I think I distinctly remember the exact moment when I decided I needed to stop procrastinating my plans to take a relaxing solo trip (NYC to Saratoga Springs), away from all the schedules and timelines, and just spend some quality time with my favorite person in the world – myself!
My colleague Sam always spoke of all these beautiful spots in upstate New York and for a woman like me who thrives on adventure, but hadn’t had a taste of it for quite some time, this was exactly the push I needed.
With a little help from Sam’s older itineraries, and a good 3 hours spent searching for information on YouTube and travel websites, I finally zeroed in on a plan – a fun, solo road trip to Saratoga Springs, with pit stops along the way at some beautiful and unique destinations.
This drive was a fantastic pick-me-up where I could mix and match various interests along the way, with the anticipation of a well-deserved soak in a hot spa when I arrived at my destination.
Here is a quick summary of my described stops along the way. I suggest you pick 2-3 things to do in Saratoga Springs from my list depending on your mood and do different places each time because there is so much to see and experience along the Hudson River Valley.
- Queens Botanical Gardens
- Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow
- West Point Museum
- Culinary Institute of America
- Hyde Park: FDR estate and Vanderbilt mansion
- Mohonk Preserve
- Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
- Saugerties: Lighthouse and Sculpture garden
Here are some things I packed with me, especially since I was going by myself and wouldn’t have any back-ups:
- 3 extra pairs of clothes, just in case I decided to stay longer
- A good shoe for walking and running, because they’re so much more comfortable than heels for driving and also for exploring places
- A raincoat, because you can never be too sure of a spell of rain here and there
- A few granola bars because I love snacking while I drive, but also wanted a healthier option than crisps or chocolates
- A portable charger, since I was using Google Maps to get to each destination and I didn’t want to end up losing my way
- A haversack instead of a suitcase, because it’s much easier to transport them
- Lots of sunscreen because my skin is quite sensitive to UV rays and I end up with freckles all over if I don’t use enough
- I also carried a little pouch of basic medicines and a first aid kit in my car, in case of any emergencies
I’m going to give you some more details about each stop, and also some tips that can help you out just in case you’re inspired by my trip too.
Queens Botanical Gardens
I decided to take my car and drive up north along the 678, in just 30 minutes I arrived at the Queens Botanical Garden. It is usually perfect for walking out my morning fidgets before I start the long drive.
I was in luck since it was growing season, so I visited the Botanical Garden where I checked out the Fragrance Walk, and the Herb Garden, which got all my senses engaged and awakened my sense of joy in the morning.
On recommendation I also saw the areas where there are the native plant roof garden and the floral border where sometimes one can spot a young bride and groom trying to capture the bloom in their new relationship using the metaphorical background of floral blooms. I’m a sucker for beautiful, quaint locations where I can just soak in all that fresh air and the smell of flowers, and this was the perfect spot.
Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow
Having stretched out my legs at the gardens, it was time to hit the road and get to Tarrytown, a 45-minute drive from there, to immerse myself, at least briefly, in the legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Washington Irving, a writer, statesman, and traveler, captured the magic of this Hudson River landscape with stories like Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The Headless Horseman is said to be buried at the cemetery along with other luminaries like Elizabeth Arden, Andrew Carnegie, William Rockefeller, and Irving himself, so go there first. There’s even a Headless Horseman Museum here!
I follow this up with a visit to Sunnyside, Irving’s beautifully restored house with his desk and books, which is managed by a non-profit that offers tours. I spent enough time here and felt like I was transported back 150 years to the sleepy farming town where Irving lived his last 25 years. I like restorative stops for food and drinks along the way and I halted at Mint’s Premium Foods in Tarrytown – it’s a must visit!
West Point Museum
Now feeling renewed again, it was time to continue my road trip on to Highlands Park and the West Point Museum.
I am not a big fan of museums, but after hearing so much about this spot from Sam, I thought I might enjoy this fascinating and free museum that houses a variety of collections on four floors. The exhibits included memorabilia from the revolutionary war to modern warfare, as well as depicted the life of a cadet at West Point, a must-see for future applicants.
As I toured the museum, I felt a sense of pride in our young men and women who give their lives in service to our country to keep us all safe.
The Culinary Institute of America
Driving on further, the Hyde Park area had an incredible number of things to do and see, so I chose to visit one place each trip to keep my time and energy manageable.
My next stop came just before Hyde Park – the Culinary Institute of America. The institute offers a 4 pm, student-led, one-hour tour that covers the history of the place, some aspects of how students learn various skills, and the teaching kitchens. I loved the walkthrough the baking and pastry section (I have a massive sweet tooth) with its aroma of fresh bread and sweet pastries just making me want to dive into all the dough (laughs).
You can make a reservation in advance to eat at the Institute’s restaurants which is worth considering at different seasons, to sample the cuisine as it changes with the locally available fresh ingredients. Although I haven’t done it this time, I promised myself I sure would the next.
Hyde Park: Franklin D. Roosevelt Estates
Hyde Park itself houses the estate of Franklin D. Roosevelt with a library and interactive museum which is a joy for history buffs. The only library to be built by a sitting president, the tour at this museum is a must, and it definitely ranks as one of the better presidential libraries around, with impressive exhibits, mini-movies and extensive grounds with walking trails when the weather is pleasant.
The museum houses the life and politics of FDR’s life, the longest sitting president, including information on the depression era as well as WWII. This place kept me occupied for a few hours at least. The tour guide there was the sweetest man, who saw that I was quite lost and immediately came to my aid. He told me how he’d been working there for almost 20 years now, and new every nook and corner by-heart.
Post this experience, I headed on down to Val-kill Cottage located on the estate. This was Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage, a humble abode for such an extraordinary lady and the tour and a visit here was so serene and also informative. Looking at that cottage made me realize how much I’d love to retire one day with a cottage like that of my own.
Hyde Park: The Vanderbilt Mansion
For a while, I wanted to leave politics behind and take a peek into the glamorous world of society parties, so I headed over to the 54-room Vanderbilt mansion.
By all accounts a modest establishment for the Vanderbilt family, it includes beautiful blooms in the garden during the summer months. The tour is an hour and provides a closer look at the overstated opulence of the of that era.
On my drive out I made a brief stop at the Millionaire’s Viewpoint for a lookout over the Hudson River that is well worth the stop. Of course, I took a few self-timed selfies here, to make memories of what I hoped would be the first of many such solo adventures.
Now that I had had a fair share of mansions, history, and buildings, I decided to make my way to the Mohonk Preserve on the Shawangunk Ridge for some intimate time with nature.
Sam told me to be aware that summer weekends are busy here and parking lots get full early in the day, so choose the month, day, and arrival times wisely. I chose to stay close to the Visitor’s Center and talk a walk on the Sensory Trail that includes the following places:
Weinstein Butterfly Garden
Truly such a beautiful place. I saw butterflies in so many gorgeous colors and patterns, and ones whose existence I couldn’t have fathomed until I had seen them for myself.
I also saw a bunch of people take their mountain bike off the back of the car and ride through the preserve, maybe I’ll give this a shot next time. There were also plenty of people going on a hike on one of the many trails around the preserve, again saving this for another day. Winter is also an excellent time to visit, with cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing activities available to the cold weather adventurer.
I took my camera out and captured as much as I could, all the while in awe of the beauty of nature’s artistry.
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
Shaking the sweet-smelling grass off my clothes and sports shoes, I drove on up to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome which is an excellent place, because I love engines and old planes, cars, and motorcycles. Yes, I know it doesn’t fit with the stereotypes about women, but somehow adrenaline and vehicles have always been more appealing to me than just sitting in the driver’s seat.
This museum had some great examples of early aviation history from 1900 to 1939. My grandfather was a pilot, and all his stories when I was younger got me absolutely intrigues about planes. The four museum buildings are only open to the public from May to October, so be aware of this when visiting.
The most exciting part of this place is the airshow weekends, so I was disappointed to have missed their 2 pm show. But yes, definitely on my checklist. At the airshow, you can witness barnstorming and Lindberg-era flying shows.
This place is run by volunteers who keep these old planes and cars alive and running and whose dedication to the preservation of this important piece of our history is to be highly commended.
Saugerties: Lighthouse and Sculpture Garden
From the aerodrome, I drove up to the town of Saugerties where a walk to the lighthouse offered a wonderful view of the Hudson River. The half a mile walk from the carpark is through wetlands which can be submerged at high tide, so ensure you have tall boots before venturing out on this peaceful walk during low tide.
The flora and birds along the river and the spectacular view at the end were worth the short walk. The brick lighthouse had some interesting local Saugerties history to read. There are picnic benches here where I thoroughly enjoyed the serenity and quiet, munched on some bread and cheese before I got back on the road.
I was interested in a very different kind of experience in Saugerties, so I headed out to Opus 40 located on 50 Fite Road, a sculpture garden designed within a stone quarry.
This is the brainchild of artist Harvey Fite, who spent 37 years turning a stone quarry into a display case for his works of art, a work of art within itself. This place is hard to describe, it’s best to visit it first-hand and experience it for yourself.
Be aware that they are only open May to November in good weather so check the website before heading out here. I was recommended to wear comfortable shoes, as I was told that I would need to scramble over rocks and crevices on uneven footing, and explore the 6 unusual acres which kept me charmed and entertained.
After I was done, I headed into Saugerties town where 9W meets Main street for a good selection of coffee shops and cafes that offer quick bites and comfort foods. The much-needed food and drink helped me finish the last stretch of the drive, about an hour and 20 minutes into Saratoga Springs.
The Beauty of Saratoga Springs
It was already quite late into the evening by the time I reached Saratoga. I must admit, I didn’t expect my pit stops to take as long as they did, but I was pleasantly drawn towards the whole experience of exploring these small and amazing places on my own.
I woke up the next morning and took recommendations from the owner of the BnB I was staying at. In a nutshell, these are the things I indulged in:
Exploring all the naturally occurring springs throughout the Saratoga State Park
Indulged in a delicious picnic at the Congress Park, where I also spent some time with a lovely family that had also come there from NYC for the weekend.
Checked out the SPAC – Saratoga Performing Arts Center – where a local theatre group was performing.
A little later in the afternoon, I headed out to the famous Saratoga Race Track, which seemed to be the liveliest spot I had been to so far in this town
Before I headed out for dinner, I indulged in a therapeutic mineral spa at the Roosevelt Baths and Spa. I had read about this place on the internet, and I wasn’t disappointed!
Finally, I walked into one of the many lively restaurants along Broadway and ordered a delicious snack and a pint of beer. Truly, everyone here was so warm and welcoming
I do believe that Saratoga Springs is one of those places I’d want to visit again, with more days in hand as well. I already have plans to bring my parents along the next time, and maybe ask Sam’s family to join us too!
Perfect End to a Solo Adventure
As I drove back to NYC, I felt so active and energized, and absolutely ready to take on the upcoming week at work. I realized how sometimes just a little time off can do wonders for the body, mind, and soul. I don’t think I’ve ever walked into work with such a big smile on my face, and no one except Sam knew exactly why. My plan for the rest of the year? Take as many road trips as I can, discover the beautiful, hidden gems of New York, and make little journals about all of my adventures!
You may also like to read about how you can SPEND A FEW DAYS IN SARATOGA SPRINGS.