Garvan Woodland Gardens is a great place to take in nature. (Photo courtesy Garvan Woodland Gardens)
Racing fans journeying to Oaklawn Park during the 2016 season can find plenty of additional entertainment in the Hot Springs area. Come play downtown or venture out to spectacular parks, gardens and lakes. Read on for seven things to do when in town for the races.
1. Walk down Central Avenue
Central Avenue, home to Oaklawn, is one of Hot Springs’ main thoroughfares. The American Planning Association named the downtown stretch of this street one of the 10 Great Streets for 2014. Stroll down this twisting, magnolia-lined portion of the road. It is home to shops, art galleries, restaurants and museums and is flanked on both sides by national park lands of the Ouachita Mountains. The historic Arlington Hotel and its famous twin towers anchor the north end of this section.
2. Linger on Bathhouse Row.
Photo courtesy Visit Hot Springs
The eight spectacularly unique bathhouses on the National Register of Historic Places have occupied this space above the thermal waters for over 100 years. The 47 springs produce approximately 700,000 gallons of 143-degree water daily. These springs were thought to have healing powers, and they began drawing visitors to Hot Springs in the early 1800s. Today, two of the eight buildings on Bathhouse Row function as bathhouses. The remaining bathhouses now serve as a visitors’ center, a brewery, an emporium, an art gallery and a boutique hotel. One bathhouse is available for lease. Several nearby fountains give visitors the opportunity to feel the hot water emerging from the earth and collect it in jugs.
3. Stop in Tillman’s
Photo courtesy Tillman's
The shops on Central Avenue include stylish boutiques, souvenir shops and more. Tillman’s Fine Antiques and Estate Jewelry is an essential stop. Rarities for sale include ancient Chinese terra cottas, Victorian glass and silver and imperial porcelains from France, Russia and Japan. For a period of time, a European throne was for sale. Tillman’s has one of the mid-South’s largest pearl inventories. A stop at Tillman’s is superiorly enjoyable if Davis Tillman is in the showroom. A visit with the colorful, humorous, well-traveled, personable and knowledgeable owner is delightfully charming.
4. Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens
Photo courtesy Sherre Freeman
Garvan Woodland Gardens, the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas, is lovely throughout all four seasons. The 210 acres include a bonsai garden, a children’s adventure garden, a rock and stream garden with many bridges and an aviary that is home to more than 100 species of birds. In 2013, The Journal of Japanese Gardening named The Garden of Pine Wind the 5th best Japanese garden in North America.
Towards the end of racing season, hydrangeas, dogwoods and azaleas will adorn the grounds. Two excellent yearly events that coincide with the Oaklawn season are Daffodil Days and Tulip Extravaganza. Daffodil Days will be held Feb. 20-March 13. Over 250,000 bulbs of more than 260 varieties will fill meadows and forest clearings. Tulip Extravaganza is scheduled for March 23 through April 10. During this time, 135,000 tulips of every type and color will be on display.
5. Attend a one-of-a-kind parade
Photo courtesy Visit Hot Springs
Coordinate presence at the Rebel Stakes (Saturday, March 19) with attendance at the World’s First Ever 13th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade held on Thursday, March 19. The 98-foot parade is held on Bridge St., the shortest street in the world in everyday use, according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
The Bacon Brothers, Kevin and Michael Bacon, were named as the Celebrity Grand Marshal for the annual celebration, which also will feature the World’s Largest Leprechaun and a troupe of marching Irish Elvis impersonators.
6. Hunt for diamonds
Try a different kind of gambling at Crater of Diamonds State Park, the world’s only diamond-producing site open to the public, in nearby Murfreesboro. Here, visitors search 37 ½ acres for diamonds and semi-precious stones. The park policy is “finders keepers,” and the staff provides free identification and certification of diamonds found on the premises.
7. Hit the water
Photo courtesy Arkansas State Parks
The region offers five lakes (Catherine, DeGray, Greeson, Hamilton and Ouachita) and three rivers (Caddo, Little Missouri and Ouachita). These waterways provide plenty of options for boating, fishing, floating and kayaking.
Hot Springs, Ark., truly offers something for everyone. Come play the ponies at Oaklawn and then stay to enjoy the other treasures of the area.