Welcome to Spa City!

Twice a year we make our way to  Hot Springs, Arkansas.    It has a lot to offer for a short getaway.   (We visited once in March and once in April—I am just now getting around to posting.)   It is called Spa City because of the naturally occurring hot springs and the historic bath houses that arose here in the 1920’s.   Hot Springs became a national park in 1832 and was the first federally protected area in the national park system.

Sometimes we just like to wander around town.

Victorian architecture.

Lots of historic buildings (some needing revitalizing).

About twelve years ago, The Hubs’ parents invited us to go with them to the horse races.    We have attended at least twice a year since then.    The first big race we go to is always around Spring Break and the final race and end of the season is in April.   We love to go because we can get to see horses that ultimately will race for the Triple Crown.

This is our routine for going:

  1. We take Friday off and head to Fort Smith right after work on Thursday.
  2. We try to stay downtown in Fort Smith so we can walk to dinner.   (We had a hard time this trip trying to find a cool place to eat that wasn’t a smokey filled room.   We wanted to eat at a famous pizza place but we could smell the tobacco smoke from down the street.    I can’t imagine how smokey those pizzas tasted.)
  3. We get up and make it to our favorite coffee spot, Sacred Grounds (421 Garrison Ave.).   We love this little place.   I love the atmosphere and their mini-frittatas.   The Hubs loves the vibe and their coffee.   It is definitely a family run operation.
  4. Then, we hit the road.     The drive from Fort Smith to Hot Springs is spectacular.    I always look for the redbuds and dogwoods blooming.
  5. Since the in-laws have moved away, we always hit town before them.   We usually have lunch at The Brick House Grill.     Great burgers and a must-have:   a beef hotdog wrapped in bacon!!!!!!
  6. Then we set off to explore the galleries.   Our favorite gallery of all times is Taylors Contemporanea Fine Arts.     Taylors represents Darrell Loy Scott, an artist we absolutely fell in love with about five years ago.   We bought one of his pieces to celebrate my “perfect health” and we have been fans ever since.      This is a top notch gallery and I would happily own any piece in the place (if someone would buy it for me!)  🙂

    Our favorite.

  7. By the time we accomplish all this, it is check-in time at The Arlington.     This is the grand old hotel at the end of Bath House Row.      We have been going to Hot Springs for so long, we have watched many of the old bath houses become refurbished, remodeled and re-opened.    To my knowledge, The Arlington has never closed.
  8. I head off for a thermal treatment.

    The Arlington at dusk.

    One of the colorful lobby bar murals.   (This is obviously a morning shot.)

A note about thermal treatments:   It is not for the modest, but all pains are taken to make it a pleasant experience.     I always book a treatment when we stay at The Arlington in their own bath house (located on the third floor.)   It is a throwback to the days that people traveled here just for the health benefits.    For sixty bucks, one can get a twenty minute soak in a truly antique tub (while being waited on by the bath house attendants).   There is a male and female side with appropriate male and female attendants.    (A steam bath or sauna is optional at this point—I usually skip it.)     After the soak in the mineral water, you are wrapped in mineral-water-soaked hot towels.   This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience.    You veg out in these hot towels for another fifteen minutes.     Next you are placed in a mineral shower with lovely old copper pipes.     Then comes a twenty minute massage.    I love it!!!!!!!!   I think the price is very reasonable for the service and the time spent being pampered.

After my “treatment,” we usually meet up with the in-laws for dinner.    Here are our favorite places:

Rolando’s:   We always order the Quesadilas de Chivo (Grilled flour tortillas filled with goat cheese, green onions, vegetable mix, topped with Argentinean and mango sauce. Served with black beans and rice with sour cream) and Popeye’s Burrito (Flour tortilla stuffed with fresh spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic, sour cream, vegetables, Argentinean sauce and cheddar cheese. Served with black beans and rice).  I think I read that the spinach comes from Alma, Arkansas “The Spinach capital of the world.”  🙂   Each meal is garnished with delicious freshly pickled veggies.

San Francisco Bread Company:   The in-laws love this place for breakfast.  They do have the best pecan coffee.

Whole Hog BBQ:   They have the best pulled pork and the best potato salad—it is unlike any version I have ever had.   The closest I have come to remaking it is one with a cooked dressing.   I am still working on it!  (Alas, it has recently closed in Hot Springs, but you can still visit locations in Ft. Smith and Little Rock.)

McClard’s:  If you love burnt ends, you will love this ancient BBQ joint!    It is a classic.

Fisherman’s Wharf:   Be prepared to wait if it is the weekend, but well worth it.   Try to sit outside on the deck overlooking Lake Hamilton.

Doe’s Eat Place:   Eclectic little steak place, but it is so much more.    Excellent tamales and they were named the 2007 James Beard American Classic.    (We have one in Tulsa, too.)

JavaPrimo:  This is my favorite breakfast spot and they have fantastic gelato!

Angel’s:   Pizza is great here, but honestly we like sitting at the bar and taking a break from gallery hopping along Central Avenue.

Rod’s Pizza Cellar:  We didn’t have a great experience trying to eat here last year, but this year we got a great table.   The service was good and the food was expansive.   There were only four of us, but we ordered the dinner for six because I think my father-in-law saw only that it came with a 17″ pizza.    It came with that and a lot more—salad bar plus a platter of pasta that was the size of a roasted suckling pig!    We did not even put a dent in it.   The in-laws have sampled pizza in NYC and Rome and deemed Rod’s Pizza Cellar up amongst the top pizza they have had.

Bleu Monkey:  Good food and good bar atmosphere.    (Funny story about that but it will have to wait for another time.)


So enough about the food.   Here are some must-dos while you’re there:

Garvan’s Woodland Gardens:   Too beautiful for words.   Check out the link.   Well worth the trip for this alone.

Museum of Contemporary Art:   This museum is located in the restored Ozark bath house.    I have only been twice, but each time the exhibits were top-notch.     I was introduced to the works of an artist named  Disfarmer here.   This character could almost have walked straight out of a Flannery O’Connor work.   I fell in love with his haunting images.   (Some of his photographs are in the permanent collection now.)

Oaklawn:   This is our destination every year and it is an exciting place.    It is full of Southern charm.    Even if you don’t place a bet, it is worth it to see top horses, jockeys and trainers.

Exercising on a cloudy day.

An early morning sprint.

St. Paddy’s Day at Oaklawn. During the final race of the season, there is usually a Dixie Land band.

Dryden Pottery:    This is a truly family run enterprise.   You can see their unique pots thrown from the beginning.   They have some unique (and probably patented) glazes, too.    We were intrigued about this place and its highly collected pottery.   I was telling my mother about how cool this place was and low-and-behold she dug around and found a piece that my grandmother had.   She graciously gifted it to me!  🙂

These trips come at the perfect time for us.    It has usually been six months or so since we have seen The Hubs’ parents, it is near the start of the fourth quarter at school so my head is about to explode, and it always gets us in the mood for gardening because everything is blooming a bit earlier there.

The red buds and dogwoods in the Oaklawn infield.

If you do travel here, don’t forget to make the fairly short jaunt northwest to the Arkansas Wine Trail.    For more information about our adventures there, click here.

And for all those horse racing fans, we did get to see the the Kentucky Derby favorite, Bodemeister impressively win the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.   Too bad he didn’t win in Kentucky.




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