There must be something in the water. Named for the thermal springs that flow from the surrounding Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs is a curious town, with a wild and widely-celebrated history and an array of experiences that you just won’t find anywhere else. The city’s marketing campaign even boasts: It’s Different Here, Come See Why. So what makes this quaint community so eccentric? Here’s a list of 10 unique things to do or see in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The Ouachita Mountains surrounding Hot Springs produce some of the world’s finest quartz crystals including mammoth-size specimens that have made their way to museums, galleries and private collections all around the world. Various mines in nearby Jessieville and Mount Ida offer visitors the opportunity to dig for their own treasures and keep whatever they find.
Prior to the advent of modern medicine, health seekers flocked to Hot Springs to “take the waters,” a treatment purported to cure a wide range of ailments. Bathhouse Row, a highlight of Hot Springs National Park, is home to eight historic bath houses, dating from 1911 to 1939. The Fordyce Bathhouse, one of the more luxurious spas, now serves as a museum to the Golden Age of Bathing. While most of the bathhouses have been repurposed, you can still take a dip at the Buckstuff Bathhouse or Quapaw Baths & Spa.
Get your fill of the geothermal waters that gave Hot Springs its name and its fame at any of the jug fountains in Hot Springs National Park. At Superior Bathhouse Brewery you can drink beer brewed with the park’s water. Housed in a historic bathhouse, it is the first brewery headquartered in a national park and is believed to be the only brewery using thermal spring water as its main ingredient. The water flows through Superior’s pipes at about 140 degrees, saving both time and energy in the brewing process.
Held on what is touted as the “World’s Shortest Street in Everyday Use,” this annual parade is anything but small with some 30,000 onlookers, celebrity guests, colorful floats, and festivities that span multiple days. The World’s Shortest St Patrick’s Day Parade has a long history of Celebrity Grand Marshals including Pauly Shore, Mike Rowe, Bo Derek, John Corbett, Jim Belushi, Kevin Bacon, Alfonso Ribeiro and Ralph “The Karate Kid” Macchio. The annual event also features live music, a pop-up pub, the Arkansas Blarney Stone Kissing Contest and a performance each year by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
Held each summer, this event celebrates the city’s history and its sense of humor – with costumed teams racing customized bathtubs on wheels through downtown. The World Championship Running of the Tubs is followed by an awards ceremony recognizing the most outlandish tubs, which in past years have been tricked out to look like everything from a pirate ship to the Mystery Machine. Spectators also get in on the fun, donning bathrobes and shower caps and arming themselves with water guns and water balloons.
Opened in 1902, the The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo features over 130 alligators. Schedule your visit during one of the feeding shows and watch as the owners drop chunks of raw meat into the alligators gaping mouths. For an extra $5, you can feed some of the smaller alligators yourself. The petting zoo features miniature donkeys, pygmy goats, sheep, emus, a rabbit and tortoises. There are also several caged animals including monkeys, a mountain lion, an arctic wolf and a timber wolf. Inside, a mini-museum houses Native American artifacts, and a variety of aquatic attractions, most notably the “merman,” a dried out, half-fish, half-man creature.
Campy, creepy and cool, the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum opened in downtown Hot Springs in 1971. It boasts about 100 wax replicas of notable people from history as well as fictional storybook characters. An unblinking Al Capone pays homage to the building’s past as the Southern Club, one of the area’s most lavish casinos. The marble staircase and original wallpaper showcase its former elegance while a secret tunnel is a reminder of its criminal past… Hidden behind a fake wall in the men’s bathroom, the tunnel served as an escape route used by gangsters running from the law. For more information about the gangsters who frequented the Spa, be sure to check out the Gangster Museum of America.
Held every Wednesday since its inception in 1989, this open-mic night is believed to be the country’s longest-running consecutive weekly poetry series. It was started by poet Bud Kenny, who famously walked across the country with a pack mule pulling a wagon that converted into a stage for impromptu performances. The event has been held at various locations and under the helm of various poets, most recently Kai Coggin, a poetry teacher with the Arkansas Arts Council and the author of three full-length poetry collections. WNP is held Wednesdays from 6:30-9 p.m. at Kollective Coffee + Tea.
Mid-America Science Museum’s most electrifying exhibit produces a whopping 1.5 million volts, making it the Guinness World Record's most powerful conical Tesla coil. The “caged lightning” exhibit celebrates the life and work of inventor Nikola Tesla and includes a brief presentation followed by a live display of the Tesla Coil in action. It’s one of the 100-plus hands-on exhibits at the award-winning science museum.
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort opened in 1904 and is the only thoroughbred horse racing track in Arkansas with live racing January-May and year-round gaming. The state-of-the-art casino includes craps, blackjack, and rows upon rows of slot machines. The number one tourist destination in Arkansas, Oaklawn is home to the annual Racing Festival of the South which culminates with the $1 million Arkansas Derby. In May 2019, Oaklawn began a $100 million-plus expansion that includes the construction of a high-rise hotel, an event center, and an expanded gaming area.
And this list is just the tip of the iceberg! With the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail, you can stand in the very spot where Babe Ruth hit his record-breaking home run – the first to fly more than 500 feet. At Garvan Woodland Gardens, you can climb through a million dollar, four-story treehouse… Or enjoy a different kind of bird’s eye view (along with some big thrills) at Magic Springs, Arkansas only theme and water park. For more outdoor fun check out our world-class mountain biking opportunities or hike a little known trail like the two-mile loop at Electric Island on Lake Hamilton, which can only be reached by boat. Need more ideas? Ask a local! Hot Springs has all the charm and hospitality of a small Southern town but boasts a big city vibe, and we love to tell people all about it.
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.