Road Trip Destination: Diamond Lakes Region and Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs Arkansas

by Michael Satterfield -06/30/2021

Chances are Arkansas isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of planning your next Summer Vacation, but the Diamond Lakes Region of Arkansas is one of the best-kept travel secrets in the USA. The city of Hot Springs is unique in that it is one of the few cities that is also part of a National Park. Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, the city was built on top of the natural hot springs that were believed for centuries to have healing properties. In the 1800s the city became America's first major tourist destination city with thousands of visitors coming to enjobuicky the bathhouses and spas. 

Belief in the healing waters of Hot Springs prompted many early baseball team owners to start the tradition of spring training. Legends like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb would come to Hot Springs to reset and prepare for the next season. While the resorts were popular, the real money in Hot Springs came from illegal gambling and speakeasies, which were protected and in some cases even ran by the local police and politicians. This made Hot Springs a haven for gangsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Alvin Karpis, who could walk down the street without fear of prosecution. 

Today Hot Springs is a vibrant city, with world-class hotels, dining, and entertainment. A spectacular secret getaway for those seeking to have all of the amenities of a big city, while surrounded by the natural beauty of America's oldest Federal Reserve. 

Getting There:

Hot Springs Arkansas

Just four hours from Dallas and three from Memphis the scenery on the drive to Hot Springs makes this a prime road trip destination. We opted to drive the Buick Envision, but flying is always an option with the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport just 55 miles away in Little Rock. I checked flights on Priceline from Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York, and all were around $350 for round trip coach airfare to Little Rock. If you are extra adventurous you can always take Amtrak, a coach seat from Dallas to Little Rock is about $66. The closest train station to Hot Springs is Malvern, but just be aware you would need to take a bus from there up to Hot Springs. 

Where to Stay:

Being that Hot Springs was built around tourism there a number of hotel properties and vacation rentals that can cater to every budget and experience. For this trip, we stayed at the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, which is attached to the historic Oaklawn Jockey Club. 

Luxury and Convenience: Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Hot Springs Arkansas

This recently opened property offers the luxury and quality you would expect from a major resort casino, with on-site restaurants, bars, entertainment, luxury spa, and of course a full Vegas-style Casino. 

Price Per Night: $150-$330 (Non-Race Dates)

Learn More or Book at the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Budget-Friendly: Best Court

A restored 1930s Motor Lodge that offers modern amenities with vintage charm. It happens to be attached to the Best Cafe which is no exaggeration and offers amazing food. 

Price Per Night: $166-$189 

Learn More or Book at the Best Court

Southern Hospitality: The Reserve at Hot Springs

Hot Springs Arkansas

Another new addition to Hot Springs is The Reserve a beautifully restored historic home featuring antique furnishings and attention to detail that is seldom seen today. Explore the gardens, enjoy the Southern/French-inspired menu, and relax on the expansive porches with a view of the Oaklawn race track. 

Price Per Night: TBD

Learn More or Book at The Reserve at Hot Springs

Where to Eat:

Hot Springs has no shortage of eateries, from national chains to lakeside diners there is something for everyone. If you are planning a trip to Hot Springs, come hungry. 

Steinhaus Keller:

Hot Springs Arkansas

Hands down one of the best German restaurants I have ever been to. Located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs it is the perfect place to stop in for an early dinner, park far away so you can then walk off the dinner as you won't want to leave anything on your plate. Be sure to get the Sausage and Cheese Board to start and enjoy a wide selection of German beers. Make reservations to avoid a long wait. 

Make Reservations at Steinhaus Keller

The Vault:

Located in a historic bank building The Vault offers high-end contemporary dining in a unique atmosphere. They are known for their elaborate signature cocktails and scallops. I would suggest the pork belly appetizer and if you want to splurge go for the Japanese Wagyu steak. Reservations are suggested and get there early to find parking. 

Make Reservations at The Vault

Will's Cinnamon Shop:

If you are a fan of homemade Cinnamon Rolls, Will's needs to be on your list. In addition to their own spin on the traditional breakfast roll, Will's offers a great selection for lunch as well as other baked goods. 

Learn More and Get Directions to Will's

Best Cafe:

Hot Springs Arkansas

Attached to the restored motor court, the Best Cafe is like stepping back in time. With fresh takes on traditional breakfast favorites, Best Cafe needs to be on your list. But if you want to get a seat you better get there before 9AM, otherwise, you will be waiting. 

Learn More about Best Cafe

What to Do:

Hot Springs has countless activities including museums, spas, hiking trails, nightlife, art galleries, tours, and of course the amazing lakes. We jammed a lot into our trip to Hot Springs but with five lakes, five state parks, a national park, mountain biking trails, gardens, museums, and a world-class casino, the Diamond Lakes Region has a lot to offer. 

Garvan Woodland Gardens:

Hot Springs Arkansas

It would be easy to spend an entire day here exploring the gardens, which feature stunning architecture that complements the unique gardens that are hidden among the natural forest. The on-site Chipmunk Cafe offers a great spot to enjoy lunch while watching the scale model railway trains make their way around their tracks. 

Admission is $15 for adults, kids up to 12 are $5 and the property is dog friendly with the purchase of a dog ticket for $5. 

Learn More about the Garvan Woodland Gardens

The Gangster Museum of America:

Take a walk back through time and learn about the outlaw history of Hot Springs at The Gangster Museum of America. Once the playground of the mob, Hot Springs hosted the who's-who of the underworld and tells the story of how through corrupt politicians and law enforcement this small city became home to the largest illegal gambling operation in the USA.

Admission is $15 for adults, kids 8-12 are $6, Seniors are $14.

Learn more about The Gangster Museum of America

Hit the Water:

Hot Springs Arkansas

The shores of Lake Hamilton are minutes from downtown Hot Springs and offer a wide range of activities from boating, swimming, and even waterside dining options. I would avoid the crowded Duck-Boat tours and head over to Hot Spring Marina where you can rent a pontoon boat for half-day or for your entire trip. Tie up in one of the coves and enjoy lake life, or tow some tubes or wakeboard on the 7460-acre lake. 

Learn more about Hot Springs Marina

Baseball Trail:

Hot Springs is rich in baseball history and the Historic Baseball Trail allows you to walk back through Major League history with an easy-to-use app. Stand in the exact spot that Babe Ruth hit the longest home run of his career, visit the field where pioneers like Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson played some of the biggest games of their lives. The trail takes you to the fields, hotels, and hot spots that were popular with some of the biggest names in baseball. 

Learn more and download the Historic Baseball Trail App

The Ohio Club:

Hot Springs Arkansas

Since 1905 the Ohio Club was one of the most important bars and casinos in Hot Springs, grab a drink at the same bar that served Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Bugs Moran, and Lucky Luciano. Today the gambling is no longer happening, but the old club still is a favorite watering hole of tourists and locals alike. The club offers pub snacks, live music, and a rich atmosphere.  

21 and Older, Depending on the night’s entertainment there may be a cover charge at the door.

Learn more about The Ohio Club

Hot Springs Bathhouse Row

Experience the Hot Springs:

Visit one of the original bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, or fill up a bottle of water at one of the many public fountains. While you are on Bathhouse Row stop in and check out some of the other original bathhouses that have been converted into breweries, shops, and museums. 

This is a sponsored post with All opinions are my own. Get your free Hot Springs Diamond Lakes Vacation Guide here to plan your perfect trip.