5 Things to Do in Hot Springs, Arkansas

This is a guest post from Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.

If the rush-rush of big city life isn’t your idea of a good vacation, you’ll love Hot Springs, Arkansas. Nestled in the mountains in west Arkansas, this town has plenty of culture, history, and entertaining things to do. I happened to have grown up in Hot Springs and visit every few years, but this trip I played tourist so that I could see the town through your eyes. I think you’ll like what I saw!

1. Hang Out with Celebrities

I’m a fan of old-school tourist attractions, and believe me: the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum delivers. I’ve been visiting this throwback since I was little (and it opened in 1971) and it’s hardly changed in the decades since. DSC03402

The wax figures lean toward more historic celebrities like Clark Gable and Mae West, though President Obama is a more recent addition. If you’re up for a few chills, don’t take the detour away from the Chamber of Horrors (where you are greeted by Alfred Hitchcock). You’ll warm back up by the time you enter the World of Make Believe, where Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland have been bringing smiles to children for ages.

If You Go

250 Central Avenue Hot Springs, AR 71901
501-623-5836
Admission: $10 for adults

2. Explore the Bathhouses

Before Disney attractions lured vacationing families to opposite ends of the country, Hot Springs drew its own crowds, thanks to Bathhouse Row, a series of bathhouses that all, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, let visitors and locals “take the waters” with the therapeutic spring waters emerging from the ground beneath.

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Now, only a few of the bathhouses offer spa services (including Buckstaff Baths), while the others have been converted into an art gallery, a brewery, and a gift shop. If you visit any time other than the humid summer (simply because taking a hot bath with no air conditioning holds little appeal), be sure to schedule a traditional bathhouse experience. The Fordyce is an excellent stop because it’s been converted into a (free) museum. You can walk through the steam rooms, lay in a tub that once cleansed visitors, and see what an old-fashioned gymnasium looked like.

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If You Go

Buckstaff Baths

509 Central Avenue

Hot Springs, AR 71901

(501) 623-2308

Prices vary; packages available

3. Turn into a Science-Loving Kid

Another favorite for my family when I was growing up was Mid-America Science Museum. Filled with hands-on goodies, we would flock to the same exhibits that stood the test of time. Going back with my own son, I love that the museum has kept several of its classic exhibits (like the bit of glacier that’s had thousands of little hands rubbing it) while keeping up with modern displays. When we visited (and we were given free membership in exchange for my writing about the museum, though I would have written about it anyway!), there was a Tesla Show, Motion Gallery, and of course the requisite dinosaur exhibit.

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One impressive addition since my last visit was the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, a treehouse pavilion 40 feet above ground, shaded by the greenery of the Arkansas wilderness. The kids in our group (oh, okay, and adults too) were delighted with the Fog Bridge that made it impossible to see as we crossed the bridge. But our favorite part of the museum was Underground Arkansas, a network of tunnels meant to emulate the caves in the area. I may have been a bit big to be crawling through tunnels at my age, but for a moment, I was a kid again!

If You Go

500 Mid America Boulevard
Hot Springs, AR 71913
(501) 767-3461

Admission:

  • Adults: $10, plus tax
  • Ages 3-12: $8, plus tax
  • Senior, 65 and older: $8, plus tax

4. Take in Nature

This recent trip, it rained my entire visit, so I didn’t get to hike on West Mountain like I wanted to, but if you have the opportunity, there are dozens of trails in Hot Springs. And even if you’re not a hiker, the drive up West or North Mountain provides a breathtaking view of the city as well as surrounding forests. For an even better view, ascend Mountain Tower to take it all in from the highest point in the region.

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If You Go

Hot Springs Mountain Tower
401 Hot Springs Mountain Drive
Hot Springs, AR 71901 501-881-4020

Admission:

  • Adults: $7
  • Ages 4 and under: Free
  • Ages 5-11: $4
  • Senior, 55 and older: $6

5. Eat, Eat, Eat

Living in San Diego, I’ve gotten kind of picky about eating in restaurants. After all, Southern California originated a lot of the local, organic, sustainable food movement! Still, I was surprised at the quality of some of the newer restaurants in Hot Springs and wanted to share them.

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Rolando’s

Rolando’s is Latin American cuisine, and a refreshing break from the dime-a-dozen Mexican joints in Arkansas. I enjoyed a delicious La Ranchera Tortilla Sopa that had delightful balls of soft cheese in it.

210 Central Avenue

Hot Springs, AR 71901

(501) 318-6054

Kollective Coffee & Tea

If you like hipster coffee like I do (i.e. nitro brewed draft coffee), Kollective shouldn’t be missed. It’s very Californian in its lounge-like space downtown, and the coffee is stellar.

110 Central Avenue

Hot Springs, AR 71901

(501) 701-4000

Quarters Cafe

I’m a Cajun so it’s pretty hard to impress me with Cajun food in a restaurant, but Quarters Cafe gets my thumbs up. I had crawfish and shrimp etouffee, and my fellow diners had a muffaletta sandwich and jambalaya, and everyone was content.

250 Park Avenue

Hot Springs, Arkansas 71901

(501) 321-4990

As a destination, Hot Springs is a perfect blend of throwback fun and modern appeal. Even if I hadn’t grown up there and knew all of the must-see places, I’d still find more than enough to keep myself and my family occupied!

Article and photography by travel writer Susan Guillory. I received complimentary entrance to Mid-America Museum, however all opinions are my own.