Ready to explore? Hot Springs, Arkansas has SO much to offer. You’ll find everything from beautiful historic buildings tucked into the mountain side to charming shops, a “duck boat” tour to an alligator farm, and delicious local food to a craft brewery. Best part of it all? Hot Springs radiates that kid friendly vibe and has a little bit to see and do for everyone in the family.
In this post, I’m spilling all the best places to eat, and where to stay, and how to make the most of your family time in Spa City. Here’s your complete guide of things to do in Hot Springs with kids!
*Some of these adventures were hosted for us, but all opinions are my own.
A Little History
If you’re like me, you love knowing the stories behind historical buildings and understanding why a place is the way it is. The town is named for the thermal hot springs found there and was granted the title of “reservation” by President Andrew Jackson in 1832, essentially making it the first National Park. Move over, Yellowstone!
Bathhouse Row on Central Ave is home to the original bathhouses that use this sacred thermal water. The water from the springs is said to have healing properties, and people travel from all over just to bathe in it!
You can read more about Hot Spring’s history, including baseball legends and infamous gangsters here.
Now, let’s dive in to all the things to see and do while you’re in town with your little ones.
There’s so much history here! The original architecture is swoon worthy itself. Combine that with the fact that Hot Springs, also known as Spa City, is surrounded by beautiful pine trees and mountain ranges…it makes for the perfect family getaway.
What It’s Like
While you’re planning out things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas, add Bathhouse Row to your list! You can step back in time with Victorian inspired buildings and a row of ornate bathhouses on Central Ave. This is the main street downtown where you’ll find the historic bathhouses, shops, and restaurants.
You’ll find the Visitor’s Center at the Fordyce Bathhouse where you can take a self-guided tour or go with a guided group to learn more about the history of bathhouses in Hot Springs. We didn’t take the boys inside the bathhouses this trip because it’s not toddler friendly, but if you have older kids that would be interested it’s definitely worth the time. I took a group tour on a previous trip, and it’s neat to see the vintage spa equipment and the restored bathhouse rooms.
If you aren’t planning to dip your whole body into a bath, you can still dip a finger in! There’s a hot spring right across from the iconic Arlington Hotel on Central. Walking trails will take you up above the hot springs and you can enjoy the gorgeous view of the town at the base of the Ouachita and Hot Springs Mountains. The water is over 140 degrees Farenheit, so be prepared!
Things to Know:
-You can tour the Fordyce Bathhouse/Visitor’s Center during their regular hours, 9-5.
-Bathhouse tours are best for older kids! Ie: Wyatt’s reaction above.
-There are two functioning bathhouses remaining on Bathhouse Row! You can take a dip in the healing waters from the hot springs and see what all the hype is about. Quapaw Baths and Buckstaff Bathhouse. Either would be so fun if you’re visiting without kids, or you can find a temporary babysitter to get some self-care time in!
-For more details and history about Hot Springs, you can go here. I’m a totally history nerd, so I won’t judge you for clicking that!
Would I even be a mom of a three year old if we didn’t stop in the local toy shop? It was beyond cute. Honestly, we went back the next day to shop more because they had such a big selection of quality toys! Lots of pretend play items, wooden heirloom style pieces, beautiful puppets, puzzles, and every type of vehicle you could imagine.
The Toy Chest sells the sweetest toys! The original family still owns the shop and they’re going on 20 years. They’re such sweet people and truly have a heart for children! Be sure to stop in, play a little, and stock up on all the treasures to take back home.
Things to Know:
-There’s several blocks of small shops, restaurants, and things to see. I’d plan to spend a few hours downtown and try to squeeze in another day if you’re a big shopper like me!
-You’ll find local Arkansas made treasures, art, boutiques with trendy clothing, ice cream shops, and so much more.
-Everything is stroller friendly! Most stores also leave water out for dogs, too.
-If you’re driving, you’ll find a free parking garage directly behind Central Ave with walking access to the street. Additionally, there’s free street parking on the weekends.
Things to See in Hot Springs
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Want to get a birds’ eye view of the city and surrounding mountains? You can take a drive up Hot Springs Mountain and take the elevator to the top of the mountain tower. There’s a gift shop on the bottom (of course), a mini museum indoors on the second floor, and the top floor is an outdoor observation deck.
Wyatt adored the elevator ride, but I think he was a little afraid of being up so high in the air at the top of the tower. Either that, or he was just really ready for a nap!
Things to Know:
-If you want to get really adventurous, there’s a 1.5 mile long hiking trail you can take from downtown on Fountain St. to the top of the mountain.
-There’s a beautiful overlook before you take the turn at the top of the mountain towards the tower. Definitely take a peek there, too!
-This may be better suited for older kids, but Jep seemed to enjoy the ride being carried in the Tula.
Mid-America Science Museum
Get ready for some hands-on learning fun! We spent our first full morning playing in the museum, and could’ve stayed longer if we didn’t have to get the boys down for their naps.
As soon as you pop out of your car you’ll see dinosaurs lining the museum entrance path. It was hard to get Wyatt inside the museum because he loved seeing the realistic looking dinosaurs up close! The dinosaurs make noises and are so detailed.
Once you’re inside the museum you’ll walk straight into get tickets but you can start playing right away. There’s over 100 hands-on science exhibits and it’s honestly a blast for kids of all ages!
Our favorite exhibits were the DinoTrek, Science SkyWalk, two story water play tower, and the Arkansas Underfoot area. I love that the museum seemed to basically be plopped down in the middle of a wooded area and the outdoor exhibits (DinoTrek and the SkyWalk) effortlessly blended in.
Make sure to wear some comfy walking shoes if you plan to see ALL the dinosaurs. There are some big hills along the paved trail that aren’t totally stroller friendly, but it was fun for Wyatt to run around and investigate all the dinosaurs. Also be prepared for an insane amount of roaring from your toddler after spending so much time learning about dinos!
The Bob Wheeler Science SkyWalk was a dream come true for both me and the boys! Imagine a giant treehouse (40 feet in the air) with a mini ropes course at the very top. Hammocks are tied between posts down below if you need to take a quick nap. I mean, count me in for that! Obviously those were meant for tired, mamas.
There’s also a neat bench on the SkyWalk that will make music if everyone on the bench is holding hands. Science is crazy, right?
The rest of the museum is a dream. There’s so much for everyone to learn about. You can see exactly how the human body works by watching your skeleton dance on a screen matching your movements, or by crawling in a pretend underground cave and learning about The Natural State.
Things to know:
-You can learn more about the museum exhibits here.
-Adult tickets are $10 + tax, children 3-12 are $8, and babies under 3 are free!
-There’s a snack bar on site but you can bring a lunch if you want to picnic outside under the SkyWalk. It’s so beautiful, so I recommend planning to eat lunch here if you can! You can always leave for nap time then come back and play more with rested babies.
National Park Duck Tour
Want to see more of the town? This is THE best way to learn more about the history of Hot Springs, get the insider scoop with bonus funny stories, and see all the historical sites. The duck boat tour is unique because you’ll start downtown on Central and go out on the lake!
Wyatt was beyond thrilled to watch our tour bus drive into the water and turn into a boat! No worries, mama. There are life jackets on board just in case! Our tour guide, who goes by “Captain America”, totally tricked me into thinking there were seat belts on the duck too. I totally fell for it and of course he called me out!
Speaking of Captain America- be sure to jump on his tour specifically. He’s been giving them for close to a decade and we learned a ton and laughed so much.
Things to Know:
-The tour takes about an hour and fifteen minutes from start to finish. All the duck boats leave and return to the same spots on Central Ave downtown.
-Adult tickets are $20, kids 3-12 are $15, and babies two and under are $6. They also have combo tickets available if you want to check out their other attractions, which would be great for older kids! You can choose from the Duck Boat Tour, Tussaud Wax Museum, indoor ropes course, mini golf, and so much more. All the ticket and tour information can be found here.
-You’ll be in the water but we didn’t get splashed.
-I wore Jep in the Tula instead of bringing the stroller because it didn’t look like there was a place to fold one up on the boat. You may be able to fold and store the stroller at the shop where you buy tickets. They’re a super friendly, family-owned business so I’d call them up and ask!
Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo
Yes, an alligator farm! Undoubtedly it’s one of the most unique things to do in Hot Springs. Wyatt was a little freaked out by the alligators since we got splashed by them and definitely didn’t want to hold, touch, or feed a baby gator. The petting zoo was a little more his speed and he loved feeding and petting the baby goats and sheep. There’s a few turtles, donkeys, and birds too.
When you walk in you’ll get your tickets in the main building, then head outside and follow the signs around the farm. First you’ll stop and feed the goats in the petting zoo area. After you’ve handed out all your bread through the fence you’ll be able to go into their pen to pet them. They’re super friendly and know you’re there to feed them, so that’s why they ask you to feed them first!
After you’ve finished petting baby goats to your heart’s content, it’s time to head over to see some baby alligators. You can buy a stick with meat on it specifically for feeding a gator! A handler will help pick one out of the tank for you. We asked the handler to choose a smaller one, but Wyatt refused to “pet” it. He loved looking at them!
Next up you’ll find two large pens with the full grown gators. We ended up getting splashed by that green water. I felt like I should have gargled with Purell, but I lived to write this blog post so I guess it just added to the experience. We smelled like a swamp when we left, but it’s definitely an adventure!
Things to Know:
-Adult tickets are $9, kids 12 and under are $7, babies 2 and under are free.
-You can watch an alligator feeding show Thursday, Saturday, & Sunday at noon during feeding season (May through mid-October)
-Hold your little one’s hand in the large gator yard! The barrier is a chain link fence and small cement wall.
-To see all the animals at the farm and find out more about group rates, just go here.
Get on the Water!
Hot Springs is home to three beautiful man-made lakes: Lake Catherine, Lake Hamilton, & Lake Ouachita, We visited family who lives on Lake Hamilton and I definitely recommend either taking your own boat or renting to get out in the water.
Other Things to do in Hot Springs:
We spent three and a half days in town and still didn’t see it all. Here’s a few other places to check out and add to your list!
–Garvan Woodland Gardens (We’re definitely seeing this next time!) Check out their website to see what’s in bloom and the events going on. They have a great Christmas display, too.
–Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
–Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat– My cousin actually got married on the Belle! It’s an actual ferry boat with brunch, food, drinks, and tours you around the lake. So cute and we’ll definitely be doing this next time with the boys.
–Lake Catherine State Park
–Lake Ouachita State Park
Where to Eat in Hot Springs
We spent most of our time exploring the downtown area, so I’m sharing the places we loved eating with the boys. While you’re planning out your list of things to do in Hot Springs, make sure to highlight these gems. You’ll see a list of other local restaurant recommendations from my trusted local source at the bottom of this section!
This little gem is right in the middle of downtown on Central Ave. Rolando’s is a blend of Mexican, Cuban, and Southwestern foods. Don’t expect regular Tex Mex here! Thinking about rice and beans? You’ll be served perfectly seasoned white rice, black beans, and gooey melted cheese. Brb, drooling. Basically, you’ll eat like a queen.
We had the option to sit inside (with the AC) or outside on their gorgeous patio. Tough decision, but we opted for some cold air.
Pros: There’s a big menu with kids options, highchairs, fast & friendly service, full bar, live music, and delicious food.
Cons: The patio would be hard to take smaller kids onto because it’s upstairs.
Things to know: You’ll find a speakeasy upstairs to pay homage to Hot Spring’s gangster roots. Rolando’s main dining room is spacious and decorated with a Latin flair. If you choose the outdoor patio, you’ll walk through a mini cave tunnel before you climb the stairs to be seated. There’s live music, twinkling lights, and an all around good vibe for the extra effort, though!
You can find out more about their menu, history, and make your own dinner reservations on their site here.
If you’re looking for a sweet treat, I definitely recommend Kilwin’s. It’s on Central Ave, so it’s the perfect stop after all that shopping and sightseeing you’ll be doing! There’s glass cases filled with any chocolate or fudge you can imagine. You can even put together your own box of candies to take home with you, (if they last that long!).
There’s waffle cones dipped in chocolate, waffle bowls, and ice cream flavors from homemade vanilla to Arkansas Mud. I HAD to try the New Orlean’s Praline with a chocolate dipped cone. Wyatt has recently decided he loves ice cream. Undoubtedly he chose Cookies n’ Cream!
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
This historic bathhouse turned micro brewery has a little something for everyone! They live up to their hashtag of #hotspringsontap by serving up some creative craft beers and the atmosphere is perfect for families or couples.
Two fun facts:
1) They’re the first brewery inside a U.S. National Park.
2) Superior is the first to use thermal spring water as their main ingredient.
We sampled some of their craft brews with a couple beer flights and tried just about all the appetizers! Our favorites were the giant pretzel with beer cheese (of course), and the spinach artichoke dip was gooey and perfect.
I picked two of my favorite beers to take home in growlers for Travis to try, but I’m definitely bringing him back with me so he can taste his own! You can check out their menu here.
Pros: There’s a changing table, (all the mamas said “amen!”), thoughtful menu and a big beer selection, and locally sourced grains & meats.
Cons: There’s limited outdoor seating and no highchairs.
Make sure to stop in Superior Bathhouse Brewery to check out the historic building that’s been beautifully restored, sip some new beers, and for the love…get the pretzel! Definitely top of my list for things to do in Hot Springs.
Other Local Finds:
–SQZBX Brewery & Pizza Joint
–Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Beer Garden
–Trejo’s Mexican Restaurant
–Sam’s Pizza Pub & Restaurant
–Smokin in Style
Where to Stay in Hot Springs
There are so many places to stay in Hot Springs! We stayed with family in their home, but I’m listing a few popular hotels here for you to choose your own adventure. An AirBNB would be a good option too! A home on the lake for a few days? Even better!
The Arlington Hotel towers over Central Ave so you can’t miss it! Even if you aren’t staying here as a guest you can pop in the lobby to check out the live music and a mini museum about the hotel’s history. The lobby has the tallest ceilings, a full bar, and lots of seating to have a drink and enjoy the band.
The hotel is going through renovations floor by floor, and you can go here to find out more here about snagging your own room. Maybe you’ll end up staying where some notorious gangsters like Al Capone did in the days of illegal gambling.
More Hot Springs Hotels:
–The Waters is a newly renovated boutique hotel on Central Ave.
–Country Inn Lake Resort has all the beautiful lake views.
–Courtyard by Marriott has a pool and is perfect for families.
I hope you’ve filled your bucket list with things to do in Hot Springs! Have you been to Spa City before? What else would you add to the list? Comment below and let me know!
If you’re looking for an idea of something fun to do in Texas, you can check out our visit to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
Happy traveling! xx Alyssa