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Historic Main Street: Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs has long been known as a place of healing. The waters from its many natural springs were believed to have curative powers, and drew health-seekers from across the country long before the first resort was founded in 1879.

While not necessarily looking for a cure, the purpose of my recent visit to Eureka Springs was twofold. First, as a frazzled “mommypreneur” who is counting the days until school starts again, I was in desperate need of a weekend to myself. Secondly, I wanted to take my own sweet time to experience Eureka — as the locals here in Northwest Arkansas simply call it — without kids or out-of-town guests in tow.

Unlike some historic Main Street districts — tucked away off the beaten path, waiting for determined travelers to come take a gander — Eureka Springs’ Historic Main Street district is the star of the show, pulling in over 750,000 tourists every year. It seems almost silly to mention that many of the Victorian-era buildings in Eureka Springs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: The entire downtown was placed on the Register in 1970. Eureka Springs is one, glorious Main Street nirvana.

Honoring the past

Despite having visited on several occasions, I had never taken the time to discover Eureka’s famous springs. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the color and activity on the streets that you can walk right past the sources of those historic waters, some of which look like nothing more than a pretty resting spot for tourists. I made it a point to try and find as many of the 69 springs as I could during my 3-mile walk of the main historic area. I realized I had become somewhat obsessed when I found myself rushing toward what appeared to be a particularly active spring, only to discover it was a sprinkler. What can I say? Eureka gets a hold on you that way.

If you love architecture and history, you’ll never want to leave Eureka Springs (it’s happened to plenty of people, so consider yourself warned). As one of the premier resort villages of the Victorian era, the city boasts countless homes, hotels and storefronts that have by turns been carefully restored and preserved for over a century.

Part of the charm of the city is the way it proudly flaunts its many imperfections and idiosyncrasies. It is free-spirited, cheeky and full of surprises, so don’t be afraid to explore. The back side of a building or hidden alleyway in Eureka is likely to be just as interesting as what’s out front.

Savoring the present

No matter when you visit Eureka, there will almost surely be something going on. I happened to be there during the weekend of the Fat Tire Festival, a three-day celebration of mountain biking. I hadn’t seen so many Subarus with bike racks since I left Seattle! While we’re on the topic, it’s worth mentioning that Eureka Springs is a biker-friendly kind of town. And by biker I mean the leather-clad, bandana-wearing, Harley-riding type of biker. In fact, Eureka Springs is known as one of the top destinations in the country for motorcycle enthusiasts, who are drawn to its many scenic rides through the winding roads of the Ozark mountains.

If you want the streets to yourself, get up early and wander between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00 AM. The town sleeps in – no doubt from all the fun its had the night before – and doesn’t really wake up until about 9:30 or 10:00 AM. Like any good tourist town, there are plenty of places to pick up maps of the city. I bought a small booklet of walking tours for $2.00 at the fabulous Carnegie Public Library. It was produced by the Eureka Springs Preservation Society, and includes some wonderful old photos and historical details. If you like to walk, bring good shoes. The streets in Eureka are old and buckled, and sidewalks have a tendency to disappear as you get further away from the main commercial district. If you’d rather save your energy, there are trolley tours running all day long.

Eureka Springs has been a haven for artists since the 1970’s. There are galleries galore showcasing every kind of art imaginable. Two of my favorites are Quicksilver Art & Fine Craft Gallery and Eureka Thyme, both of which have a lovely selection of works by local artists, as well as many other talented folk from across the country.

You can literally shop ’til you drop in Eureka, and are sure to find some one-of-a-kind treasures. A few of my favorite stores are Crazy Bone shoes and apparel, Two Dumb Dames Fudge Factory and Happy Things Toy Store.

The number and variety of eateries in Eureka Springs can be a bit overwhelming, so be sure to come hungry. One of my favorite spots is Sparky’s Roadhouse Cafe. It’s a greasy-spoon burger joint that looks like one of the places Guy Fieri would feature on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I usually order one of the specialty burgers and a cold one off the impressive list of domestic and imported beers. You’ve got to love a place whose motto is “shut up and eat.” For an early breakfast, Cafe Main Street will get your day off to a good start.

For a more refined dining experience – although you will be welcomed anywhere in Eureka wearing shorts, Tevas and a clean tee shirt – try Autumn Breeze. The coconut beer battered shrimp are delicious, and the wine list is a mile long if that’s your thing. Last but not least, if its southern pit barbeque you’ve got a hankerin’ for, head straight on over to Bubba’s Barbeque. And that’s all I got to say ’bout that.

True to its heritage, Eureka continues to attract seekers from all walks of life. Whether its healing, art, history, inspiration, food, fun or just a plain old good time you seek, it is sure to be waiting for you in Eureka Springs.

Author: Barbara Taylor

Barbara is co-founder of Allan Taylor & Co. and a former New York Times blogger. She has been a small-business owner since 2003. Barbara lives with her husband, Chris, and their two sons in Northwest Arkansas.

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