take a sweater in the winter and wear something cool in the summer. If the weather is nice, sit outside on the patio. The inside features a unique decor and is dimly lit with candles. It’s charming, unique, relaxed and romantic at the same time. The staff is friendly, the wine is perfect and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be there on an evening when they bring patrons a chocolate covered strawberry at the end of their meal. 🙂
Rolando’s is another must-try while you’re in Hot Springs. Their menu is unique with many options, and lunch and dinner share the same menu, but the lunch portions are smaller and less expensive. My lunch was more than plenty, so if I had eaten there for dinner it would have been too much food for me. So plan on splitting a meal or taking home leftovers, if your hotel has a mini frig.
I ordered the Pollo Chuchaqui for lunch, which I would most definitely order again, although I saw some other intriguing options on their menu, from quesadillas (one option made with goat cheese) to tamales, soups, shrimp dishes, pork and more. They also offer a children’s menu and a variety of desserts.
The Ohio Club
This is another place I went for lunch (see Part 1) but not dinner. I also went one weekday evening to listen to live jazz. It was one of the highlights of my trip!!
If I had planned that night better, I would have eaten dinner there while I listened to the jazz, which played 7-9:30pm (on a weekday).
On the Friday of my working vacation, I shut down my laptop early and ventured out to Garvan Woodland Gardens (see more about that below). I arrived an hour before they closed, so walked fast and then lingered as long as I was allowed. Afterward, I decided to drive around the Lake Travis area a bit and then go to dinner at a restaurant the local couple I met at The Ohio Club earlier in the week had recommended – Luna Bella.
I’m glad I was traveling solo, because reservations are needed for this local hot spot. It was packed, but, luckily, they had a spot at the bar I gladly accepted. I ordered a glass of wine, peach salad and Going Green Pasta with shrimp added for my main course. The peach salad was made with arugula tossed in honey balsamic vinegar and topped with roasted peaches, toasted almonds and goat cheese. The salad was tasty, although the peaches weren’t as drool-worthy as I had hoped. The entree was made with spinach fettuccine in a tomato saffron broth infused with green tea and topped with sautéed cherry tomatoes, asparagus, peas, bell peppers, spinach, garlic and shrimp. The broth was flavorful, the noodles were the perfect texture, and I enjoyed the dish, eating every bite. As for the service, the staff was friendly and just as attentive to me as a solo diner as to the regulars and other guests gathered around the tables.
Other Places to Try
I wasn’t able to get everywhere I wanted to try on this trip, and I’m heartbroken that I’ll have to take a trip back someday to try the rest of them (sarcasm)! 😉 Steinbaus Keller German Restaurant and Biergarten and The Avenue are on my list. Feel free to drop me an email and/or comment below to make any other suggestions.
Where to Have a Drink in Hot Springs, AR
If you’re looking for a place to have a beer, try The Ohio Club (preferably while listening to live music; which plays at 7pm on the weekdays and 9pm on the weekends), Copper Penny (this is where I’d be, for sure, to celebrate St. Patty’s Day) and Superior Bathhouse Brewery. Next trip, I’ll be checking out Steinbaus Keller, Craft Beer Cellar, The Avenue and The Arlington for a drink and Maxine’s (for a drink and the music). If you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy a glass of wine with Italian music playing softly, I recommend Angel’s in the Park.
Hot Springs National Park!
Hot Springs National Park is the smallest of the United States’ National Parks, but it (and the city it’s part of) has a long, unique and colorful history. Before the National Park system existed, the area was set aside by Congress in 1832 to protect the hot springs and named the Hot Springs Reservation. In 1916, the National Park Service was formed, and in 1921, Hot Springs Reservation became Hot Springs National Park! Soon a bustling town grew up around the hot springs to provide services for health seekers, and the city’s resulting bathing industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the “American Spa.”
There are 47 hot springs that come out of the Hot Springs Mountain at an average 143° Fahrenheit, and the National Park is mandated to give away the water to the general public in an unending and unaltered state. The water is good to drink (potable) when it arrives at the surface of Hot Springs Mountain, and there are filling stations (one in the center of downtown) where visitors can fill up bottles or jugs with the hot spring water. Fill ‘er up and even take some home, but you aren’t allowed to sell it!
Not only is the water free, but there are no entrance fees to the Park or museum (located downtown).
There are, basically, two parts of the Hot Springs National Park — Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain. Hot Springs Mountain is located next to downtown, where you’ll find the Grand Promenade, the thermal springs, the Water Tower, a campground and plenty of hiking trails. West Mountain is on the other side of the town and offers a beautiful scenic drive and more hiking trails. In the photo above, I stopped during a scenic drive on West Mountain and took a photo of the Hot Springs Mountain Water Tower in the distance.
I took a walk along the Grand Promenade every morning (it was, literally, out my hotel’s front door – see below), hiked up to the Mountain Tower and drove the scenic roads of West Mountain. I could have spent more time in the Park and explored it more but, honestly, doing a lot of hiking in the woods alone wasn’t something I was up for on this trip. 🙂 Next trip, I’d like to explore more of the 26 miles of hiking trails.
The Promenade is a bricked, handicapped accessible walkway that runs along the hillside behind and above the bathhouses. It features active springs and red benches that fascinated me (I took way too many pictures of them). Various hiking trails intersect with the Promenade, and many will take you up to the Water Tower area at the top.
Bathhouse Row is the historic area of downtown Hot Springs where, luckily, bathhouses still remain. The area’s hot spring water has been believed for centuries to possess medicinal properties and was a subject of legend among Native American tribes. The entire Bathhouse Row area is now designated as a National Historic Landmark District, and the gilded age architecture is beautiful. Even if you aren’t interested in soaking in the thermal waters, it’s worth checking out the history and viewing the preserved architecture.
Only two on Bathhouse Row – Buckstaff and Quapaw – are currently operating as bathhouses. Quapaw offers a large communal bathing pool, much like it did years ago (best bang for your buck if you want to take a dip and say you soaked in the “healing waters”) plus private bathing tubs. Buckstaff offers private thermal spa baths as well as other more modern spa services. Fordyce Bathhouse serves as the National Park Visitor Center, where you can find information about the park and you can also see various rooms of the original bathhouse that have been preserved and restored.
Just a short walk from Bathhouse Row, you can find hotels that offer hot spring baths using the Park water (plus other spa services), including The Arlington Hotel, Austin Hotel and Convention Center and The Springs Hotel & Spa. Based on recommendations from a couple of locals, I opted for a private hot spring bath and massage at The Arlington Hotel. Typically, I would opt for a bathing suit experience over, say, one that didn’t involve a bathing suit. But after some research and in the spirit of “when in Rome,” I decided I couldn’t leave Hot Springs without the full experience. It was uncomfortable for about a half of a second, and that was only because of ME. I soaked in and sipped the naturally hot mineral water, relaxed afterward as I lounged on a padded table with a cold towel over my face and hot towels on my back, followed by a wonderful massage. All for a nice price! I’ll most definitely do it again next time I visit. Maybe I’ll go back to The Arlington plus have a treatment at Buckstaff and soak at Quapaw in my bathing suit 🙂
Garvan Woodland Gardens
About 6 miles from Hot Springs National Park sits a wooded treasure called Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre botanical garden located at 550 Arkridge Road. It’s open from 9am-6pm, and they stop selling tickets at 5:30 p.m. I went around 5 and wish I had gone earlier, although walking fast was great exercise after all the food I ate, and I was able to linger a little past 6pm. Admission (as of October 2017) is $15 for those aged 13 and up; $5 for 4-12 year olds and free for those aged 3 and under. One dog per person is allowed ($5 for each dog). Members are free, and the price of membership is worth checking out if you want to visit more than once in a year and/or have a lot of teenage children.
There is a also a beautiful chapel there, which is popular for weddings. In fact, I couldn’t get in to look or take photos because a wedding rehearsal was underway during my visit.
Wednesday Night Poetry Night at Kollective Coffee+Tea
If you read Part 1 of my Hot Springs, AR adventure and eating-travel guide, you know that a client of mine helped inspire this trip. She’s a Texas Poet Laureate with 12 books of poetry published, and when she visited Hot Springs National Park earlier in the year, everyone told us that she HAD to go to the Wednesday Night Poetry Night at Kollective Coffee+ Tea (another favorite of mine). Unfortunately, her schedule wouldn’t allow her to stay through Wednesday when she was in town. So, I decided to check it out for myself while I was there. It’s the longest-running weekly poetry reading in the United States and has been held at various venues over the years. Despite location changes, weather and countless other factors, they have met, without fail, every single Wednesday night since 1989!
The Wednesday Poetry Night format features a guest artist and open mic readings. Many are regulars, but anyone is welcome to read their own work or that of another writer.
The night I visited, 36ix The Karbon Theorist, was the featured poet. In addition to the guest artist, more than a dozen others stood up and bared their souls as well. It’s poetry’s baring of the soul that touches ours, and that night it touched me profoundly, especially the poems from members of New Wave, who all have skin a different color than mine and, as a result, some different experiences, pain and triumphs that I got a deeper glimpse into. I also loved poetry shared by Kai Coggin, Sarah Burnes, Akau Anyieth, Bud Kenny, Skeeter and others (I didn’t catch everyone’s name). If you ever get to Hot Springs, AR on a Wednesday evening, I highly recommend this poetry reading experience! Even if you think you don’t like poetry, you will most likely be surprised.
There is no charge to attend the poetry night, but if you go, get there a little early and order a salad, sandwich, house made soup (their vegan tomato basil is to-die-for!), a pastry and/or coffee or tea.
Where to Stay
For a variety of reasons, including that this trip was a spur of the moment one for me, it was a low-ish budget one. My friend/client had stayed at the Park Hotel while she was in town and recommended it for the price, location and history, so I opted to stay there.
Location, location, location! The National Park is, literally, across the street. Check out the view from my hotel window. See those trees? That’s the Hot Springs National Park! And all the cool restaurants and shops? They’re just a few minutes’ away on foot. You can walk everywhere. 🙂 The price is just right too, starting at $63/night, and they gave me a small discount because I stayed a week. This hotel isn’t for everyone. The lobby is beautiful and historic, but the rooms look like they were decorated in the 70s. The rooms could really use some updating. Still, the hotel was clean, everything worked, my bed was comfortable, the staff was friendly and on the mornings when it was cool enough to enjoy the front porch, guests gathered there and chit-chatted over their styrofoam-filled cups of coffee. It’s also a pet-friendly hotel. And did I mention the location and price? 🙂 I’d stay there again.
There are plenty of other places to stay in the Hot Springs area, but if you want to stay downtown and walk to everything (which was a huge plus for me), your options are mostly older hotels with beautiful, historic lobbies and rooms that could probably use some updating.
A Word About Traveling Solo
I have traveled solo many times during my life, for business meetings, conferences and to visit family. Typically, there are people on the other end I know or, in the case of a conference, something that binds strangers together, makes us sit next to each other and naturally produces conference buddies (and, in some cases, lifelong friends). The kind of solo traveling I did on this trip was completely different. I went alone. I knew no one there. I had no particular reason to be there. I worked via my laptop and phone during the day, just as I would have at my home office and had a quasi-vacation. I went hiking alone, ate breakfast, lunch and dinner alone. I went to a poetry reading alone, visited a beautiful garden center alone. And, somehow, it was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve had in a long time. A different kind of enjoyable, but enjoyable nonetheless. I love people, and I have a motto I try to live by: be with the ones you’re with. When I travel with others, I’m very focused on them, our conversations, our precious time together. I take less photos (although probably more than my family would like), spend less quiet time reflecting, and pay less attention to the people, birds, bumblebees and scenery that surrounds me.
If you’ve never traveled solo or you’ve always wanted to but have been afraid, I encourage you to try it, even if it’s just a day trip to start. We lost my dad 2 years ago and, luckily, my mom is still in great health (I have to jog to keep up with her when we walk). She misses everything about my dad and every role he played in her life, including the role of travel buddy. I have been encouraging her to start venturing out and doing more alone, and then it hit me the day I decided to take this trip: perhaps I should take my own advice. I’m not getting any younger, I’m in great health and now that my children are out of the nest and I have flexibility with my own business … what am I waiting for? NOTHING, I decided! So stay tuned for future trip reports and eating guides … 🙂