Our Atlanta to Memphis to Hot Springs road trip didn’t get off to best start as I was dealing with a medication reaction and didn’t feel well. But, I was determined the make the best of it, especially considering I figured out the issue and starting to feel a little better. We jetted out of Atlanta around 1pm with just enough time to beat the rush hour traffic (it starts very early in Atlanta!).
With only stopping for gas and a bathroom break at the Mississippi Visitor Center, next stop Memphis!
It is a 6 -hour drive from Atlanta to Memphis, so it was going to be dinnertime when we arrive. Perfect timing!
We made reservations at the Residence Inn by Marriott, which was centrally located downtown. I knew where we (I mean, I) wanted to eat dinner and this allowed us to walk versus drive the car.
We checked into the hotel, did a little freshening up and headed for dinner. I had been to Memphis years earlier and fell in love with the ribs at the Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous. The Rendezvous was a short walk of approximately 2 ½ blocks and less than 5 minutes.
Tip: I would recommend staying downtown as most everything is within walking distance.
Dinner at the Rendezvous
Memphis is known for some of the best barbeque in the country, so we indulged ourselves with barbeque our one night in Memphis at the Rendezvous restaurant. We both ordered the Rendezvous ribs with our favorite sides of baked beans and cole slaw. As we waited on our food, all the old Delta Airlines marketing material mesmerized us on display in our dining area. Being from Atlanta, Delta is our favorite airline and remembered most of old taglines.
While we waited for our ribs, my mouth was watering smelling the barbeque and seeing others’ plates come out before ours. It didn’t take long and ours finally arrived. We dug in with our fingers and didn’t speak a word until we were done. Let’s just say the damage was done!
Tip: While Rendezvous is my favorite BBQ spot. There are many great BBQ restaurants in Memphis including Central BBQ (wings), Corky’s (ribs & pulled pork). Off the beaten path there is Payne’s, Tom’s and Cozy Corner!
After dinner, we walked over to Beale Street, which was also a short walk. One thing we instantly noticed was the ability to order drinks at a take-out window. Stopping at the first window, we got a drink to go. We explored the street and enjoyed watching the street performers.
Beale Street with the bars and music venues isn’t very long; so, it didn’t take us long to walk the entire street. But, we found a place we wanted to go into. We stopped into a blues joint called the Tap Room and while it was crowded, we were lucky to find two open chairs near the band. We listened to favorites including Sweet Home Alabama where I was tempted to chime in “Roll Tide Roll”, but I refrained and even some Rolling Stones music.
After breakfast at the hotel, we get my car from the valet and head off to visit Graceland, home of Elvis Presley, The King of Rock & Roll home and one of the top Memphis attractions. I had the perfect song planned – we started with Graceland by Paul Simon and then we moved to some of our Elvis favorites including Suspicious Minds and Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Graceland is located in a very non-residential part of town. I was surprised to find it located on a busy traffic street mostly businesses. If you didn’t know it was there, you would pass it very easily without knowing it was there. Well, except for the gates with the music notes on the front.
The parking lot is in the same area where you purchase Graceland tour tickets at the Entertainment Complex. We opted for the Elvis Entourage VIP ticket plus the airplane tour. This ticket is $99 plus the airplane tour is another $5. It is worth the extra $5 to see the planes. The Entourage VIP ticket provides an audio tour of Graceland, the automobile museum, and entertainer museum with the best part being his outfits. If you were a big fan of Elvis, I would highly recommend this Graceland tour for the automobiles and outfits alone.
Graceland itself is much smaller than you would expect, even after hearing it from others who had been before. Elvis’ personality and tastes are reflected in the decorating of Graceland. You’ll find lots of gold, 70’s shag carpet and eccentric decor. While the downstairs of Graceland was the entertaining area for him and Priscilla, the upstairs was his private area and is still off limits today.
Tip: Make note no flash photography allowed inside the house, so be prepared for some possible dark pictures.
After touring the house, don’t miss walking along the grounds. Just outside the house, you can see the horses and burial sites of Elvis and both is mother and father.
If you are hungry, the Entertainment Center has many food options including Vernon’s BBQ. We opted for the pizza, which was good for a food court type atmosphere.
If you purchase the VIP Graceland tour ticket, be sure to walk through his automobile collection and his outfits. There is another huge room of memorabilia including some from his time in the Army.
Last but certainly not least, check out his airplanes if you purchased the optional $5 ticket.
After finishing the Graceland tour, we headed off for Hot Springs, Arkansas! We left Memphis around 2pm with Hot Springs being approximately 3 hours from Memphis. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi singing M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I- crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I!
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Since there aren’t many hotels in this relatively small town, we made reservations at the Arlington Hotel & Spa located in historic Hot Springs. The hotel has the air of a historic hotel with the grand lobby, large banquet rooms, rounding staircases and an actual key to the room!
After unloading the car and a little unpacking, we decided to walk the historic downtown area of Hot Springs to get a lay of the land. Hot Springs National Park is the actual historic downtown area – the only National Park in a city. The first things we notice are the spouts for where you can tap into the mineral water and people filling up large water containers. Since it is a natural resource, the city (or federal government) is not allowed to sell the water. Residents from all areas around Hot Springs bring their empty water containers to fill up on water on a regular basis. Many believe the water has special healing qualities due to the natural minerals in the water.
It was nice to get out for a walk and some sunshine after being in the car for 3 hours. It was finally time for dinner and selected the Ohio Club – the vibe looked just our style as a local bar and good place for a hamburger.
Hot Springs National Park
After a full breakfast buffet at the hotel, we walked down to the National Park Visitor Center, located in the original Fordyce Bathhouse (one of the original eight bathhouses). Our thought was to see if there are any Ranger tours, maps, etc. to help us plan our morning and day.
We were about 30 minutes early for the Ranger talk, so we decided to do a little shopping at the Visitor Center store before joining the Ranger-led tour. The Visitor Center is located in the Lamar Bathhouse (one of the original eight bathhouses).
The Ranger-led tour takes place at the historic Fordyce Bathhouse, one of eight original bathhouses. The Ranger tour took us through each area of the original bathhouse while also explaining the “bath” process, which I’ll cover in day four!
The structure of the Fordyce bathhouse was similar across all the Hot Springs bathhouses. Many were constructed of marble. The Fordyce was unique with all the stained glass windows and the ceramic fountain at one end of the lobby.
The tour includes stops in the dressing room, bathing room, massage area, music room for relaxation and the bowling alley. Fordyce was the only bathhouse to include a bowling alley.
Originally there were eight bathhouses, with the other six being the following: Buckstaff which is one the only original bathhouses still in operation along with Quapaw. Quapaw was still under renovation when I visited. Hale and Maurice are both closed. Ozark is utilized for park events and programs. Superior currently serves as a brewery and restaurant.
By the time we finished the tour and watched the video, it was almost time for lunch. As we strolled up the street, we realized Hot Springs is the hometown of Bill Clinton.
We continued to be amazed at the people driving in to stock up on water from the fountains.
Take a hike
There are several hikes you can take from downtown Hot Springs. We were able to get a map of the hikes from the Visitor Center and decided it was time to get a little exercise. The view from the top of the trail was beautiful with the cloudless skies!
After hiking, we wrapped up the afternoon with drinks at the old Superior Bathhouse now a restaurant and brewery.
Dinner at Rolando’s
Being from Atlanta, we have very high standards for restaurants. But, Rolando’s was excellent. The atmosphere was even better sitting outside listening to live music. If you eat here, I would recommend eating outside. The tables are on rock, so it can be a little wobbly, but it was worth it.
Bath at Arlington Hotel
We had breakfast early as our bath reservations were at 10am. We checked in and got our robes. We were both a little nervous having heard about the bath process the day before. The first step is soaking in a whirlpool bath with mineral water and then someone scrubs you down. This is where it gets slightly uncomfortable if you are the modest type like myself. But, just like any other uncomfortable situation, it was over before you know it.
Sitting in a sauna for about 10 minutes follows the bath. You have a “therapist” who walks you through the entire process, so she came and got me when it was time for the next step. This was one of my favorite parts – I got into a regular shower stall but with nozzles all up and down shooting out water like needles. It sounds painful, but it actually feels pretty good. The bath is finalized by lying on a table with warm towels all over except your head with a cold towel!
When the bath was over, the therapist walks you to the massage room where you receive a 30-minute massage. The massage was optional at The Arlington, so be sure to ask when you make reservations.Tip: I think we both regretted not doing our “bath” at one of the original bathhouses. We had a good experience, but feel like we missed out. Also, be sure to make reservations for your bath in advance.
Top of Hot Springs Mountain Tower
The Mountain Tower is a 10-minute drive up winding roads from the Arlington Hotel. You ride an elevator to the top of the tower where you can enjoy views of the Ouachita Mountains. Tickets are $8.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
Our last stop before leaving Hot Springs would be Garvan Gardens, which is approximately a 30-minute drive from Hot Springs Mountain Tower. But, it is worth the drive! The gardens are the botanical gardens of the University of Arkansas nestled in the Ouachita Mountains. The path winds through different areas of gardens including the bonsai garden, model train display, tree house project, among others.
However, the real treat of this trip is Anthony chapel. Even for the people who do not enjoy gardens, the chapel alone is worth the visit. The chapel has floor-to-ceiling windows opening up views to the gardens in all directions.
After touring the gardens, it was time to head back toward Memphis and eventually home.
Tip: If time allows, there are more fun things to do in Hot Springs with kids or adults only.
We spent the night in West Memphis (nothing special) as it was cheaper than staying in downtown Memphis again.
We up early knowing we had a couple stops to make in Memphis before heading back to Atlanta.
Back in Memphis
We crossed the Mighty Mississippi once again singing M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I- crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I!
Our first stop in Memphis would be the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The wreath hangs on the balcony outside his room 306.
Since we were a little early, we decided to walk along that river and think about all the big barges going down and up it hauls cargo north and south in the United States.
It was finally time to walk over to the Peabody, the Memphis hotel with the ducks, to see the Peabody Hotel Ducks! I had seen them years ago, but any chance to see the ducks is one I’m going to take again. While we thought we were early, we ere not exactly early enough to get a great spot. But, promptly at 11am, the elevator doors opened and out came the Peabody Ducks!
We said goodbye to the ducks and Memphis to start our drive back to Atlanta!