Saratoga Springs, nestled between the Catskill and Adirondack Mountain ranges in Upstate New York, has been on the tourist map ever since health conscious visitors first arrived to “take” the salubrious, mineral-rich waters of its natural springs. Today, families will enjoy Saratoga’s all-American charm and pedestrian-friendly downtown, bustling with street life, independently owned shops and restaurants. The cultural life is diverse and developed for a town of its small size — the National Museum of Dance is a real find and there are frequent performances at the private, highly regarded liberal arts Skidmore College — so those with an artistic bent will be satisfied. Saratoga Spa State Park offers an abundance of recreational options in all seasons. Add a historic hotel to the mix and you have an ideal weekend getaway that’s less than three hours from New York and Boston.
Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa
If you and your family are tired of monotonous chain hotels that lack a certain je ne sais quoi, book a room at the historic Gideon Putnam. It is a true Grande Dame that recalls a time when travel was genteel and gracious. Common areas hark back to yesteryear, complete with comfy rocking chairs scattered about the grounds. Twenty-first century amenities, like free Wi Fi and flat screen televisions in all 124 guest rooms, add a modern touch in all the right places. The hotel is located inside bucolic Saratoga Spa State Park, so hiking trails, tennis courts, golf and two swimming pools are literally at your doorstep.
When it’s mealtime, the onsite restaurant, Putnam’s, serves simply prepared classics at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an emphasis on local products. Cheese from upstate New York dairies are menu highlights, as is fresh produce from nearby farms. Pasta, burgers, salads and mac and cheese are all winners. The patio is a lovely spot to dine al fresco and enjoy views of the park while you listen to live music.
Saratoga is Great for a Multi-Gen Weekend
The non-pretentious, unfussy elegance of the hotel, coupled with a wide variety of recreational choices within the state park, make the Gideon Putnam particularly appealing for families and multi-generational vacationers. What’s there to do at Saratoga Spa State Park? Rent bikes and helmets at the hotel’s front desk, play tennis on the public courts, or enjoy nine or 18 holes of golf, all just steps from your room.
In summer, the park’s Victoria Pool is a refreshing place for a dip and guests of the Gideon Putnam may swim for free. Many of the hiking trails are quite flat, excellent for novices. In winter, these trails are a snow-dusted wonderland, perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The park is home to several natural springs, so bring an empty bottle and fill up.
Don’t miss The Roosevelt Baths & Spa, known for its medicinal waters. Visitors 16 and older can book a relaxing treatment at this venerable, no-nonsense spa, established in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt due to his interest in the therapeutic value of hydrotherapy. There are 42 large treatment rooms with a 1930’s vibe, available for soaking (with and without a massage). Each room is fitted with massage table and a one-person-sized bathtub filled with warm mineral water. You will soak alone in soothing, naturally effervescent and slightly buoyant spring water for 40 minutes. Totally zen. Follow it up with a tension-taming massage for an extra dose of bliss.
Family-Friendly Dining in Saratoga
You could eat all of your meals at the Gideon Putnam, but Saratoga is a culinary hot spot, so you will want to take the hotel’s free shuttle van or drive into town, just minutes away, for at least a few of your meals. The Gideon Putnam’s cordial concierge has an encyclopedic knowledge of the area, so stop by her desk for suggestions on restaurants and attractions. The following eateries are on or just off Broadway, in the heart of town.
At Circus Café, kids will love the popcorn, pink cotton candy and circus theme. The food is very good, with terrific burgers, fresh salads and wonderful seafood.
Gaffney’s is a casual eatery that has the biggest open-air patio in town and is the place to dine in summer. Kids have lots of room to roam and live music adds to the festive atmosphere. Service is terrific and the menu has many choices and fair prices. Burgers, simply prepared chicken, juicy cuts of steak and Louisiana gumbo are tasty options. Ask for a basket of the homemade kettle chips. Saratoga claims to have invented these thick chips, and this is the place to indulge.
Hattie’s has been serving delectable Southern fried chicken since 1938. The portion is very generous and includes a choice of two hearty sides, so consider sharing. The menu offers Southern and Louisiana specialties, but the crispy chicken is hard to pass up. Save room for luscious home-baked desserts.
Breakfast at Mrs. London’s bakery is de rigueur. The muffins and pastries rival the best in the Northeast but the prices are up there with those of big cities like New York. Worth every penny and calorie.
Broadway is the town’s main drag. You can expect musicians and street performers in fair weather, so allow plenty of time to wander.
Northshire Bookstore, a true, family-owned independent book shop has an entire floor devoted to children’s literature. Bookworms of all ages can spend hours browsing, and the comfy seating encourages you to stay awhile.
G. Willikers Toys is one of our favorite toy stores. This shop sells playthings that encourage and enhance creativity. The owners and employees understand that children learn through play and the selection of merchandise reflects this. Kids and kids at heart are invited to come on in and experiment.
Saratoga Cultural Attractions
You will find the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, known as SPAC, here. The New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra take an annual summer residency at this cultural hub. Kids 12 and under are admitted free to the gently sloping lawn for all classical events, so bring a picnic (Putnam Market has some tasty options) and a blanket.
There are several interesting museums that are made for family explorations. Downtown’s Children’s Museum at Saratoga is a find for kids age 8 and younger. The museum aims to inspire creativity and encourages hands-on play. It’s great fun to put on a lab coat and goggles at the Silly Science Center.
There are two excellent small museums located within the state park. The Saratoga Automobile Museum displays dozens of classic and antique cars. My family’s hands-down favorite cultural attraction is the National Museum of Dance. Budding dancers will be in heaven, but all kids who enjoy creative play should head straight to the children’s wing. It is equipped with a stage and dozens of costumes that kids may try on. There are scores of tap shoes and ballet slippers in an assortment of sizes, so even kids who have never “Shuffled off to Buffalo” or done a plié can get into the action. Families with potential college-goers should plan a tour of the pretty Skidmore College campus, open year round.
Off to the Races
Saratoga is synonymous with horse racing and the Saratoga Race Track is legendary. Families are welcome to join in the equine fun during the annual six-week season, from mid-July until early September. Family Mondays are new this season. Each Monday will feature interactive games, entertainment and activities for kids of all ages, absolutely free.
If you enjoy train travel, Amtrak can bring you to Saratoga. The Gideon Putnam shuttle is efficient and complimentary, so you may enjoy a Saratoga getaway without a car. They will pick you up at the train station and escort you around town. The hotel has some terrific deals and packages in low and shoulder season, so check the website.
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