Salicylic acid (SA) is reported to protect plants from heat shock (HS), but insufficient is known about its role in thermotolerance or how this relates to SA signaling in pathogen resistance. We tested thermotolerance and expression of pathogenesis-related (PR) and HS proteins (HSPs) in Arabidopsis thaliana genotypes with modified SA signaling: plants with the SA hydroxylase NahG transgene, the nonexpresser of PR proteins (npr1) mutant, and the constitutive expressers of PR proteins (cpr1 and cpr5) mutants. At all growth stages from seeds to 3-week-old plants, we found evidence for SA-dependent signaling in basal thermotolerance (i.e. tolerance of HS without prior heat acclimation). Endogenous SA correlated with basal thermotolerance, with the SA-deficient NahG and SA-accumulating cpr5 genotypes having lowest and highest thermotolerance, respectively. SA promoted thermotolerance during the HS itself and subsequent recovery. Recovery from HS apparently involved an NPR1-dependent pathway but thermotolerance during HS did not. SA reduced electrolyte leakage, indicating that it induced membrane thermoprotection. PR-1 and Hsp17.6 were induced by SA or HS, indicating common factors in pathogen and HS responses. SA-induced Hsp17.6 expression had a different dose–response to PR-1 expression. HS-induced Hsp17.6 protein appeared more slowly in NahG. However, SA only partially induced HSPs. Hsp17.6 induction by HS was more substantial than by SA, and we found no SA effect on Hsp101 expression. All genotypes, including NahG and npr1, were capable of expression of HSPs and acquisition of HS tolerance by prior heat acclimation. Although SA promotes basal thermotolerance, it is not essential for acquired thermotolerance.