If you’ve never been, imagining a small-town Ozarks town is an impossible task. We fall into some mysterious imagined zone between Mayberry and Lake Wobegon–neither of which are even remotely accurate. Are we Midwestern or Southern? Does Appalachian count?
No, no, and no.
We are uniquely ourselves.
We are crooked hollows and crooked teeth, lazy rivers and lazier afternoons. Small urban meccas have risen (Hi Fayetteville! I love you.) but they’re still oddly divorced from the historical truth of the scrappy, hard-scrabble roots of Ozarkian heritage.
If any city comes close, it’s Eureka Springs. There is SO much to love about this charming, crooked town. It became a boomtown thanks to its numerous “healing springs,” which have been perfectly preserved as tiny public parks that are so beautiful you could cry. It’s easy to understand why this city is one of the most popular wedding destinations in the South.
The healing springs led to a boom in the healing waters industry that frenzied those arthritic Victorians. There used to be tons of medical spas all over the place, and there’s still evidence of them everywhere.
The downtown is all narrow, story-book streets stuffed with awesome little galleries, clothing stores, and tourist trinkets. I love trinkets. I used to turn my nose up at that stuff when I was younger, but I have no shame these days. My favorite shops in the city are the Silly Chile and The Fine Art of Romance, which is almost too sexy for a small town. There are also terrific antique stores, vintage jewelry shops, and the most hilariously liberal bookstore I’ve seen in years.
The city’s timber history has directly affected its landscape. Early landslides put the entire first main street underground, and with good and practical humor, the city now calls it Mud Street and build staircases to help navigate up and down the hillsides. They also built picturesque walls to keep everything stable.
Have I mentioned the architecture? It’s fabulous. A lot of the early houses are built on top of stone outcrops or buffered right against the hillside, or built to form to the streets. It’s all limestone and brick and old wood, funky colors, and clever landscaping. I love it all.
I love food photography, but I do a shitload of it for my job and feel super awkward and stereotypically Asian (yawn) doing it on my off-time, so I don’t have much great food photos from my trips here. Regardless, the best place to nurse a hangover is the Mud Street Cafe, you’ll get smashed on the margaritas from Casa Colina, and this lovely salad and sangria came from the Local Flavor Cafe. New Delhi is cool, too. Go to them all.
And the bars! This is such an awesome party town. My favorite places are The Cathouse, Chelsea’s and Henri’s Just One More. Live music abounds, and if you stay out past midnight, you’ll meet some locals who are more than happy to take you under their wings without being overly creepy or opportunistic.
Where to stay? Lots of options. Bed and breakfasts, yep. But c’mon, you can stay in a bed and breakfast anywhere. Eureka Springs is famed for the historic Crescent Hotel, which sits a few blocks off the bustling downtown and its collectively known as the most haunted hotel in America. It used to be a quack hospital. It has a morgue. What more do you need? Nothing, you say? I agree. No, thank you. We always stay at the 1905 Basin Park Hotel.
I have no problem gushing about this place, and I’m not even getting paid for it. This place rocks. The elevator groans with protest as it’s hauling you up to your room. The carpet is old and plush. The front desk people are perfectly unimpressed with you, but they’re happy to send you to bed with free bottles of water when you’ve clearly over-served yourself–and, trust me, if you’re spending even just one night in Eureka Springs, you’re going to party it. I love it. They stay out of your business, so we happily give them ours every time we visit.
The hotel sits is in the heart of downtown and is only a little bit haunted. As it is, a lot of places in Eureka Springs looks pretty damn haunted anyway. All you have to do is stand across the street from them to feel the ghosts raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Everyone loves to brag about how they’re not interested in the tourist trap. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. You’re savvy and you know it. But me and my out of town guests? I’m okay with the tourist trap on the first (or second or third!) go-around. If you’re going to Eureka Springs, go big. Stay downtown. Eat out every night. Go wild at the bars. Shop ’til your pockets turn inside out. It’s the wedding capital of the South or something, and I swoon when Jon brings me here, but I also love it with my girlfriends.
Eureka Springs is great any time of the year. I hear it’s super popular in the winter, but I’m not a huge fan of driving winding highways when it’s icy out, and (FYI) all roads to Eureka are carsick-enducing. If you go during the summer, you don’t have to pack a coat. You can wear sandals. You can crawl up on rooftops and take pictures under the stars.
Have I said yet that this is my favorite city in the South?
I love you, Eureka.