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3 Hours North of New York, a Historic Little City Made for Strolling

September  4, 2017

I drive a minivan outfitted with 4 car seats, each of which is often occupied, the oldest passenger 6, the youngest 18 months. But even when my spaceship is at maximum capacity, I have no fear—no matter the time of day, no matter the time of year, be it race season or July Fourth weekend—of cruising into Saratoga Springs, New York, finding street parking, and walking to our first destination, which invariably is Mrs. London’s.

The impressive pastry selection at Mrs. London's. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

In a 1983 New York Times article, Craig Claiborne described Mrs. London’s as a “landmark bakeshop,” one-fifth of the Saratoga story, the other four being the racetrack, ballet, sparkling water, and symphony. Located on Broadway, the city’s main artery, Mrs. London’s continues to draw a crowd day in and day out with their breads and pastries, which many claim rival the best in Paris. My favorites include the almond croissant, cream scone, Brittany (kouign amann), and pecan Danish, and I find it impossible to leave without a baguette or a loaf of whatever is left on the shelf—they sell out quickly.

For lunch I love the croques, all of which are made on their pain de mie (a white bread baked in a pullman pan with a fitted lid that ensures the loaf will emerge as a perfect rectangle) or their grilled classics, especially the Virginia ham with cheddar, apple, and raisin-walnut spread made on their farm bread.

Left, the inimitable Mrs. London's. Right, one of the choice panini. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

As Claiborne noted, horse racing and natural springs are synonymous with Saratoga Springs, but there’s so much more: Union Avenue, which runs through the racetrack property, is a wide street lined with Victorian mansions fitted with turrets, verandas, bay windows, beautifully manicured lawns, and elaborate gardens. This grand, historic feeling continues throughout the downtown area, too, especially on Broadway, which is lined with independent shops and restaurants—it always feels bustling and lively. The many restaurants and bars certainly draw a young crowd (including those from the Skidmore College). The Saratoga Performing Arts Center and other venues, as well as many festivals, also make Saratoga a great cultural destination.

Shop the Story

Just a 3-hour drive north of New York City (and an easy stop en route to Montreal, Lake George, or Burlington, Vermont,)—and with the racetrack's 6-week season ending this weekend—the fall is ripe for exploring this historic little city.

Here are a few more places worth checking out the next time you find yourself upstate:

Just south of Mrs. London’s on Broadway is Northshire Bookstore, which not only boasts an impressive cookbook section, but also devotes an entire floor to children—books, coloring, model villages. It’s one of the nicest bookstores I’ve ever visited, equipped with cozy nooks and comfy couches as well as a thoughtfully curated selection of stationery, calendars, vases, candles, indoor gardening kits, and the like. It’s a great spot for gifts.

The dreamy cookbook section at Northshire Bookstore. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

And if this isn’t reason enough to visit, Berkshire Mountain Bakery (featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s documentary Cooked) is opening up a storefront in the same building, (opening date TBD). Steps away from Northshire is the Children’s Museum at Saratoga (currently closed for renovations until further notice, sadly), an engaging, hands-on spot that similarly will keep children entertained for hours.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Dock Brown's on Saratoga Lake for chowder and a beer. Nice views and a really cozy space. Also, the yearly chowder competition in February is a great way to sample the best of the local restaurant scene. • There really is a dearth of good fine dining in Saratoga. Since the population shrinks so much after the races in the summer, I think it's hard to sustain. So many restaurants have come and gone. In any case, in addition to Max London's I'd recommend The Wine Bar on Broadway, which has been there for many years and has always been consistent. • For sandwiches, another great option off broadway that locals love is Spring Street Deli, right next to Little India (which another commenter recommended, and I second that!). Try the Thunder Gulch. • For culture, check out the Tang Museum at Skidmore College. They have great contemporary art exhibitions, a beautiful space, and free rooftop concerts in the summer. • Saratoga is also famous for Caffe Lena, which opened in 1960 and, according to their website, is America's oldest continuously operating folk coffeehouse. The place is like a time capsule and has shows year round every week. ”
— Leah K.
Comment

When it’s time to get some fresh air again, consider having a picnic lunch in Congress Park, a beautiful space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (architect of New York City’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park). With sweeping lawns, Grecian pavilions, Italian gardens, ponds, ducks, fish, a wooden carousel, and natural springs, from which you can fill up a cup or water bottle (or, as the local children like to do, drink directly from the spout), Congress Park is a great spot to set out a picnic blanket, and bring food from many a nearby shop:

This could be you, enjoying a picnic in Congress Park! Photo by Alexandra Stafford
  • Uncommon Grounds sells delicious coffee roasted daily in small batches on site (and in sight—the large roaster sits in the café among the tables where patrons tap away on laptops and chat with friends) and classic bagels, which are baked on the premises. I love the jalapeño bagel.
  • Putnam Market has a great selection of sandwiches, salads, and soups, which can be ordered ahead of time online or over the phone. You can also pick up crackers, nuts, bread, wine, and a few wedges of cheese, which you can sample before purchasing in a dedicated cheese room—so fun!
  • Four Seasons Natural Foods Café on Phila Street, an offshoot of Four Seasons Natural Foods (an incredible health food market located a few blocks away, also worth visiting), offers a wide selection of vegan and vegetarian fare, cold and hot options served buffet-style. They also sell juices, shakes, and smoothies.
Lunch at Ravenous, heavy on the pommes frites. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

For a dine-in lunch, the charming café Ravenous serves sweet and savory crepes, lightly sweetened Moroccan iced tea, irresistible pommes frites with various dipping sauces (I like the classic aioli), and a nice selection of local beer and cider as well as wine. The prix fixe menu is a steal.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, stop into Saratoga Coffee Traders, creators of Death Wish Coffee, which you may recognize from a commercial which debuted during this year’s Super Bowl, the airtime for which they won from an Intuit small business contest. In addition to Death Wish, “the world’s strongest coffee,” you can find cold-brew nitro coffee, which, news to me, you pull from a tap. It looks like beer, with a foamy head, and tastes creamy and slightly sweet without any cream or sugar—a miracle!

Dinner at Hattie's and something to drink at Druthers. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

For a pre-dinner drink, head to Druthers Brewing on the city's main drag, which brews its beer on the premises and whose outdoor patio is particularly inviting. The Henry Street Tap Room, a few blocks away, is a nice space as well, offering craft brews on tap.

Dinner at the adorable Hattie’s, which has been serving southern food in Saratoga since 1938, is a must. Start with a mojito, their signature drink, and a plate of the fried green tomatoes, then share a plate of fried chicken and collard greens or a bowl of jambalaya—the portions are large.

I must confess I have yet to explore much of the fine dining options, but I have friends who have, and Max London’s (owned by the folks behind Mrs. London’s) and 15 Church come highly recommended. I love Karavalli’s, an Indian restaurant—especially their vegetarian fare, such as palak paneer, aloo gobi, dal makhanni, and tarka dal. The garlic naan is spectacular.

Local musicians busking away, left, and a must-stop ice cream spot, Dairy Haus, right. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

And for something sweet:

Across the street from Hattie’s and a few yards from Congress Park is a Ben and Jerry’s shop, which made history in 1984 when it became the first outside-of-Vermont location to host Free Cone Day. A scoop of their mint chocolate chip (anywhere in the country) is always a treat, but if you feel like jumping in the car and driving 5 minutes north, you’ll find Dairy Haus, which serves a variety of soft-serves, which swirl to twice the height of the cones they're served in, as well as a host of hard ice creams, all homemade on the premises (chocolate and cookies and cream being two of my favorites). The kids favor vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles. Warning: Cash only, though there is an ATM on site.

Photo by Alexandra Stanton

Fall up here, as you might know or imagine, is beautiful, and a favorite pastime of locals and visitors alike is apple-picking and apple cider donut-eating. You don’t have to travel too far to find a country store making their own apple cider donuts, which, when fresh out of the fryer, are a treat no matter where you are. Saratoga Apple, 10 miles outside the downtown area, a fifth-generation operation, offers it all: pick-your-own apples, wagon rides, live music, apple cider, pies, and, of course, donuts, which are some of the best in the area.

In sum, Saratoga is a walkable, beautiful, historic city that you can familiarize yourself with in a morning. Grab a coffee and a croissant, and start strolling.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

Ever been to Saratoga? Share your recommendations in the comments!

This article was originally published in 2016.

36 Comments

Merrill S. September 12, 2016
Great article! Others have alreadymentioned it, but the Saratoga farmers market is really one of the best I've been to on the East Coast. Amazing produce and local foods, and the live music is a treat!
 
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Alexandra S. September 12, 2016
I can't wait to see it Merrill! Hoping to take a little drive this weekend. I love live music at a farmers' market.
 
Picholine September 9, 2016
My town...just picked up six delish macaroons at Mrs. Landon's after lunch at Phila Fusion. Shop at Saratoga Olive Oil, Saratoga Tea and Honey and have breakfast at Sweet Mimi's on Phila. Lots of unique boutiques and gallieries.<br />B and Bs...July and August see NYC ballet and Philidelphia also the famous Saratoga Thoroughbred Horses. Well we love our town!
 
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Alexandra S. September 9, 2016
Nice! I've heard Sweet Mimi's is great, too. Thanks for all of these tips. I have a serious to-visit list!
 
Laura F. September 8, 2016
Little correction. Golden Gate Park was designed by John McLaren. Olmsted influenced his design. This article makes me want to visit Saratoga Springs again. Thanks.
 
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Alexandra S. September 9, 2016
Very interesting, thank you for this! Yes, come, it's so pretty here.
 
cucina D. September 8, 2016
Love, love, love this article on our favorite update NY spot, Saratoga Springs ❤️I grew up in Albany/Schenectady so this was our go-to place growing up, the racetrack and food spots are wonderful! I also got married to the love of my life at the famous Saratoga National Golf Club 😍 Saving this article for my next visit to this beautiful place.
 
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Alexandra S. September 8, 2016
Oh, so fun! I bet it was beautiful, Cucina di Mammina.
 
Zhenya K. September 8, 2016
Alexandra! I am planning on visiting Saratoga Springs with my mom in a week. We are taking a train from New York as neither of us drive. Is the train station far away from all the places you are describing? The list looks great!
 
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Alexandra S. September 8, 2016
So fun, Zhenya! It looks as though the train station is about 1.5 miles from the main downtown area. If you have any luggage, you might want to take a cab, but otherwise, if you're up for walking, it would be a decent/not-horrible walk ... a perfect way to work up an appetite before Mrs. London's :)
 
Fresh T. September 6, 2016
Ali! Oh my goodness. It looks so wonderful there. I guess I need to add this to my bucketlist.
 
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Alexandra S. September 7, 2016
Yes, you must, Dana! It's so beautiful.
 
Leah K. September 3, 2016
Great article! You definitely captured some of Saratoga's gems. I grew up in Saratoga, and went to college there as well! Here are a few more locals' picks.<br /><br />• Bread Basket Bakery. Though not as storied or upscale as Mrs. Londons, the bread and pastries are made from scratch in house everyday. Try the bear claws.<br />• Dock Brown's on Saratoga Lake for chowder and a beer. Nice views and a really cozy space. Also, the yearly chowder competition in February is a great way to sample the best of the local restaurant scene.<br />• There really is a dearth of good fine dining in Saratoga. Since the population shrinks so much after the races in the summer, I think it's hard to sustain. So many restaurants have come and gone. In any case, in addition to Max London's I'd recommend The Wine Bar on Broadway, which has been there for many years and has always been consistent. <br />• For sandwiches, another great option off broadway that locals love is Spring Street Deli, right next to Little India (which another commenter recommended, and I second that!). Try the Thunder Gulch.<br />• For culture, check out the Tang Museum at Skidmore College. They have great contemporary art exhibitions, a beautiful space, and free rooftop concerts in the summer.<br />• Saratoga is also famous for Caffe Lena, which opened in 1960 and, according to their website, is America's oldest continuously operating folk coffeehouse. The place is like a time capsule and has shows year round every week. <br />
 
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Alexandra S. September 3, 2016
Thank you for all of these tips, Leah! That little strip of with Hattie's, Caffe Lena, and Sweet Mimi's (which I've also heard good things about) is such a treasure. I've got to get to Caffe Lena. And I keep meaning to try BBB, too. My to-try list has suddenly grown! I think I need to do a follow-up post :)
 
Marion E. September 3, 2016
HI...great article, you named many of the reasons to love Saratoga. (I celebrated a friend's birthday at Mrs. London's just yesterday, in fact.) I can't recall, however, reading why you don't fear finding parking--especially for a vehicle that sounds like a monster. Yesterday--the last Friday in racing season--I lucked out, ONLY because I have a handicapped rear-view hanger. (Legit: open-heart surgery recently.) But my tiny Kia Rio never could have found a spot anywhere else in town--so how can you find a spot, with assurance, during racing season? Just curious. Thanks! :)
 
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Alexandra S. September 3, 2016
Happy Birthday! Fellow virgo? (Mine's today :)) My vehicle is a monster! I guess I don't fear parking because I'm not afraid to park a few streets away from the main drag because everything is so close. For instance, I drove up the other evening and parked on Broadway, but at the very southern end near Congress park — it was 6 pm, and there were plenty of spaces, and it was a little bit of a walk to Uncommnon Grounds, but totally doable. And the other day, I arrived around noon, and I hit a little bit of race traffic on Union, but I parked on a side street a new north of Union — in a very residential area — and walked the few blocks to the downtown. So, I don't have any tips on finding prime parking, and certainly, a longish walk is not for everyone, but I'm always amazed by how quickly we can get from A to B in Saratoga. Hope that helps somewhat!
 
Mark S. September 3, 2016
My favorite is Comfort Kitchen, tucked in the back of the Saratoga Marketplace. Locally grown food, owner/chef always there, #1 on Yelp, quiet garden for outdoor dining, least expensive dining in the city, great for children as well as adults.
 
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Alexandra S. September 3, 2016
Can't wait to try Comfort Kitchen — the menu looks amazing!
 
Ethel September 3, 2016
Saratoga Springs, place of my birth, has really grown into a world class city. so proud of it and looking forward to coming home this fall.
 
David W. September 2, 2016
Breakfast burrito in The Local is amazing! Little India restaurant beside Spring Street deli is also really good, it is just behind Congress Park. The Olde Bryan Inn is a nice cozy spot in winter. Sit up at the bar midweek evenings and have the fish and chips and a really good pint of Guinness!
 
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Alexandra S. September 3, 2016
Oh that sounds amazing! Thanks for the tips. Dying to get to The Local!
 
Agnes September 2, 2016
Mouzon House is GREAT! Revisited New-Orleans food, family-owned and operated, impeccable service (and wine list!), farm to table ingredients.<br />And The Local - best place in town for great beer and gourmet pub food . Bonus: prices are super affordable!
 
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Alexandra S. September 2, 2016
Awesome! I've head Mouton House is fantastic. I need to get to The Local ASAP — I love all the mugs hanging above the bar. So fun.
 
bc September 2, 2016
Nice write up. I moved to Saratoga Springs 20+ years ago as a temporary thing, and never left. Next time you're in Saratoga I'd recommend hitting up Local on the Lake. It's the same owners of the Local, only its their Saratoga Lake location. Also check out Salt and Char, owned by Grey Kunz and the newest dining spot in Saratoga. As for breakfast or lunch options, my favorite diner is Sarge's Triangle Diner. Well worth the wait. For sandwiches, I always hit up Roma's for their mixed Italian sub w/hot pepper relish. One Caroline Street Bistro is a great spot for food, drinks and live music. I do love Northshire, but for the coolest bookstore, definitely check out Lyrical Ballad Bookstore. It's an incredible maze of books. And every time you turn a corner and think you can't go further, there's another nook or room to check out. We have an amazing farmers market just a block away from downtown, and I know I will spark some debate here, but I prefer Humpty Dumpty over Dairy Haus when it comes to soft serve. There are a ton of other cool spots to check out..just visit and explore.
 
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Alexandra S. September 2, 2016
Thank you so much of all of these ideas! I saw Salt and Char from the street during my last visit, and it looks beautiful. Will definitely check out the the two Local restaurants—these, along with Lyrical Ballad, seem to be a must. Sarge's look great—I've seen it on the way to Dairy Haus—and I absolutely will try Humpty Dumpty ... I'm always up for exploring when it comes to ice cream :) Thanks!
 
Amy S. September 2, 2016
I much prefer The Ice Cream Man's Broadway outpost on Broadway to Dairy Haus - homemade ice cream with some unique flavors, and must add the Sunday Farmer's Market to the list, in Saratoga Spa State Park - oh, and The Local, for the best fish and chips you'll ever have.
 
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Alexandra S. September 2, 2016
A woman I was sitting next to at Mrs. London's recently said the exact same thing about The Local — I'm dying to try it! Thanks for the tips on The Ice Cream Man and the Sunday market in SPAC.
 
Sarah G. September 1, 2016
Yes, leave some time for Lyrical Ballad--it goes deep down under the city! And the fantastic Saturday morning Farmer's Market bears mentioning: it has take-out foods as well as fabulous fresh vegetables, fruits, locally made cheeses, pickles, free-range eggs, and local grass-fed meats. There's also a smaller Wednesday afternoon market in the same marketplace, a block off Broadway and Lake Ave.<br />And it's worth mentioning that Saratoga Lake is not far, and it has a great wood-fired pizza place, Harvest & Hearth, and several places to rent kayaks and paddle boards.<br />Lots more we could mention--you're right, it's a gem of a city in the country!
 
Sarah G. September 1, 2016
Yes, leave some time for Lyrical Ballad--it goes deep down under the city! And the fantastic Saturday morning Farmer's Market bears mentioning: it has take-out foods as well as fabulous fresh vegetables, fruits, locally made cheeses, pickles, free-range eggs, and local grass-fed meats. There's also a smaller Wednesday afternoon market in the same marketplace, a block off Broadway and Lake Ave.<br />And it's worth mentioning that Saratoga Lake is not far, and it has a great wood-fired pizza place, Harvest & Hearth, and several places to rent kayaks and paddle boards.<br />Lots more we could mention--you're right, it's a gem of a city in the country!
 
Sarah G. September 1, 2016
Yes, leave some time for Lyrical Ballad--it goes deep down under the city! And the fantastic Saturday morning Farmer's Market bears mentioning: it has take-out foods as well as fabulous fresh vegetables, fruits, locally made cheeses, pickles, free-range eggs, and local grass-fed meats. There's also a smaller Wednesday afternoon market in the same marketplace, a block off Broadway and Lake Ave.<br />And it's worth mentioning that Saratoga Lake is not far, and it has a great wood-fired pizza place, Harvest & Hearth, and several places to rent kayaks and paddle boards.<br />Lots more we could mention--you're right, it's a gem of a city in the country!
 
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Alexandra S. September 2, 2016
I am going to Hearth and Harvest tomorrow for my birthday dinner!! I'm so excited to try it—my neighbor down her in Niskayuna recommended it. Lyrical Ballad sounds like so much fun! And I need to get up to explore the farmers' markets for sure. Thanks!
 
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Alexandra S. September 3, 2016
Harvest and Hearth was awesome!! Such a great spot — fast, friendly, delicious. I love the idea of getting up there early in the day, renting some kayaks or stand up paddle boards (which I am dying to try), then ending there for dinner. So fun.
 
Kathryn G. September 1, 2016
Comfort Kitchen is also a great place to eat. It's farm to market menu has something for everyone. My favorite place to eat.
 
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Alexandra S. September 2, 2016
It looks SO cute!! How have I not heard of this place? General Tso's eggplant sounds delicious—would love to know how to make this myself. Thanks!
 
passpartout September 1, 2016
Not much to add, but I love the Lyrical Ballad antiquarian bookshop - it even has it's own bank vault. Definitely try the spring water, available from a tap in the park.
 
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Alexandra S. September 1, 2016
Oh wow, I've never been! Thanks for the tip. I've lived up here for 3 years now, and I often find myself going to the same places again and again. This shop sounds beautiful! Love the natural spring taps in the park!