Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting one of my sorority sisters from college in Saratoga Springs. Despite having gone to school nearby at the State University of New York at Albany, I’d never taken the time to explore this beautiful area. Now was my chance. After spending my days drinking wine and (unsuccessfully) betting at the track, exploring lush green parks and savoring free samples at artisanal shops — and my nights restaurant and bar hopping — there’s no doubt I will be returning soon, especially as it’s so easy to get to from my home of New York City.
Whenever I’m traveling on the East Coast, the first method of transportation I check is Megabus. I’ve never been disappointed. While certainly not the most luxurious way to get from Point A to B, it’s comfortable enough. And at $35 total for a six-hour round-trip ride from NYC to Albany — located near Saratoga Springs — you can’t complain. That being said, you may regret not having a car once up there if you don’t have a friend to chauffeur you around. If you don’t want to rent a car, try to get a hotel/hostel right in the city center — many of the activities, restaurants, bars and attractions are walkable — and then you can take cabs or buses as needed, which are relatively affordable.
Note: MegaBus does have an NYC-Saratoga Springs route, but it doesn’t run as frequently as the NYC-Albany route.
Although I stayed at my friend’s house, I did a little digging to find some budget-friendly properties in the Saratoga Springs area. The Robin Hood Motel is conveniently located near the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), Saratoga Racetrack and Saratoga Spa State Park. Moreover, the motel has a swimming pool, picnic area with grills, flatscreen television, free wifi and refrigerators and microwaves in case you want to save money by cooking your own food. During racing season, they offer a package for $65 per person based on double occupancy that includes overnight accommodation, complimentary breakfast, Clubhouse (seated) admission at the Saratoga Race Track and entrance into the post parade program.
Saratoga Race Track
From mid-July until early September, the Saratoga Race Track is the main attraction of Saratoga Springs, with admission being $5 general admission or $8 for the clubhouse with seats. Get there early to claim a spot on the lawn or some picnic tables and bring a picnic lunch — complete with wine and beer — and enjoy the atmosphere. You can bet as low as $1 on the races, which makes it accessible even to those who aren’t quite sure what they’re doing (like me, who bets on horses based on how “fun” their names are). Tip: Instead of paying for parking in the lots park on one of the neighborhood side streets for free.
Savor Free Samples
Walk around the artisan-filled town of Saratoga Springs and you’ll have the chance to savor an array of free samples and talk with local purveyors. Start at the Saratoga Salsa & Spice Company where you can try salsas, sauces and even a unique salt you put in your beer. From there, venture to Saratoga Olive Oil to sample over 50 different infused and varietal olive oils, dark and light balsamics and sea salts, with some choices including white truffle olive oil, wild mushroom and sage olive oil, black cherry balsamic vinegar, traditional 18-year old balsamic, Vermont maple balsamic and smoked bacon Cajun sea salt. If you’re interested in learning more about the oils, they offer tours of the shop. And at The Savory Pantry, newly opened in July 2014, the focus is handcrafted artisan food and drink products, with the chance to savor free samples like raw wild black sage honey, cookie spread, pesto sauce, white truffle almond butter, coffee-flavored caramel and more.
Nature Walk In Congress Park
Congress Park is a pristine park full of attractions and things to do, like sipping from natural mineral springs, riding a whimsical carousel and seeing the many ducks at the pond. There’s also a pool, the Saratoga Springs History Museum, the historic Canfield Casino from the 1870s (a National Historic Landmark) and lots of open green space and paths for picnicking and walking. Events like concerts, organized runs and shows happen here frequently. After walking the park exit onto Union Street to see the many beautiful Victorian homes.
Dining And Nightlife
For a delicious and budget-friendly brunch, Lillian’s Restaurant is highly recommended. All of their hearty dishes are under $15 and are served in an ambient Victorian era space. Some menu highlights include a panini with baked Virginia ham, Swiss and Dijon; steak teriyaki marinated in Asian rice wine sauce; and vegetarian ravioli tossed in sweet red bell pepper pesto. You can also opt for their $20 buffet menu including fresh fruit with yogurt, fresh baked pastries, almond French toast, eggs Benedict, crispy bacon, sausage, an omelet station, potatoes, juice and hot beverages.
If you like seafood, The Merry Monk is known for its mussel menu, with some choices including Thai with coconut milk, red curry and ginger; Bisque-style with lobster cream and sweet paprika; and Americana with crispy bacon, shallots, blue cheese and white wine. They also serve a wide-selection of craft beers from around New York, as well as the usual American bar food fare.
For a fun night out, Saratoga City Tavern has five floors of unique offerings, whether you’re looking for an ambient rooftop experience, relaxed library room with a pool table or a hard core dance club. If you just want to dance, Thirteen next door is a true club.
If you want something relaxed the Henry Street Taproom focuses on farm to table food, charcuterie and American craft beer, including sours, IPAs, stouts, ales, wheats, lagers, Belgian-style beers, wheats, ledgers and gluten-free beers. All of their staff are cicerone-certified, and can help you create the perfect pairing.
Have you visited Saratoga Springs? What hotels, restaurants and activities would you recommend? Please share in the comments below.