If the idea of visiting a place steeped in history in an old-meets-new setting located less than 15 miles from the “Blue Line” of the famed Adirondack Park and nicknamed The Spa City isn’t enough to entice you to visit, perhaps the fact that it’s also known as the place where the potato chip was created will satisfy your travel appetite. Saratoga Springs, New York, is a popular tourist destination that offers upscale shopping and dining options, as well as many fun activities in and around the city for people of all ages to enjoy.
It’s also a great place to pick up the famous Saratoga Chips, based on the kettle chip-style potato chips that are said to originate in the city. According to legend, a diner visiting Moon's Lake House, a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, in 1853 was unhappy with the texture of the fried potatoes he had ordered (at that time, fried potatoes were commonly served in thick-cut slices). He sent them back to the kitchen multiple times to be cut into thinner slices. The chef, George 'Speck' Crum, was not too happy with the criticism and was so annoyed with the customer that he sliced the potatoes much thinner than he usually would, covered them in salt and deep-fried them. The customer was finally satisfied and the potato chip was born. Another version of how Saratoga Springs became the birthplace of the potato chip is that Catherine Speck Wicks (Crum’s sister) accidentally dropped slices of potato into hot fat she was preparing for a batch of doughnuts, and when Crum got them out, he tasted them and added them to the menu as Saratoga Chips.
Saratoga Springs is also known for its mineral springs (hence the city’s nickname, The Spa City), which are said to have healing and relaxing properties. The City of Saratoga dates back to the 14th century when Native Americans lived and visited the area because of these healing mineral springs. Eventually the town grew and evolved into the City of Saratoga Springs. The mineral springs became a main attraction for many, including wealthy Americans and internationals who bought summer homes there. Gambling became popular, and in 1863, gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion and future congressman, John Morrissey, organized Saratoga's first thoroughbred meet a month after the Battle of Gettysburg. More than 5,000 people came to watch and bet on the races that summer. Soon after, the Saratoga Racing Association formed, followed by the purchase of 125 acres of land to build the Saratoga Race Course, which opened in 1863 and is the oldest continuously operating sporting event in the U.S. (as well as being the third oldest race track/course in the U.S.). Each year, the track opens for a summer race season that lasts six weeks—from late July through Labor Day (this year, it opens on Friday, July 21 and continues through Monday, Sept. 4)—which includes a number of major stakes races, including the Travers Stakes, which is one of the most prominent summer horse races in the U.S.
In addition to mineral springs and horse racing, Saratoga Spa State Park, known for its classical architecture and listed as a National Historic Landmark, is home to several culturally diverse and recreational resources. Whether you decide to catch a concert at the nationally known Saratoga Performing Arts Center; a performance at the Spa Little Theater; view the exhibits of the National Museum of Dance, the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to the art of dance, or the artifacts contained in the Saratoga Automobile Museum; or just unwind at the Gideon Putnam Resort and Roosevelt Baths & Spa, this park clearly offers something for everyone. Of course, if golf’s your game, you’re in luck because the Saratoga Spa State Park Golf Course offers players the choice between two gorgeous and challenging golf courses; one a championship 18-hole course and the other a 9-hole course.
Summertime isn’t the only time to plan a visit to Saratoga Springs. In the fall, a visit to nearby Ellms Family Farm is a must, as it features a corn maze, trolley rides, pumpkins and other interactive activities in a scenic and fun farm environment. The city’s Haunted Saratoga Tour is another fun and informative way to get in the Halloween spirit and learn about the history of the city’s many infamous ghosts and haunted locations, including Old Smoke, who is said to haunt the old Canfield Casino; Angeline, who is known as the Witch of Saratoga; and Hattie, who is known to turn up in her restaurant, Hattie’s Restaurant, on occasion. This tour is available from April through November.
The City of Saratoga Springs is also ideally located just south of the 6.1 million-acre Adirondack Park, which features some of the finest leaf-pepping scenic byways, rural routes and backcountry roads, as well as one of the longest fall foliage seasons anywhere in the U.S. The Adirondack Park also offers more than 2,000 miles of breathtaking hiking trails that provide visitors with the chance to see majestic old-growth forests that have never been logged, picturesque mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls and the unique opportunity to truly experience nature as it was intended, as the public portions of the park are preserved and protected as “forever kept as wild forest lands” under the New York State Constitution.
If ghosts and mountain treks are not your thing, consider learning about the history of Saratoga Springs while indulging in its delicious food. Foodies should sign up for the city’s cultural walking tour, which is a 2.5-hour tour that starts with a stroll through the city’s farmers’ market and highlights many of the city’s finest treats, including the Saratoga Olive Oil Company and Saratoga Tea & Honey. Along the way, visitors will learn about the culture, history and architecture of the city.
Because of the long list of things to do and see in the Saratoga Springs area, it’s a safe bet that any trip to this historic city is sure to be a healing experience for the mind, body and soul—even one that doesn’t involve a dip in the mineral springs!