The Summer Place To Be... (and no, we don't mean Ibiza)
Today is a big day for Saratoga Springs. The Travers Stakes is one of the biggest horse races of the year for this beautiful town in upstate New York. The Travers is celebrating it's 145th year. This race is America's oldest stakes race of thoroughbreds. It has even been a racing tradition longer than the three Triple Crown stakes, The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont.
Saratoga Springs rests at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains and boasts a rich heritage of "Health, History and Horses".
Health, due to the natural springs in the area that are said to have incredible healing qualities. For hundreds of years people have flocked to this town to bathe in the mineral waters.
History, for both great local and national significance. Any high school textbook will tell you that Saratoga was the turning point of The Revolutionary War, where in 1777 General Burgoyne and his British troops surrendered. Also, the historic Victorian era is still very alive in Saratoga through the architecture and stories. One of the famous historic figures from Saratoga quickly gaining more notoriety is Solomon Northup. He was a free black man living in Saratoga Springs and he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. His story is depicted in the Oscar-winning film 12 Years A Slave.
Horses, for the small city's gem is the race course. Only Saratoga can boast the oldest sporting venue in the United States. Last year the Saratoga race course celebrated it's 150th year with a celebration that lasted all summer long. Thanks to the summer racing meet, Saratoga has long been known as "the summer place to be". Summers in Saratoga are grand to say the least. Saratoga can take locals and visitors alike back to a more glamorous time. In this day in age, where can you find a place where people actually still dress to the nines? The answer is here, in Saratoga Springs, and boy do they know how to dress! From designer suits, sport jackets, bow-ties, and the extremely elaborate (and occasionally gaudy) dress hats to the ball gowns and cocktail attire worn at galas, charity functions, polo matches and of course, the race course. The Saratoga Race Course is known as The Graveyard of Champions due to the number of upsets that take place on this particular track. Some of the most winningest horses in racing history have lost at this race course. The fallen champions include favorites such as Man' O War and Triple Crown Winner Secretariat, who may sound familiar thanks to the 2010 film "Secretariat". The race course is definitely a place to see and be seen while in Saratoga. If you pay a few extra dollars you may enter the Clubhouse. Be sure to dress appropriately, you can find the dress code here, however my advice is dress up no matter what. Be sure to pick up a copy of "The Pink Sheet" if you have little or no experience 'picking ponies', it will surely help you get a winner. Trusted Travel Girl Tip: If you are going to bet more than one horse, for example an exacta or a trifecta, be sure to pay a little more to "box" your bet. This will give you a better chance of winning. Before you head off to the races, look up some betting terminology here and check out this glossary of horse racing terms for help. Also, bets can only be made with cash, so be sure to bring a pocket or purse full of dead presidents.
Saratoga isn't just a town for the horses and horse lovers. The town also has several beautiful parks and gardens including the Saratoga Spa State Park, Congress Park and Yaddo (a retreat for artists). In the Spa State Park rests the famed Saratoga Performing Arts Center, better known as SPAC. SPAC hosts The New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and has been the stage for just about every big artist you can name, from Dave Matthews to Britney Spears and even The Doors and Elton John.
Additionally, Saratoga Springs is home to one of the most beautiful and best downtowns in America. With it's picturesque sidewalks, cafe's and flowerbeds, it will take you right back to the Victorian era and turn of the 19th century. This downtown is consistently ranked one of the best by publications year after year (including Travel & Leisure). Even Walt Disney World created a Saratoga Springs resort in Orlando, FL.
Some of Trusted Travel Girls favorite Saratoga Spots are:
- Mrs. Londons
- This cafe and bakery serves up the most delicious soups, sandwiches, pastries and desserts. They have been featured in numerous publications. The best part, Mrs. Londons is always consistent. I have ordered many of the items year after year and I can always count on them to taste exactly the same. My recommendations are the homemade iced tea, the sautéed-spinach-mozerella-roasted-red-pepper panini, the tomato-greyare croque and any dessert made with their delectable chocolate mousse.
- Putnam Market
- Putnam Market has delicious food, wine, gift baskets as well as gourmet and local treats. Surely, there is something here to please everyone.
- This legendary restaurant was restored and perfected by previous owners Christel and Colin MacLean. Their crab cakes are to die for!
- This is the premier place to purchase all things "Saratoga". Gifts, collectables and souvenirs. There is something for every taste and budget in this store which rests in the heart of downtown.
- The Crown Grill
- Owners Christel and Colin MacLean know how to bring the best back to their hometown of Saratoga Springs. As previous owners of two of my other favorite Saratoga restaurants (Hattie's and Sperry's), this new endeavor seems to be their 'crown' jewel. With wallpaper shipped in from London, beautiful Restoration Hardware orb chandeliers, custom made booths and even a secret room behind the bookcase in the back, this is a place to see. Rumor has it that even Oprah has dined here while in town.
- The Bread Basket
- If you like good cakes and pastries, this is the place. Be sure to order a chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and raspberry preserve filling. If you don't have a use for an entire cake while in town, at least stop by for a cupcake... they are incredible.
- Trusted Travel Girl Bonus Tip: When ordering a cupcake, ask which ones were made that day, they will know by the color of the rose-bud flower atop the frosting. Don't worry if you forget to do so, they are all fresh and delicious and will last for days.
- Uncommon Grounds
- Freshly ground coffee, and incredible bagels. My favorite thing to get is an herbal iced tea with lemon and an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese.
- Hattie's boasts the best fried chicken North of the Mason-Dixon line. Legend has it that Frank Sinatra used to have it flown in for him whenever he had a craving.
- Shake Shack (at the track)
- While at the track, be sure to try one of NYC's favorite burgers. Get a Shack Burger and a Sloppy Track (salted caramel topped with cocoa powder) milkshake.
- Breakfast at the Track
- Getting up early to have breakfast at the track and watch the horses warm up is one of the best ways to spend the earlier part of your day in Saratoga Springs. Breakfast is buffet style, while still keeping quality intact. Additionally, many trainers prefer the old Oklahoma track across the street. Philanthropist and the original Saratoga socialite Mary Lou Whitney recently commissioned a viewing stand for the public to enjoy. Grab a coffee and pastry in town and head over here for a more budget friendly way to watch the horses warm up over breakfast.
- Roosevelt Baths
- Here you can bathe in mineral water, said to have numerous health benefits.
- Saratoga Famers Market
- Saratoga has a great farmers market, and it is quickly gaining more notoriety and more vendors each year. You can check it out on Wednesday's and Saturday's all summer long.
- Siro's has been across from the Saratoga Race Course for decades. This is the place to grab drinks and celebrate a great day of betting and winning at the track. It is also an excellent place to have a drink and drown your sorrows after a day of losing at the track. You may even spot a celebrity or two, as Siro's is frequented by celebrities, jockeys and owners.
Lastly, just outside of Saratoga is beautiful Lake George. I highly recommend renting a boat and an island to enjoy a weekend of camping and water sports on this magnificent lake.