If you’re following along with me on Instagram, you probably saw a few scenes from our trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas over the weekend. We were there to celebrate the marriage of two sweet friends, Chase and Lacy, but we also had a lot of downtime to explore this quirky little town. Hot Springs has a very colorful past, having been a popular hideout for mobsters in their hay day. It was also a hotspot for gambling, with two rival families running all the casinos… the history is all very Hatfields & McCoys! And of course, Hot Springs National Park and Bathhouse Row have rich histories all their own. It was like nowhere I’ve ever been and I kept getting the feeling like I had stepped back in time. If you ever get the chance to pass through, I highly recommend it!
Here’s the low-down on everything we did:
Where We Stayed
Like the majority of the other wedding guests, we got a room at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, a sprawling hotel that was built in 1893 and sits directly in the middle of Central Avenue, a stretch of magnolia-lined street that offers restaurants, bars, boutiques, souvenir shops and more. Upon checking in, we were handed two old, heavy keys to our room and given instructions on how the doorknobs actually work (if the knob is on the left, turn the key to the left, if it’s on the right… you get the idea). There is a large main dining room where we had brunch on Sunday, several ornate ballrooms and of course, the main lobby, which has a bar and a couple of funky jungle-themed murals. Basically, there is a ton of character and charm packed into this old place… and quite possibly a ghost or twelve.
Several other wedding guests stayed at The Waters, which looks lovely. Airbnb’s are also plentiful and inexpensive if you’re planning a trip!
We arrived Friday afternoon and had some time to kill before the rehearsal dinner, so we decided to explore a bit. The Arlington is just across the street from an entrance to Hot Springs National Park and Bathhouse Row. In the early 20th century, water from the natural hot springs was believed to have miracle healing effects, so people would travel from all over the world to visit the bathhouses and hopefully cure whatever was ailing them. The buildings themselves are breathtaking – some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. After a decline in popularity (because, modern medicine), many of the bathhouses closed down and sat vacant for years. Today there is only a handful that still offer soaking or spa experiences. That said, several of the hotels are also equipped with their own hot spring spa facilities and offer a variety of packages to choose from!
The Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center is located in Fordyce Bathhouse. It has been beautifully maintained to show the building’s original features and functions as a museum – you can just walk in and take a free self-guided tour through the facility. Aside from their eclectic exterior façades, the bathhouses have fantastic detailing throughout – original tile flooring, marble benches and sculptures, stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings, to name a few.
Hot Springs National Park
Chase & Lacy got married in the National Park (more details on that below), and it was absolutely gorgeous! There are entrances to the park all along Central Avenue and behind Bathhouse Row, several featuring beautiful stonework, sculptures, and water features. Sadly, we ran out of time to go for a hike or check out the observation tower, but we’ll definitely be back to take in more of the sights in this beautiful National Park.
Food & Beverage
A friend who had recently spent some time in Hot Springs recommended that we check out Superior Bathhouse Brewery (thanks, Jamie!) and it did not disappoint. They use the thermal spring water available to the site as the main ingredient in their craft beers, which were delish – we recommend the Two in the Bush and the Kölsch Ale! They also offer beer flights and a full menu, plus outdoor seating and cornhole boards.
Before we hit the road Sunday, we made sure to stop by Arkansas’ oldest bar – The Ohio Club. It opened in 1905 and since Hot Springs was such a destination for gambling at the time, it was originally opened as a bar and a casino. Al Capone and other famous gangsters are said to have spent a lot of time at The Ohio Club, as well as MLB players who were in town for spring training. The bar back is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen and rumor has it they had to cut the front of the building off just to get it in there! Sadly we didn’t have much of an appetite because we had been to a farewell brunch, but I did snack on some fried portabello bites and the burgers are supposed to be delicious. Like most other aspects of Hot Springs, when you walk through the door you feel like you’ve been transported to another time. The atmosphere is very cool and Dan and I both kept saying how much we’d love to come back and enjoy a meal, drinks, and some live music!
Other food/beverage recommendations include:
The Pancake Shop – We ate breakfast here on Saturday morning and it was amazing. I highly recommend trying their homemade sausage and the blueberry pancake! There’s also a cute little gourmet foods shop right next door.
Grateful Head Pizza & Beer Garden – Grateful Head offers a variety of craft beers from different regions of the US, as well as a unique selection of import beers. The pizza is delicious too. If it’s a nice day, they have several patio seating areas to choose from.
Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe – As featured on Food Network and Cupcake Wars, this boutique cupcake parlor has so many delicious dessert options, as well as cheeky gift items for sale. Lacy & Chase actually had FBG provide treats for their rehearsal dinner – the whoopie pie was delicious!
On Central Avenue, there is a myriad of retailers to visit. We stopped by a few boutiques and gift shops, a vintage candy store, and an adorable olive oil and vinegar shop and tasting room called Evilo. One of my favorite stores was Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium, a small chain shop that offers homemade soaps, bath bombs, perfume, shaving creams, lotions and more. Everything smelled amazing and their soap slices and bath bombs were SO beautiful. Their other locations are in Louisiana and Missouri, and they also have an online presence if you’d like to check them out!
Again, the main reason we were in the town of Hot Springs was to celebrate Lacy and Chase – and celebrate we did! We attended a lovely rehearsal dinner and party at The Arlington on Friday night. On Saturday, we were picked up from the hotel in a trolley, which took us to a drop-off point at Lake Hamilton. From there, we boarded the Belle of Hot Springs, a dinner/booze cruise boat that chartered us to the ceremony site in Hot Springs National Park. After a quick trek through the park, we arrived at the Anthony Chapel in Garvan Gardens… seriously one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever stepped foot in.
Following the ceremony, we got back on the boat and made our way to the reception site at Lacy’s grandparents’ home, where we ate a delicious meal, toasted the newlyweds, and danced the night away! The actual deck where the reception was held was built specifically for the wedding out of pre-cut and pieced plywood boards. Following the wedding, Lacy and Chase (and their families) will be donating the wood to Habitat for Humanity so that a home can be built for a local family in need. How cool is that?
It’s always fun and such an honor to witness old (and new!) friends say “I do.” We had an amazing time celebrating with Chase, Lacy and their families.
There are so many hidden gems of towns scattered across America and I’m glad to have officially added Hot Springs to the list of places we’ve gotten to explore together! What about y’all? Are there any quirky little towns you’ve visited lately that surprised you? Are there any on your travel bucket list that I should know about? Let me know in the comments section below!