By Malerie Yolen-Cohen
A weekend in Saratoga Springs is an immersive experience in many ways. You can feel the warm, bubbly, effervescing mineral waters at the Roosevelt Baths and Spa, cheer on your favored horse at the Saratoga Racetrack, dance to the music at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, eat at a local landmark or spend the weekend at a boutique hotel.
Saratoga Springs is built around two industries: spring/mineral water and thoroughbred horse racing. A New Deal era State Park promotes mineral water soaks and free gallons of fresh spring water. And you’ll find horse sculptures, equine sidewalk posts and racing colors everywhere you look.
Saratoga Springs was the country’s very first spa resort town. For eons, this area was sacred ground to the indigenous Iroquois Nation, due to the water’s healing properties. But health seekers started coming in droves to “take the cure” in 1802, when entrepreneur Gideon Putnam learned about the restorative powers of carbonated waters himself. He built a guesthouse across from Congress Spring, and the rest is history.
No Victorian resort was complete without horse racing. So, in 1863, Irish immigrant John Morrissey opened the Saratoga Racetrack. Mentioned in Carly Simon’s song, “You’re So Vain,” the track is so distinctive, it served as film sets for “The Horse Whisperer” and “Seabiscuit” among many others.
WATCH A HORSE RACE
The racing season at Saratoga Racetrack, the nation’s oldest thoroughbred horse racing course, runs from July 14 through Sept. 5. Sure, you’ll pay dearly for tickets and lodging during that time, but come weekends from end of June through mid-July and you can still get a feel for the ponies as they train. Enter Gate 21 for the Whitney Viewing Stand — a solitary Adirondack-style elevated platform that can hold about a dozen viewers.Sign up for the NewsdayTV newsletter
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EXPLORE A STATE PARK
Saratoga Spa State Park encompasses 2,300 acres containing bathhouses, two golf courses, two museums (The Dance Museum and Hall of Fame and Automobile Museum), pools, tennis courts, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and the Gideon Putnam Hotel.
Saratoga Spa State Park is also where you’ll find several springs with faucets. You can’t miss these special fountains — there are generally lines of people waiting to fill their empty 5-gallon bottles with clear Saratoga Spring Water. Join the crowd, even if all you want is a splash from your hands for a taste.
Enjoy a 40-minute effervescent soak at Roosevelt Baths and Spa in Saratoga Spa State Park. Indulge in the strange but pleasant sensation of a warm and tingly effervescent soak in the mineral water that gave the Spa City its name. You can settle into a deep bathtub in a private room for 40 minutes for only $40.
CATCH A CONCERT
The Lumineers open the Live Nation Concert Series on May 29, in a summer jammed with greats at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The Doobie Brothers, Zac Brown Band, Steely Dan, Dave Matthews Band, Black Keys, Rod Stewart and Goo Goo Dolls are just the start. If Classical is more your thing, there’s the New York City Ballet and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on tap.
VISIT A MUSEUM
Wander through three floors of Saratoga Springs History Museum in Congress Park, (like the racetrack, built by John Morrisey in 1870 as a men’s gambling house) to discover why Saratoga Springs was called “American’s Baden-Baden.” Purportedly, the third floor is haunted. In addition to learning about the history of horse racing in Saratoga, a 2020 update of the Racing Museum and Hall of Fame offers visitors an opportunity to call one of the more iconic horse races in history, just like a professional announcer. Car lovers will want to visit the Saratoga Automobile Museum, located in the former Saratoga Natural Mineral Waters Bottling Plant, which covers the history of auto racing and “custom coach” industry in New York. The impactful New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center focuses on and pays tribute to New York State’s contribution to the country’s military history from the Revolutionary War to present through engrossing exhibits.
GRAB A BITE
Most agree that 15 Church tops the list for fine, inventive “New American” cuisine. Mains run the gamut of Filet Mignon to Singapore Street Noodles. And even the ordinarily staid side, Broccoli Rabe, ups its game with cherry peppers, roasted slivers of garlic and Pecorino.
Hattie’s has been a beloved Saratoga institution since 1938, when Hattie Moseley Austin, in possession of the best fried chicken recipe this side of Louisiana, opened her shack with “but $33 in the bank.” Although Hattie passed away in 1998, her spirit lives on in the little restaurant that remains wildly popular.
Fans of fresh beer and good pub grub should plan a meal at Druthers Brewing Company, right in town, the down-an-alley-setting allows for lots of outdoor seating off busy Broadway.
First built in 1877, the Adelphi Hotel was a town landmark in the early days of thoroughbred racing. Nearly 140 years later, it reopened after a five-year top-to-bottom renovation, as the swankiest, and most sumptuous, place to stay in the center of town. Summer rates from $550 per room, during Race Weeks from $650-$1,200.
The Spa City Motor Lodge, restored and improved within the bones of the former rickety Downtowner Motel, is a relative bargain here. It sits right on Broadway, in the midst of shops, restaurants and steps from Congress Park. The enclosed pool area is now a gathering place, with plenty of seating, and Nitro Coffee on tap 24/7. Summer rates from $260, Race Weeks from $385.
The Saratoga Arms, classic 31-room inn with wraparound veranda and updated, antique-filled rooms, is yet another option on Broadway in the thick of town. Summer rates from $500, Race Weeks from $780 includes complimentary breakfast, snacks and soft drinks.
If you prefer traditional and iconic, book at the Gideon Putnam Hotel. Built in 1935 within the Saratoga Spa State Park, this Grand Dame hotel has gone through several renovations. It remains a lasting part of Saratoga Springs hospitality. Summer rates from $360, Race Weeks from $530 per night.