From a regional museum, a beautiful arboretum and a lively downtown to live entertainment and an array of community events, visitors to the El Dorado area are never at a shortage of things to do. With the creation of El Dorado Festivals & Events, Inc., in 2011, new events have been added, including the Southern Food & Wine Festival.
Nature lovers enjoy taking a trip to the South Arkansas Arboretum, a 13-acre site located adjacent to the old El Dorado High School. Operated by South Arkansas Community College, the arboretum features both native and exotic plants and plenty of wildlife. In addition, the arboretum offers excellent environmental education programming.
The city’s award-winning historic downtown district is always bustling with shoppers, diners and visitors attending one of the community’s exciting events. The heart of the city is lined with well-preserved historic structures, most of which were built during its oil boom in the 1920s, and, at its center, is the stately, Neoclassical-style Union County Courthouse.
More than a dozen structures in downtown El Dorado are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the historic Rialto Theater. The Classical Revival theater was originally built in 1929 and has served as a movie theater in recent years. Today it is going through major renovations, which will transform the facility into a multi-use, high-tech event space that will host a variety of local, regional and national acts.
Adjacent to the Rialto Theater is the unique Oil Heritage Park, which honors the area’s rich oil history and the people who made the oil boom of the 1920s possible. In addition to an impressive memorial to the local oil industry and its pioneers, Oil Heritage Park serves as a fixture of many community events, including the annual Bugs, Bands & Bikes festival. Other events held in downtown El Dorado are MusicFest, the Antique Power Show, the Christmas Parade, the holiday lighting event as well as Showdown at Sunset, which features a reenactment of a 1902 gun fight between the Parnell and Tucker families.
The fun doesn’t end there. El Dorado is the proud home of the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra – the largest performing arts organization in the region. The symphony regularly hosts performances at the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium along with other area venues during its season. In past seasons, the group has performed a Beatles tribute concert and hosted Symphony on the Square.
In addition to the Municipal Auditorium, El Dorado is home to the South Arkansas Arts Center (SAAC), a 22,500-square-foot facility featuring three art galleries, a 207-seat theatre, studio space and classrooms. Here, guests enjoy monthly gallery exhibits, community theatre productions and an array of arts-oriented classes and programming for people of all ages.
With the opening of the El Dorado Conference Center in early 2011, the community has even more options for year-round entertainment. Spanning more than 50,000 square feet, the conference center is capable of accommodating 1,000 seats banquet style. The space, which can also be broken up into separate rooms, is used for regional conferences, special events, dances, graduation ceremonies, concerts, lectures and much more.
Financed with both public and private support, the conference center hails as one of the city’s largest municipal projects and will serve as an important link between the award-winning downtown El Dorado and the South Arkansas Community College campus. Operated as a partnership between the City of El Dorado and South Arkansas Community College, the conference center will provide a dynamic venue for business and community use and will further attract tourism to the city.
North of El Dorado, near Smackover, is the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, which depicts the history of the 1920s oil boom in southern Arkansas and the story of today’s oil and brine industry. Adjacent to the museum is the five-acre Oilfield Park, a site highlighted by seven operating examples of the oil producing methods used now and then. The facility also houses a large, non-lending research library and offers guided tours and educational programming year-round.
Those planning to spend the night in El Dorado are afforded a variety of lodging options in town. A number of nationally known chains are available along U.S. Highway 167, offering both business and leisure travelers a list of modern conveniences and comfortable accommodations. Guests interested in staying closer to the heart of town may choose to stay at the charming Union Square Guest Quarters or, for more privacy, the Cottage on Church Street Bed & Breakfast, the Mason House or the Pinson House Bed & Breakfast.