—Saratoga Springs, New York— I remember the first time I ever set eyes on Saratoga Springs, New York, in the summer of 1994. It didn’t take long to realize I wanted to live here – there was so much to see and do, I doubted I would ever find time to be bored.
‘Health, History, Horses,’ that slogan perfectly describes life in Saratoga. And the city is filled with plenty of all three – with healing mineral waters, rich history everywhere you turn, and a fierce love for all things horses.
From outdoor adventures in nature, like walking tours and kayaking, to indoor fun, like spending hours in several historical museums, art galleries, and health spas, to sampling food from over 200 excellent restaurants highlighting many ethnicities, the Spa City has something for everyone who visits.
Here are 11 of my favorite things to see and do, but there are a gazillion more. Just ask.
1. Saratoga Tea and Honey
I never realized how much I might genuinely enjoy the art of tea drinking – until a new tea shop came to town in 2015. I love supporting local businesses, and this place was a hit from the moment I stepped inside.
One of the things I love most is their tea bar – a place where people can sit together over a steeping pot of favorite teas, sometimes with a cookie, sometimes without, while catching up on life in general. The staff is always welcoming – willing to educate patrons on teas and the differences between the 50-plus varieties they offer.
Saratoga Tea and Honey also has a honey tasting room – where owner Haley Stevens sources flavorful honey from all over the country. My favorite is a rare one available only two months of the year. It’s called Cranberry Blossom, from the cranberry bogs of Wisconsin.
Haley is a great owner. I’ve even taken tea-101 classes at the shop – Haley’s knowledge of teas and honey astounds me. She offers a great selection of tea-related giftware at reasonable prices; if you need an original gift, you should make sure to stop by.
2. Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail
I don’t know about you, but I was sure happy to discover some new places where I could be out in the fresh air and practice social distancing without much trouble this past year.
One of my ‘hidden gem favorite finds’ was The Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail right here in Saratoga. While it’s only two miles long, the trail is a year-round hit with all sorts of folks. Especially bird-lovers.
There are sightings of Great Blue and Green Herons, Spotted Sandpipers, Ring-Necked Ducks, Turkey Vultures, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, all sorts of Wood Peckers, Tufted Titmice, American Goldfinch, to name just a handful.
The trail cuts across three distinct wetlands. They consist of open marsh, wet meadow, and forested wetland. I found several wood benches along the way – they were an open invitation, a welcome break from the easy hike. I took some time to sit and stretch my legs, soaking it all in.
I found so many things to photograph – from birds to flora and fauna, to people hiking as a family with both small and large dogs. Runners were out on the path as well, but it never seemed crowded.
3. Mrs. London’s Bakery
Have you ever wanted to feel like you’ve stepped off the streets of your hometown, landing in a boutique French bakery one might find on the streets of Paris? Then you must visit Mrs. London’s in Saratoga for fresh pastry and specialty coffee the next time in town.
In fact – I know more than a few people who’ve jumped in their car, driving up from Boston or in from the city, to spend an hour or two in this authentic café.
I love to sit at a table by the window. In the warmer weather, I eat outside. I often have a sandwich and cup of homemade soup while I people-watch. They use only the best quality ingredients to handcraft their unique signature desserts – and I always have one of those.
If you love chocolate, fresh fruit, unique flavors of just-baked macarons, you’re in for a treat. Mrs. London’s staff is friendly, serving iced teas, hot teas, lattes, and cappuccinos. For a light lunch, they have classic quiches, grilled sandwiches, paninis, and more. You really can’t go wrong – unless you don’t go at all.
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4. Saratoga Automobile Museum
Tucked into one corner of Saratoga State Park’s 2,379-acre complex of historic architecture, state-of-the-art golf course, miles of wooded trails, and world-renown Saratoga Performing Art Center sits the Saratoga Automobile Museum.
Inside the walls of what was formally known as The NYS Bottling Plant, you’ll discover the historical importance of our automobile heritage – here in New York State and then across a much wider audience.
Enthusiasts of all ages can come to soak up the industry’s culture, viewing artifacts that trace the state’s motor history. The museum highlights both the automobile and the men and women who brought them to the general public through current and upcoming exhibits.
I’m anxious to get back there myself. I want to learn more about the part women played. This informative exhibit has been updated, according to their web page. And it covers four historical women from 1910-1920 who had a significant impact – even when they represented less than 10% of licensed drivers.
Saratoga Automobile Museum hosts auto shows – which encourage a large turnout. And the Saratoga Motorcar Auction is a yearly event held in September – I hear it’s one no one should miss.
5. Congress Park – Saratoga Springs
I love visiting Congress Park – no matter what time of year it is. When I was just a tourist coming up from Boston for the weekends, I would picnic here and watch the world pass by.
Located right off-Broadway, folks can take a stroll through the gardens, watch kid’s eyes light up while riding on the restored carousel or take selfies and other Instagram-worthy photos near our beloved SPIT and SPAT statues.
People spend a few hours sitting under the shade trees, enjoying a lively chess game against a rival. A pleasant surprise for players is to see that whoever designed the park had each chessboard carved into the tops of stone tables in that area.
There’s a war memorial, several impressive statues, water for adorable ducks to play in, flowering trees, and bushes everywhere you turn. Make sure you see the Spirit of Life statue and fountain – a memorial to Spencer Trask, one of Saratoga’s beloved philanthropists, and a gift to Saratoga from his wife, Katrina, and business partner George Foster Peabody, after his untimely death.
Make sure to bring a cup so you can try our mineral spring water – more on that later!
6. Canfield Casino
If you’re a history buff like I am and want to learn about some of the fascinating stories here in what’s also known as the Spa City, you’ll need to visit The Saratoga History Museum and Canfield Museum on your way through.
This excellent museum features three floors of exhibits that help tell the dramatic history of Saratoga from its beginnings to modern-day times. The first floor contains artifacts collected in and around Saratoga Springs and a gift shop with trinkets, books, and other sale items.
The last time I visited, there was an exhibit titled ‘Death Becomes Her.’ It was interesting to learn about Victorian times when a person’s death rather than their life became the celebration.
I also love ghosts and visit haunted places all the time. Ghost Hunters and America’s Most Terrifying Places have visited Canfield Casino – and their finds were quite interesting. The Casino offers ghost tours off-and-on during the year. I attended one a few years ago, and I believe spirits are roaming the halls inside.
You can also check into the Haunted History Trail of New York State for more information.
7. Spa City Farmers Market
What I love most about farmers’ markets? The people. Everyone at the Spa City Farmers’ Market works hard to bring us the freshest of everything – meats, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, hot meals, homemade items, spirits, wines, craft beers, even flowers from their seasonal gardens.
But they’re also friendly, helpful, and open year-round. And that means a lot to me as a consumer. I was thrilled to learn that every participating vendor brings the best of the best to Sunday’s event, located on the lawns outside our historic Lincoln Bath House during the warmer months and moving inside from November-April.
Many family events occur throughout the year here but check their website before you jump in the car as things might be different now. An estimated 50 vendors and family-owned small businesses participate in this market, making it one of the most well-rounded and robust within the region.
It honestly seems like a community-driven venture, where vendors care about their own business and other ones as well. It feels, to me, like helping each other succeed is at their mission’s core. I never leave empty-handed and have never been disappointed with my purchases.
8. Saratoga Racetrack
Located on Union Avenue and opened in 1863, you can see Saratoga Race Course as you drive along the tree-lined road, just past the sidewalk’s fencing. Sports Illustrated named it one of the world’s greatest sporting venues – indeed, it’s the fourth oldest race track in the United States.
The best thing about the historic racecourse is it’s not just for people who want to pick their favorite horse on the day’s race card. The property is also family-friendly. There are places to buy all kinds of ethnic food, picnic areas to spread out and enjoy the sunshine, and playgrounds for the little ones.
Visitors often stop to browse for artwork, specialty hats that are a huge fashion statement in the horse world, and other interest items. You can learn all about the jockeys, trainers, and famous racehorses during your time at the track.
I love hearing the Bugler play ‘Call to post.’ I stand where men and women walk the horses from the paddock to the gate. It gives me a chance to look them over and see what I like about each one of the thoroughbreds.
Afterward, I usually sprint and watch the race from the rail. It’s exciting – to watch as entries pass each quarter-pole, trying like hell to beat the horses in front.
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9. National Dance Museum and Hall of Fame
Believe it or not, the National Dance Museum and Hall of Fame, established in 1986, is the only museum in the nation and one of very few in the world dedicated entirely to the art of dance. And it shows.
Throughout several rooms, there are both past, current, future, and permanent exhibits, photography covering the history of dance, costumes worn by ballerinas, tap and other famous dancers, artifacts from movies, even one hundred thirty dance movies posters from veteran producer Mike Kaplan that range from 1918 to the 1980s.
The Hall of Fame honors creatives who have made significant contributions to American professional dance, no matter the genre. Plaques on the walls draw attention to over fifty choreographers, dancers, artistic directors, designers, composers, to name a few.
I love this Pointe shoe display in a large glass case set into a wall of TVs running video of dancing performances. They’re all signed and dedicated. I might love this most because I can see the ballerinas’ pain and dedication behind the dance itself.
10. Yaddo Gardens
One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been is a secret to many. I’m always surprised when I talk to some of the old-timers who’ve lived in Saratoga for dozens of years – sometimes their whole lives, and discover they’ve never been here.
Spencer Trask gave the Yaddo Gardens to his wife Katrina in 1899. The gardens are two levels, divided by a breath-taking pergola. The lower rose garden boasts so many colors and varieties of roses – I never know which one to focus my camera on first.
Beyond the pergola is a woodland rock garden, with shade trees and many different plants. Both sections have beautiful fountains, and there are life-size statues throughout the property.
The Yaddo mansion sits on a hill, and the Trasks daughter, Christina, is said to have named it. After the death of all four children, the grieving parents bequeathed their fortune and estate. Since 1926, Yaddo has welcomed authors, painters, sculptors, musicians, and other artists into the residency program the couple envisioned.
11. Phila Street
I think it’s safe to say that every town has a street that seems to offer people everything under the sun. For me? That would be Phila Street.
Not only can I enjoy all sorts of delicious food – from Italian to Irish to Sushi, fried chicken, and ice cream, I can listen to great music inside the historic Caffe Lena as well.
I can have fun with a pottery class, get my hair done in an upscale salon, visit a metaphysical shop where my choice of crystals and other magical supplies astounds.
I’ve gotten lost for hours in one of my favorite book stores, too, The Lyrical Ballad Bookstore. They’ve been in business for 42 years, and I’m pretty sure their collection of used books is unmatched, at least around here.
Saratoga is a mecca for shoppers, culture seekers, culinary enthusiasts, history buffs, horse lovers, and more. To say that I could do a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th installment of the best places to see and things to do in Saratoga is an understatement.
I can only hope you find time to visit and find a few favorites of your own.
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