I’m a little late getting my Top 25 list out this year as opening weekend for Saratoga Race Course is already here! As am I—in Saratoga Springs, that is. However, if you’re still planning your trip to the Spa city, this list is right on time.
So much has changed in Saratoga Springs since my first visit in 1995, but in many ways, very little has changed as well. The mystique of the town, the restorative waters, and the historic Saratoga Race Course remain. Restaurants and boutiques open and close—but a few of those have remained too. One constant: there’s a lot to do in Saratoga Springs—so let’s get started!
One of the magical features of Saratoga Springs is that there truly is something for everyone, so if you’re the only horse racing fan in your family, you can still bring the whole fam. Between the ballet, concerts, parks, hiking trails, farmer’s markets, berry-picking farms, and the healing waters, there’s much more to do than go to the track. And yet we begin this Top 25 list with:
1. Go to the races! Yes, of course, this is the main reason you’re in town. However, there are several more seating and group options now than there were in years past. This year Saratoga Race Course debuts the new Paddock Suite. The second-story structure features a climate-controlled bar, lounge, and outdoor balcony with sweeping views of the historic Saratoga paddock. The Paddock Suite sits atop the newly renovated Post Bar, which will remain an open-air structure featuring a central bar and large-scale televisions.
These renovations follow last year’s additions of the Spa Verandas and Tailgate at the Turn, which were built on the heels of the unveiling of the 1863 Club, located at the Clubhouse turn.
Click here to learn more about all of the ticket options at Saratoga Race Course.
2. Walk the Avenue of the Pines loop at the Saratoga Spa State Park. Or, better yet, walk the trails. Just depends on your preference for an asphalt paved path vs. pea gravel and dirt. Either way, you can’t go wrong. The lithium emitted from Saratoga’s natural springs is alive and well at the park, and you’ll just feel better for having spent some time there. The asphalt paved path around the golf course is 1.8 miles. You can park in the parking lot between the Gideon Putnam Hotel and the Roosevelt Baths. Pro tip: download the All Trails app (it’s free) to find even more trails around the town.
3. Roosevelt Baths and Spa: Naturally, a spa destined to serve generations with healing experiences would evolve at such a powerful place as Saratoga Springs, NY, a haven infused with history and hydrotherapy. Established in 1935, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa resort opened thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt’s visionary act to preserve the Saratoga Springs. Authentic and historic, today the Roosevelt Baths & Spa offers a variety of spa services, but none would be complete without soaking in the healing waters. Make your reservations well in advance of your visit—they book up fast! And don’t be put off by the sanatorium appearance or the mineral stains in the bathtubs—they are all part of the historic experience.
4. Visit Lake George. The southern tip of Lake George is only 30 minutes from Saratoga Springs but can be pretty highly trafficked. The northernmost point at Ticonderoga is an hour and 20 minutes away. Somewhere in between, you’ll find The Sagamore (resort) at Bolton Landing, a beautiful place to stay or just to have lunch. That said, you really need to get out on the water to take it all in. For more on how you can do just that—and there are many options—go here: Visit Lake George
5. Morning training. Even without a racing license, you can watch the horses train either from the Whitney Viewing Stand at the Oklahoma Training Track or the grandstand at Saratoga. You’ll be glad you did.
6. The Horseshoe Inn, across the street from the track on Nelson. It is a laid-back local restaurant with happy hour & live music. It’s a great spot for breakfast after morning training and/or to go before or after the races. Rumor has it that they have the best Philly chicken sandwich ever and are known for the coldest breakfast beer in town. Don’t judge. You’re in Saratoga.
7. Spring Street Deli. A great spot to see the trainers between the morning workouts at the Oklahoma track and the races in the afternoon. Spring Street Deli is a local corner deli with great pizzas and all-day breakfast and lunch. They deliver, or you can dine in with tables inside and out. Lots of sandwiches named for famous racehorses and trainers. They are located at 132 Spring Street in the heart of downtown, just a short walking distance from the Shoppes of Broadway, local hotels, and the famous Saratoga Race Course.
8. Putnam Market for lunch—carry out. Big sandwiches, hearty and healthy salads. There are more decadent food items and pastries, too, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. And, best of all, the wine market is right next door.
9. Three consecutive restaurants—it might be time for a workout! Yoga at The Hot Yoga Spot, 75 Woodlawn Ave. Really. Hot. Yoga. Ok, don’t go if you don’t like really hot yoga. But if you’re into the heat and sweating (let’s call it “detoxing” to make us feel better about those Saratoga nights), this is your spot. They also offer some “warm” vinyasa classes, so you don’t have to kill yourself.
10. For those who love yoga but hate sweating—Yoga Mandali is for you. It says it right there on their website: Yoga for Everybody. And it’s located in the heart of Saratoga Springs, right on Broadway. Coffee first at Uncommon Grounds. Yoga. Breakfast smoothie after at Whole Harvest on Broadway. The yin to your sin (or yang) from the night before or the day and night to follow.
11. Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC): An amphitheater located just on the edge of town on the grounds of Saratoga Spa State Park. It presents summer performances of all varieties of music, plus comedy, dance, and opera. The 2022 summer calendar includes ballet, opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and acts like The Black Keys, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, Luke Bryan, REO Speedwagon & Styx, the Beach Boys, Goo Goo Dolls, Wiz Khalifa, Chris Stapleton, Sting…among many, many others. I have tickets for a few of these shows, so perhaps I’ll see you there! Click here for the full calendar of events.
12. No trip to Saratoga is complete without a drink from the Big Red Spring. While it may not be the tastiest beverage you’ll have in town; it’s a tradition. Big Red can be found toward the back of the picnic area at Saratoga Race Course, situated beneath a large white pavilion.
13. Visit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame across the street from the track. If you haven’t seen their immersive theatrical presentation of “What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame”, you’re in for a treat! While you’re there, check out the current exhibits: Jim Raftery: A Turfotos Retrospective (from the Barbara D. Livingston collection); The Paintings of Richard Stone Reeves; and “Betting on America”, an exhibit that highlights leaders in the industry who have hailed from every imaginable point on the planet. Also, be sure to book a guided tour of the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame with legendary retired race caller Tom Durkin. This is only available during the Saratoga Meet, and reservations are required. Click here to book your tour now! If you love horse racing, there’s so much to see here you may need to give it a day of its own, but it is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., so there is also plenty of time to go before the races start.
One of the unique characteristics of Saratoga Springs is that when the races are over, there’s only one town where 90% of racing fans, owners, trainers, and jockeys go to dinner: Saratoga Springs. It’s at this time when the action really heats up, and it is in Saratoga Springs where you’ll find every one! After all, you have to eat, right? These restaurants are my favorites—in no particular order. Click on the links for more information. Leave a comment below or message me with your own Saratoga favorites—I want to hear all about them!
14. Osteria Danny on Henry Street. Not easy to get into, so call ahead. Like 6 months ahead (2 might work). While osteria means “an Italian restaurant, typically a simple or inexpensive one”, this one is not inexpensive, but it does boast a simple menu comprised of amazing Italian food and house-made pasta (made from semolina flour shipped from Italy—and made by chef and proprietor, Danny). As good as the savory foods are, the desserts may be the best in New York. Also freshly made daily, in-house. What are you waiting for? Call now: (518) 423–7022.
15. Solevo Kitchen & Social. An Italian restaurant in Saratoga Springs that opened shortly after the 2018 racing season and has quickly become a Top 5 restaurant for Saratoga residents. The owners are Joey Solevo and his chef-brother Ronald Solevo, fourth-generation restaurateurs from Connecticut. They brought their recipes and their skills to Saratoga Springs because they loved Saratoga. Saratoga loves them back. Because of Covid and indoor seating restrictions, they had to get creative with outdoor seating; the effect has been an amazing outdoor seating area. But, again, call ahead—like well ahead: (518) 450-7094. Or book on Resy.
16. Hattie’s fried chicken. This is the best fried chicken north of Tennessee; we may have even gotten a vegetarian or two to admit to this. From Bon Appetit Magazine: “This place epitomizes Southern charm, with overhead fans, checkered tablecloths, a banging screen door, and a wall of testimonials to the woman who ran the restaurant for almost six decades—Hattie Moseley Austin.”
17. The Wishing Well Restaurant is a local stalwart with a great happy hour, live piano music, and lobster night on Thursdays! The family-style heirloom tomatoes and corn on the cob are always fresh (during the summer season), and the butter-poached lobster… I mean, really? Need I say more?
18. Mouzon House. This historic 1880s-era home started out as a single-family home and then, at one time, served as a boarding house for students at Skidmore College. In 2005 restaurateurs Dianne and David Pedinotti bought Mouzon House and turned it into the truly special farm-to-table eatery that it is now. The Pedinotti’s mission: “We strive to bring together fresh ingredients from local farms while using practices that are good for you and good for Earth. Our goal is to provide an experience that provides excellence in atmosphere, quality ingredients, wine, local craft beers, and cocktails while showcasing local musicians.” Mission accomplished. You can book on Resy or give them a call: 518-226-0014.
19. 9 Miles East. As a local, this is where I eat most often—or grab carry-out from. Casual. Super casual. The pizza is the best I’ve ever had, made from organic wheat and a house-made sourdough starter mixed with a fork mixer from Italy, which slowly aerates their sourdough pizza and roll dough without heating it up. So your crust tastes better. Your sandwiches taste better too. And the salads are so fresh. “9 miles east” because they are a farm 9 miles east of Saratoga that outgrew its farm store space and moved to Saratoga. By the way, Wednesday night is Burger night, and they do pizza delivery too–7 nights a week.
20. Siro’s: The jury is still out for 2022, but the place is iconic. Open seasonally since 1945 in spite of countless ownership changes, Siro’s always seems to be a fan favorite. The “back yard” was rolling after the races on opening day with full tables and a live band. However, the new chef Elliott Vogel is the fifth head chef in as many years, and one look at his new menu shows that Siro’s is still the priciest restaurant in the area. Perhaps it will be worth it, but I have not yet tried it. Please leave a comment below if you have—and I’ll offer an update later in the meet.
21. A route for runners – there are some fantastic running routes throughout the city, but here’s a unique one. One of our partners in StarLadies Racing enjoys taking a spin through Congress Park and then Centennial Park (which is a “pocket park” within Congress Park. While at Centennial, be sure to pay homage to the Native Dancer statue that sits where Union Avenue t-bones into Circular) then heading down Union Avenue and looping back behind some of the stables at the Oklahoma Training Track. Yeah, she runs more than I do too.
22. Saratoga Lake – this is another great option for a Tuesday afternoon. Rent a kayak, try your hand at paddle boarding, take a SUP class (Saturday & Sunday morning only), rent the “Hammocraft”, or just hang out and enjoy the sunshine. Visit the Kayak Shack website to see options and pricing. You can even bring a Daily Racing Form with you and study for the next racing day.
23. The Yaddo Gardens are finally open to visitors again! Yaddo is a retreat for artists located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs. Its mission is to nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work without interruption in a supportive environment. Following a multimillion-dollar restoration, Yaddo opened again in 2019, only to be closed throughout 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. While Yaddo still housed resident artists, the gardens and the property were closed to visitors until this summer. Learn more about the gardens and garden tours here.
24. Saratoga Farmer’s Market – this farmer’s market is one of the best around, hands down. Stop by and pick up breakfast, lunch, or some handmade local items. It’s located at High Rock and open Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and Wednesdays 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. If Sunday is better for you, check out Spa City Farmer’s Market at SPAC on Sundays 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
25. Check out the Fasig-Tipton Sale. The prestigious yearling sale is held Aug. 8 & 9 this year, and it could be your chance to see the next big star of the sport before he or she makes it big. American Pharoah actually passed through this sale in 2013 and was not purchased by anyone. Again, you just never know when and where that next Big Deal will appear.
While I’ve given you the places to visit, Steve Dennis’s article in the Thoroughbred Commentary will give you the “why” to visit. His article: “America’s favorite racetrack—but just what is it that makes Saratoga so great?”
Saratoga Spa State Park Bird Conservation Areas
Blueberry picking (and other berries too)
The hiking trails at The North Woods of Skidmore College (take bug spray!)
Donna is one of the most decorated female jockeys of all time. Now retired from race-riding, she is currently an award winning sports analyst and commentator for NBC, and the author of the book, “Inside Track: Insider’s Guide to Horse Racing”, which is now in its second printing. When she’s not on location, or in meetings, you can find her writing, reading, traveling and spending time with her husband Frank and her two dogs.