So much more than its world-renowned city, New York, the state of New York never fails to impress me each time I visit. The first time I visited, we slipped off on a road trip to the Adirondacks, taking our time to explore as we went. At that point, I knew of only two things about Saratoga Springs: horse racing and spring water. From this first quick day trip to Saratoga Springs, I knew I wanted to return.
My return happened last week when I was fortunate to have been invited to stay at the newly renovated Bluebird Hotel property, Spa City Motor Lodge. Situated perfectly on Broadway in the middle of downtown Saratoga Springs, the hotel’s ideal location helped me appreciate how truly vibrant the town is during the summer.
Enveloped in upstate ambiance, Saratoga Springs is an idyllic big little city. With its many museums, parks, art installations, nightlife, and stores, all within easy walking distance of Spa City Motor Lodge, Saratoga Springs offers much more to do and see than its famous horse races (although I would love to return for them one day, since I so loved my equine experience in Lexington, Kentucky).
A Brief History of Saratoga Springs
Set among the foothills of the Adirondacks, the springs are nestled among blankets of verdant grass and sugar maples. The town sits safely on a crack in the earth and its subterranean springs of water which rise to the surface through fissures in the ground. The original settlers of the area, the Mohawk and Iroquois, first drank from the springs believing them to have curative properties. In the early 1800s, Gideon Putnam put Saratoga Springs on the map by erecting a spa and hotel in the middle of New York’s wilderness. The railroad came into town in the 1830s, then horse racing, along with gambling, in the 1860s.
Rich tourists built houses along Broadway and flocked to the town’s curative waters and social happenings. Since then, the town has had its booms and depressions but has always reimagined itself in successful ways. Even after the large hotels and gambling halls moved out, the arts moved in, as well as a state park and many museums.
How to Find Saratoga’s Springs
I had assumed I would find lots of natural, outdoor hot springs open to the public, as in Santa Barbara or Iceland. But if you hope to soak in Saratoga’s restorative waters, be prepared to bring some cash. Saratoga’s mineral baths are accessible in two ways. You can visit day spas, such as the Roosevelt, which also offers massage, facials, and body wraps. Alternatively, you can visit the swimming pools in the Peerless Pool Complex in Saratoga Spa State Park which features a main pool, a children’s pool with slides, and the historic Victoria Pool. But don’t worry—if spas or pools aren’t your thing, you can still experience Saratoga’s storied springwaters by sipping from dozens of spigots which are free and open to the public.
How Many Natural Springs Does Saratoga Springs Have?
There are twenty-one springs in Saratoga Springs. You can find them sprinkled around Saratoga Spa State Park and Congress Park. Each spring has its own flavor based on its minerals, and it was fun taste-testing them all. Some of the springs are carbonated. In fact, they are the only carbonated natural mineral springs east of the Rocky Mountains. All in my party, including teen and elementary school-aged boys, tried all the waters. The fountains they come from are also quite different and beautiful. Find out what properties each spring is said to have.
Why Do People Drink the Water from Saratoga Springs?
It is believed that the high mineral content of the water is very good for you. The locals believe the best water for you is the naturally carbonated mineral water. Different waters were and are claimed to be curative for various things.
Things to Do in Saratoga Springs, NY
Visit Saratoga Spa State Park
This large state park has 12 miles of trails. Because of its classical architecture, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In it, you will find spas and pools and an outdoor concert arena, which is an excellent venue to see a performance. But we came to town to experience the waters, and there are so many here. Each spring has an associated drinking fountain. Locals fill large 5-gallon bottles from their favorite spring to bring home water. In about 15 minutes, a very popular spring brought probably twenty water-seekers.
Search out the Saratoga Geyser
You can hike from the Saratoga Auto Museum parking lot or drive right up to the only active geyser east of the Mississippi River! It lies within the Saratoga Spa State Park. Unlike most geysers, however, it spurts out cold water, not boiling water.
Satisfy the Car Fanatic in You with a Visit to the Saratoga Auto Museum
There are more than enough automobiles inside this museum to make a car-lover happy, but the building the cars sits in is also worth a visit if you love history. The first floor of the old Saratoga Springs Bottling Company Building showcases a large collection of Porches and an exhibit on how driving gave women freedom around the 1920s. Upstairs you will find race cars, electric cars, and even an amphibious car.
Taste Test Water Throughout the City, but Be Aware Which Spigot You are Drinking From!
The spigot labeled Mineral Water is not water in the sense that we normally get from our tap. It is naturally carbonated, highly mineralized water, and contains sulfur. We describe it as sparkling water with a heavy dose of rotten egg. A local we met swears he is so healthy because he has come to drink out of the spring every day for the last 25 years. He says the key is getting it past your nose. If the spigot isn’t labeled, it is regular drinking water.
Walk Through Congress Park
Congress Park is conveniently located right at the end of Saratoga Springs’ bustling main street, Broadway. There are also beautiful lakes with ducks, walking trails, and many more springs. We even caught Shakespeare in the park on our first trip to Saratoga Springs. On the backside of the park, you will find the “Welcome to Saratoga Springs sign” and the Devil’s Chair.
Visit the National Museum of Dance or Search for Ballet Slippers Throughout the Town
Located in the historic Washington Bathhouse in the Saratoga Spa State Park, the National Museum of Dance is the only solely about dance in the United States. If you don’t make it to the museum, you can also see part of dance’s influence on the town by the many fiberglass ballet slippers. Each summer, the New York City Ballet holds shows in the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Kayak on Fish Creek
Kayak Shak is less than a ten-minute drive from Broadway. Here you can rent kayaks or paddleboards to explore Fish Creek. If you are up for a long paddle, Lake Saratoga is about 2 miles away. While we were here, I bird-watched from my kayak while my son fished for bass.
Visit Beekman Street Arts District
The up-and-coming Beekman Street Arts District is only about a ten-minute walk from where we stayed, Spa City Motor Lodge. Here you will find galleries, as well as coffee houses and restaurants.
Appreciate the Architecture
This is a town where you will want to walk around and look at the buildings. Due to building at different times, there are so many styles to appreciate, from Victorian and mid-century all the way to modern. And almost every private house has gorgeous, flower-filled pots hanging from their porch.
Take a Ghost Tour
We have a habit of taking ghost tours worldwide, and thankfully, Haunted Saratoga Tours was provided to us on this trip. Ghost tours are a great way to see the town and learn history while being entertained. We all had fun walking through downtown and Congress Park, which dropped us off right in front of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Did you know that Ben actually attended Skidmore College, although he never completed his degree?
Spend Time on Broadway
Broadway is a truly wide street full of life. This is a very happening town with both chain and local stores and restaurants. Grab a table in season at one of its patios to do some people-watching. The town is full of people decked out in their finery watching street performers.
We enjoyed our brunch at The Merchantile “The Merc,” and you will be sure to find a restaurant on Broadway to make you happy any time of the day.
Enjoy any of Saratoga Springs’ Festivals.
The town hosts jazz, dance, and art festivals all summer long. We enjoyed Bluebird Hotel’s Best of Saratoga Festival and hope it becomes an annual occurrence.
Take a Hike.
We took two hikes while we were here. We enjoyed an easy four-mile walk along the Bog Meadow Brook Trail and a 3/4 mile hike to the Dionondahowa Falls. If you go to the falls, try the ice cream at Ice Cream Man.
Where to stay in Saratoga Springs?
The downtown is so nice and worth walking around, so staying right on Broadway is ideal. This hotel, previously known as The Downtowner, was first built in the 1950s but had fallen under disrepair. Bluebird Hotels took it under its wing to renovate it while still keeping the motor lodge 1950s vibe, with a modern, art-appreciating twist, and it fits perfectly in the town. The hotel brand’s founder, Rob Blood, wanted to keep as much of the 1950s motor lodge vibe but infuse it with the town’s charms, making it the perfect, affordable spot for a family vacation or road trip stop.
The rooms are light and comfortable, situated around an inviting atrium which is a welcome spot to take a rest from your busy day on the couches. The atrium used to be a pool, which was constructed in a pretty unsafe manner, so it was removed, but its spirit remains with paint and furniture in its place.
And the Spa City Motor Lodge has parking! That is pretty incredible in such a small, busy town.
So are you ready for a trip to Saratoga Springs? What are you most looking forward to? Do you have a favorite part of New York state? Please let me know in the comments below.
Spa City Motor Lodge hosted my stay and some activities, but all opinions are honest and my own.