By Caleb Talley | Photography by David Yerby and Jamison Mosley
If there was ever a “best time of the year” to visit Hot Springs, March just might be that time. The Spa City is hopping all month long with activities that you won’t want to miss. The racing season is in full swing, and the weekends are loaded with live music.
“In Hot Springs, visitors can expect to find a beautiful community full of welcoming people ready to share all the city has to offer,” says Chris Arrison, director of events at The Waters. “There is always some sort of festival, parade or celebration taking place, and they really add a little something extra to an already bustling town.”
If you’ve never visited Hot Springs, it’s time to explore. If you haven’t been lately, it’s time to re-introduce yourself. And there may be no better time to do just that than St. Patrick’s Day weekend, during the Spa City’s annual marquee event – the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the weekend of March 15-17. Let us be your guide!
BEFORE YOU GO
The first step in planning an extraordinary weekend in Hot Springs is picking the perfect place to stay. The city is home to a number of top-notch chain hotels, including Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott and more. While the Embassy Suites is a favorite among those visiting for activities at the amenity-loaded Hot Springs Convention Center, there is a pair of downtown resorts that are perfect for those looking to get the full Spa City experience.
The Waters, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, is situated right along Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs, across the street from the historic bathhouse row. This luxurious boutique hotel is the result of a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Thompson Building, one of the city’s oldest buildings, initially constructed in 1913.
While the building is rich in history, having been designed by George R. Mann, the principal architect of the Arkansas State Capitol, The Waters was transformed in 2015 into one of the sleekest, most state-of-the-art hotels in the region.
“Two things make The Waters a special place to stay – history and location,” says Arrison. “A multi-million dollar renovation to the historic Thompson Building has yielded a boutique hotel with classic Hot Springs vintage details and up-to-date comforts and amenities.”
Each of the hotel’s 62 rooms is adorned with art from local artists, immersing guests in the charm of Hot Springs. The hotel also features a full-service, award-winning restaurant, The Avenue, which offers Southern artisan-style cuisine crafted by Le Cordon Bleu alumnus Casey Copeland.
Those looking for a classic Spa City experience will want to reserve a suite in The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, the largest and arguably one of the most historic hotels in Arkansas. This American treasure has been hosting guests since 1875. Its current iteration, too, was designed by Mann. Its iconic guest list has included presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, George H.W. Bush; stars like Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand; and baseball legend Babe Ruth. The notorious gangster Al Capone also frequented the place.
The historic resort hotel features a grand hotel lobby with an incredible bar and a stage that hosts regular live musical performances. Guests can enjoy the venue’s elegant Venetian dining room, Crystal Ballroom and thermal bathhouse, which offers a chance to bathe in the famous hot springs mineral waters.
Spacious parlor suites offer guests the opportunity to stretch out and enjoy the hotel’s comforts like the rich and famous that luxuriated in days gone by. And if you can bring yourself to leave the hotel, you’ll find yourself at the heart of Hot Springs’ Central Avenue, just a few steps away from the historic bathhouse row.
Friday – March 15
When strolling into town Friday evening, after checking into your hotel, you’ll want to find the right place to grab a bite to eat. The food alone can make your entire trip worthwhile.
“The small business owners who make up Hot Springs’ food scene care greatly about the food they are serving,” says Anthony Valinoti, of DeLuca’s Pizzeria, on Central Avenue. “Most of them are essentially mom-and-pop kind of businesses and care greatly about the people who come visit us.”
Via Roma, on Malvern Avenue, offers diners an incredible atmosphere to pair with its great food. If Italian food is your thing, this upscale Italian restaurant is sure to start your weekend off right. This place is a romantic one, too.
Another dining experience you’ll want to consider is Bone’s ChopHouse, on the 3900 block of Central Avenue. Bone’s is the product of more than 100 years of combined culinary experience and offers diners premium, in-house cut steaks, seafood and an incredible wine selection.
If a burger is more your thing, and you want to enjoy some live music after a meal, try Arkansas’ oldest bar. The Ohio Club, in the heart of Central Avenue, spent many years as a casino and a speakeasy, a local haunt for folks like Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano and even Babe Ruth. Today, you’ll find some of the best burgers, local brews and live performances in town.
You can also get into the St. Patrick’s Day spirit at the Copper Penny Pub or stop by the O’Kelley’s Pop Up Bar, starting at 5 p.m. on the corner of Convention and Malvern.
But don’t stay out too late – there’s still so much to see and do.
Saturday – March 16
The best way to start a day in Hot Springs is with a delicious breakfast and a hot cup of coffee. The Pancake Shop, located downtown across the street from The Arlington Hotel, has them both. Since 1940, the Pancake Shop has been helping locals and visitors, alike, start their day right.
If you’re skipping breakfast and going straight to the coffee, you’ll want to try the Argentinian Coffee and Wine Bar, just a few blocks away. Their Argentinian-style coffee will put a pep in your step. And so will a mimosa float.
March also provides guests to Hot Springs the perfect opportunity to stroll through Garvan Woodland Gardens. It’s this time of year when spring brings forth thousands of beautiful blooms, starting with crocus, daffodils and hyacinths, followed by more than 150,000 Dutch tulips.
Hot Springs is also home to the Mid-America Science Museum, where visitors can enjoy more than 100 hands-on science exhibits spread across 65,000 sq.ft., including the award-winning Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk and Oaklawn Foundation DinoTrek. The Light Bridge and Tesla Theater are also fan favorites.
Saturday morning is also the perfect opportunity to get your soak on in one of Hot Springs’ famous spas. The Buckstaff Bathhouse offers a classic, traditional experience, which features a vapor cabinet and a needle shower.
The Quapaw Bathhouse lends a more modern spa experience, with mineral pools, private baths and massage and facial services. The bathhouse’s thermal steam cave is also a recommended experience.
Want to grab lunch before heading out to the racetrack? Superior Bathhouse Brewery, located in the historic Superior Bathhouse, is an excellent place to start. In addition to the beers they brew using the 144-degree spring waters, this brewery serves up incredible soups and sandwiches.
If you’re looking to eat a bit closer to Oaklawn, so as not to miss a minute of the action, Capo’s Tacos will put you in walking distance. This new restaurant brings old school Mexican cuisine to the table, including delicious tortas and, of course, tacos. You won’t want to miss the margaritas, either.
Then, it’s off to the races. Home to the Racing Festival of the South, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming is one of Hot Springs’ biggest and most exciting attractions. On Saturday, March 16, the race will feature purses of $300,000, $350,000 and $1 million. Whether you’re wagering on the ponies or just people watching, it’s hard to beat a day at the track.
After a long day of exploring the Spa City, you’ll want to dine at one of Hot Springs’ finest restaurants. And for that, you’ll need to make a reservation. The Avenue offers sophisticated dining in a casual atmosphere. Vault offers guests a unique dining experience inside a converted bank vault, one of the oldest in Arkansas.
Saturday night is when the St. Patrick’s Day festivities really get going. While the O’Kelley Pop Up Bar opens at 3 p.m., the real fun begins at 7 p.m., when live music kicks off on Bridge Street. At 8 p.m., the Saturday night headliner (or, should we say “all-star?”), Smash Mouth, takes the stage.
Sunday – March 17
Get your last day in Hot Springs started with one of the best cinnamon rolls around from Will’s or a cupcake from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe. Who said you can’t eat cake for breakfast? You won’t regret it.
Sunday is also the perfect chance to enjoy all of the shops downtown Hot Springs has to offer. And there is plenty to see just along Central Avenue… Grab some cool Arkansas gear at State & Pride Provisions or crystals and quartz at Central Park Mining. You will undoubtedly want to spend time browsing the incredible handmade soaps at Bathhouse Soapery and sampling some of the finest olive oils and vinegars at evilO. You won’t leave empty-handed.
Be sure to stop by some of Hot Springs’ unique Central Avenue attractions like the Gangster Museum, loaded with memorabilia from some of the country’s most notorious criminals to spend time in the Spa City. Nearby, Galaxy Connection features an incredible collection of Star Wars collectibles and memorabilia.
If a morning full of shopping has you looking for more spa time, head farther down Central Avenue to Chrysalis Day Spa for a massage, hydrotherapy bath, facial or anything else your heart desires.
For lunch, you’ll want to visit DeLuca’s Pizzeria for one of the best slices you’ve ever had. Their dough is made fresh by hand every day, which means the quantities can be limited. So, you might try calling ahead. It’s worth it. But don’t ask for ranch. They don’t like that, and you won’t need it anyway.
“DeLuca’s is a very unique place,” says Valinoti. “We make all of our dough by hand; we still only make 75 pizzas a day, and we source our food carefully. There is an extraordinary amount of love and passion we put into the restaurant. The restaurant itself has this incredible energy. It’s loud, it’s fun, and most of all, the food is exceptional; I see to that. It’s truly some of the best pizza you can find in the US.”
For those who prefer a little South American flare, the cuisine at Rolando’s is sure to hit the spot. It’s pleasant atmosphere pairs well with its incredible dishes.
Then, throw on some green and head down to Bridge Street, where the St. Patrick’s Day festivities kick off at 3 p.m. with live music. The Arkansas Blarney Stone Kissing Contest starts at 4:30, and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders will take to Bridges Street at 5:30.
The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade will begin at 6:30 p.m. This year’s parade starter is Twitch, Ellen Degeneres’ DJ and So You Think You Can Dance star. Following close behind will be this year’s grand marshal, Ralph Macchio, star of the 1980s hit film Karate Kid.
Conclude your incredible Hot Springs weekend with the sounds of the legendary rock and roll band Three Dog Night. Their hit list includes “Joy to the World”, “An Old Fashioned Love Song”, “One”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come”, “Shambala” and so many more. They take the stage at 8 p.m.
After returning home from an incredible and eventful weekend spent in Hot Springs, get started planning the next one.