Hot Tips for Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs, Arkansas offers plenty of shopping, dining and historic spas to help you relax.

By Juliana Goodwin, additional reporting by Jamie Thomas and Michelle Lewis

Feb 2024

Oaklawn Racing opening day
Photo courtesy Juliana GoodwinHead to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the Arkansas Derby.

A Road Trip to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby

If you’re considering going to the Arkansas Derby, the time to buy your tickets is now. Grandstand seats have already sold out (although you can buy resale), but you can still score reserve grandstand seats, which is ideal when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

The race is set for March 30, and for the first time ever the purse is worth $1.5 million. Those bigger winnings have the potential to draw more spectators.

Last year’s event attracted 65,000 people and it was quite a show.

The Arkansas Derby is one of the top preparatory races for the Triple Crown, which includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Last year’s Arkansas Derby winner, Angel of Empire, thundered across the finish line and snagged third place in the Kentucky Derby.

Six Arkansas Derby winners have won the Kentucky Derby including the legendary American Pharaoh, a rare Triple Crown winner in 2015. There’s a statue of him outside of the racing facility, so be sure to stop for a photo. Be prepared to wait in line for the picture because it’s a popular spot.

Oaklawn Racing is home to the race. The first Arkansas Derby was held in 1936 and it continues to gain popularity.

While the Kentucky Derby is legendary, the Arkansas race is fabulous, too. You’ll find ladies with large, brimmed hats, oysters on the half shell, sparkling wine, but also plenty of folks in blue jeans. If you wait until the last minute and can’t score seats, you can sit in the stands outside on the apron for free. Last year the weather was perfect, but that doesn’t always happen.

The infield is popular and has live music, a beer garden. There’s an array of food options from burgers to shrimp cocktail and the Daily Double Deli is known for its corned beef sandwiches. Bloody Mary’s are a popular choice and great way to start the day.

Here’s another perk about this race versus the one in Louisville, the hotels are more reasonable. For this year’s Kentucky Derby, a Holiday Inn by the airport costs $1,350, or $1,058 for Comfort Suites — also by the airport.

The Arkansas Derby is significantly closer,  easier to navigate, has shorter lines to place a bet or buy food and the hotels are inflated, but not insane at all.

It is a blast and should be on your list. The event is family friendly, but it also screams girls’ weekend or getaway for the guys.

If you want to place a bet, you will need cash so bring money or your ATM card. Here is some lingo that’s important to know when placing a wager. If you bet on a “win” the horse must place first. If you bet for the horse to “place” then it must finish first or second. Bet on “show” and the horse must finish first, second or third.

Reserve grandstand seats online here.

While you’re in town, there are a few other attractions you might want to consider.

Explore Hot Springs

Hot Springs is home to the Gangster Museum of America. It provides a fascinating look into the city in the 1920s and onward when it was a popular place for mobsters like Al Capone and Johnny Torrio. Capone and his brother, Ralph, frequented the spa city and Arlington Hotel, enjoying the horse races. You don’t associate Arkansas with notorious gangsters, so it’s a fun look at the past.

Where to Stay in Hot Springs

If you want to be close to the action, the Oaklawn Resort is the place to be. Rooms cost $500 and are almost sold out.

The Hotel Hot Springs, is as an easy drive to the racetrack and walking distance from historic downtown.

You can also experience luxury as you unwind at The Waters. After the historic building fell into disrepair, detailed renovations were done to restore its former glory. This boutique hotel holds 62 rooms, each of which is true to the building’s history. Rooms highlight local artists and artisans through decor and complimentary products provided to each guest.

Where to Eat and Drink in Hot Springs

Luna Bella is a wonderful spot for dinner and has a nice selection of martinis. The pan seared scallops with parmesan risotto, asparagus and lemon butter sauce are divine. Other excellent choices include veal osso bocco, chicken marsala and more.

The Ohio Club is the oldest bar in Arkansas, established in 1905, so pop in for a drink. Many famous people have sidled up to the bar including Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano and Babe Ruth. The atmosphere is charming with the classic tin ceiling, brick walls and a wood bar with horses carved into it. Mae West performed at the bar back in the day. This is still a great spot to hear a band as the Ohio Club has live music Thursday through Sunday.

Kollective Coffee+Tea (110 Central Ave., Hot Springs, AR; 501-701-4000) offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options with lovingly crafted coffee and teas. This is a must-stop if you think of coffee as more than just fuel for getting through the day. Choose from dishes both healthful and sort of healthful, and you'll have enough energy for all that relaxing back at the spa.

You also don’t want to miss what’s brewing at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. As the only brewery inside of a National Park, Superior Bathhouse Brewery is the only brewery to use thermal spring water as the main ingredient. With 18 beers on tap, there is a constant stream of new beers ranging from the classics to the unconventional.

The Winery of Hot Springs has two locations, the winery itself (1503 Central Ave., Hot Springs, 501-623-9463) and Bathhouse Row Winery (220 Central Ave., Hot Springs, 501-620-4880). With grapes from a variety of locations, The Winery offers everything from muscadine to strawberry wine. Wine tastings are free, too.

Ohio Club, Hot Springs, AR
Gangster Museum of America, Hot Springs, AR
Photos courtesy Juliana Goodwin Left: The Ohio Club. Right: The Gangster Museum of America

More Things to See and Do in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Quapaw Baths and Spa in Hot Springs, AR
Photo by Aaron BrewerHot Springs, AR is named for the areas natural hot springs. Experience the warmth at a historic bathhouse, such as the Quapaw Baths & Spa.

Historic Spas

Hot Springs is named after the area's naturally heated springs, and you can enjoy the benefits of thermal baths on Bathhouse Row. Among the historic buildings offerings luxurious spa services are the Quapaw Baths & Spa (413 Central Ave., Hot Springs, AR; 501-609-9822) and Buckstaff Bathhouse (509 Central Ave., Hot Springs, AR; 501-623-2308), which has been open since 1912.

Sunset and West Mountain Walking Trails

Want to take in some spectacular views? The Sunset Trail and West Mountain Trail offer just that. Be prepared; these are some lengthy trails, but if you’re up for a trek, the views are well worth it.

Hot Springs, AR Trip Information

Hot Springs, Arkansas
Reason to Go
Rejuvenating hot springs and some local history
Trip Length
A long weekend to make the most of all the local shopping and spas
Who to Bring
Anyone you know who needs a relaxing spa getaway
Travel Time
4 hours and 40 minutes each way

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