Out & About
With concerts, art events, historic sites — and the races — Saratoga’s a sure bet.
Out & About
Shakespeare, sailboat rides, outdoor concerts, art shows — there are countless ways to savor summer’s grand finale
By Polly Sparling
Saratoga: A sure bet
For many of us, August is vacation time. Forsaking the daily grind for some summer R&R, we take to the highways in droves, leaving busy local thoroughfares like Routes 9 and 9W empty during rush hour (well, almost empty).
One popular destination for many Valleyites during this steamy month is the town of Saratoga. Just a (relatively) short jaunt north on the Thruway, the Spa City’s famous Thoroughbred racing season is the main draw, attracting horse lovers, people watchers, and gamblin’ men — and women. Races run through Labor Day weekend, with the Travers — one of the oldest stakes races in the nation and the season’s crown jewel — taking place on Aug. 25 (518-584-6200 or www.nyra.com). But the area’s attractions extend far beyond the track; from open-air concerts to garden tours, historical encampments to rodeos, the Saratoga region is chockablock with activities that are sure to please.
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center hosts the Philadelphia Orchestra through the first half of the month (Aug. 1-18). Highlights of the season include the opening-night performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”); concerts with guest soloists Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman; and “Broadway Rocks,” an evening of musical selections from a bevy of Broadway hits, including Wicked, The Lion King, and Phantom of the Opera. Popular music is also on tap at SPAC: the Allman Brothers Band, Incubus, the Dave Matthews Band, and Toby Keith are just a few of the acts scheduled to take the stage (518-587-3330 or www.spac.org). Other musical offerings in the area include the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, with featured performers including Emanuel Ax, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the Tokyo String Quartet (Aug. 5-19; contact SPAC for schedule information); a free Baroque Music Festival with the amusing and informative Bells & Motley Consort (Aug. 28; 518-893-7527 or www.baroquefestival.org); Tuesday lunchtime concerts at Saratoga National Historical Park (Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28; 518-664-9821 or www.nps.gov/sara); and Thursday evening music at Wiswall Park in nearby Ballston Spa (Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; 518-885-2772 or www.ballston.org).
While the thoroughbreds get most of the attention, you can catch other “horse sports” while in town. There’s harness racing Tuesdays through Saturdays at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway (518-584-2110), and fast-paced polo matches take place at area fields throughout the month (518-584-8108 or www.saratogapolo.com). But if bull riding and barrel racing are more to your liking, don your cowboy hat and hightail it over to Double M Pro Rodeo in Ballston Spa (Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; 518-885-9543 or www.doublemwestern.com).
Culture mavens have a variety of spots to visit in Saratoga. First on the list (naturally) is the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Learn all about the sport of kings, and experience what it’s like to roar down the backstretch on the museum’s racing simulator (open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; 518-584-0400 or www.racingmuseum.org). The
There’s plenty to keep history buffs busy, too. Saratoga National Historical Park (also known as Saratoga Battlefield) is a must-see. The park includes the site of two crucial Revolutionary War battles (both won by the Americans), the Schuyler House (home to Colonial General Philip Schuyler), and the Saratoga Monument. Special events at the park this month include a reenactment of a Revolutionary-era British encampment (Aug. 4); guided bike tours of the area, accompanied by stories of 18th-century life (Aug. 15); and a history day-camp program for kids aged 10-15 (Aug. 6 and 9). Take a step back in time at the Schuyler House’s 18th Century Day. The free program has oxen-cart rides, demonstrations of quilting and blacksmithing, a barn raising, live music, and fun for the kids (Aug. 12; 518-664-9821 or www.nps.gov/sara). Along with its miles of walking trails and other recreational facilities, Saratoga Spa State Park — home of SPAC and the Automobile Museum — is also one of the nation’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations,” according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A National Historic Landmark, most of the park’s red brick and limestone buildings were constructed in the Depression-era 1930s. Self-guided audio tours are available for rent at the park’s office (518-584-2535).
No visit to Saratoga would be complete without “taking the waters.” Sample the famous carbonated mineral water, which bubbles up naturally from the limestone that lies beneath the ground’s surface, at various sites in and around the city. But don’t say we didn’t warn you: it is definitely an acquired taste.