I was provided with an all expense paid trip as part of Travel Media Showcase 2018 for purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
Well known for the horse races and mineral springs, I was pleasantly surprised at all the other things there are to do in the area. Saratoga Springs is one of those special getaway spots where everything is pretty close to perfect.
The quaint and historical city’s tree-lined streets and Victorians mansions with porch swings swaying and gardens brimming with colorful flora are stunning.
World-class horse racing, renowned performing arts and natural springs spas, along with golf courses, museums, fabulous boutiques and restaurants mean there is something for everyone. You can almost walk to everything in town!
Saratoga Springs is one of the oldest tourist destinations in the United States and offers ample accommodation choices in elegant hotels, historic bed and breakfasts or comfortable inns.
On August 3, 1863, gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion, and future congressman John Morrissey organized Saratoga’s first thoroughbred meet a month after the Battle of Gettysburg. At the old dirt track on Union Ave., later known as Horse Haven, Morrissey staged a four day meet. Over 5,000 people came to watch and wager on the eight races.
Although Saratoga Race Course is considered the third oldest race track/course in the U.S., by many accounts, it is actually the oldest organized sporting venue of any kind in the country.
Any time of year a visit to the race course is a must. Filmmakers and other media have sought out Saratoga and the race course as both the main focus or as a set. Filming in Saratoga, and at Saratoga Race Course, assures original beauty that no set designer could reproduce, i.e. films such as “Seabiscuit,” “Saratoga,” “The Horse Whisperer,” “Billy Bathgate,” “Ghost Story,” and “My Old Man.” A scene in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, “Diamonds are Forever,” features a scene at the Saratoga Race Course.
Racing season (July and August) is just a matter of 7 or 8 weeks and a visit during racing season can be exciting and full, crowded and intense. I can’t wait to visit to see the races!
Where to Stay
If you want luxury and don’t mind what it costs, The Adelphi Hotel is located right in the heart of downtown and is in walking distance of most of what you will want to see.
Originally opened in 1877, the Adelphi is the last surviving hotel of Saratoga’s Golden Age, when the city was known as “America’s playground for the rich and famous. It was the spot for vacationers coming to visit the natural spas and springs who wanted to stay in luxury. Prominent politicians would use the hotel bar to meet with movers and shakers of the day to pen deals bringing horse racing and casinos to the region.
The Adelphi Hotel features less than 40 luxury rooms and suites. The hotel is a rare survivor from the city’s heydays. The property overlooks historic Broadway Avenue. Saved from the wrecking ball during a period in Saratoga Springs when buildings were constantly disappearing, a Nebraska couple stepped up to the challenge and turned out to be Adelphi’s savior. Restored room by room, the vandalized hotel was returned to a mid 19th century splendor in 1980. To say it was outdated is an understatement.
The hotel was purchased in 2012 for $4.5 million, closed and completely gutted down to the studs and rafters. It was completely closed for almost five years. and reopened after a 28 million dollar renovation as a fully modernized hotel that still retained its historic feel.
The center staircase, that goes up to the 32-room hotel, was hand sanded and shored up to meet code. Each room has at least one piece of restored Victorian furniture, mostly divans and chairs. A Saratoga trunk, from the days when people traveled with one, is on display on the balcony. The old massive mirrors – framed in decorative wood frames hang in the hallways and the ballroom. Behind the front desk are old glass dishes from the original hotel.
The Adelphi Hotel offers fine Italian linens, cashmere throws on each bed, and the design in the bottom sheets that matches the designs on the wall covers. Each room offers cloth covered shoe boxes where guests can place their shoes to be shined, hangers engraved with the hotel logo, heated towels and toilet seat and more. For this luxury, a basic room starts at about $350 to $400 a night.
Another perfect option is the Saratoga Arms. Saratoga Arms is a beautifully restored brick hotel also located in the heart of historic downtown. It was built in 1870. The structure today is actually two adjoining buildings. In recent years it was a rooming house run by Alice Bode, a Brooklyn woman who inherited the building in the 1950’s. She ran it until her death in 1995. It was purchased in 1997 by the current owners who oversaw extensive renovations. It reopened as a luxury sixteen room inn in February of 1999.
All 30+ guestrooms combine turn of the century ambience with modern amenities. All rooms have ensuite baths, several with original claw foot tubs. Each shower in the original building has a hand painted tile with an interesting Saratoga quote or fact.
Period antiques, family treasures and custom décor make each room welcoming. Saratoga Arms has the charm of a bed and breakfast paired with the luxury of a boutique hotel.
You can start each day in the morning with a complimentary made-to-order breakfast and enjoy small plates throughout the afternoon and evening. The complimentary Guest Pantry offers well thought out snacks and is available throughout your stay, offering all sorts of goodies, including freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
With rates starting at around $210 per night, you won’t be sorry you stayed at Saratoga Arms.
The Gideon Putnam Hotel is a boutique hotel that is full of historic value and decades of stories. Named after the “founding father” of Saratoga Springs, the hotel was opened in 1935 to allow people to benefit from healing qualities of the Roosevelt Spa.
Although it was intended to provide accommodation for those seeking a regimen of hydrotherapy, the hotel also proved a natural draw for visitors of celebrity status. Bob Hope and Fred Astaire graced the registries. Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes, made the Gideon Putman a regular summer retreat. Cary Grant and the Vanderbilt Whitneys were also among the guests. Robert Redford stayed at the hotel in 1997 while filming scenes from The Horse Whisperer.
Commonly referred to as the “Jewel of Saratoga”, the Gideon Putnam stands as a reminder of Saratoga’s past as it adapts to serve the needs of the present. The hotel is listed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s guide to Historic Hotels of America.
In 2018 a bitterly cold winter caused a water main break in the 80 year old hotel. Four months of restoration had the resort reopen after a total rebuild of the hotel’s key infrastructure that carefully and beautifully restored many parts of the hotel. Refurbishment of all of the hotel rooms and bathrooms added modern convenience while seamlessly maintaining the historic charm. This restoration carried over to the corridors, public spaces, as well as the restaurant.
Rates at the Gideon Putnam can be as low as $129 per night. A bargain for the area. Considering the location and the services offered, a weekend here can be the ideal spot.
A daily amenity fee of $25 will be added to all Gideon Putnam Hotel Room Rates with stay dates from May 24 through September 2, 2019.
The Amenity Fee includes:
- Valet parking during Racing Season (July 19 – September 2)
- High-speed WiFi
- Use of Guest Bathrobe
- Bottled Saratoga water
- Use of Steam Room
- Shuttle to Saratoga Race Course, downtown, and other attractions
- 10% discount on spa services
- Use of Exercise Room
- Use of Victoria Pool (typically open July – August; weather dependent)
- Admission to Saratoga Automobile Museum
- Admission to National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame
Known for its naturally carbonated springs with their legendary curative powers, it was an exciting time in Saratoga Springs during the early 1800s. Touting the strong healing properties of the springs, the village attracted politicians and prominent citizens. As word spread among the elite, the town began its rapid rise as the “Queen of Spas“. Its splendid Victorian Era hotels and restaurants, representing the Golden Age, fulfilled high society’s thirst for the extravagant.
Although horse racing and casinos have taken center stage today, that isn’t how Saratoga Springs started. Today, locals and visitors alike can drink and bathe in Saratoga mineral baths at The Roosevelt Baths and Spa at the Gideon Putnam Resort, to ease ailments, improve skin and overall health.
The bubbling mineral springs of Saratoga put forth cold, carbonated water from deep within the earth. Green in color from a concentration of minerals and a stable 55 degrees in temperature, bathing in these effervescent waters is a natural way to relieve stress, relax and refresh the body.
The healing benefits of the Saratoga mineral baths were well known to the Native Americans who lived in the region. They believed the water had healthful and medicinal properties, and highly revered it.
Once discovered by settlers to the area, bathing in the waters of The Spa City was purported to cure everything from skin diseases to gout and constipation. The allure of the mineral springs was inspiration for entrepreneurs to carve resorts and spas out of wilderness, inviting the company of the well-to-do, and creating an elegant destination location for those seeking health and wellness.
The popularity of the mineral baths of Saratoga throughout the 19th century continued to grow. Patients were commonly referred to the baths by their physicians for a variety of conditions, with heart patients in particular highly recommended for “taking the cure”.
Established in 1935, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa at Saratoga Springs opened thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt’s visionary act to preserve the Saratoga Springs. Authentic and historic, today the Roosevelt Baths & Spa offers a transforming hydrotherapy spa experience with naturally healing treatments, performed by an attentive staff.
Still in operation with the original buildings, tiles and tubs, you can luxuriate in a mineral bath just like the rich and famous did at the turn of the century. As you lower yourself into a deep porcelain tub filled with emerald-green (brownish really) bath water you immediately begin to relax.
Heated just to body temperature, the effervescent bubbles tingle and begin to collect all over your skin. You feel a sensation of warmth, lightness and relaxation that soothes you, and experience a feeling of well-being that remains long after you’ve come out of the bath.
I’ll admit to being slightly turned off by the color but willingly lowered myself into the tub. Once you get beyond the color, the relaxation takes over and you will wonder why you ever hesitated.
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All throughout Saratoga Springs you can find “taps” into the springs. Some are crystal clear, fresh and delicious. At those you can often see locals filling their water bottles to take home and enjoy the delicious clear water on a regular basis. Some are full of minerals with a sulfur smell and taste.
Stop at the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center and pick up a Saratoga Springs Self-Guided Tour map. The map outlines all the taps you can visit to sample the waters.
Hall of Springs and Saratoga Performing Arts Center
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is located within the Saratoga Spa State Park. The 5,200 seat amphitheater is home to classical shows and concerts throughout the year. Lawn seats can hold an additional 20,000 people. The stage is home to the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra performances.
Additional shows take place right next to the amphitheater in Spa Little Theater, The Hall of Springs, or the newly built Charles R. Wood Stage.
Some of what happens here are the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival, Out of This World Festival: An Exploration of Art & Cosmos and the Freihoffer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. Chances are no matter when you visit, there will be something going on at SPAC!
The Hall of Springs was the first building to have its cornerstone laid during the construction of the Modern Spa, 1933-35. The building was intended as a Drink Hall patterned after the European example.
The purpose of the Hall of Springs may be better understood if it’s compared with a German Beer Hall, with one major difference; the water was seen as being healthy for mind and body. But the social reasons for coming to a drinking hall were comparable. Three types of water from the springs would be piped into the Hall for patrons to drink while they listened to live orchestral music and strolled the grounds. Unfortunately, the waters lost carbonation in storage and corroded the copper-lined storage tanks which caused this custom to end.
The Hall of Springs was where the construction of the Modern Spa began and it was considered to be the jewel of the entire complex.
Today the Hall of Springs is used as a wedding venue and for local events.
There are many great self-guided walking tour routes that can bring you to different areas of Saratoga Springs. Along the way, you may learn some fun and interesting historical facts, and you’ll get to know the city better.
A walking tour of the North Broadway area is perfect for those that love to visit olden eras. The architecture of the homes and the stories behind those homes and their original owners will keep you interested for hours.
You can take both guided or self-guided tours and can find all the information needed at the Saratoga Springs Heritage Visitor Center.
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is a beautiful building. It’s intent is to preserve and promote the history of Thoroughbred racing in America and honor the sport’s most accomplished participants in the Official National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
The cost to visit the museum is $8 per adult ($5 senior citizen) and $5 per school aged child. The museum is a perfect way to spend a morning before hitting the races!
Saratoga Springs is home to many amazing restaurants featuring a variety of cuisines. Diverse menus and settings ensures that even the pickiest diner will find something to please their palate. In addition, downtown Saratoga Springs’ nightlife is always hopping. Whether you are looking for a friendly pub, some wine and jazz, or a place to dance the night away. In addition, there are an abundance of craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries to help quench your thirst.
Longfellows was a favorite for me. Owned by the same people as the popular Olde Bryan Inn in Saratoga Springs, the Longfellow offers a menu that makes it hard to choose what you will eat.
The restaurant has been creatively reconstructed from a 1912 dairy barn and is located just a short drive from downtown. Lonfellows features intimate dining rooms on four different levels, each with its own personality and architectural character.
Hattie’s Restaurant is a local’s and visitor’s heaven. A simple spot that could go un-noticed, the restaurant is small in size but HUGE in great food and hospitality!
Hattie’s serves a variety of Southern and Louisiana cuisine, including their award winning famous Southern fried chicken.
The Hattie’s Story: Hattie’s Chicken Shack originally opened in 1938 and has been a Saratoga Springs favorite ever since.
Hattie Gray was born and raised along the banks of the Mississippi River in Saint Francisville, Louisiana. Although her mother died during childbirth and there is no official record of her birth, Hattie estimated she was born about 1900.
As a young woman, Hattie left Saint Francisville for New Orleans where she went to school and lived for several years. While visiting her sister in Chicago, Hattie met and began working for the A.E. Staley’s, a family that had made a fortune processing cornstarch into household products. For many seasons Hattie traveled with the Staley’s between Chicago, Miami and Saratoga Springs. By 1938 Hattie had saved enough money to leave the Staley’s, move permanently to Saratoga and open Hattie’s Chicken Shack.
It wasn’t just serving good food that made Hattie’s Chicken Shack so well loved. It was what Hattie did for the community that truly set her apart. Hattie and her husband Bill helped countless people — giving them work when no one else would, helping them through school or difficult times, or simply just sitting them down and feeding them. Hattie’s generosity had no boundaries. She treated everyone the same, from the elite to the downtrodden, and she welcomed everyone.
All these years later Hattie’s is still the place to go when you visit Saratoga Springs. The restaurant/chef won a televised fried chicken “throw-down” against celebrity chef Bobby Flay so you know you’ll be eating the best!
This is just a small sampling of all there is to do in Saratoga Springs. No matter when you visit, you will find so much to do, you may have to plan another trip!