Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this weekend in Saratoga Springs in March.
If you’re familiar with the Upstate New York destination of Saratoga Springs, it’s probably for one of two things: the famous horse racing track, and the renown Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Growing up just forty-five minutes south in Albany, those were definitely the two reasons I found myself hopping on the Interstate.
However, the renovation of uber chic The Downtowner hotel suddenly gave me a reason to return as an adult. After Ian made several trips down to Albany and I made one up to Montreal, we started to look for destinations where we could meet somewhere in the middle — and this was our first pick.
While, granted, the driving times weren’t exactly even, Ian was living in a tiny apartment with multiple roommates and I was back with my family, so the idea of a weekend of alone together was incredibly appealing — oh, plus Prada, of course.
One of the top reasons we were so thrilled to check out The Downtowner? It wasn’t just the instagrammable glow up of the lobby, where a once-grimy pool was filled in to create a trendy common space with free nitro brew coffee and tea on tap. Nope, it was also the fact that The Downtowner also just so happens to welcome dogs with open arms.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but from the moment we checked in, I could not get the song Shallow from A Star is Born out of my head.
I’m off the deeeeeep eeeeend, watch as I diiiiiiiiive in….
It was a totally, completely, very fun start to the weekend for my backup singers Ian and Prada alike.
The sweetness didn’t stop when we entered our room — which as a converted motel also had direct access to the street, so handy for dog owners. The staff had left us a cute welcome note, and a dog bone! (Little did they know that Prada followed a strict meat-only diet — kind of the opposite of veganism, if you will.)
Our little bugaboo had gone from living the first dozen years of her life on a teeny island in Thailand to suddenly traveling all over the East Coast — to Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Albany, and now Saratoga too!
She was in heaven having Ian around.
We hadn’t really done much research beyond the hotel into how pet-friendly Saratoga was, but Prada promptly settled in for a nap upon our arrival, freeing us up to have a human-only lunch. Still, we didn’t want to venture far, so we literally walked out the door of our room, crossed the street, and had a yummy Mexican meal at Cantina.
As soon as we finished our last scoop of guac we headed back for Prada, then all went for a stroll along Broadway together to put Saratoga’s stores to the pet friendly test. Chef Ian was immediately drawn into gourmet groceries The Savory Pantry and Saratoga Olive Oil Co., where she was greeted with a big smile while we sampled fancy olive oils and mused over expensive tea.
We thought Prada had earned a bone by that point, so made our way to Bella & Lindy Saratoga’s Pet Boutique, a quintessential spoiled pup establishment. We let our little cutie pick out whatever she wanted — which, needless to say, was a meat-filled bone. You can take the dog off the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the dog!
If I thought Ian was in heaven in the overpriced kitchen stores, I had another thing coming — because Saratoga has not one but two lovely, dog-friendly bookstores. First we wandered into Northshire Bookstore, which is an enormous tribute to the written word that reminded me of some of the now-closed bookstores of my childhood.
Next we found ourselves in Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, which feels a bit like a treasure chest and specializing in rare, out-of-print, secondhand, and other hard-to-find books. Neither batted an eye when we brought in our baby girl. In Lyrical Ballad I was lost down one of the crooked, whimsical aisles when I turned around and swear I caught Prada spying on me from another shelf. She truly cracked me up.
Eventually it was my turn to get a retail rush — so we headed to Saratoga Tea and Honey. I’d been following the brand on Instagram in anticipation of our trip and was swooning at their tea brewing workshops and honey tasting room long before arrival.
We were a little hesitant to bring Prada in but if there was a rule against dogs, the staff looked the other way. We walked away with a jar of truly heavenly mango honey and each grabbed an artisanal blend to go from the tea bar onsite. This place is an absolute must-go!
We took our drinks and strolled down towards Congress Park, which was full of trees for Prada to furiously sniff and modern art installations for us to muse over.
After a long day, Prada was more than happy to hang back at The Downtowner again while we headed out to dinner. We knew we were headed none other than the iconic Hatties, perhaps Saratoga’s most loved eatery — and another one of the top reasons I was so excited to come.
I could see why it was so popular. The fried chicken and other Southern fare was worth the hype, as was the cute interior. And turns out, if it wasn’t so dang cold out, it would have been dog-friendly — there’s a patio out back, too.
The next morning, after grabbing smoothie bowls at Saratoga Juice Bar, we headed back to our room to snuggle in bed with Netflix and our laptops — and I can’t lie, sometimes we kind of cross our fingers it rains a bit when we’re traveling so we can do just that.
By the time lunch rolled around we were ready for an adventure, so we looked up dog-friendly eateries and made our way down the street to Comfort Kitchen. We double checked where we were allowed to sit with a dog and they pretty much shrugged and told us anywhere. Score!
After, it was time to work off our meal with a walk at the beautiful Saratoga Spa State Park. I’d only ever been here to attend concerts at SPAC, and while it wasn’t exactly the season for enjoying a state park to the fullest — it was kind of that cold muddy mess that March in Upstate New York is — we were still determined to do a bit of exploring.
We drove around aimlessly through the massive grounds of the park until we found a parking lot with a map that seemed to indicate several trails. We walked the length of many of them, walking along Geyser Creek up to the Orenda Spring, along Ferndell Creek to the Ferndell Spring, and more.
It felt good to be outside! And we had the park so to ourselves that we often let our little wild one off the leash to do a bit of exploring, too.
That night, Ian and I went for one last human-only meal at Hamlet and Ghost (turns out, most of Saratoga dining is only pet-friendly when you can sit in the outdoor areas, understandably.) Sadly, my photos of this evening are probably trapped deep on one of my many millions of memory card, somewhere — my 2020 resolution is to get digitally organized, for real! Losing photos kind of breaks my heart. Regardless, it really impressed me — I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite between this and Hattie’s.
The next morning, Ian left to drive back to Montreal long before Prada and I were awake. I went for one final breakfast at the excellent Urban Roots — the first place I’d eaten that I needed to reach by bar — before checking out and heading home.
It really was the perfect little weekend for the three of us — rest, relaxation, and together time. I’ve been listening to friends rave about Saratoga for my whole life, but I’d never really gotten the bug and hadn’t been in ages. This trip definitely started to give me a feel for what all the fuss is about.
And there was so much to go back for! The Tang Museum, The National Museum of Dance, concerts at SPAC — it looked like The Downtowner might just be seeing a lot more of us.
Have you been to Saratoga Springs? Can you get the song Shallow out of your head now?
Many thanks to The Downtowner for hosting us. As always, you get my unvarnished thoughts and opinions no matter what.