Exploring Saratoga Springs: ‘Spa Town’ Guide

A weekend in Saratoga Springs is an immersive experience in many ways. You can smell the warm, bubbly, and effervescent mineral waters of the Roosevelt Baths and Spa, cheer on your favorite horse at the Saratoga Racetrack, dance to the music of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, eat at a local landmark, or spend the weekend in 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 baths and free gallons of fresh spring water. And you’ll find horse carvings, equine curb posts and racing colors everywhere you look.

Saratoga Springs was the nation’s first spa resort. For eons, this area was sacred ground to the indigenous Iroquois nation, due to the healing properties of the water. But health seekers began coming in droves to “take the cure” in 1802, when entrepreneur Gideon Putnam himself discovered the restorative powers of carbonated waters. He built a guest house 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 Racecourse. Mentioned in Carly Simon’s song, “You’re So Vain,” the track is so distinctive that it served as film sets for “The Horse Whisperer” and “Seabiscuit” among many others.

WATCH A HORSE RACE

Horses rush around the first turn at Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs.
Credit: AP/Mike Groll

The racing season at Saratoga Racetrack, the oldest thoroughbred horse racing course in the country, runs from July 14 to September 5. Sure, you’ll be paying dearly for tickets and accommodation during this time, but come on weekends from late June to mid-July and you can still get a feel for the ponies as they practice. Enter through Gate 21 for the Whitney Viewing Stand, a solitary Adirondack-style raised platform that seats a dozen spectators.

EXPLORE A STATE PARK

Saratoga Spa State Park encompasses 2,300 acres containing bathhouses, two golf courses, two museums (the Dance Museum and the Hall of Fame and the Automobile Museum), swimming pools, tennis courts, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and the Gideon Putnam Hotel.

Saratoga Spa State Park visitors cool off at Geyser...

Visitors to Saratoga Spa State Park cool off at Geyser Creek.
Credit: AP/Mike Groll

Saratoga Spa State Park is also where you will find several springs with faucets. You can’t miss these special fountains – there are usually 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 of your hands for a taste.

Enjoy a 40-minute effervescent bath at Roosevelt Baths and Spa in Saratoga Spa State Park. Let yourself be tempted by the strange but pleasant sensation of a hot and effervescent bath in the mineral water that gave the spa town its name. You can soak in a deep soaking tub in a private room for 40 minutes for just $40.

WAIT FOR A CONCERT

Fans enjoy the music during a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts...

Fans enjoy the music during a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs.
Credit: AP/HANS PENNINK

The Lumineers open the Live Nation concert series on May 29, in a summer full of big names at Saratoga Center for the Performing Arts. The Doobie Brothers, Zac Brown Band, Steely Dan, Dave Matthews Band, Black Keys, Rod Stewart and Goo Goo Dolls are just the beginning. If classical is more your thing, there’s the New York City Ballet and Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center.

VISIT A MUSEUM

WWII Veteran Arthur Robinson of Saratoga Springs watches...

World War II veteran Arthur Robinson of Saratoga Springs views an exhibit at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.
Credit: AP/Mike Groll

Walk 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 find out why Saratoga Springs was nicknamed “American Baden-Baden.” Supposedly, the third floor is haunted. In addition to learning the history of horse racing in Saratoga, a 2020 update to the Racing Museum and Hall of Fame offers visitors the opportunity to call out one of the most iconic horse races in history, just like a professional announcer. Car enthusiasts will want to visit the Saratoga Automotive Museum, located in the former Saratoga Natural Mineral Waters Bottling Plant, which covers the history of auto racing and the “custom coach” industry in New York City. The impact New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center focuses on and pays homage to New York State’s contribution to the country’s military history, from the Revolutionary War to being presented through captivating exhibits.

TAKE A BITE

Most agree that 15 Church at the top of the list for a fine and inventive “new American” cuisine. Main courses run the gamut from filet mignon to Singaporean street noodles. And even the ordinarily laid side, Broccoli Rabe, ups its game with cherry peppers, roasted garlic strips and Pecorino.

At 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 cabin with “but $33 in the bank. Although Hattie passed away in 1998, her spirit lives on in the small restaurant which remains very popular.

Fans of cold beer and good pub grub should plan a meal at Druthers Brewing Companyright downtown, the setting at the end of an alley allows for outdoor seating away from the bustle of Broadway.

NIGHT

The Adelphi hotel, with its trademark

The Adelphi Hotel, with its “Porche Saratoga” brand, is the city’s last remaining hotel dating back to the 19th century.
Credit: Getty Images/Barry Winiker

First built in 1877, the Hotel Adelphi was a city landmark in the early days of Thoroughbred racing. Nearly 140 years later, it has reopened after five years of top-to-bottom renovation, as the chicest and most lavish place to stay downtown. Summer rates from $550 per room, during race weeks from $650 to $1,200.

The Spa City Motor Lodge, restored and upgraded from the bones of the rickety old Downtowner Motel, is relative business here. It sits on Broadway, amid shops, restaurants, and a short walk from Congress Park. The gated pool 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 Weapons, a classic 31-room inn with a scenic verandah and renovated rooms filled with antiques, is another option on Broadway in the heart of the city. Summer rates from $500, race weeks from $780 include complimentary breakfast, snacks and soft drinks.

If you prefer the traditional and the iconic, book at Hotel Gideon Putnam. Built in 1935 in Saratoga Spa National Park, this Grand Dame hotel has undergone several renovations. It remains an enduring part of Saratoga Springs hospitality. Summer rates from $360, race weeks from $530 per night.

Corina C. Butler