Saratoga Springs, New York, was on our radar for a long time. When we lived in Manhattan, friends and co-workers talked about how cute the main street was and how you could actually drink from the town’s springs. But with little time or money to get away from the grind, Saratoga Springs remained one of those places that we hoped to get to “one day.” And then it finally happened, and we were blown away.
Yes, the main street (Broadway) is adorable, and you can drink from the springs all around town. But what we didn’t know about was the fabulous parks, amazing food, and overall joie de vivre in this city filled with music. It may have taken us 15 years to get there, but we couldn’t have been happier exploring all the great things to do in Saratoga Springs for the weekend. Since then, we’ve made it a priority to return at least once a year, and we keep discovering new things. Here’s a look at some of what we love.
- Visit Congress Park
- Have breakfast at Saratoga Race Course
- See the mineral springs at Spa State Park
- Shop downtown
- Indulge in the Roosevelt Spa
- See a show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center
- Grab a glass at Saratoga Sparkling Wine Co.
- Check out the historic architecture
- Explore by bike
- Try Stewart’s ice cream
- Swim at Victoria Pool
- Visit Spa City Farmers Market
- Catch a show at Caffe Lena
- Explore a museum
- Browse Lyrical Ballad
- Stop for a sip at The Saratoga Winery
- Cruise Saratoga Lake
- Relax at Brown’s Beach
- Wander Yaddo Gardens
- Take a hike through the 100 Acre Wood
- Visit U.S. Grant Cottage National Historic Site
- Check out the drive in
- Attend a festival or outdoor event
Visit Congress Park
If we lived in Saratoga Springs, we would be at Congress Park all the time. It’s one of the reasons the city is one of our favorite getaways in the US. Centrally located right off Broadway, this beautiful green space has a little bit for everyone. You can watch the fountains, picnic on the lawns, or lose yourself in watching wildlife in the ponds. Bring a cup to try one of the city’s springs straight from the source or just spend time strolling the paths that curve through Congress Park.
One of the park’s key sites is Canfield Casino, an historic casino that dates from the 1870s. Although it’s no longer open for gambling, it’s full of architectural detail and is an important part of city history. Our favorite–and most unexpected–stop in the park was the enchanting 120-year-old carved carousel that you can ride for just $.50.
Have breakfast at Saratoga Race Course
Saratoga Race Course is the lifeblood of the city. In operation since 1863, it hosts about six weeks of thoroughbred racing every summer, including the famous Travers Stakes.
Activities at the Saratoga Race Course go beyond racing, socializing, and admiring fancy hats, though. Every morning the track is open, spectators can have breakfast on the Clubhouse Porch close enough to almost touch the horses as they warm up for the day’s activities.
Everyone from families to focused betters grab a table and peruse the buffet while getting a unique look at the day’s competitors. We absolutely loved being so close to the action…and the mimosas were pretty good, too!
See the mineral springs at Spa State Park
Outside of the racetrack, Saratoga Springs is best known for the natural springs that dot its landscape, making a tour of them one of the best things to do in Saratoga Springs. Originally used by Native Americans as far back as the 1600s, the springs are known for their restorative properties both in drinking and in bathing. Saratoga Spa State Park is the best place to explore the area’s offerings today.
A tour of the springs will take you to about half of the dozen mostly carbonated springs that still flow in the park. Each has a unique mineral content, and, thus, its own flavor, so no two taste the same. Thank goodness for that, because some were definitely not delicious, while others could easily substitute for standard bottled water—only fresher, of course.
While you can locate the springs on a self-guided walk, we opted for an expert guided tour. We visited the high-iron Polaris and the replenished spring, Tallulah, that leaves a trail of colored minerals along the hill slope. We also stopped by the Geyser Island spouter with its massive 86-year-old tufa mineral deposits and sampled several other springs. There’s no better way to get a sense for these cool natural features than seeing the Saratoga mineral springs up close.
There is no shortage of places to shop in town. Just a stroll browsing the downtown shops could take at least a half-day. Check out The Savory Pantry or Saratoga Olive Oil for home and food items or pop into Violet’s of Saratoga, Raina’s Jewelry, or G. Willikers Toys for clothes, jewelry, toys, and gifts.
Indulge in the Roosevelt Spa
Saratoga’s springs have been believed to have healing properties for hundreds of years. In the 1930s, the magical springs were funneled into the Roosevelt and Lincoln spas where thousands of people came every day for doctor-prescribed treatments related to the springs. Today, those waters are harnessed in the serene environment of the Roosevelt Baths & Spa where guests can choose from a menu of relaxing treatments, no prescription necessary.
As an historic site, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa still maintains the aura of its heyday in the early part of the 20th century. Like the spas we’ve visited in Europe, it is at once a luxury retreat and a step back in time. Each of the 42 private bathing rooms has a tub sunken four inches below the floor, a massage table, and bathroom.
We opted to try the aromatherapy mineral bath in which the 55 degree natural mineral water is mixed with hot tap water to approximate body temperature. The relaxing champagne spring waters actually make you float in your own private hot tub. It’s a fabulous experience. Forty minutes has never passed so fast. (The water oxidizes above ground, hence the unexpected yellowish color.)
See a show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center
It’s hard to describe the magic of Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), but we loved every moment of the four shows we had the chance to see. On the grounds of Saratoga Spa State Park, performances at SPAC highlight just about every musical genre you could imagine. There is classical music plus jazz, pop, rock, and other types of music from around the world.
For decades, SPAC has been the summer home of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which gives visitors a chance to see a number of world-class performances throughout the summer. Whether it’s a ballet by Balanchine or the Orchestra performing live to a showing of Indiana Jones or E.T., the options are extensive. On the other end of the musical spectrum, favorites like Phish and Dave Matthews pack the amphitheater and lawn of the lovely outdoor venue, too.
With over 50 performance seasons under its belt, SPAC is also constantly reinventing itself with additions like a lively (and free!) jazz bar under the summer stars and other engaging performances that actually bring the audience on stage with artists.
Grab a glass at Saratoga Sparkling Wine Co.
The views from the deck at Saratoga Sparkling Wine Co. stretch all the way to Vermont. Add a glass of bubbly, a cheese plate, and a little music for ambiance, and it’s pretty much our idea of a perfect afternoon.
At this lovely spot in Saratoga County, husband and wife team Kate and Ryan Taylor serve a selection of four Prosecco-style wines alongside offerings from sister brands Galway Rock and Robinia Hill Vineyard, which include Rieslings, Cabernet Franc, and other varietals.
Check out the historic architecture
With a history as old as the United States, Saratoga Springs has a mixture of grand architecture. From the towers of Queen Anne-style homes to the columns and impressive porches of Greek revival buildings, there’s lots to see all over town. Stroll around to see the turrets of Union Avenue, the mansions of Circular Street, the bright colors of Clinton Place, and much more.
Explore by bike
While downtown is easily walkable, there are places in Saratoga Springs that could be slightly challenging to reach without a car. That’s why CDPHP Cycle is so cool. Usually a perk reserved for much larger cities, this bike sharing program allows you to go just about anywhere you want in the area. You can pick up a bike from one of the stands using the app or reserve one in advance. There are more than a dozen stands to choose from.
Try Stewart’s ice cream
For over 70 years, Stewart’s Shops have sold some of the best ice cream you’ll find anywhere. This family-run company, which was founded in the Saratoga Springs area, runs more than 300 convenience stores in New York and Vermont. With more than a dozen shops in and around the city, they’re impossible to miss.
Stewart’s ice cream made with local ingredients features prominently in the shops—you can get a scoop in the shop or take some home to enjoy later. Lance’s favorite is mint chocolate chip, and I’m partial to the chocolate peanut butter cup.
Swim at Victoria Pool
Built in the early 1930s, the Victoria Pool was the first heated pool in the U.S. Constructed at the same time as the nearby spas, the pool was part of the health and wellness trends of the time. Today, the gorgeous public pool is quite busy through most of the summer (though blessedly quiet the day we visited). You can’t ask for a better place to relax on a sunny day.
Visit Spa City Farmers Market
One of our favorite activities in Saratoga Springs is always a visit to the Spa City Farmers Market. Unlike many similar markets, this one goes year-round, so visitors always have a chance to check out the goods, even in the off-season.
What really sets the Spa City Farmers Market apart from other markets is that all the vendors are premium local brands, including farms, artisans, chefs, and more. In addition, there’s often live music and entertainment.
Catch a show at Caffe Lena
Lance and I are both big fans of folk music. In fact, we met at a folk music concert. So we were pretty psyched to visit one of the standouts of the city’s great music scene—Caffe Lena. This lovely downtown spot is the oldest continually-operating coffee house in the United States.
Founded in 1960, music legends including Don McLean, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris have performed at Caffe Lena, and it has even been recognized by The GRAMMY Foundation for its contribution to the development of American music. We had the chance to see local performers the Dylan Perrillo Orchestra, who have an incredibly loyal following for their unique jazz performances. If you’re a music lover, visiting Caffe Lena has to be on your list for what to do in Saratoga Springs.
Explore a museum
Saratoga Springs boasts an impressive collection of interesting museums. In keeping with a major theme in the city, visitors have the chance to explore the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Founded in 1950, the museum honors the achievements of American Thoroughbred race horses, jockeys, and trainers. There is also the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame which contains photographs, videos, and beautiful costumes of dancing greats.
If speed is more your style, auto enthusiasts can visit the Saratoga Automobile Museum, located in the former Saratoga bottling plant built in 1934. The museum displays about 30 vehicles and features both permanent and rotating exhibits. It’s a must if you’re a classic car aficionado.
Browse Lyrical Ballad
Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a must visit for book lovers. Right in downtown, this charming store is packed to the brim with new, used, and rare books.
A mainstay of the city for over 40 years, Lyrical Ballad has over 100,000 books and antique prints and maps. A visit to this special place feels a bit like a treasure hunt as you weave through the rooms and passageways stuffed with materials. Stop by to find the newest release or an old classic. Or, better yet, take the time to browse and find the perfect book you didn’t know you needed.
Stop for a sip at The Saratoga Winery
Just four miles from the center of town, The Saratoga Winery produces a variety of traditional red, white, and sweet wines from New York State grapes. Check out the semi-dry Riesling, Saratoga Red, or their signature natural wine called Melomel which is made from grapes and local honey. Mimosa flights are particularly popular here at weekend brunch.
Cruise Saratoga Lake
Saratoga Lake is one of the most popular places in the area for outdoor recreation. In the summer, the lake is full of people boating, swimming, rowing, and fishing. Much of the shoreline is privately owned, but public access is available to a boat launch at the northern end of the lake. You can also have a picnic with great views of the lake at Waterfront Park.
If you’d rather have someone else be captain for the day, check out the regular cruises from Adirondack Cruise & Charter Co. They offer early morning, afternoon, sunset, and even moonlight options, depending on the day of the week.
Relax at Brown’s Beach
Brown’s Beach is the perfect place to spend a warm afternoon in upstate New York. One of the only public swimming spots on Saratoga Lake, Brown’s Beach welcomes visitors from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
In addition to swimming, Brown’s Beach is a great location to learn water sports like kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding. The snack bar has a selection of summer staples like hot dogs and ice cream, so you don’t even have to leave the beach. If you want something a little more substantial, just a few feet away, Dock Brown’s Lakeside Tavern has great burgers, salads, and cocktails. We loved kicking back on their porch at sunset.
Wander Yaddo Gardens
Less than three miles from downtown is the beautiful Yaddo Gardens. The European-inspired gardens—complete with fountains—were created in 1899 by financier Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina, a writer. The lower and upper terraces are divided by a pergola and feature a rose garden below and a woodland rock garden above the pergola.
While most of the estate is a private retreat for artists and writers in residence, the gardens are open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk. They are a perfect place to lose yourself in nature for an hour or so.
Take a hike through the 100 Acre Wood
The 100 Acre Wood is a great place to visit if you’re in the mood for some easy hiking near Saratoga Springs. The two miles of well-groomed trails are relatively flat and incorporate a few moderate inclines. Along the way, there is a variety of plants and flowers, bridges, a stream, and some scenic overlooks. There are even a few benches to take a break along the way.
Visit U.S. Grant Cottage National Historic Site
One of the historic things to do near Saratoga Springs is to see the U.S. Grant Cottage–a shrine to General Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States. Grant spent the last 5 weeks of his life in the charming yellow cottage while he battled throat cancer and wrote his memoirs.
Today, the Cottage looks much like it did the day Grant died—July 23, 1885. Visitors can see the original bedroom furniture, two incredible flower sculptures from his funeral, and even the cocaine solution that he used to treat his cancer. After you visit the Cottage, take a self-guided tour around the grounds, which offers views of the Hudson Valley.
Check out the drive in
For a dose of nostalgia and entertainment, check out the drive-in movie theater just a few miles away in Malta. For 70 years, the Malta Drive-In Theatre has welcomed guests to enjoy feature films on its two screens.
The theater generally opens in mid-April and continues showings through October. There is a snack bar and grill on-site, and this popular theater has room for up to 800 vehicles. Seeing a movie is a lot of fun, but it’s equally entertaining to see how some people trick out their cars to make them great viewing spots—think beanbag chairs, couches, and cushy set ups in the bed of a truck.
Attend a festival or outdoor event
Saratoga Springs is a perfect spot for festivals and outdoor events. Throughout the year, you can find something fun going on nearly every weekend covering a variety of interests.
The Saratoga Wine & Food Festival allows visitors to mingle with culinary experts and taste dishes and drinks from the region’s top restaurants while the less formal Chowderfest brings together over 80 vendors and 30,000 visitors to vote for their favorite local chowders. The city’s premier Jazz Festival showcases world-class musicians for a weekend of spectacular performances. Those looking to see local theater can find the Saratoga Shakespeare Company performing the Bard’s classics for free in Congress Park—a perfect opportunity for a little culture and a picnic.
Where to Stay
Saratoga Arms: Welcoming, family-run establishment offering homemade cookies every night and a breakfast service to die for
Adelphi Hotel: 1870s hotel reincarnated as a luxury spot with high-end finishes
Homewood Suites by Hilton: Contemporary, comfortable furnishings with plenty of space to relax
Read more about other top hotels in Saratoga Springs.
Places to Eat
Salt & Char: Upscale steakhouse and seafood restaurant that’s the perfect place for lunch or dinner on Broadway
Farmers Hardware: Fast casual spot with great sandwiches open for breakfast, lunch, and brunch
15 Church: Upscale New American with a dark wood interior and spacious patio