Hot Springs, Arkansas
At the center of this hillbound resort town are the 143-degree, mineral-rich waters that give the town its wonderfully on-the-nose title. And visitors are going to stop to ogle the bathhouses that once drew the likes of Babe Ruth and Al Capone, and which made Hot Springs the site of an eponymous, tiny National Park (one that could claim to be America’s first). Famous for horse racing and as Bill Clinton’s childhood home, Hot Springs is still a funky-quaint regional destination for art, music, North America’s longest-running all-documentary film festival, and one of the planet’s most drop-dead sexy churches, designed by E. Fay Jones, Arkansas’ late dean of architects and a former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice.
But it’s cooler water that really drives the action in Hot Springs. Once you tire of the tourist shuffle, head to the west edge of town to Lake Hamilton, an impound on the Ouachita River. Locals joke that everyone in town owns a boat, and while plenty of those rigs are just jon boats for chasing largemouth bass, Hamilton is a decidedly a party lake when the temperatures flirt with 100 throughout July and August. Hungry boaters idle right up to Sam's, a pizza joint on the water, when they're ready to dock, grab a slice, and listen to live music. If watching dudes Ski Doo with their dogs and hearing Luke Bryan blare from pontoon boats isn’t your scene, the lake also sits alongside some of the most hardcore mountain biking trails in the South, perfect for a dip once you peel off your sweaty helmet. -- Sam Eifling