I don’t think you can call yourself a true Arkansan if you’ve never been to the horse races in Hot Springs, Arkansas! Horse races… seriously? Yes! It’s way more fun than it sounds!
I had no idea what to expect since I knew nothing about horses or racing. But I’m always up for a trip, so I convinced Matt to turn our horse racing adventure into a weekend getaway to Hot Springs.
Hot Springs is located about an hour southwest-ish of Little Rock, and it’s a relatively small town. It’s known for Hot Springs National Park which is home to several natural hot springs. When you walk around town on a cold day, you can see steam rising from some of the thermal pools!
We stayed downtown near Bathhouse Row at the historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa. It’s the largest hotel in Arkansas and it’s been operating since 1875. I’m always wary of staying in older hotels, but they have renovated the bathrooms, added air conditioning, and updated the elevators. The hotel’s lobby is gorgeous and very traditionally decorated with large chandeliers and a grand staircase. The Arlington is rumored to be Al Capone’s favorite hotel, and room 442 was usually reserved for him! The hotel even has a water fountain in the lobby where you can drink fresh water from the thermal springs. We traveled to Hot Springs during the month of February, and it was still pretty cold outside. We loved using the heated outdoor pools and hot tub at the hotel. While I did enjoy our stay at the Arlington, I’m not sure I would stay there next time. I tried to appreciate all of the history surrounding the hotel, but I think I would have enjoyed something a little more modern. If you’re going to Hot Springs just for the horse races, then it’s a little far from the track. However, if you’re going to visit historic downtown Hot Springs and visit Bathhouse Row, then it’s in a perfect location.
Type A Tidbits:
Even if you aren’t staying at the Arlington, you have to go to their Sunday brunch! They have a fantastic buffet complete with a homemade donut station! Make reservations beforehand, and remember to bring a tip for the piano player in a tuxedo.
Things to Do
Oaklawn Racing and Gaming: This is the casino and track where the horse races take place. I was intimidated about betting on the horses… I had no clue what I was doing! Don’t worry though… this is a great place to learn! They’re very patient with new gamers and are used to explaining the rules and how the process works. You receive a book with all of the races scheduled for that day along with horse’s names, their stats, the jockey’s name, and the jockey’s stats. I’m sure there’s a lot of strategy behind horse betting, but I just picked whatever horse’s name I liked the best! Matt studied the book of stats, and he was much more successful than I was… but my way was more fun! No matter which method you choose, pick a horse and cheer them on! The minimum bet is $2 and there are several combinations you can bet on. You can bet on a horse to win, place, or show and every combo in between. I’m no expert on horse betting so I won’t pretend to be. Get one of those stat books… it’ll explain it all! Part of the fun is figuring it out as you go along. You can still have a great time even if you don’t want to bet. Oaklawn track has seating indoors or outdoors. We roamed all over, but our favorite viewing area was down by the fence right near the horses. The races really are a unique experience and you can expect to spend a full afternoon here.
Hot Springs National Park: This National Park is dedicated to the thermal springs and the history behind them. People used to travel from all over for the “healing and therapeutic” powers of the hot springs. The museum in the Fordyce Bathhouse is interesting to tour and a good place to start. Plus it’s free!
Bathhouse Row: If you want to partake in the natural hot springs yourself, then this is the place for you! Only two of the original bathhouses are still in operation. Quapaw Bathhouse is a modernized spa. They offer a full range of massages and other spa services. You can also visit just to enjoy the baths. There are four different pools fed by the natural springs. Each one is a different temperature, and it’s a neat experience to jump from pool to pool. Matt and I thought the baths were relaxing so we opted to do that before our couples massage appointment. Worth it! The idea of public baths was a little gross to me, but it’s not like that at all. Everything is extremely clean and well taken care of. And most importantly, no one is naked! It truly is a relaxing spa experience. The other bathhouse still in operation is called Buckstaff Bathhouse, but we never visited it. While Quapaw is more modern, Buckstaff is more in line with the historical Hot Springs’ bathhouse.
Type A Tidbits:
Don’t forget your driver’s license when you go to the horse races! All gamers must be over the age of 21.
If you’re a morning person, try out Dawn at Oaklawn. It’s a behind the scenes look at the horses and their stalls the morning of the race. Guests ride a bus through the staging areas and a tour guide gives information over a loudspeaker. The tour guide answers any questions and explains to you what you’re seeing. Coffee and pastries are provided.
Where to Eat
Some of our favorite restaurants were: Back Porch Grill, Luna Bella (try the arancini for an appetizer!), Purple Cow (for purple vanilla milkshakes!), and The Pancake Shop.
We really wanted to visit Rolando’s, but we never got the opportunity. It’s on the list for next time!
Hot Springs, Arkansas is an ideal spot for a relaxing weekend getaway. There are several things we wanted to do, but because it rained all weekend we didn’t get the chance. That just means we’ll have to go back soon!