Saratoga Springs is known as a summertime destination, with crowds lining up to see the horses run at the historic Saratoga Race Course in July and August. Then again, with the horses come the crowds—and the inflated prices. Though the track is lovely (and has its own Shake Shack), there’s plenty to do in Saratoga without it, and it’s almost nicer to visit in the more mellow autumn season.
When you do, stay at the Gideon Putnam Resort. The hotel has a historic feel as opposed to a luxurious one; with its brick exterior and vibrant green-striped awnings, it looks like it came straight from the 1930s, when the 124-room resort was built. Inside, guests are treated to modern amenities (flatscreens, WiFi, and all that), though you can still see remnants of history, like the 1939 mural of the Adirondack Mountains on display in the dining room.
It’s possible to spend the weekend without venturing too far off the hotel’s grounds. The Gideon Putnam is situated within the Saratoga Spa State Park, a little oasis unto itself. Besides the regular, lush scenery you expect to find in a state park in autumn—which, because of its many stately pine trees, actually stays pretty green here, with hints of the season’s golds and reds—the park offers golfing at the Saratoga Spa Golf Course
(saratogaspagolf.com); entertainment at the amphitheater-style Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where Bob Dylan performed with Wilco and My Morning Jacket this summer (spac.org); and culture at the National Museum of Dance (dancemuseum.org) or the Saratoga Automobile Museum (saratogaautomuseum.org).
The “Spa” part of “Saratoga Spa State Park” refers to the Roosevelt Baths & Spa, which should earn a spot on your must-do list. Opened in 1935 at the behest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it looks more like a college building or 1930s hospital than a spa. With the exception of a modern relaxation room, wings of private bathing rooms keep the institutional vibe—and, when you finally set eyes on your tub, the water is an unsettling shade of brown. But once you slip down into the deep, deep, deep bathtub, heated to 97°F, and feel yourself floating in the wake all of those minerals (which are the reason for the water’s color)—bliss. Since the 1830s, visitors have been calling a bath in Saratoga’s mineral water “taking the cure,” and it sure feels like one.
Dine: Putnam’s Restaurant and Bar has a traditional menu during the summer to please the year-to-year regulars, but loosens up during the fall, taking more risks on small plates and main courses. The restaurant is also known for its vast brunch buffet. Those looking for a fine-dining experience can try the Maestro’s at the Van Dam (maestrosatthevandam.com), situated inside an old, pre-Civil War Rip Van Dam Hotel, or the classic cuisine at Sperry’s (sperrysrestaurant.com). But what really gets the locals raving is the fried chicken at the Cajun/Creole Hattie’s Restaurant (hattiesrestaurant.com).
Explore: The main thoroughfare of Saratoga is Broadway, where you can shop at the boutiques (be sure to stop in and taste the infused olive oils from the Saratoga Olive Oil Company; saratogaoliveoil.com), grab a bite to eat and a coffee (our favorite is at Uncommon Grounds; uncommongrounds.com), or veer off into Congress Park and take a spin on the carousel.
Insider tip: If you’re looking for nightlife, head off Broadway and onto Caroline Street, where there are plenty of bars, many of which host live music. For a wee-hours snack, “The Dough-Boy” at Esperanto (esperantosaratoga.com)—chicken, cheese, and spices stuffed into pizza dough that’s sort of in the shape of an eggroll—provides that perfect late-night grease fix.
Gideon Putnam Resort
24 Gideon Putnam Rd Saratoga Springs, NY
Distance from White Plains: 3 hours
Details: In autumn, room rates start at $235 for a standard room with a queen bed—nearly half of what it costs during the peak racing season. Watch for fall packages, though, like last year’s Pack ‘n’ Pedal package, which included one night’s accommodation, two box lunches, and two two-hour bike rentals starting at $219 per night.
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