Rooted in paganism, symbolized by the Roman god Cupid, and named for a martyred Christian priest, Valentine’s Day is just as mixed up as the emotion it celebrates! Despite its complexities, this historic holiday has been reduced to a one-size-fits-all occasion of dinner dates showered with gifts of flowers and chocolates. But there is no right or wrong way to spend the day. Maybe you want to treat a loved one or maybe you need to treat yourself! Whether you want to indulge in Valentine's Day or ignore it, Hot Springs offers a full menu of activities designed to fit your personality and your relationship status.
With its quaint architecture and horse-drawn carriages, downtown Hot Springs will charm the pants off your loved one, especially if you start the day at Quapaw Baths & Spa. Located in a historic bathhouse, the spa features four pools where you can soak up Hot Springs’ famous thermal waters. For a more intimate experience, book a private couples’ bath and couples’ massage. After dinner at one of downtown’s many fine dining establishments, cuddle up for a horse-drawn carriage with the Hot Springs Carriage Company. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, the carriages are parked outside the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa from 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through the winter. Weather permitting, they always operate on Valentine’s Day, regardless of the day of the week. The carriage company also offers a “Restaurant Package,” with a round-trip ride from your accommodations to one of the area restaurants. Sweeten the evening even more with a gift of locally-made, organic chocolate from Ouachita Chocolate, Hot Springs’ only bean-to-bar, small-batch, craft chocolate maker.
Once known as the “loose buckle in the Bible Belt,” Hot Springs has a long history of being both naughty and nice. During the height of the bathing industry, it flourished as an elegant spa town but was also a haven for organized crime with illegal gambling, bootlegging and prostitution. The city has since cleaned up but you can still enjoy betting, bathing, and boozing as well as some seriously seductive, adults-only entertainment. For some sugar and spice, get tickets to the hottest show in town – The Spa City Sweethearts Burlesque Review. Arkansas’ largest and longest-running burlesque show, it is presented each February by Hot Springs’ own burlesque troupe, The Foul Play Cabaret. The event features performances by troupe members and guests and offers something for everyone. Cap off the evening with drinks at The Ohio Club and belly up to the same mahogany bar where some of Hot Springs’ most infamous guests imbibed. For extra steamy accommodations, stay at Hotel Hale or the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa (ask for one of the Mineral Water Rooms) and enjoy Hot Springs famous thermal waters in the privacy of your room.
In your eyes, Valentine’s Day is an overly sentimental, sappy occasion that’s been hijacked by corporate America. But did you know it has a dark side too? There are a few different stories surrounding the patron saint for whom the holiday is named but all involve a gruesome beheading. Make the most of Valentine’s Day by relishing in the macabre and doing something completely untraditional like a Haunted Hot Springs Tour. Showcasing the “dark, morbid side of Hot Springs,” the 60-minute walking tour is sure to scare your date right into your arms. Afterward, you can unwind with some friendly competition at Big Axe Battleground, a BYOB competitive ax-throwing venue. Finish up the evening with an extra bloody steak at Bone’s Chophouse.
Single this Valentine’s Day? Don’t stress! Celebrate your solitude with a relaxing getaway. To the Native Americans, Hot Springs was a place of peace. Get all the peace and quiet you seek when you book a cabin at Catherine’s Landing. Located just five minutes outside of Hot Springs, this serene hideaway offers modern amenities in a natural setting with 400 wooded acres and a mile of shoreline on Lake Catherine. Read a book, go on a hike, pee with the door open! The only company you’ll need are some cupcakes from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe and a bottle from Crystal Ridge Distillery. The first legal distillery in Hot Springs, Crystal Ridge specializes in moonshine but also produces a variety of other spirits including bourbon, whiskey, and vodka, all of which are available for purchase in their retail shop. If you need a boost of adrenaline before heading back to the real world, try the tree-top zipline tour at Catherine’s Landing. Covering over a mile of terrain, the course features 10 different ziplines that are sure to get your blood pumping.
According to some historians, Valentine’s Day was born out of an effort to Christianize (and/or replace) the Roman fertility festival Lupercalia, which was celebrated at the ides of February. With its roots in paganism, Valentine’s Day is the perfect holiday for reconnecting with nature. And what better place to do that than the Natural State? Hot Springs is Arkansas’ number one travel destination, and a nature lover’s paradise with ample opportunity for hiking, camping, biking, and boating. Hit the trails in Hot Springs National Park, take a lake tour at Lake Ouachita State Park or go crystal digging at Ron Coleman Mining. If you’re looking for more heart-thumping outdoor adventure, check out the bike trails in the Hot Springs Northwoods Trail System. End the day at Superior Bathhouse Brewery and toast Mother Nature’s bounty with a flight of beers brewed from the thermal waters that flow from the mountain.
-Leslie Fisher is a media professional with a passion for travel and adventure. She has covered Hot Springs and the surrounding areas for over a decade and enjoys being a tourist in her hometown.