Saratoga Springs isn't just for the horses; Newsday travel writer Scott Vogel explores all of the fun things to do in this upstate New York town.  Credit: Newsday/Jeffrey Basinger, Scott Vogel

Long Islanders have always had a compelling excuse to visit one of the New York State's most enjoyable, adorable and, well, heat-free summertime destinations — Saratoga Springs — even before the New York Racing Association moved the Belmont Stakes north while the Elmont racetrack undergoes renovations. Horses chasing each other around a track is only but one of the entertainments in this historic upstate village.

“There’s nothing else like it,” said Elizabeth Sobol, head of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), whose outdoor amphitheater has long provided a summer home for the New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra and artists making concert tour stops.

Between that and the robust bar and restaurant scene, not to mention its historical significance — the defeat of the British at Saratoga marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War — there’s almost too much to see and do, particularly over a single weekend. But give it a shot.

Friday, 3:15 p.m.: Take a soak back in time

Saratoga Springs is often called America’s first resort town, a distinction it owes to past seismic and geologic activity that causes mineral water with natural carbonation to bubble up to the earth’s surface. Claims that its springs could cure ailments from malaria to diabetes led generations of well-heeled Americans to seek healing in Saratoga, and while science would eventually claim otherwise, the springs continue to heal the spirit in ways science can’t possibly understand. For proof, indulge in a 40-minute soak at Roosevelt Baths & Spa, which owes its name to Depression-era WPA origins and a president who’d himself sought relief from polio in Saratoga’s waters.

A room for mineral soaks at Roosevelt Baths & Spa...

A room for mineral soaks at Roosevelt Baths & Spa in Saratoga Springs. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

“Back in the day, they did 2,500 of these daily, and doctors used to write scripts for the baths,” an attendant named Colleen offered during a presoak speech in a private room, explaining that the cast-iron bathtubs are 1935 originals, the naturally cold water is warmed to body temperature, and that it turns an amber color “when it hits the air, oxidizing it, so it looks like my hair color.” By the end of the session, you can go full Calgon, leaving the cares of the world behind, along with any lingering stiffness from that three-hour drive upstate.

4:30 p.m.: Imbibe at the happiest hour in town

It makes no sense that a Mexican restaurant should be the place to while away a Saratoga afternoon … until you see the sign for bargain margaritas ($12 gets you 2-for-1) and an interesting menu of $5 bar snacks at Cantina, allowing you to both sample an intriguing dip comprising roasted corn, chipotle aioli and lightly fried shrimp and set a record for draining an entire cone of tortilla chips. Arrows pointing to the roof, meanwhile, while helpful, give no indication of the merriment they lead to, a space with the vibe of an exclusive private event but none of the stuffiness, a lively expanse of potted plants and outdoor sofa-ness offering peerless views of Broadway, Saratoga’s busiest street.

6 p.m.: Check in with the Gilded Age

The sumptuous, old world Saratoga Arms hotel. 

The sumptuous, old world Saratoga Arms hotel.  Credit: Scott Vogel

That said, Broadway is best enjoyed at street level, or better yet while ensconced in a wicker chair on the wraparound porch at the Saratoga Arms hotel, which dates back to 1870, a time when no chandelier, staircase or ceiling medallion was safe from the ornate impulses of the age, and mercifully so. In addition to its porch, the 31-room stunner, along with its reading room and other beautifully appointed public spaces, evokes not just another era but another era of traveling, one in which rest and calm contemplation, rather than frenzied sightseeing, was the goal (rooms from $209).

8 p.m.: Dine historically

Dining in a historical landmark at the Olde Bryan Inn...

Dining in a historical landmark at the Olde Bryan Inn in Saratoga Springs.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

That Alexander Bryan was a hotelier par excellence is evidenced by the fact that his was the inn of choice for both British and American lodgers during the Revolutionary War, making Bryan an ideal secret agent for our side, and the colonists’ victory at Saratoga may well be due to the intel he provided. On the same site as his father’s inn, John Bryan built a stone house in 1825 that would eventually become The Olde Bryan Inn, a restaurant beloved by Saratogians for generations, and the knee-jerk response by nearly every longtime Saratogian polled about their favorite place to eat.

The over-the-top bacon cheeseburger at the Olde Bryan Inn in...

The over-the-top bacon cheeseburger at the Olde Bryan Inn in Saratoga Springs.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

The menu is rather ho-hum — French onion soup ($8), a monstrous but delicious half-pound burger ($16), chicken cordon bleu ($26), prime rib ($39)--but the setting is anything but. Having a meal amid the exposed beam and brick dining room, next to the ancient fireplace by the bar or under the rows of metal cups hanging above it offers today’s patrons, whatever their partisan leanings, a history lesson of the most palatable sort.

10 p.m.: Explore live music and a lively bar scene

Saratoga isn’t just for fans of the ballet and symphony, as anyone will attest who’s ever strolled Caroline St. and environs on a weekend evening. It’s a live music destination as well, one that on a recent Friday night featured a jazz trio, Katalyst, at 9 Maple Ave, a guitarist at The Bourbon Room (along with top-drawer Traveller old-fashioneds, $12), a rock band playing Journey in the first-floor stage at Saratoga City Tavern (which has three other floors of fun and a rooftop bar besides) and the Ill Funk Ensemble doing hip-hop and R&B covers on the large outdoor patio at The Ice House, its dance floor and lounge area crowded with patrons sipping Kentucky mules ($15).

Saturday, 7:30 a.m.: Fuel up for a race day

Fanciful fare at Darling Doughnuts in Saratoga Springs.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

You’ll want to rise early for a second day of fun, with a helpful sugar assist, if need be, at Darling Doughnuts. Yes, the goods are a trendy square shape, and the tiny shop specializes in what might be considered novelty specimens with flavors like key lime, churro and galaxy, the latter cloaked in a trippy purple glaze (all $4.20 apiece). But don’t be fooled, underneath all that glossiness are some of the finest doughnuts you’ll get anywhere, each uber-fresh — the shop stays open only till the day’s goods sell out — and a study in meltingly light, yeasty perfection.

8:30 a.m.: Watch the horses up close

Newsday travel and food writer Scott Vogel at the Oklahoma...

Newsday travel and food writer Scott Vogel at the Oklahoma track in Saratoga Springs. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

For some, Saratoga Race Course will be the main attraction, but it’s only open during racing season, which starts July 11. Still, you needn’t wait till then to see the thoroughbreds. From 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily, many can be found just across the street at the so-called Oklahoma training track, where you can either watch from behind the rails (stay 20 feet back to avoid rattling the horses) or climb the wooden Whitney Viewing Stand, a handsome replica of an 1892 judges’ platform that once graced Saratoga’s main racetrack, a steeply-roofed structure topped by a copper weather vane. It’ll likely be just you, the horses, members of the racing press and a few bettors in search of an early line.

10 a.m.: Enjoy equine exhibitions

Secretariat memorabilia at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

Wonder why Americans are so fascinated with horses and horse racing? You won’t after visiting the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, which belongs in the Way More Interesting Than You Thought It Would Be category, and begins with a 16-minute immersive film experience that pays affectionate tribute to the sport’s owners, trainers and jockeys, along with the legendary steeds — Secretariat, Man O’ War, Sea Biscuit et al.--they rode to glory.

A wall of jockey jerseys at the National Museum of...

A wall of jockey jerseys at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

But that’s just the start of a journey that canters and trots its way through horsy history, employs an equine skeleton to demonstrate how and why the fastest thoroughbreds can reach speeds of 40 mph within six strides, and encourages race fans to try their hand at calling some of the sport’s most famous races (Affirmed vs. Alydar, 1978).

Noon: Fry up a legend

Hattie’s, legendary home of soul food in Saratoga Springs.

Hattie’s, legendary home of soul food in Saratoga Springs. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

Another museum piece, this time of the most delectable sort, can be found on Phila St. back in downtown Saratoga. That’s where, in 1938, Hattie Gray launched a chicken shack that’s still delighting fans of fried fowl to this day. To understand why, you have only to order a Hattie’s four-piece ($27), which is still prepared according to its founder’s recipe and comes with either large-dice home fries or grits, both spot on.

Scott Vogel, Newsday travel and food writer, eating cornbread and...

Scott Vogel, Newsday travel and food writer, eating cornbread and fried chicken at Hattie’s, legendary home of soul food in Saratoga Springs, Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

And the chicken itself, whether on the bone or pressed into sandwich service ($20), is unfailingly juicy, its perfectly seasoned carapace somehow soft and crispy at once.

1:30 p.m.: Retire in style … if you’re a horse

Volunteer Dan Milliman at Old Friends at Cabin Creek with...

Volunteer Dan Milliman at Old Friends at Cabin Creek with retired 15-year-old racehorse King Congie on June 1. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

“The older things are, the better Saratoga likes them,” a local told us, although the truism hardly appears to apply to thoroughbreds, whose careers tend to peak around age 3. A few retirees win the late-life lottery, ending up in the nearby town of Greenfield Center and a place called Old Friends at Cabin Creek, a 40-acre spread that promises “a dignified retirement for thoroughbred racehorses.” On Saturday afternoons, JoAnn Pepper and her all-volunteer staff lead tours of the facility (hours expand later in the summer), happily introducing visitors to several of the 20 or residents, many of whom have illustrious histories. These include 21-year-old Shin Forward, who did most of his racing in Japan and won more than $3 million during his career, and King Congie, who ran in the 2011 Preakness.

While on a trip to Saratoga Springs, Newsday travel writer Scott Vogel visited a retirement home for horses. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger; Newsday archive

But past celebrity is no requirement at Old Friends. There’s 15-year-old Mr. Cowboy, for one, who was actually born at Old Friends but not breathing at the time of delivery (Pepper saved him by administering mouth-to-nose CPR). And staffers still wax fondly about gone-but-not-forgotten Zippy Chippy (1991-2022), who ran in 100 races but never won once, even as Patrick’s main claim to fame, at least these days, is longevity. He’s 37, a supercentenarian by human standards.

3 p.m.: Find new life in an old motel

Interior of the Bluebird Spa City Motor Lodge in Saratoga...

Interior of the Bluebird Spa City Motor Lodge in Saratoga Springs. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

Whereas Saratoga Arms is wed to Second Empire elegance, Bluebird Spa City Motor Lodge puts the mod in midcentury modern. Once an undistinguished property in a fabulous location — the Downtowner, it was called — the hotel was completely rethought a few years back, its 42 rooms given the monochromatic treatment and spiffed up with high thread count sheets and artsy touches everywhere you look. Check in at a place that’s finally worthy of its enviable address, a boutique Bluebird that seamlessly blends past and present, not unlike the town it calls home (rooms from $161).

5 p.m.: Harness the excitement

Harness racing excitement at the Saratoga Casino.

Harness racing excitement at the Saratoga Casino. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

Saratoga thoroughbred action starts in July, but sports fans and bettors can also get their fix at Saratoga Casino, which hosts harness races almost year-round. Because they’re run by Standardbreds, which have shorter legs, trotting gaits and gentler personalities than their Type-A thorough-brethren (and because the horses are tasked with pulling jockeys in two-wheeled carts), harness races are slower than the other kind, but no less exciting. On any given day, a spectator might witness a dozen or more competitive races, each ending with a ceremonial photo of the winning horse and jockey, and the unceremonious ticket-ripping by fans who bet wrong. Elsewhere, the facility features acres of electronic versions of classic casino games, the one-arm action punctuated by intermittent bell-ringing and announcements that so-and-so in Queensbury just won $500, along with free soda stations and lots of food options on the premises. These range from a Morton’s Steakhouse, perfect for jackpot winners, and, for the less fortunate, a Sabrett’s kiosk selling $7 hot dogs.

Sunday, 8:30 a.m.: Brunch with a bunch

At Morrissey's Lounge & Bistro, a brunch martini with strawberry...

At Morrissey's Lounge & Bistro, a brunch martini with strawberry jam-infused vodka from Saratoga Courage, a local distillery.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

On Broadway, weekend mornings find portrait painters and buskers setting up for a long day of tourist-hawking, even as visitors without brunch reservations find themselves wandering aimlessly in search of banana French toast. The latter might head to the Adelphi Hotel lobby and Morrissey’s Lounge & Bistro, which has a large, shaded patio area and am equally large, overachieving brunch menu. We’re talking everything from lobster corn dogs ($22) to filet mignon salad ($24), pig ear pad thai ($18) to pulled pork Benedict ($20). Even Morrissey’s brunch time libations are eye-opening, especially a refreshing martini made with strawberry jam vodka from Saratoga Courage, a local distillery ($16).

9:30 a.m.: Savor Saratoga

Hats of every size and color at Hatsationals Haberdashery in...

Hats of every size and color at Hatsationals Haberdashery in Saratoga Springs.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

This is a trip you’ll want to remember, so before you pack up the car and head out, peruse Broadway’s eclectic shopping scene. Souvenir hunters will find everything from horseshoe Christmas ornaments to peanut butter ponies at Crafters Gallery, and everything from pins to potato chips (some believe the snack was invented in Saratoga) at Impressions of Saratoga and its sister shop, Dark Horse Mercantile.

Northshire Bookstore's healthy horseracing section in Saratoga Springs. 

Northshire Bookstore's healthy horseracing section in Saratoga Springs.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

Bibliophiles will want to browse the compendious collection of horse racing tomes and more at Northshire, which claims to be the largest independent bookstore north of New York City, and no self-respecting race fan would dream of leaving town without stopping by Hatsational, a haberdashery with wares as spectacularly out there as anything you’ve seen at the Derby.

11 a.m.: Take the waters

Congress Park, a place to drink the mineral water that...

Congress Park, a place to drink the mineral water that made Saratoga Springs famous. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

On your way out of town, make at least a brief stop at Congress Park, where there’s a wooden carousel — of course!--but also a meticulously maintained greenscape dotted with old structures and statuary. Best of all, the park also contains two structures housing drinking fountains from which Saratoga’s famed mineral waters flow continuously. The carbonated H2O won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s the rare visitor who doesn’t marvel at its unique taste and burn.

1 p.m.: Enjoy nature, art and culture at once

Art and culture in a spectacular setting at Saratoga Performing...

Art and culture in a spectacular setting at Saratoga Performing Arts Center's amphitheater.  Credit: Scott Vogel

And finally there’s the amphitheater at SPAC, which is nestled within Saratoga Spa State Park — with its many hiking trails and other recreational opportunities — and would deserve mention in the same breath as Tanglewood, Ravinia and America’s other great summer festivals, if not for the fact that SPAC is a four-season affair, and one that, over it’s nearly 60-year existence, has become as integral to Saratoga’s identity as those springs at Congress Park. The next few months alone will see the acoustically perfect theater throb with world-class performances of symphonies by Sibelius and ballets by Balanchine, along with latter-day composers the Doobie Brothers, the Dave Matthews Band and more. “We just have this unique thing,” said Sobol, speaking both of SPAC, the organization she runs, and the town it calls home. A North Carolinian by birth, she had few expectations upon first visiting Saratoga in 2016, and didn’t expect to fall head over heels for the place. But the town has a long-standing reputation for dramatic reversals — in health, history, horse races. Indeed, as Sobol suggested, it seems to thrive on them. “There’s just an incredible ethos here.”


Saratoga Springs is about 215 miles from Long Island, a three-and-a-half-hour drive via the New York State Thruway (toll road). Amtrak (800-872-7245, operates daily service to Saratoga Springs from New York’s Penn Station, a four-hour journey. Fares start at $98 round-trip.


Bluebird Spa City Motor Lodge (413 Broadway, 518-306-4063, Rates start at $161 per night for rooms with one queen bed.

Saratoga Arms (497 Broadway, 518-584-1775, Rates start at $209 per night for rooms with one queen bed.


The Bourbon Room (8 Caroline St., 518-791-6199,

Cantina (408 Broadway, 518-587-5577,

Darling Doughnuts (441 Broadway, 518-430-2018,

Hattie’s (45 Phila St., 518-584-4790,

The Ice House (70 Putnam St., 518-886-1859)

Morrissey’s Lounge & Bistro (365 Broadway, 518-350-7945,

9 Maple Ave (9 Maple Ave., 518-583-2582,

The Olde Bryan Inn (123 Maple Ave., 518-587-2990,

Saratoga City Tavern (19-21 Caroline St., 518-581-3230)



National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (191 Union Ave., 518-584-0400, Opening hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission $20, $10 ages 6-17.

Oklahoma Training Track (286 East Ave.) Free, open from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays

Old Friends at Cabin Creek (483 Sand Hill Rd., Greenfield Ctr., 518-698-2377, Free. Reopens with summer hours July 2: Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Saratoga Harness Racing (at Saratoga Casino, 342 Jefferson St., 518-584-2110, Now through July 13: racing on Sundays and Mondays (noon start time) and Saturdays (5 p.m.); July 18-Aug. 31: racing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (5 p.m.). Free to watch, betting extra.

Saratoga Race Course (267 Union Ave., 518-584-6200, The annual racing season begins July 11 and runs through Sept. 2.


Congress Park (268 Broadway, 518-587-3550,

Roosevelt Baths & Spa (39 Roosevelt Dr., 518-584-7035, Private soaks of 40 minutes in individual rooms ($59) offered all days except Sunday from 9:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., reservations required. Spa packages with massages, facials, etc. also available.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (108 Ave. of the Pines, 518-584-9330, Large outdoor amphitheater featuring performances by the New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra and more, along with Live Nation concerts. Check the website for a complete list of events and ticket prices.


Crafters Gallery (427 Broadway, 518-583-2435, Hours are Sunday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Dark Horse Mercantile (445 Broadway, 518-587-0689, Hours are daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hatsational Haberdashery (506 Broadway, 518-587-1022, Hours are daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Impressions of Saratoga (368 Broadway, 518-587-0666), sister shop to Dark Horse, sells more Saratoga-themed merchandise.

Northshire Bookstore (424 Broadway, 518-682-4200, Hours are daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.


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