By Charlene S. Mixa
A Vibrant Vacation Destination
For over a century, visitors from around the world have been drawn to Saratoga Springs. The summer center of the horseracing universe it is also recognized as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A town with a storied past that is alive with character, charm, and so much to see and do. Discover and experience world-famous horse racing, the famous mineral springs, award-winning golf, museums, a lively casino, fantastic shopping and many places to eat, drink and be merry.
Our visit starts with afternoon golf at the Saratoga Spa Golf Course set in a pine forest at the Saratoga Spa State Park. Spa Golf is comprised of an 18-hole Championship Course, a 9-hole Executive Course, a practice area, and golf shop. Today we are playing the Championship Course consistently a recipient of 4 stars from Golf Digest’s Best Places to Play. After a short warm up, we pair up with two gentlemen. Under sunny skies and appreciating the helpful hints from our golf partners, we enjoy this challenging yet golfer friendly course. Surrounded by natural beauty of a pine forest, the terrain is flat with majestic pines framing several holes. Water is only on a couple of holes but there are plenty of bunkers and large sloping greens. The landing areas are ample but take care with putts which can easily roll off. A great course and plenty to keep us alert to its nuances.
After our fun afternoon of golf, we head to the Holiday Inn Saratoga to check-in, clean up and find a good restaurant for dinner. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance to downtown, plus it is adjacent to gorgeous Congress Park. Our King Room has stylish and contemporary furnishings with first class amenities. From perks of high speed Internet, refrigerator, microwave, the large work desk and an easy chair, we have all we need for our visit.
One of our golf partners recommended the Olde Bryan Inn for dinner which has great food and a rich history. Originally this stone structure was built as a home by John Bryan in 1825, after various owners and additions it became an inn in the late 1970’s. The rustic homey feel is restful as we enjoy our delicious meals while reliving our exciting game of golf.
And we’re off! Today is to experience the “sport of kings” at the country’s oldest and most beautiful Thoroughbred race track, Saratoga Race Course. Boarding the Holiday Inn Shuttle for a 5-minute ride, we are conveniently dropped off at the track. Since 1863 the Saratoga Race Course has been the setting for summer racing that also serves as a gathering spot for fans from all walks of life. Red and white buildings and canopies create the architectural and cultural scene at this oldest and charming race track. Race season is late July through Labor Day. Outside there are lines of spectators with picnic baskets, coolers and wagons full of goodies. Many fans gather with families and friends in the general public picnic areas where they watch the races on TV, make their bets, but don’t go to the Grandstand.
Getting acclimated, we take a quick tour of the Paddock, restaurant row with several local restaurants featuring their specialties, the picnic areas and the Grandstand. In the paddock we get up close to the trainers and jockey’s walking their horses, as we attempt to select our horse for the first race. As a novice, Richard educates me on placing bets and types of bets. At the Grandstand, our first view of this venerable course is exhilarating! Looking out over this world-class race course with its multiple tracks and colorful infield, we envision the heart-pounding excitement of races and winners the past 142 years. As the horses are led onto the track with their jockeys in colorful racing silks, we feel the anticipation and enthusiasm. They’re off! The horses race out of the gate and roar around the track as fans cheer. Richard’s horse wins! We have an exciting and fun day at the track. Absolutely amazing and thrilling, we see why Saratoga Race Course draws nearly a million visitors each year.
Our shuttle picks us up at the gate and soon we are back at the Holiday Inn. Putting on our walking shoes, we are off to explore downtown Saratoga Springs. Wandering through Congress Park with its vibrant floral gardens, historic statues, welcoming gazebos, quiet memorial gardens and elegant fountains, we wind our way to downtown. Broadway is the main thoroughfare, a wide avenue bordered by large, broad sidewalks decorated with huge flower beds bursting with colorful flowers. Absolutely beautiful, pristine and welcoming, it has plenty of fantastic, unique shops and a variety of restaurants from gourmet to casual eateries. We stroll and roam through this eclectic collection of shops, making a few special purchases. Enjoying a leisurely, quiet dinner, we are ready for an evening of rest and relaxation.
This morning first stop is the National Museum of Racing. Our self-guided tour begins at a starting gate and moves through various galleries as we explore over three centuries of racing history. With stories of human determination and equine sacrifice we learn all aspects of this sport of high drama and speed. The museum covers Thoroughbred racing explaining the unique physiology and physical characteristics of the best Thoroughbreds. Extensive and detailed exhibits and scenes show the jockey’s life, life around the track including betting and wagering, track surface, extensive trophy collections, and an impressive collection of equine painting and sculpture. There’s even a simulator to experience riding a thoroughbred. In the Hall of Fame plaques recognize the achievement of each Hall of Fame member with video clips of races through the years. We explore racing today and the drama of the biggest events in American Thoroughbred racing – the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup. The museum is superb providing insight into these equine athletes whose grace and beauty have become legendary.
Driving down the streets with their century old Victorian homes, we locate Scallions restaurant a block off Broadway. Decorated in handmade whimsical furnishings but with a clean contemporary style, we settle in for a gourmet lunch. Lunch offerings are unique homemade soups, paninis, a variety of sandwiches and salads. Our lunches of a Mediterranean salad and smoked salmon wrap are scrumptious.
Now to experience the healing waters of Saratoga Springs! At the legendary Roosevelt Baths in the Saratoga Spa State Park, we indulge in an effervescent mineral spring bath. Historically regular bathing in the mineral water is reduces stress and improves the body’s overall functioning. With my luxurious bath robe and slippers, I am led to my private “bath” room. The assistant explains that hot fresh water is combined with the mineral water bringing the water temperature to 97º Fahrenheit. This keeps the carbonation at its peak. A 40 minute soak in mineral water is therapeutic. With the highly carbonated water, it is fun feeling as the bubbles “tingle” my skin. . Following the bath, we each take pleasure in the steam room and cooling down in a beautiful relaxation area.
Touring the bath area of Saratoga State Park we see several of the historical bath houses being restored to their former splendor. Close by we wander through the elegant Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa which operates the Roosevelt Bath House. At the Saratoga Automobile Museum we enjoy terrific exhibits of automobiles and artifacts. “Woodies” are the feature attraction, which take us down memory lane of these unique cars. In addition to technical and design aspects, the museum focuses on the past, present and future of social and economic impact of the automobile. Before leaving the Park, we locate some of the “mineral springs” to sample these healing waters. Each has a state seal designating its authenticity. People are filling gallon bottles for their supply of this extraordinary mineral spring water.
Our evening starts at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, a premier entertainment destination with action-packed slot machines, live harness racing, daily simulcast coverage and an array of dining options. We try our luck at the slots before going to Fortunes for dinner. With its unique tiered seating, we have an unbelievable view the harness racing track. What fun to dine on our delicious seafood entrees as we watch the excitement of harness races.
As a light rain starts as we leave for the Spa Little Theatre for a performance of the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival. The theatre is packed for the performance of “Sarah Chang and Andrew Von Oeyen the World Tour Continues”. Fantastic! The opening quartet with strings was impressive as we settle into this vibrant and soothing music. After intermission we are literally blown-away by Sarah Chang’s astonishing performance. Sarah is recognized the world over as one of classical music’s most captivating and gifted performers. We are delighted we had this awesome opportunity to see this highly lauded violinist.
Living up to all it claims, Saratoga Springs is a wonderful vacation destination. With its numerous and varied activities of horse racing, mineral springs, historical parks, casinos, museums, and the arts, there is something for everyone.
If you go:
Holiday Inn Saratoga Springs, 232 Broadway, Route 9, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866; 518.584.4550; http://www.holidayinn.com/hotels/us/en/saratoga-springs/sgany/hoteldetail
National Museum of Racing, 191 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-3566; (518) 584-0400; www.racingmuseum.org
Roosevelt Baths and Spa, 39 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-6214; 518.226.4790; http://www.gideonputnam.com/Spa.aspx
Saratoga Automobile Museum, 110 Avenueof the Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866; 518.587.1938; www.saratogaautomuseum.com
Saratoga County Chamber, 28 Clinton Street, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-2190; 518.584.3255; www.saratoga.org
Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, 342 Jefferson Street, PO Box 356, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866; 1.800.727.2990; www.saratogafaming.com
Saratoga Race Course; www.nyra.com
Saratoga Spa Golf, 60 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-6214; 518.584.2006; www.saratogaspagolf.com
Scallions, 44 Lake Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866; 518.584.0192; www.scallionssaratoga.com
Spa Little Theatre, 108 Avenue of Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-6296; 518.584.9330; www.spac.org