Saratoga Springs NY: And Your Horse Naturally Won

Last Updated on

WHY GO: Saratoga Springs NY is the country’s very first spa town. Health seekers have been coming here to “take the waters” since the mid 1800’s. Thoroughbred horse racing soon followed. The Saratoga race course, mentioned in Carly Simon’s song, You’re So Vain, is so distinctive, it served as a film set for The Horse Whisperer and Seabiscuit among many other movies.

Roosevelt Baths, Saratoga Springs NY
Roosevelt Baths, Saratoga Springs NY

As a Victorian-era resort, Saratoga Springs NY attracted families of color to work in the resorts and casinos. It happened to be where Simon Northup, author of the memoir, Twelve Years A Slave, was living when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery down south.

Home to Skidmore College, Saratoga Spring’s downtown has a youthful upbeat vibe, with dozens of restaurants, a great newly renovated historic luxury hotel and yep, “the waters.” Here’s the inside scoop.

Things to Do in Saratoga Springs NY

Saratoga Race Track Morning Training

SEE: Saratoga Race Track

This is the nation’s oldest thoroughbred racetrack, and even if you don’t follow horse racing, you’ve heard about it. That’s because Carly Simon sang, “I hear you went up to Saratoga, and your horse naturally won….” in her hit song, You’re So Vain.

Racing season runs six weeks from the last week of July through the first week of September. Come then, and you’ll pay dearly for tickets and lodging. Visit off-season, though, and you can still get a feel for the ponies as they train. Enter Gate 15 and ask for the Whitney Viewing Stand – a solitary Adirondack-style elevated platform that can hold about a dozen viewers. Open only Saturdays and Sundays, 7am-11am, free.

Filling up bottles with Saratoga Spring Water

DRIVE/PROCURE WATER: Saratoga Spa State Park

Conceived by FDR for his New Deal, the Saratoga Spa State Park encompasses 2,300 acres containing bathhouses, two golf courses, two museums (Dance and Auto), pools, tennis courts, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and the Gideon Putnam Hotel.

It’s also where several springs are located with faucets oh so convenient for filling up one and five-gallon jugs with clear Saratoga Spring Water. You can’t miss these special fountains. There are generally lines of people waiting with empty containers. Join the crowd, even if all you want is a splash from yours hands for a cool, refreshing taste.

Roosevelt Baths Lobby Saratoga Springs NY
Roosevelt Baths Lobby Saratoga Springs NY

SPA: Roosevelt Baths in Saratoga Spa SP

Indulge in the strange but pleasant sensation of a warm and tingly effervescent soak in the mineral water that gave Saratoga Spa its name. You can settle into a deep bathtub in a private room for 40 minutes for only $35. This includes the use of a robe, sauna, and a wait in the stunning “relaxation room.” “It’s like bathing in warm champagne,” says a repeat customer.

Private Soaking Room at Roosevelt Baths

Before or after your soak, take a taste of the famous restorative mineral water from one of two water fountains in the bathhouse. (The other is clean spring water). Not to all tastes, but certainly worth a sip. Open daily 9am to 7pm, 40 minute soak for only $35, check website for other treatments.

Hiking Trail Saratoga State Park NY
Hiking Trail Saratoga State Park NY

HIKE: Saratoga State Park

There are miles of woodland trails within this massive park, so join the local dog-walkers in the woods either before or after a spa treatment or soak.

National Museum of Racing Entryway, Saratoga Springs NY

VISIT: National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame

Walk past the statue of Triple-Crown winner, Secretariat, through an actual starting gate, into the main part of this cool museum. Discover, among many other things, that in 1863, before the end of the Civil War, Irish immigrant, John Morrissey, brought thoroughbred racing to Saratoga NY.

Horse racing was nothing new. It came to our shores in the 1660’s from Europe with the colonists, and was a regular event from Virginia to New York. After WWI, the racing world expanded, and remains one of the only sports where women and men race together under equal conditions.

Be A Jockey

Racing Simulators at Racing Hall of Fame

Try out the popular “Racing Simulator,” a mechanical horse synchronized to move with jockey-cam videos. These provide a rare chance for visitors to feel what it’s like on the track.

Used by actual jockeys-in-training, you have to don helmet, safety jacket, goggles and boots (supplied). Those thinking about becoming a jockey, be aware. You must be a) a horse-rider, b) under 116 lbs, c) small framed, d) have excellent balance and most importantly e) be fearless.

Secretariet

Museumgoers might be surprised to learn that there were only 11 Triple Crown Winners (horses and riders who swept the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and Belmont Stakes) between 1899 and 2014.

These three races within five weeks test the mettle of any horse. It’s nearly impossible for one thoroughbred to win all three.

The 1970’s seemed to be Golden Years for the Triple Crown. Secretariat won in ’73, Seattle Slew in ’77, and Affirmed in ’78.

Until June 6, 2015, there had not been a Triple-Crown winner since 1978. But crazy-fast American Pharaoh had the heart, physique and determination to sweep all three competitions – an historic win. Open Wed-Sun 10-4, Racing Season daily 9-5, $7 adults, $5 kids.Museum of Dance, Saratoga NY

VISIT: National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame

Even if “dance” is not your thing, visit the dynamic museum that celebrates the art of movement in all of its forms. You might just be entranced. The Dance HOF opened in 1986 in the 1918 Washington Bath House, and features fantastic multi-media exhibits. Watch household names – Gene Kelly, Tommy Tune, Bob Fossee, Jerome Robbins, Fred Astair, Martha Graham, Michael Jackson, and even John Travolta – hoofing it up on stage and in movies.

National Museum of Dance, Saratoga NY

All involved in dance get due respect here – from choreographers, costume designers to critics, and yes, dancers. Open Tues-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4, $6.50 adults, $3 kids.

Saratoga Automobile Museum NY
Saratoga Automobile Museum NY

VISIT: Saratoga Automobile Museum

Stand before the crushed remains of a Port Authority K-9 Bomb Detection Police Jeep, used by David Lim and his canine partner, Sirius, on 9-11. Lim survived, but his trusty dog, Sirius, died in the line of duty.

You’ll see vehicles both poignant and cheeky in this intriguing, bite-size, and very accessible antique auto museum. It’s located in the former Saratoga Natural Mineral Waters Bottling Plant within the greater Saratoga State Park. Make a point to spend at least half an hour here to see cars and trucks in two floors of galleries.

Port Authority Police Saratoga Auto Museum NY
Port Authority Police Saratoga Auto Museum NY

The ground floor hosts a changing exhibit of historic cars and trucks, including, in October 2017, the above-mentioned police jeep. A 1925 Model T Ford truck chassis –  kited out as a popcorn/peanut wagon – takes center stage.

Another Jay Leno Lost Bid

Bid on and lost by Jay Leno, a friend of the Museum, the Popcorn Wagon is one of SAM’s prized possessions. You’ll also find a 1965 Checker Taxi Cab, a 1946 Chevy Suburban seemingly twice the size of its current model, a 1929 Model A Mail Truck, and other pristine vehicles in exhibits that changes every 6 months.

Popcorn Wagon, Saratoga Automobile Museum NY
Popcorn Wagon, Saratoga Automobile Museum NY

Several permanent exhibits are upstairs including Racing in New York and East of Detroit. The latter showcases the profusion of “custom coach builders” in New York during the dawn of the automobile (e.g Pierce Arrow in Buffalo).

The Auto Museum, however, is proudest of its Safe-Driving Initiative for school groups and teens. Instructors utilize state of the art simulators that show real consequences of distracted driving –  principally, of texting while at the wheel. (75% of teen drivers admit that texting while driving is “common among their friends”).

The “Distracted Driving” program is so crucial to first responders these days, the Saratoga Sheriff’s Department trains here as well. Open Tues-Sun 10-5, $8.50 adults, $6 seniors.

NY State Military Museum Saratoga NY
NY State Military Museum Saratoga NY

VISIT: New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center

Whether you’re interested in Military History, Women’s history, African-American History or even graphic art from 100 years ago, this impactful museum has something for everyone.

Starting with the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Saratoga through the war in Iraq, the NYSMM focuses on and pays tribute to New York State’s contribution to the country’s military history.

The museum is housed in a former National Guard Armory (until 1989), initially built for the 105th Infantry Regiment. Well-planned and fascinating exhibits begin with “A Call Not Unheeded” – telling the story of NY’s Militia and National Guard from 1792-1916. Glass cases are jammed with artifacts and documents, like a 1825 Muster Notice, and swords, uniforms, cannons, fancy helmets, weaponry, statues, trophies and newspaper clippings.

WWI Trench NY Military Museum Saratoga NY
WWI Trench NY Military Museum Saratoga NY

In the Civil War exhibit, there’s more on Dr. Mary Walker, born in Oswego NY, who graduated from Syracuse Medical School in 1855, attempted to enlist as a surgeon for the Union side, and was rejected.

Her story is further told at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring MD.  In a nutshell, Walker saved lives as a volunteer, was captured by Confederate forces after crossing enemy lines to treat wounded, and was imprisoned as a spy. However, by war’s end, she was only woman ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

WWI Firsts

Lest We Perish Poster, NY State Military Museum Saratoga NY
Lest We Perish Poster, NY State Military Museum Saratoga NY

The WWI exhibit, which begins in a makeshift sandbag trench, is particularly engrossing. During WWI, gas masks were used for the first time. “Trench foot” was a concern. And Liberty Bonds – which became War Bonds by WWII – were issued to raise money for the military.

Posters served as Facebook or Twitter of their day.  One, titled “Lest We Perish,” showcases a $30 million 1918 fundraising campaign by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East to help rebuild war torn Armenia, Persia, Greece and Syria. American sentiments have sure changed in 100 years.

The 2,000 strong 15th NY Infantry – an all-Black National Guard Division assembled in 1916 – fought so bravely in France during WWI, they came to be known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The 77th out of NYC, made up of immigrants from all over the globe, was called the “Melting Pot Division.”

The WWII exhibit features a whole section on WACS (Women’s Army Corps) and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). These often forgotten branches of the military get their due here. You can spend several hours here reading everything, but plan on at least an hour, even if military history is not your thing. Open Tues-Sat. 10-4, free.

Sign National Bottle Museum Ballston Spa NY
Sign National Bottle Museum Ballston Spa NY

VISIT: National Bottle Museum, Ballston Spa

Ballston Spa is just about 7 miles from downtown Saratoga, but devotees of the offbeat will want to check out this collection of hand-made glass bottles from the early 1700’s to 1903, when mass production took over.

Why here?

Those who believe that Boomers and Gen-Xer’s started the artisanal sparkling water craze (Perrier, anyone?), think again. Between 1823 and 1889, mineral waters from about 30 springs in Saratoga County were bottled and distributed around the world.

These special bottles were designed to withstand internal gas pressure and rough handling during shipment. Their distinctive design came to be known as the Saratoga-bottle.

Wall of Glass Bottles National Bottle Museum Ballston Spring NY
Wall of Glass Bottles National Bottle Museum Ballston Spring NY

Floor to ceiling shelves in this 1901 hardware store are resplendent with colorful glass from all over the world. Snag the museum director, Gary Moeller, for a tutorial on the intricacies of glass, including its natural, unadulterated color, and how sunlight can effects that.

Bitters National Bottle Museum Ballston Spa NY
Bitters National Bottle Museum Ballston Spa NY

Though most of the bottles in the museum are from the 1800’s, the oldest in the collection are the aptly named “Dutch Squats” made around 1710-1725. There are bottles of all sorts: ink bottles, flasks (mostly whiskey), beer, soda, and mineral water bottles from the Philly area – all in the same shape.

Bottle “Stolen from Wm. S. Cheyney”

One is emblazoned with the accusation, “Stolen from Wm. S. Cheyney” dating from the days your money bought  the contents and not the bottle itself. There’s a whole exhibit of Bitters from the “medicinal” era – when the tonic was marketed as a remedy for all that ailed you. Including alcoholism.

Most blends were a combination of alcohol, morphine, opium, and cocaine, which of course in the short run made people feel better. Each category of bottles is a fascinating jaunt through history – and an engaging way to spend an hour or so. Open 10-4,  Oct 1-Dec 31, Tues-Sat,  Jan & Feb, Thurs, Fr, Sat,  March 1-May 31, Tues-Sat, June 1-Sept 30, Fr-Tues.

Saratoga National Golf Club NY
Saratoga National Golf Club NY

GOLF: Saratoga National Golf Club

Designed by a Robert Trent Jones affiliate, this challenging 18 hole course is not for beginners. Opened originally as a private club, the course and clubhouse (including a Golf Shop and Prime Restaurant) are now open to the public.

Daily fees range from $70 (Spring and Late fall, after 3pm) to $220 during peak time Racing Season, and includes golf cart with GPS yardage system, all day use of practice facility and use of clubhouse amenities. $60 to rent a premier set of clubs, bag and two sleeves of balls.

Saratoga Lake NY
Saratoga Lake NY

DRIVE: Saratoga Lake

Yep, Saratoga Springs has a body of water. Saratoga Lake is 4.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide with two beaches and several marinas. Stop for a bite to eat at Nest, on Brown’s Beach, overlooking the lake. 

DRIVE/WALK: Around Saratoga Springs

Fans of architecture and design will find nirvana just by walking Saratoga Springs’s residential neighborhoods. Union Avenue is lined with grand homes in Greek Revival, Second Empire, and Queen Anne styles.

Yaddo Gardens, Saratoga Springs NY

VISIT: Yaddo

Though the mansion itself is off-limits to all but lucky writers-in-residence, the grounds of this beautiful estate are open to the public for free.

Katrina and Spencer Trask’s lives were consumed by tragedy and sorrow (their four children died in infancy and childhood). After her husband was killed in a train accident, Katrina persevered, creating this magical retreat for artists. Visitors can wander the expansive gardens. They’re based on Italian Classical layout, with statues, fountains, and a unique 1901 sundial etched with hopeful poetry.

Saratoga Water Bottles

TOUR: Saratoga Springs History Museum at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park

Naturally, the beautifully bottled Saratoga Water comes from here. But did you know that the Christmas-favorite confection – the Peppermint Pig, as well as the potato chip were also invented in Saratoga Springs?

Wander through three floors of this 1870’s gambling casino. You’ll discover the reasons that Saratoga Springs was called “American’s Baden-Baden,” and learn the rules and regulations of mid-1800’s lake house casinos in upstate NY.

Canfield Casino, Saratoga History Museum

The 3rd floor consists of rooms from the Walworth Mansion, formerly located nearby and demolished in 1955. The prominent Walworths entertained the likes of Washington Irving and Ralph Waldo Emerson. These recreated rooms provide a peek into the mid 1800’s grandeur these writers would have enjoyed.

The 3rd floor is also apparently a hotbed of paranormal activities.  Ghosthunters investigated some pretty strange incidents, including the appearance of ghostly figures in Victorian dress, weird fluctuations in temperature, and even invisible slapping. $5, Open Wed-Sun 9-4, and daily in July and August during racing season. 

Tang Art Museum at Skidmore, Saratoga NY

VISIT: Tang Art Center on Skidmore College Campus

This small, contemporary museum makes for a perfect respite on a hot or rainy day. Most exhibits are temporary, borrowed, and based on student art.

Restaurants in Saratoga Springs NY

Fish at 30 Lake Pavilion Square Saratoga NY
Fish at 30 Lake Pavilion Square Saratoga NY

EAT: 30 Lake

After a decade in Hawaii, Chef Jeff Rayno knows seafood. Ergo, 30 Lake is the go-to spot for Raw Bar fans. Dishes like Line Caught Halibut with Skillet Fried Potatoes hit the mark. But, I’d return any time, any day for the Ahi Tuna Nachos for two (holy-moly-amazing), and Truffle Sweet Soy Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Sharing those two dishes with a glass of wine is my idea of the perfect light dinner.

Prime Restaurant at Saratoga National Golf Club NY
Prime Restaurant at Saratoga National Golf Club NY

EAT: Prime at Saratoga National

The steak here is prime, no lie. Though a few miles out of town, this clubby, fine dining restaurant, located in a top public Golf Club, is always included in the Best Of Saratoga’s Restaurants list.

Mrs Londons Saratoga Springs NY
Mrs Londons Saratoga Springs NY

EAT/LUNCH: Mrs. London’s Bakery

The pastries are immense at this long-standing Saratoga favorite. They’re the perfect ending to a meal of soup, salad, and/or sandwich.

15 Church, Saratoga Springs NY
15 Church, Saratoga Springs NY

EAT: Locals Recommend

As a college, racing, spa town, Saratoga Springs isn’t at a loss for decent restaurants – in fact, there are over 100 of them. Locals recommend Max London’s for pizza and “not overly expensive” fare. Mouzon House for funky artsy New Orleans ambience. Chianti for Italian. Hattie’s for famous fried chicken. And 15 Church, which, according to most, is the best upscale dining in town.

Where to Stay in Saratoga Springs 

Suite, Adelphi Hotel Saratoga Springs NY
Suite, Adelphi Hotel Saratoga Springs NY

STAY: Adelphi Hotel

Good things come to those who wait. The much-anticipated Adelphi Hotel, meticulously reborn after nearly 5 years, is a brighter, lighter, more splendiferous version of it’s former Victorian self. As the highest-end luxury hotel in Saratoga Spring, the Adelphi Hotel is a clear MAVEN FAVORITE, with it’s own write up HERE. 

STAY: Pavilion Grand Hotel

Initially built as a luxury condo complex, rooms at this boutique hotel are immaculate, contemporary and larger than almost any other in town. Some, like the 2,300 sq ft. two-bedroom, two-level Penthouse Suites – are many times the size of a typical New York City apartment. And they come with appointments that any city (or country) dweller would crave.

From here, it’s  just a mile to the Saratoga Race Track from the hotel. In nice weather, it’s a lovely walk down mansion-lined streets.

First Impressions of the Pavilion Grand Hotel

Pavilion Grand Hotel Lobby, Saratoga NY

One block off Saratoga Spring’s main shopping artery, Broadway, the hotel is somewhat removed from the crowds. Yet it’s still part of downtown. The lobby, in the vivid hues of racing silks, is a jewel-toned fantasia, offering a funky, colorful welcome to a delightful stay.

The lobby is so unique and eye-catching in fact, as I was checking in, photographers were setting up for a Ralph Lauren shoot.

The kaleidoscopic lobby is small by design. That’s because the owners decided to use ground-level space for a fantastic healthy food cafe, The Bistro,  and an in-house 4-treatment room salon and spa, Make Me Fabulous.  (You can also call for private spa treatments in your room).

Pavilion Grand Hotel Suites

Pavilion Grand Two Bedroom Suite, Saratoga NY

Each of three floors has its own theme and color palate. Horse Racing on the 2nd floor. Mineral Springs on the 3rd floor. And Saratoga Springs History on the 4th.  

All 48 suites ranging from 600 sq. ft. to 2,300 sq. ft., are contemporary, with décor in soothing creams and grays punched by teal or orange (depending on the floor) and artsy photos reflecting Saratoga life.

Order a Cook-In Chef

Pavilion Grand Kitchen, Saratoga NY

Each suite is equipped with a full sized fridge, cook-top, oven, microwave, a dishwasher, and a washer-dryer – evidence of the hotels first iteration as a luxury condo.

Pavilion Grand Suite, Second Floor, Saratoga NY

The two-level “Penthouse Loft Suites” are designed for parties and get-togethers. You don’t even need to venture out to have a great time.

Kitchens feature refrigerators, cook-top stoves, ovens, microwaves, and dishwashers. They are also stocked with Henkel Knives, first class plates and cutlery, and even martini glasses. So, plan your bachelorette party getaway here. You can hire a chef to cook for you in your own suite! Or just gather a group of friends and check out the baths, thoroughbreds – and a concert.

Pavilion Grand Guest Room, Saratoga NY

Beds, dressed in the highest-end sheets and duvets, are ultra comfortable. Bathrooms are large, with stylish tile floors, granite counters and bathtub showers.

Garden Suite, Pavilion Grand Hotel, Saratoga NY

Penthouse suites also feature huge outdoor patios – some with gardens – all with comfy seating. On nice days, just enjoying a book and/or a glass of wine with the sun on your face is nirvana.

Dining and Amenities at Pavilion Grand Hotel

The Pavilion Grand is strutting its stuff as part of the rebranded “Pavilion Square.” 

Make Me Fabulous Salon and Spa (originally in Ballston Spa)

This in-house salon “makes fabulous” all the cover models for Herlife Magazine, and provides facials and body treatments as well. (Hair, makeup, lash extensions, waxing, body scrubs, massage, reflexology, etc.  No nails, however).

30 Lake, – see under “Where to Eat” 

Blue Peacock Bistro Pavilion Grand Hotel Saratoga NY
Blue Peacock Bistro Pavilion Grand Hotel Saratoga NY

The Bistro

Guests and non-guests alike can pick up something healthy, discover their next favorite craft beer, sit at a cute Bistro table, or take-away. The Bistro’s most innovative addition is the “Wine Kiosk” – a key-card operated fine wine dispenser.  Have your one, three, or six ounce glass of wine at any hour of the day or night! You can also buy a whole bottle of wine, and cheese wedge, for an impromptu romantic evening in or picnic out.

Suite and lofts from $179-$2,100 for largest two-bedroom Penthouse Loft suites. Most costly during racing season – includes free wi-fi. Parking $15 per day.

Gideon Putnam Hotel, Saratoga Springs NY

STAY: Gideon Putnam Hotel

If you prefer traditional and iconic, book a room here. 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.

Batcheller Mansion Inn Saratoga Springs NY
Batcheller Mansion Inn Saratoga Springs NY

STAY: Batcheller Mansion

This ornate, baronial home is the first choice for travelers who seek out luxury B&B’s. It’s a nice alternative to full-service hotels.

Blue bottles of Saratoga Springs Water

4 thoughts on “Saratoga Springs NY: And Your Horse Naturally Won”

Leave a Comment