The Spa City has been one of THE prime tourist destinations in Arkansas for more than a century. But if you havent been for a visit recently, you might be surprised by how preservation and renovation are burnishing the iconi
A tour of Bathhouse Row, the eight buildings along Hot Springs’ Grand Promenade, is essential. Each has plaques describing the distinctive architecture and history of the buildings. Check out Bathhouse Row Emporium inside the Lamar Bathhouse for spa supplies and items for purchase about Hot Springs history. Admission is free to the Hot Springs National Park Cultural Center inside the Ozark Bathhouse; its gallery space features regular exhibitions. The Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center is inside the Fordyce Bathhouse. You can still take a dip in the thermal spring-fed waters at the Buckstaff and Quapaw bathhouses. Superior Bathhouse and Brewery is the only brewery in a National Park and the only brewery in the world to use thermal water in its process.
As they have every year for more than two decades, 100 international musicians travel to Hot Springs the first two weeks of June to play alongside world-class mentor musicians at the Hot Springs Music Festival. The performances take place at venues across the city, and individual and festival tickets are available (hotmusic.com).
Low Key Arts (118 Arbor St.) is a public art nonprofit that produces many of the city’s most essential events. Its first event, in 2005, was The Valley of the Vapors independent music festival, which every March brings in international musicians who are traveling to or from Austin, Texas, for the SXSW festival. Also under its umbrella is the Hot Water Hills music festival, which is held the first week of every October in downtown Hot Springs and features national and local acts; Inception to Projection is a six-week intensive film class open to all ages that culminates with screenings at Arkansas Shorts, a mini-short film festival; and KUHS-LP, 97.9, is a low-powered, all-volunteer radio station powered entirely by solar energy.
The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival celebrated its 27th anniversary in October. The longest running doc fest in North America draws film luminaries and celebrities from around the world and has activities and films for all ages.
Another can’t-miss event is Hot Springs JazzFest, the premier sponsored event of the Hot Springs Jazz Society. The three-day jazz event, held in late summer, welcomes local and nationally recognized performers.
Garvan Woodland Gardens (550 Arkridge Road), part of the University of Arkansas System, proves that there is artistry in gardening. Throughout the year, the gardens host a variety of events such as photography exhibits and workshops for a variety of artisans.
Take the kids to Mid-America Science Museum (500 Mid America Blvd.), which recently revamped its exhibits and added new features, including a skywalk in the trees, a digital dome theater and an outdoor dinosaur display.
More than two-dozen art galleries line the streets of downtown Hot Springs and stay open after hours the first Friday evening of every month for Hot Springs Gallery Walk. Charles and Michael Riley of Riley Art Glass Studio (710 W. Grand Ave.) host regular glass-blowing demonstrations and have wares for purchase. Dryden Pottery (341 Whittington Ave.), in business since 1946 and now operated by the third generation of the Dryden family, also offers customers a chance to see art being produced and purchase it. The Dryden studio shares a building with Emergent Arts, which regularly offers classes and includes a community gallery. Other galleries to check out: American Art Gallery (724 Central Ave.), Artists’ Workshop Gallery (610A Central Ave.), Gallery Central Fine Art (800 Central Avenue), Justus Fine Art Gallery (827 A Central Ave.), Legacy Fine Art (804 Central Ave.) and Forest Path Gallery (107 Stillmeadow Lane).
Make sure you go see the new downtown murals, too. The “Playing Cards” mural on the south wall of the Craighead Laundry Building on the corner of Convention Boulevard and Malvern Avenue honors Hot Springs’ spring-training legacy with paintings of Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth and more. On Central Avenue across from Bathhouse Row, see the stunning mural of a Quapaw, inspired by a painting by Charles Banks Wilson.
Worth the trip three miles north of downtown off state Highway 7 is Fox Pass Pottery, the studio and shop of Arkansas Living Treasure Jim Larkin and his wife, Barbara. Stop by between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday or by appointment. Visit foxpasspottery.com for directions.
Stay downtown for shopping. All Things Arkansas (610-C Central Ave.) sells items made in Arkansas or related to Arkansas. That includes pottery, blown glass, handmade knives, Arkansas travel books, sauces and jellies and soaps. Owner Lisa Coleman Carey’s family owns Ron Coleman Mining in nearby Jessieville, so, naturally, there are plenty of quartz crystals for sale, too. Savory Pantry (214 Central Ave.) is the place to get local and regional gourmet jams, jellies, sauces, mixes and more. Pick up a trendy souvenir at State & Pride Provisions Co. (518 Central Ave.), where you’ll find Arkansas-themed and some locally made T-shirts, art, jewelry and more. Buy soap and other spa supplies at Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium (366 Central Ave.), The Bath Factory (238 Central Ave.) and the aforementioned Bathhouse Row Emporium (515 Central Ave.). There’s no storefront, but Baggo, the outdoor bean bag toss game, is based in Hot Springs; go to baggo.com to order your customized board.
Hot Springs is fast becoming a pizza destination. DeLuca’s Pizzeria Napoletana (831 Central Ave.), helmed by Brooklyn transplant Anthony Valinoti, definitely belongs in the discussion about the best pizza in the state. SQZBX (236 Ouachita Ave.) is the city’s No. 1 new hangout. Spouses Cheryl Roorda and Zac Smith, known widely as the polka duo Itinerant Locals, co-own the pizzeria and microbrewery (Smith handles all the brewing) and share space with KUHS-LP, 97.9, the solar-powered radio station they helped found. The building used to house a piano repair shop; Roorda and Smith won a preservation award for their work restoring the beautiful building, which they’ve creatively decorated with retired accordions and old piano parts. The couple also just bought Starlite Club (232 Ouachita Ave.), the dive bar next door and, naturally, it’s become the place to be after dark, too. Other favorites: Superior Bathhouse Brewery (329 Central Ave.) is the ideal place to get a beer and some appetizers downtown and watch the crowds. The Avenue does fine dining with a Southern flair right in the lobby of The Waters Hotel (340 Central Ave.), the historic boutique hotel that opened in 2017 and has raised the bar in downtown accommodations. Red Light Roastery (1003 Park Ave.) offers small batch craft coffee roasted in-house. Rolando’s (210 Central Ave.) specializes in Latin American cuisine. Local brewery Bubba Brew’s, headquartered just outside of Hot Springs in Bonnerdale, has an offshoot on Lake Hamilton (1252 Airport Road) that’s worth a visit.
Anthony Tidwell, a barber at Tim’s Barber Shop in Hot Springs, started the nonprofit Cutwell 4 Kids in 2014 to get area kids “to think out of the box instead of following along with their peers.” Tidwell wants to foster the abilities of burgeoning artists, but he also knows art can be invaluable for dealing with the stresses of childhood.
He has firsthand experience with the latter. He was born in Hot Springs, but spent much of his childhood in Atlanta during the late 1970s and early ’80s, when at least 28 people — mostly children — were killed in the city. After classmates were reported missing, Tidwell quit speaking for nearly a year. His salvation ultimately came thanks to a teacher who suggested he draw what he was feeling. He’s leaned on painting and drawing ever since “as a coping” mechanism. These days he favors pop art, “bright and colorful.”
For the last five years, Tidwell has offered free summer art classes to schoolchildren at the Cutwell 4 Kids studio at 247 Silver St. He gets community support to purchase art supplies.
The show regularly goes on the road to parties and events, where Tidwell and volunteers bring 4-by-8-foot double-sided walls of canvas on which kids can paint. Recent festival visits include World Fest in Little Rock, Dunbar Community Festival in Little Rock, Art Springs in Hot Springs and an Upward Bound gathering at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Visit cutwell4kids.org to learn more. — Lindsey Millar