(UPDATED JULY 2022) Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a unique mountain town nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. With streets so steep you may hold your breath driving on them, this hillside town is a juxtaposition of old and new, ritzy and hippie, and a superb place to road trip or have a weekend getaway. Homes hang off the cliffs, and the Victorian architecture is stunning. Here are 15 fun things to do in Eureka Springs that we absolutely adored.
1. Stay in the Most Haunted Hotel in America
I’ve been itching to stay at the Crescent Hotel and Spa for as long as I can remember. This isn’t just any Historic Hotel of America, but the most haunted hotel in all of the nation. It’s been mentioned in dozens of publications and featured on many shows, and I finally got the chance to see it myself.
The 1886 Crescent Hotel is huge, stately, and sits on the top of a mountain, affording great views of the surrounding town. It is walkable to get into town, and there is even a pathway to get you there, but the walk up may be too strenuous for the novice hiker.
Inside, a welcoming lobby with a massive brick fireplace, gift shop, and intimate seating groups await you to check-in for your overnight experience. Guided ghost tours are led all day and evening, so be sure to sign up early if you want to learn about all of the intricacies of the beautiful property.
There is an on-site spa and a couple of restaurants at the Crescent Hotel, the Crystal Dining Room, excellent for breakfast, Top of the Crest, and Skybox Gourmet Pizza. We picked Skybox, with custom-made pizzas and signature crust. Ours was topped with abundant, tasty ingredients, always a plus in my book.
Though it was too cold to do many outside amenities, we had a lovely view of the outdoor swimming pool from our balcony. And speaking of balconies, there was much space to move around on our terrace area, plus two very comfortable chairs for watching the sunset.
Our room was directly above the most haunted room in the hotel, 218. I think I wished too hard for something supernatural to happen, but maybe the spirits were too afraid to come out since it was a really busy weekend with weddings, lots of kids, and most likely a sold-out situation. The furniture was dated but worked perfectly for a historic property. The room was large and had plenty of lighting and a couch alongside the bed.
Other features included a mini-fridge, closet, flat-screen TV, and nice soaking tub.
2. Go Out For Breakfast
You’re in for a treat with a specialty coffee, tea, smoothie, or frappe from the Eureka Springs Coffee House. Situated in a fashionable blue building in the heart of town, this coffee shop is also a powerhouse for gourmet breakfast dishes.
My husband had the traditional Eggs Benedict, with a perfectly made hollandaise sauce and the fluffiest English muffins I’ve ever seen. I am not sure if they were homemade, but they were absolutely delicious. I chose the Country Breakfast Plate with two eggs, toast, grits, and sausage. These grits hit the spot—creamy yet sturdy and really well done. I doubt that anything could be a wrong choice in this upscale eatery.
3. Drink Great Beer
Gotahold Brewing is not only an adorable little tasting room and brewhouse but also has a welcoming outdoor setting with plenty of seating groups and live music. I’m a fan of the Frambois Brut, a fruity sour beer, but the on-tap menu features 13 choices—something for everyone. You can even order a cheese tray to munch on with your brew.
4. Climb Instagram-Worthy Stairs
I was 52 years old before I saw a set of artistically painted stairs in my own country. And Eureka Springs has two sets of them. The beautiful stairs are Instagram-worthy and a real conversation piece and seamlessly have a way of making the extreme height of the climb not quite as daunting. Well done, Eureka Springs, for this brilliant idea.
5. Visit a Big Cat Sanctuary
I was in awe when I visited Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. My husband and I showed up for our reserved tour time and had an hour-long small-group open-air tram trip with a knowledgeable guide around the sanctuary. Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is different from many other cat facilities in the country and has accreditations out the wazoo.
I was shocked to learn about various state laws and how the sanctuary ends up with these beautiful creatures. While they are first and foremost a cat sanctuary, they also have a gorgeous grizzly bear (Bam Bam) and a few other animals.
The tour takes you to the caged area after caged area while the instructor might share the stories about how the animal arrived here, what condition it was in, and more. Keep in mind; these are sad stories, so brace yourself.
Education and stricter laws are keys for helping this dire situation and passing on cub cuddling (a story in itself), plus supporting facilities that are open to you holding and getting photos with the animals. I can’t imagine anyone that wouldn’t love visiting this amazing place and seeing these exotic animals.
Note from Turpentine Creek: Our new tram can be accessed by manual wheelchairs, motorized wheel chairs are having some difficulty getting up the ramp, we are working to figure this out but until further notice please be aware of this issue.
6. Feast on Mexican Food
When you first roll into downtown Eureka Springs, a huge Mexican restaurant will beckon to you to come in for chips, salsa, and margaritas. At least, that is what happened in our case. After parking our car at the Visitor Center, we strolled right down to the Amigos Mexican Restaurant & Cantina for a 10/10 lunch and freaking excellent margaritas.
The Chicken Fajitas for two was a wonderful choice, with plump pieces of chicken loaded with flavor amidst the traditional fixings. I really liked the restaurant’s refried beans, and we couldn’t get enough of the zesty salsa. Of course, no Mexican meal is complete without a bowl of spicy queso dip—and theirs was delicious.
I was throwing it old-school with a frozen raspberry margarita, served in a cool cactus glass, which would make a margarita fan out of even the most discriminating guest.
7. Indulge in Gourmet Candies
Step into Ellen’s Patisserie for an arsenal of gourmet goodies, namely in-house-made macarons. The sheer number of flavors offered was mind-blowing. I also liked the looks of the swirled ones, which tasted every bit as good as they looked.
If you are new to the macarons craze, the little crispy edges around the filling, called feet, are important to know that the cookie will be fluffy and prepared correctly. Then the ratio of filling to cookies on both sides is equally important. Need suggestions for what flavor to try? The pistachio, raspberry, and coffee are always popular, but I look for rose, lavender, and passion fruit.
Ellen’s also offers chocolate candies of all kinds and other confections. Bonus, the delicious smells are free.
8. Shop Locally
You’ll need hours to browse the eclectic shops in downtown Eureka Springs. There is row after row of them, each filled with cool treasures, many of them very original. From ladies’ fashions to trendy souvenirs and area-specific t-shirts, toys to seasonal decorating items, there are plenty of boutiques to take up the better part of your day in.
Magpie, The Ladybug Emporium, Nelson’s Eureka Springs, and Granny’s Place were some of our favorites, but you’ll have a good time popping in the whole lot of them.
A few other points of interest in downtown Eureka Springs are Zarks Gallery, for fine artwork, blown glass, and local pottery. Basin Spring Park is a lovely little place to sit and sip a coffee or people-watch. You can also take a romantic carriage ride through the lively streets or see a brilliant magic show with Sean Paul—The Illusionist at the Intrigue Theater.
At nighttime, visit one of the 21 bars to enjoy your favorite adult libations or hear live music.
9. See Christ of the Ozarks
Stunning, unexpected, and magical are some of the words I heard other visitors speak when they took the first look at the 67 feet-tall white mortar Christ of the Ozarks statue on Magnetic Mountain. The masterpiece was completed in 1966 by one of the artists who had worked on Mount Rushmore and attracts visitors year-round.
The Great Passion Play, a religious theme park, is on the same grounds, only shows portraying Christ’s last days running from April through October, but the Christ of the Ozarks is a free attraction.
10. Taste a Great Cup of Joe
Bean Me Up is a cute little coffee shop with a fabulous menu of coffee drinks, frappes, espresso, and more. The shop is pet-friendly and has free Wifi, plus it’s just a fun spot to hang out. There is creekside seating, too. Might I recommend the Magnetic Field, a medium-dark roast coffee with espresso, honey, and cream? It pairs well with the delicious muffins and pastries.
11. Antique Shop
You are in for a treat at the Barn Shoppes at the Old Sale Barn. My husband and I love a good antique store, but this is like the mother of antique stores and very well organized. There are many rooms of treasures, some new things, and some old things. I’ve visited antique stores around the country. The Old Sale Barn shops are up there with some of the best of my travels.
The barn houses many vendors with an arsenal of items, ranging from glassware to collectibles, seasonal decorations to primitives, and everything in between.
12. Learn the History of Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs is known for 36 healing springs that people would soak their troubles and aches away in dozens of years ago. Today, the unique town has a great handle on staying trendy and vital but still has one foot in the past, preserving the sheer history that made it what it is today. You can learn the historical knowledge of the town at the Historical Eureka Springs Museum.
13. Enjoy a Decadent Italian Meal
We lucked out getting a reservation to dine at Ermilio’s, a local favorite eatery. The bread basket with real salted butter and roasted garlic cloves wowed us from the start.
My husband and I ate every bite of the Chicken Pesto Penne and Mom’s Homemade Meatball dinners. The pesto, with pine nuts, Romano and Parmesan cheeses enhancing the fresh basil and garlic, was delicious and palate-pleasing. I chose fettuccini as my pasta type for the meatballs, plus half marinara and half Alfredo sauce to top the pasta. It was so darned good!
Save room for dessert. My recommendation is the Italian cream cake.
14. Check Out the Murals
The painted stairs are not the only artsy thing in downtown Eureka Springs. I saw and appreciated many murals while driving through the skinny streets and checking out the scenery. An augmented reality app for the Art Wall has lovely images of both old and new places around Eureka Springs, which we found where we parked our truck.
You can find the Centennial Mural (pictured below) on the side of Mud Street Cafe on Main Street.
15. Get Your Steps In
Eureka Springs is a place to get outdoors, take in the sites, breathe fresh air, and walk. You are sure to burn a bunch of calories as you tackle the twenty hills that make up the beautiful Arkansas landscape. And speaking of walking, there are several walking tours of the town to give you insight into the historical events that happened there and often a peek at some not-so-well-known things. The Downtown-N-Underground tour fits this description best.
Want more cute and fun small towns to visit? Check these out.