Saratoga Springs is a charming little city tucked in the Adirondack Mountains about thirty minutes away from Albany, New York. Famous for their horse-racing history and summer track, the city is also home to Skidmore College, where I am about to enter my senior year. I’ve spent the last three years living in Saratoga Springs and can now safely say it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway. While there are an array of winter activities offered close by in the Lake George and Adirondack area, in my opinion, the best time to visit Saratoga is in the summer or fall. During the summer (when there is not a pandemic), Saratoga is packed with race-going summer residents and Airbnb renters, some of who include Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, and Bill Parcells. As the seasons begin to change to Fall, the summer residents leave and the college students return to enjoy the local parks filled with orange leaves, pumpkin patches, and apple cider.
As a Skidmore student, I naturally have to recommend attending the Tang Teaching Museum. The Tang is located on Skidmore’s campus and its purpose is to awaken the community to the richness and diversity of the human experience through the medium of art. They are constantly coming up with new groundbreaking exhibits to advance knowledge across the disciplines. Additionally, there is a plethora of other museums one can visit in Saratoga including the National Museum of Racing, Saratoga Automobile Museum, New York State Military Museum, National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame, and the Children’s Museum at Saratoga.
The Saratoga Race Course is the number one tourist destination for many summer Saratoga visitors. The racecourse, which opened in 1863 and is the fourth oldest racetrack in the US, was voted the world’s greatest sporting venues by Sports Illustrated. The downtown area is also home to many stores that sell fun racing hats and memorabilia, which you can buy and wear to the racecourse.
Saratoga Spa State Park is a 2,379 acre state park that contains mineral springs, classical bath and spa houses, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Spa Little Theater, the National Museum of Dance, the Saratoga Automobile Museum, the Gideon Putnam Resort and Roosevelt Baths and Spa. The Spa State Park is listed as a National Historic Landmark and it is distinguished by its classical architecture.
I recommend stopping by with a blanket and picnic basket and enjoying a warm day laying out, or biking through the bike paths throughout the park.
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is a large amphitheater located on the grounds of the Saratoga Spa State Park. It presents a large range of summer performances, including the established Wine and Food Festival. SPAC is a 501c3 non-profit, meaning that they are generously supported by their community. However, their collaboration with Live Nation allows them to host more “mainstream” shows such as Zac Brown Band, Dead and Company, and Dave Matthews Band. While these concerts have been cancelled this year, the summer line-up ticket sales provide a large portion of the center’s yearly income.
Caffè Lena is definitely an underrated gem in Saratoga and it is one of my favorite spots in the city. Caffè Lena is the oldest continually running coffee house and folk music venue in the US, where they continue to present extraordinary music in an intimate setting. The GRAMMY Foundation and Library of Congress have recognized Caffè Lena for their important contributions to the development of American music. In fact, Bob Dylan started his career playing at Caffè Lena and the cafe is referred to as the Carnegie Hall for folk musicians.
The Saratoga Winery serves homemade wine and local bears in a rustic tasting room. In the summer and early fall, there is outdoor seating on the Adirondack deck, sunny patios, and lawn area. On weekends you can enjoy a wine tasting with live music and wood fired pizza.
The Yaddo Gardens are free and open to the public year-round. The gardens each have a fountain and are located on lower and upper terraces divided by a pergola. While thr lower part has a rose garden and an atmosphere that reflects Italian and French Renaissance influences, the upper part has a woodland rock garden and an atmosphere that reflects nineteenth century influences. The Yaddo Gardens receive over 60,000 visits annually and it is a beautiful place for a calm walk and picnic.
Broadway is the main street in Saratoga and it is filled with unique boutiques, restaurants, and lively bars. There are many great opportunities for shopping at the stores downtown. My personal favorite is Magic Moon, which is a unique metaphysical boutique that sells clothing, accessories, jewelry, crystals, magic supplies, incense, oil, books, tapestries, and more. There are also some great thrift stores such as Treasures and Noah’s Closet, as well as the Menges & Curtis Apothecary and deJonghe Original Jewelry. I also recommended checking out the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, which offers a wide selection of used books catering to every taste.
When there is not a pandemic, Saratoga has some of the best nightlife culture in Upstate New York. The Night Owl is a cocktail bar and nightclub that is a hot spot for Skidmore students. You can generally find a young crowd there and rap hits being played. Putnam Place is a live concert and event venue. I recommend attending Putnam while there is a concert going on, because otherwise it has the same vibe as Night Owl, but with a higher price. Desperate Annie’s is my personal favorite bar in Saratoga. Every Monday and Thursday they host shows with bands playing original music through the “Super Dark Collective” program.
Pint Sized is the best craft beer spot in Saratoga, with a sister location in Downtown Albany. Their draft list is updated in real time due to how fast the selection moves and you can enjoy beer on site or fill a growler to-go. Hamlet & Ghost serves craft cocktails and new American food with a speakeasy style to honor its historical roots. Some other places I recommend include Gaffney’s and The Saratoga City Tavern. This list covers just a few of the bars and nightclubs in Saratoga that one could explore on a weekend getaway.
Boca Bistro offers the best Spanish cuisine and tapas in Saratoga. Their new interior design reflects earthen and distressed textures with a touch of Mediterranean influences. Most dishes are $5-$16 and there are plenty of options for vegan and vegetarians.
Hattie’s serves a variety of Southern and Louisiana cuisine. In the summer they offer three outdoor dining options (patio, tented courtyard, and sidewalk) other than the indoor dining room. They have been open since 1983 and they are known for their award winning Southern fried chicken. Most dishes are $15-$20 and there are some side dishes that are offered for vegan and vegetarians.
Druthers may sell great beer, as one could imagine by the name, but they also have great food and an even better atmosphere. Druthers was the first brew pub in Saratoga and it features a 10 barrel brewing system that supplies a regularly changing selection of hand-made beers. They have indoor and outdoor seating in the front yard patio and you can often find them playing classic rock. Most dishes are around $5-$15 and they serve classic pub food with vegetarian options.
Four Seasons Cafe is vegan heaven. They offer healthy prepared food options to eat-in or take-out and they are located a quick walk away from Congress Park. The cafe is 100% vegetarian and mostly vegan using local and organic ingredients. I am a vegan and buying a yummy panini and muffin is a weekly occasion because it’s not always easy to find such delicious vegan treats.
Comfort Kitchen serves farm-to-table comfort food and the menu changes quite often in order to utilize the best local produce. Their menu offers something for everyone including snacks, greens, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, pastas, and craft beer. Most dishes are $5-$15 and you can find information on all of the local farms that provide their produce on their website.
Wasabi is an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant and a Skidmore classic because you eat free on your birthday! They have a large seating area that can accommodate big groups and they serve special rolls, soup, salad, appetizers, sushi, sashimi, yakitori, fried rice and stir-fried noodles. The all you can eat is around $30 but if you aren’t feeling too hungry you might want to order off of the main menu because you cannot take home or share any of the all you can eat leftovers.
Sydney’s Restaurant Picks!
This is one of my favorite brunch spots in Saratoga. With fun craft cocktails and sidewalk sweating, you can mistake yourself for being at a restaurant in New York City or Boston. I recommend the cod cakes and the royal ruby red cocktail.
Dining at Prime @ Saratoga National is more than just grabbing a bite to eat, it’s an entire dining experience matched with some of my favorite food in the state, beautiful golf course views, and exceptional service. Some of my favorite things to get here include the surf n’ turf roll, the seafood tower, and French onion soup, paired with a pomegranate fizz cocktail.
If you’re looking for an intimate setting with top notch Italian cuisine, Chianti is your place. I highly recommend their Risotto De’Medici, bruschetta, and make sure to check their specials menu!
While I have never been to this local barbecue joint, the locals swear by it. I’ve heard from many people that it’s the best barbecue they’ve ever had – so I encourage any meat lover to stop by on their next trip to the area.
15 Church is another awesome restaurant option in the Saratoga area. While most of their meals and cocktails are on the expensive side, the delicious dining experience will be worth it!
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This blog was written by Featured Wrighter, Jess Celella.