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  • What's New, Saratoga? Golf, Grub and Good Times at Saratoga's Latest Hotspot

    It's Par-Tee time in Saratoga! If you are a local or a regular visitor to Saratoga Springs, you will be delighted to learn that there is a new hotspot in the downtown area. Or, if you are just discovering Saratoga Springs, you will be delighted to learn about a great new place to kick off your exploration of this vibrant city! On the corner of Broadway and Congress Streets (right across from the Historic Congress Park), a new luxury sports bar has opened offering a place to play a round of indoor golf, watch your favorite sports teams or just hang out with friends enjoying the great atmosphere and the delicious food. The Bunker Story: According to The Bunker's website, lifelong friends Troy Miller and Burl McCutcheon came up with the concept of The Bunker after their first experience playing indoor golf. The friends brainstormed about what they thought would make the best possible indoor golf experience and from that discussion the idea for The Bunker was born. They opened their first location in Guilderland in October 2019, just a few short months after their brainstorming session. The reception to the initial Bunker location was so positive, they have continued to expand creating additional Bunker locations in North Greenbush, Clifton Park, Mohawk Harbor, New Hartford and, of course, the newest one in Saratoga Springs. I was told they are also opening a new golf simulation location in Latham in partnership with VENT Fitness to provide focused training programs to help golfers bring their game to the next level. From that first discussion after their initial indoor golf experience, Troy and Burl have created a space for a different type of sports bar/sports entertainment business. The guiding principle that has led them to success with their brand is to provide exceptional customer service in a luxury environment using the best technology available (all locations use the foremost golf simulation technology TRACKMAN). The Bunker in Saratoga Springs looks to fill a much needed gap in the Saratoga bar scene where patrons of all ages can come to enjoy a fun evening. What Can You Find at The Bunker? The Bunker Vibe: I love the vibe at the Saratoga Bunker location. It is open and bright with TV's everywhere! My first time going to The Bunker was during March Madness and you could catch every game on at least one TV. I am a huge football fan so I look forward to catching some college and NFL games at The Bunker with friends. The Saratoga location has two floors and although each floor has golf bays, each area has a distinct vibe. The downstairs has more of a restaurant feel with lots of tables and plenty of TVs around the space. When the weather is nice the outside walls slide away to create an open air feel. When I went to meet with the Events Coordinator, it was a beautiful day and the restaurant walls were all open. It was amazing! Upstairs has more of a club/party feel. When The Bunker has DJs, this is generally where they play. There are TV's upstairs as well, so you won't miss the game, but you will probably be more occupied with socializing. The wide windows that surround the upstairs space open up to provide fresh air and a wide open view to the surrounding Saratoga area (including beautiful Congress Park). It gave me a Nashville-type vibe. Both spaces are great and I can definitely see myself using both, especially in the summer and during track season. I have a feeling this place will be quite the hotspot. The Bunker Activities: Golf, of course! The Bunker uses the best golf simulation technology (TRACKMAN) to offer customers a wide selection of indoor golf experiences. Not a golfer (like me)? That's ok! You can join your friends in a round of simulated mini golf or play a game of Target Practice. For the more seasoned golf enthusiasts, there are several options to play a round of golf or work on your golf skills. The TRACKMAN technology is the same tool used by golf professionals (including Tiger Woods) to keep them at the top of their game. You can bring your own golf clubs if you prefer, but they do have clubs available for people like me that don't have their own. And let's not forget the kids! You can have a family night out playing on the golf simulator and The Bunker has kid's clubs available for use. The Saratoga Bunker location has six bays that can be rented by the hour. You can go with a group and split the hourly rate, but please note if you have more than 8 people in your group you will need to reserve through Event Booking. The price will be the same, but they like to be prepared for larger groups in order to make sure they can provide the high level of customer service that is their guiding principle. For hourly reservation rates click here. In addition to the individual bays, you can also rent the VIP Room for private events or parties. The VIP Room includes one golf simulator bay as well as two electronic dart boards and lots of space to hang out and lounge around. There are different packages that vary according to the number of golf bays you want, how many guests and what food and drink are included. Check the website here to get more information if you are interested in hosting an event at The Bunker. Watch your favorite teams on any one of the many TVs around The Bunker. This place is the perfect spot to round up a group of friends to watch the big game. There is lots of space, lots of TVS and great food and drink to keep you full and hydrated. Hang out with friends and listen to music! On Friday and Saturday nights (and maybe more often during track season?) The Bunker has a DJ playing tunes on the second floor. Once in a while they provide live music as well. There does not appear to be an official dance floor, but I wouldn't be surprised if impromptu dance parties break out when the DJ is playing. The Bunker Food and Drink: The Bunker in Saratoga has a full menu of delicious food choices. I was told that the Saratoga menu is a bit different than the other locations offering a wider selection including gourmet paninis, specialty wraps and a variety of salads. I have ordered a flatbread pizza with apples, brie and fig jam both times I have went to The Bunker because it was THAT GOOD. I need to make myself order something different next time I go, but it is going to be hard because I really love that apple, brie and fig jam combination. Click here to see the Saratoga food menu. They also have a kid menu for the little ones in your party. The Bunker has a full bar with lots of options. Their cocktail menu is seasonal and new concoctions will be offered. I was told their Spring cocktail menu is coming in May! In addition to the wide selection of drinks, they also have this unique contraption called The Tower. The Tower holds multiple servings so you can order it for a group or just for yourself if you are planning a crazy night! It can be filled with beer or cocktails. Price obviously depends on your drink of choice. Fun! The Bunker Saratoga Specifics: I am sure you are itching to visit The Bunker in Saratoga Springs after reading about all they have to offer! So here is the important information you need to know: Address: 307 Broadway, Saratoga Springs Parking: There is parking in the rear of the building (off Congress Street) Hours: M-Th 11 am to 11 pm Fri/Sat 9 am to 11pm Sun 9 am to 8 pm NOTE: Check here for hours during the summer and track season as they may be extended. Golf and Dining Reservations: Click here What's New at The Bunker? I was given some inside scoop that The Bunker may soon be offering Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10-2. I am sure this will be a popular option during the summer track season, so you will probably want to make reservations if you want to try it out. The Event Coordinator explained to me that as the Saratoga location is open for a longer period of time there may be additional changes coming. She said that Saratoga is a different type of location so they may have more opportunity to plan fun things. They need to let the dust settle from the opening and see the community and tourist response and then plan events and activities that fit with the crowd and the vibe. So keep your eye on their website (and this blog) for updates on fun new things to check out! In the meantime, go and check out this new Saratoga hotspot!

  • What's New, Saratoga? A Unique Store Selling US Made Hand-Crafted Goods!

    Right in the heart of bustling downtown Saratoga, a new store made a quiet entrance into a prime spot on Broadway. The space used to be the well-known Saratoga Coffee Traders. When Saratoga Coffee Traders closed down in October 2023, the windows of the empty space were covered with brown paper so no one could see inside. Then one day last December, magically, the paper was off the windows and The Local Brand Co. was fully-stocked and open for business! The Local Branch Co. THE LOCAL BRANCH IS A LIFESTYLE BRAND FORGED ON THE ROADS AND TRAILS THAT WEAVE THROUGH THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE. WE OFFER A UNIQUE ARRAY OF HANDCRAFTED USA MADE GOODS FOR THE ADVENTURERS, EXPLORERS AND SEEKERS AMONG US. The Local Branch Co. became one of Saratoga's newest Broadway residents in December 2023. This charming and unique store started creating a buzz right away with its beautiful hand crafted leather goods and the carefully curated selection of locally made goods and one-of-a-kind gifts. As soon as you step foot into The Local Branch Co. you are greeted with a warm and inviting atmosphere. The store's rustic decor and cozy ambiance make it the perfect place to browse for a special gift or treat yourself to something unique. Whether you're looking for a souvenir to remember your visit to Saratoga or a thoughtful present for a loved one, you are sure to find something special at The Local Branch Co. The Local Branch Co. Story: It is not just the products that make The Local Branch Co. stand out - it is the commitment to the distinguishing sentiment and guiding beliefs of the owners and employees of the company. Or as they call it, the ethos of The Local Branch Co. It is the foundation of the brand and the guiding light for all business decisions. This ethos was beginning to form in 2009 when Blaine and Makenzie Vossler, a couple who hand made artisan quality leather and apparel goods, worked out of an Airstream trailer traveling across the USA to sell their goods at trade shows, craft fairs and music festivals. As their business grew, they ultimately decided to return to their NY roots and open their first brick and mortar store in Skaneateles (pronounced "Skinny Atlas"). The recently opened store in Saratoga Springs is their second location (at 447 Broadway, right next to The Dark Horse). The Vossler's journey from artisans driving cross country to sell their handcrafted goods to owners of a retail business with two brick and mortar locations solidified the original ethos that they started with in 2009. The Local Branch Co. ethos can be boiled down to these three main guiding principles: An exploration of Americana and a focus on US made goods. A commitment to use natural and sustainable materials. An intention to be a "space creator" to promote local artisans and small makers. The commitment to these ideals is reflected in the fact all goods sold in their stores are manufactured in the US. Additionally, the store is always looking to partner with local artisans and small makers whose work and processes reflect their guiding principles. The Local Branch Co. creates space to showcase their work and help them reach a wider audience. By shopping at The Local Branch Co., you are not only getting a unique item, but you are also supporting local businesses and artisans! SIDE NOTE: If you are a local artisan that would be interested in having your product placed in one of their stores, don't be afraid to reach out to them! I was told they are always looking for new merchandise to complement their product base. They are especially looking to stock the new Saratoga store with more products made in the surrounding area. For a deeper dive into The Local Branch Co. story and their company ethos, you can check out the Journal section of their website which is a blog that highlights new products and also gives an inside look into the company, the employees, and their guiding beliefs. There is a great short video that introduces Blaine and Makenzie and gives you real insight into them and the brand of this business. I really enjoyed it and it gave me a whole different perspective of the store. You can catch the video here. What You Can Find at The Local Branch Co.: Now that the basics are out of the way, let's get to the important part! What kinds of things can you find at The Local Branch Co. stores (or online)? As you can tell from the The Local Branch Co. story, one of the cornerstones of the business is the beautiful handcrafted leather and canvas goods that are STILL made in small batches and hand-stitched by Blaine himself with the help of their workshop manager, Aaron! This includes everything you would think of from different size bags, wallets, and belts, as well as unique leather items like stamped coasters, key rings, household goods and other special gift items. In addition to the leather and canvas goods, The Local Branch Co. has a highly curated and varied collection of other US made products from small makers. The wide variety of items available is reflected in the "Gifts" tab of their website which lists these categories: The Outdoorsman; The Homesteader, The Traveler, The Nurturer, and The Kiddo. You can check out all the amazing products available at The Local Branch Co. on their website by clicking here. So...What's New for The Local Branch Co.? In preparing this blog, I spoke to Sidney Glass, the Brand Manager for The Local Branch Co., and I got the inside scoop on some of the new products that will be dropping in the Spring and Summer product launches. There will be two new leather bag designs coming out soon that will be available for pre-sale. If you are interested, be sure to visit the website and sign up for the email list so you will get first notice of the product drop and have first opportunity to snag one of these beautiful hand-stitched bags! I will help you out...click here for a quick link to the email page. I also learned some hot inside information that is personally VERY interesting to me. Apparently, The Local Branch Co. is getting ready to launch a new Home Goods line. I am a sucker for good home decor products! The line will include leather woven baskets, table top planters, hanging baskets, wine holders/carriers and more! Sidney shared that a few items from the Home Goods line were finished earlier than expected and landed in their two stores direct from the workshop YESTERDAY! A limited number of tabletop planters, baskets and wine bandoliers are available for purchase before the roll out of the rest of the line. The remaining items from the new Home Goods line should be in stores sometime at the end of April. I, for one, will be keeping a watch out for that. Final Words... If you haven't checked out The Local Branch Co. store in Saratoga, I highly recommend you make a plan to come visit. It is a beautifully designed space filled with beautifully designed items. They bring in new product every season, so be sure to make it a regular stop when you are in town! I hope you have learned from this blog that The Local Branch Co. isn't just about the amazing products, but it is also about their commitment to US made goods and supporting small makers and artisans who produce quality goods with sustainable materials. I will end with the words of owner Blaine Vossler succinctly describing the mission and purpose of The Local Branch Co.: This is how we see the future of conscious consumerism. Knowing your maker, buying fewer better things and caring for them so they last a lifetime!

  • What's New, Saratoga? A New Weekly Blog Highlighting the Newest Attractions in the Spa City!

    Exciting news for all Saratoga Springs enthusiasts - I am thrilled to announce the launch of a new weekly blog series called "What's New, Saratoga?"! This series will highlight all the latest happenings in and around Saratoga, including new businesses, events, and more. Saratoga Springs is a vibrant and bustling city, filled with a rich history, stunning architecture, and a thriving local economy. With so much going on in and around the city, it can be hard to keep track of all the exciting new developments. That's where "What's New, Saratoga?" comes in - I will be your go-to source for all the latest news and updates on what's happening in Saratoga. Each week, I will feature a different new business in the city, giving you an inside look at what they have to offer and why you should check them out. I will also highlight upcoming events, concerts, festivals, and other exciting happenings in Saratoga, making sure you never miss out on all the fun. So whether you're a longtime resident of Saratoga or just visiting for the weekend, be sure to check out "What's New, Saratoga?" to stay in the know about all the latest and greatest in this amazing city. Stay tuned for my first post (coming VERY soon!) highlighting a very unique, new business on Broadway. You won't want to miss it! Also, if you know of a new business in Saratoga that should be highlighted, please do not hesitate to message me and let me know!

  • An Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Saratoga Museum of Racing: Hall of Fame, Interactive Exhibits and More!

    If you are a horse racing fan, there is no better place to visit than the Saratoga Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY. If you will be coming to Saratoga Springs this June for the Belmont Stakes Triple Crown Festival you will want to be sure to schedule some time to check it out. Through May 2024, the Museum's hours are from 10 am to 4 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Check here before you visit for the current hours of operation as they are extended during the busier summer season. The Museum is conveniently located right across the street from the Historic Saratoga Race Course. You will notice it right away from the decorative display of painted jockeys that line the street right in front of the Museum. Also outside of the Museum are some amazing statues you will want to snap pictures of before you venture inside, including a memorial to Seabiscuit, the famous American thoroughbred. As soon as you enter the Museum, you are greeted with the sights and sounds of horse racing. The walls are adorned with large photographs of horse racing action. You will be greeted by friendly Museum employees who will sell you a ticket and direct you where to start your experience. For a General Admission price of $20 for adults ($15 for seniors 65+; $10 for kids 6-18/College with ID; kids under 5 are free) you get complete access to the entire Museum including all interactive exhibits and the 360 degree immersive film experience titled What It Takes: The Journey to the Hall of Fame. Please note that there are other discounted and free admissions for special groups. Check out the list here to see if you qualify. The Saratoga Museum of Racing Galleries: History of Horse Racing Galleries: The Museum has several different galleries that follow the history of horse racing from its' colonial start to the present day. As you walk through the various galleries you will see a full size starting gate replica, an antique scale for weighing jockeys and an up close and personal view of the various trophies won over the years. I also found the exhibit on the history of women and minorities in the sport of horse racing extremely interesting. Children's Exhibit: When we moved to upstate New York back in 2004, we knew that horse racing was a big part of the culture here. To get ourselves more acquainted with the sport, we brought our two daughters to the Saratoga Museum of Racing. We were pleasantly surprised to find a whole children's section that gives kids a chance to try on racing silks and racing goggles and ride around on stick horses like the jockeys. It is a fond memory I have of our transition to a new area. I was happy to see the children's section was just as magical as I remembered it. Triple Crown Gallery: Perhaps of most interest to people coming to visit Saratoga for the Belmont Stakes is the Triple Crown Gallery. This Gallery is devoted to that elite group of special horses and their jockeys who have accomplished the seemingly impossible task of winning all three Triple Crown Races-the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Only 13 horses have ever won the Triple Crown. Sir Barton was the first in 1919 and Justify was the last in 2018. It is an elusive honor and difficult to achieve. Due construction at Belmont Park, the Belmont Stakes is being held at the Historic Saratoga Race Course in 2024 (and possibly 2025). Maybe we will have a chance to see another horse reach this horse racing pinnacle at Saratoga! In the meantime, you can learn about the horses and jockeys who have accomplished this ultimate goal! Race Day Gallery: The Race Day Gallery highlights all of the elements of the race day experience as well as the equipment that is needed such as racing gear and colorful jockey silks. Three areas of the race day experience are explored-The Paddock, the Track and The Winner's Circle. It is the perfect exhibit to increase excitement before entering into the Hall of Fame movie theater. In addition to the Race Day exhibits, there is an interactive experience called "Call the Race". The experience gives you the opportunity to go into a sound booth and record yourself calling a horse race (don't worry, they provide the script for you). I was nervous, but decided to give it the ole college try. The experience gives you several options of races to call. I chose one of my all time favorite race track memories-when the 3 year old filly Rachel Alexandra beat all the boys to win the 2009 Woodward Stakes. I was there watching that race with my daughters and it was one of the most electric, girl power moments in sports that I have experienced! I will never forget that day, so I was very excited to rewatch and call that race. What I learned from doing the Call the Race experience is that it is NOT easy. I even had a script of the original race call, but it is hard to translate the excitement while also watching the action! I give credit to those announcers as it is definitely a difficult skill. In any event it was fun and I highly recommend trying it out. The Museum will send you a copy of your Call (whether you want it or not-haha) as a keepsake. I will begrudgingly share mine (even though it is a little cringey) so you get the idea of how cool the interactive experience is. Hall of Fame: One of the highlights of the Museum is the Hall of Fame which honors the greatest horses, jockeys, and trainers in the history of horse racing. Here, you can learn about legendary horses like Secretariat, Man o' War, and Seabiscuit, as well as iconic jockeys like Willie Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro. There are interactive boards where you can peruse the various inductees and select which jockeys, trainers or horses you want to learn more about. The crowning jewel of the Hall of Fame is the amazing new surround film experience, What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame. I loved this movie and the way it was presented. Visitors sit around the perimeter of a large room and there are screens around the top. Horses run laps around the screen as if you are sitting in the middle of the field. There are also two different square screens that come down from the ceiling in the center of the room to highlight different interviews. It was a completely immersive experience and I loved hearing about the various pieces that have to fall into place to reach success and have a chance to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience. Special Exhibits: The Museum also hosts Special Exhibits throughout the year. When I visited they had a Special Exhibit honoring the 50th Anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown win. This Special Exhibit is only showing through March 31, 2024, so if you want to see this one you better get there quick! Gift Store: After you are done learning all about the sport of horse racing and its' superstars, take some time to browse in the gift store. They have a variety of unique products to remember your visit to the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the Historic Saratoga Race Course and the Spa City. Conclusion: The Saratoga Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves horse racing. Whether you're a die-hard fan or just curious about the sport, this Museum offers a fascinating look at the history and culture of horse racing in America. So, next time you're in Saratoga Springs, be sure to stop by and experience this unique and educational museum for yourself.

  • My Guide to Saratoga Spring's Best Cocktail Destinations

    Whether you are planning a trip to Saratoga Springs for the upcoming Triple Crown Belmont Race, to enjoy Saratoga's regular horse racing season, or just to experience the charm and history of this quaint little city, you will probably want to know the best places to grab a refreshing beverage while you are here. Saratoga Springs has no shortage of great places to get your drink on. Whether you are looking for a place to let your hair down and get crazy or prefer a more distinguished cocktail sipping experience, we've got you covered. The places to get wild and crazy in Saratoga are pretty obvious...just head to Caroline Street. But if you are looking to try some unique craft cocktails, you need the inside scoop. I have personally checked out a number of local establishments (all for the blog, of course!) and have found my favorite spots for sipping crafted concoctions. Please note each destination offers a good selection of non-alcoholic cocktails for the non-drinkers in your party. So, without further ado, here are my picks for best cocktails in Saratoga Springs, in no particular order: Lucy's Bar (3 Caroline Street): I could not have a list of the best cocktail bars in Saratoga Springs and not include Lucy's Bar! I am a regular patron of Lucy's Bar for a number of reasons. I love the variety of their cocktail menu that changes every season. I love the cozy vibe of the bar and I especially love their amazing Insta-worthy decor that changes each holiday/season. Their Christmas decor is my favorite, but I also love the Spring decor that comes just as you are getting weary of the winter weather. Lucy's motto is "Good Vibes, Better Drinks and a Little Thing We Like to Call 'A Lucy'". That tells you everything you need to know! Lucy's is a great place to meet up for a cocktail before you head out to dinner or out on the town. Lucy's does not serve food so plan to eat before or after stopping in for a drink. Lucy's Bar is small and has limited seating so I recommend meeting up on the early side if you want to snag a table. My favorite drinks so far are the Sweater Weather (Winter Menu) and the Pistachio Martini (last Spring's Menu). I can't wait for next season's new cocktail menu to see what new libations they have come up with! They have a Spirit Free Cocktail menu for the non-drinkers in the group which includes a non-alcoholic Espresso Martini. I have tried it and it is just as good as a fully loaded Espresso Martini! Check out their full drink menu here. Hamlet and Ghost (24 Caroline Street): Hamlet and Ghost is located in downtown Saratoga Springs in a space that used to be a feed and grain store in the 1870's. It became a hardware store during the Prohibition Era that was an alleged front for an illegal gambling establishment. The current restaurant maintains that historic feel complete with a full menu of interesting craft cocktails. Hamlet and Ghost does serve food as well. In fact, their Hamburger has been rated the best in Saratoga! As far as cocktails go, there are several delicious choices on the menu, but my favorite (and a H&G classic) is the Gin Gin Fizz made with gin, grapefruit, lemon, ginger and foam. Again, Hamlet & Ghost offers a good selection of mocktails as well. If you want to visit Hamlet and Ghost, reservations are necessary. And you need to be a planner because Hamlet and Ghost books up pretty quickly, especially during Track Season. So, if you know you are going to be in town and want to taste Saratoga's best burger and sip a delicious craft cocktail, be sure to make your reservation as soon as you can. Click here for a link to the reservation system. Morrissey's Lounge and Bistro (365 Broadway): Morrissey's Lounge and Bistro is attached to the historic Adelphi Hotel and has that rich, historic vibe. There are tables to sit at, but the best seats in the house are at the bar! Especially during track season, it is fun to set at the bar and watch as people filter in and out of the bar after a day at the track. Even when it is not track season there is great people watching to be had as people stroll up and down Broadway. Morrissey's offers a wide selection of curated cocktails (and mocktails). You can also order food at Morrissey's. They have a diverse menu that includes salads, seafood, pasta, flatbreads and sushi. Check out all of their food and drink options here. You can make reservations for a table, or order food at your seat at the bar. Morrissey's is definitely the go to spot to see and be seen during track season. It usually dies down around 8 as people leave for dinner reservations at other restaurants. So, if you want the crowd and people watching, go before 8; if you want a quieter spot to grab a drink and some food, better to go after 8ish. Rhea (389 Broadway): Rhea is an Asian inspired restaurant and bar located right on Broadway. You can sit at an outside table (weather permitting), at the bar right in the middle of the restaurant or in a cozy booth if you want a more intimate experience. You can eat dinner or grab appetizers with your drinks at Rhea. Their menu is planned around hand-made ramen noodles, Bao buns and shareable small plate items. Check out the food menu here. Their drink menu describes "wildly inventive" cocktails with creative names like "Why is the Rum Always Gone", "Dunes of the Cape" and "Hot Paradise". They also offer Saké Drafts if you prefer. Check out their drink menu here. Their menu notes that any drink can be made as a mocktail. The Misfit Bar and Cocktail Lounge (1 Caroline St.): The Misfit is more of a nightclub scene and they do not serve any food. This is the spot to head to when you are ready to let loose for the night. After a cocktail (or two), you can meander to any of the other happening spots up and down Caroline Street. The Misfit has a long list of standard craft cocktails with hilarious names like "Bougie Bitch", "Naughty Nurse" and "Dazed and Confused". They offer special seasonal cocktails as well. The winter cocktail menu is filled with drinks with names like "Drop It Like It's Hot" and "We Didn't Start the Fire". They also have a delicious Espresso Martini that is one of the best in town (in my personal opinion). SIDE NOTE: Another top contender for best Espresso Martini in Saratoga is 9 Maple, but the reason it is not on my favorite list is that 9 Maple is really small and always so crowded. But if you enjoy Espresso Martinis definitely check it out because they are really good there too. Bottom's Up So there you have it. My favorite spots to grab a cocktail. There are many other great places to grab a drink in Saratoga Springs. Just wander around and you will find plenty of spots to wet your whistle. But this list has my favorites as a local, so be sure to try them out. Cheers!

  • Give Your Feet a Treat at the Adirondack Foot Sanctuary

    A few months ago I was taking a stroll around Saratoga and noticed something new...a little place called Adirondack Foot Sanctuary. When I got home I looked it up and discovered it is a spa business located in Lake Placid that had opened a new location in Saratoga Springs. I perused the menu of services, and as the name of the business suggests, it provides spa services to pamper your feet! Each foot treatment is called a "ritual" and they promise you will leave their Sanctuary relaxed and rejuvenated. That sounded like something I wanted to experience! I called my friend Kathleen and she was in (she is never one to turn down one of my requests to check out a spa...all for the blog, of course!). Adirondack Foot Sanctuary offers a ritual for two that you can book with your gal pal or as a unique date idea. Kathleen and I booked a side by side experience and made a day of it. After a yummy breakfast at Sweet Mimi's (which is just down the block), we excitedly headed to the Adirondack Foot Sanctuary to get relaxed and rejuventated. We started the experience by drawing an intention card. I drew the "True Offering" card which seemed fitting for me and my situation at the time. We hopped up onto the couch and sat side by side to begin our treatment. As our massage therapist prepared for our foot ritual, she poured us a cup of warm apple cinnamon tea and gave us a warm neck wrap for our neck and shoulders. Adirondack Foot Sanctuary offers several types of rituals that offer different experiences. You can also add on to the foot rituals with various "Treatment Enhancements" such as paraffin treatments, a scalp treatment, a hydrating face mask with reviving ice globes, hydrating hand treatments and illuminating eye gels. Check out the menu of foot rituals and Treatment Enhancements here. Our specific experience kicked off with an infusion of essential oils. The therapist poured a few drops into our hands and instructed us to take a deep breath. The oil was used throughout the treatment so it was a nice way to start the ritual. Kathleen got a Dead Sea salt exfoliation and then enjoyed an ADK Signature Soak with herbal infused water and hot stones. While she soaked, I got a wonderful foot and lower leg massage with the hot stones. Then I got the exfoliation treatment and soak while Kathleen got her foot and leg massage. Our legs were wrapped in warm towels to soak in all of the luxerious attention they got. If all of that isn't relaxing enough, we also each got a glorious scalp massage. You don't even know you need a scalp massage until you are getting one. So relaxing! The whole experience ends with a slathering of thick lotion to moisturize your feet and lower legs before you head out. We definitely had a great day and left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. We both work part-time at Silverado Jewelry Gallery and spend a lot of time on our feet. It was a nice treat to have a spa experience that focuses solely (pun intended) on the part of your body that bears the brunt of day to day activities! I highly recommend Adirondack Foot Sanctuary to treat yourself or for a unique, fun girl's day out.

  • Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Race Course-Get Your Tickets NOW!

    I am sure by now your have heard the news that the third jewel in the Triple Crown horse races, the Belmont Stakes, is going to be held at the historic Saratoga Race Course in 2024 due to ongoing construction at Belmont Park. If you haven't heard about the move and what that means for the race and Saratoga Springs, you can read all about it in my recent blog post. There is all kinds of excitement in Saratoga Springs and surrounding areas related to this big race! The main question may be how do I get tickets to this incredible once-in-a-lifetime event? (Well, if you read my blog you know it may be twice-in-a-lifetime, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it!) To answer that important question about securing tickets, I have some good news and some bad news. We will get the bad news out of the way first...all Reserved Seating for the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 8, as well as all Reserved Seating for the other days of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival (June 6,7 and 9) are SOLD OUT already! But, here is the good news...there are still limited single-day General Admission tickets for the Belmont Stakes and limited 4-day General Admission festival passes available to purchase. You can purchase single day tickets for the Belmont Stakes for $50, or a 4-day festival pass for all racing days for $90 (plus tax/fees). Here is the link to purchase the tickets or you can go directly to Ticketmaster. These General Admission tickets will provide standing room only access to the Clubhouse, the Grandstand and the Backyard. There is lots of communal seating available and plenty of access to TV's showing the races if you don't opt to fight the crowds and go trackside to see the race live. Just being at the track and experiencing the energy of the people, the big name horses and their trainers will be amazing. And imagine if there is a horse in contention for the Triple Crown. You won't want to miss that! If you want to be a part of this historic event, I would buy your tickets soon because they went on sale today (February 15) at 10:00 am and will likely sell out soon! I have secured a 4-day festival pass so I can be there to catch all the happenings at the Saratoga Race Course and around Saratoga Springs. If you can't make the race, stay tuned for lots of content so you can feel like you are actually here!

  • A Saratoga Insider "Scoop": Where to Get the Best Ice Cream in Saratoga Springs

    If you are an ice cream lover like me, you are always on the look out for a good spot to grab an ice cream cone when you are visiting a new place. In Saratoga Springs, there are a few places to satisfy your cone craving including Ben and Jerry's, Kilwin's and Saratoga Gelato. But if you want to know where the locals usually go to get their ice cream fix, this blog is for you! You may be surprised to discover that the best ice cream in Saratoga Springs can be found at a gas station/convenience store called Stewart's Shops! I should disclose that Stewart's is not a Saratoga specific gem, but Stewart's Shops can only be found in eastern upstate New York and southwestern Vermont. So, if you find yourself in this little corner of the world, you will want to take the opportunity to try Stewart's ice cream. How Stewart's Shops Ice Cream Came to Be: Stewart's Shops are family owned convenience stores (which sometimes also sell gas). In 1917, two brother's teamed up to buy the family dairy farm from their father. From there, they began to sell their dairy products at local markets, but discovered there was a big demand for ice cream. They started making ice cream in 1921 and sold 4,000 gallons in the first year! The rest is history. In addition to the delicious ice cream, Stewart's Shops is also a great place to buy fresh, locally produced milk, butter, cream, eggs and other dairy products. The Stewart's Shops Ice Cream Flavors: Stewart's makes all of its ice cream using fresh milk from local farms. There is no middleman in the distribution process so the freshly made ice cream goes right from production to the stores. The ice cream is as fresh as it can be. And the hand-packed pints and half-gallons sell quickly so you know the ice cream in the case hasn't been there collecting frost. Stewart's has a variety of yummy flavors. Most flavors are available year round. My family's favorites are Peanut Butter Pandamonium, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Death By Chocolate, and, my personal favorite, Mint Cookie Crumble. Death by Chocolate and Mint Cookie Crumble were 1st Place Flavors at the 2023 World Dairy Expo and the NYS Fair. I knew we had good taste! In addition to the regular flavors, Stewart's frequently introduces Limited Edition Flavors that are only available for a short period of time. It is exciting when you find out there is a new flavor that is right up your alley, but it is sad when it goes away. I just had that happen this Fall when Stewart's offered a Limited Edition flavor called Peanut Butter Pie. I may have made a few extra trips to the Stewart's across the street from me (a dangerous proximity) to get scoops of Peanut Butter Pie when I realized its' time was running out. The current Limited Edition Flavors include Berry Chip, Civility, Daily Grind and Chocolate Marshmellow. Check out the video below for the complete list of Limited Edition Flavors. Click here to see a list of all the flavors currently being scooped up at Stewart's. Oh...and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you can get FREE rainbow sprinkles on any cone or dish you order! Something my oldest daughter, Madison, especially enjoys! Stewart's Shops Famous Make Your Own Sundae: Stewart's Shops introduced the concept of Make Your Own Sundae in 1948 and it has been a trademark Stewart's experience ever since. You can choose any flavor of ice cream from the menu and then can create your own sundae using any of the sauces or toppings on the counter. Sauces include chocolate, caramel, marshmallow and pineapple and toppings include sprinkles, mini M&Ms and more! Stewart's Shops Spirit of Giving: There is one last important thing I want to mention about Stewart's Shops. In addition to serving up delicious ice cream, Stewart's Shops serves up generosity to the local community. Stewart's Shops and the Dake family (who owns Stewart's Shops) have a goal to donate a combined $9 million annually to thousands of local charities. Over the years, Stewart's Shops have also frequently donated ice cream and sundae toppings to various school and community functions that we attended. They are very generous in their community participation and they are a valued local business community member. So there you have it! The best ice cream in Saratoga Springs can be served up while you get gas or grab some milk or eggs. I always enjoy the reactions of friends who come to visit when I offer to take them for some of the best ice cream they will ever have and we pull up to a convenience store. It is a well-known fact that if you want to know the best places to go, look for the locals! Saratoga Springs locals will be at Stewart's. See ya there!

  • My Favorite Destinations in 2023 That You Have to Check Out in 2024!

    I am grateful for an incredible year of travel in 2023. In addition to visits to various states in the US, I was able to fit in two trips to Europe in the first half of the year. I am happiest when traveling and exploring different places. I love experiencing every new location and learning about its' history and unique culture. However, there are always those places that capture my heart and stand out a little more than the rest. Here is a list, in reverse order (to build suspense), of my five favorite spots from my travels in 2023: 5. Lucerne, Switzerland. Coming in at number 5 is Lucerne, Switzerland! This was my second visit to Lucerne, but I loved it just as much as I did the first time. Highlights of the things I love about Lucerne include the picturesque Chapel Bridge, the hauntingly beautiful Lion Monument, the gorgeous Lake Lucerne and the trip to the top of nearby Mount Pilates for incredible views. And I can't forget to mention the delicious cheese fondue I made a point to enjoy again! 4. Ravello, Italy. My whole trip to the Amalfi Coast with my daughters was amazing and a trip I will hold in my heart forever. But our excursion up to the mountain village of Ravello was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It is not one of the most talked about spots on the Amalfi Coast, but it is a hidden gem that should definitely be included on your itinerary if you find yourself in this part of the world (and hopefully you will!). The things I loved about Ravello include the charming small village, the breathtaking gardens and scenery at Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, all of the village cats and the incredible mountain top view while enjoying Limoncello Sprtizes with lunch. You can also get a great work out in if you choose to walk back down to Amalfi. You can also walk up to Ravello, but if you do you are braver than me! 3. Riquewihr, France. Again, the whole AMA Riverboat Cruise up the Rhine River was jaw-dropping, but our first stop in Riquewihr turned out to be one of my favorites. Riquewihr has an interesting history (as do most of the places in the Alsace region) where the territory flipped back and forth between Germany and France. This double identity is reflected in the area's architecture and its culture. The village looks straight out of a fairy tale, complete with storks nesting on the top of buildings! It looks exactly like it did in the 16th century so wandering along the cobble stone streets feels like you were transported by a time machine. Being on the Alsace Wine Route, you are guaranteed to get amazing wine. Riquewihr is especially known for its Riesling wine and I can personally attest that it is one of the best wines I have ever tasted. I may or may not have purchased a few bottles to bring home while stopping at locations along the Alsace Wine Route. 2. Capri, Italy. Capri is a well-known spot on the Amalfi Coast, so certainly is not a hidden gem. However, its' reputation is well-deserved! It was my favorite stop on our Amalfi Coast journey. It can only be reached by ferry which makes for a grand arrival. Here are just a few options of things to do: The main area of Capri is filled with luxury and designer stores, but we didn't really spend much time shopping as there is so much more to do. A bus ride to Anacapri (which is situated on top of the rugged mountains on the island) will take you to a more low-key shopping area where you can even get a pair of sandals hand-made for your feet. In Anacapari you can catch a ride on the single chairlift up to the top of Monte Salaro to take in expansive views of the Bay of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Back down in the main village of Capri you can grab a delicious scoop of gelato on a freshly made waffle cone at the famous Buonocore Gelateria. Take Insta-worthy sunset pics off the main plaza in Capri. Grab dinner at a cliffside restaurant to watch the sunset and eat amazing Italian food. We ate at Panorama and I highly recommend it. Great service and delicious food, not to mention the incredible view of the sea while you dine. One of the best things we did on our trip was to rent a private boat for a few hours to go around the island of Capri, motor under the Faraglioni rocks and take a dip in the refreshing turquoise water. We didn't get a chance to explore the famous Blue Grotto because of long lines to get in, but that is an option as well. I generally don't like to go back to a place I have been before, but like Lucerne, I would return to Capri in a heartbeat! AND, drum roll please....my favorite travel destination in 2023 was 1 Amsterdam, Netherlands. This was a hard decision because there were so many amazing places I had the opportunity to see in 2023. I chose Amsterdam because it was a place that had been on my bucket list for a long time and I always wanted to be able to go during tulip season which I did! I loved pretty much everything about Amsterdam (well, except the constant rain, but obviously it was to be expected given the climate and time of year I was there). There is such a variety of things to see and do in Amsterdam:. Stroll along the iconic canals and browse in the local shops. Take a boat tour on the canals to learn the intriguing history of the region. Visit the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijks Museum which are enjoyable, even if you aren't a huge art museum fan (like me). If the history of beer is more up your alley, Amsterdam has you covered there too! Check out the incredibly cool Heineken Experience with lots of interactive displays AND a complimentary beer. Walk in the steps of Anne Frank and her family as you explore the Anne Frank Museum and take a chilling tour through the small hiding area where they lived for over two years. The famous flower market in downtown Amsterdam is a must see even if you aren't able to time your trip during the April/May tulip season. If you are there during tulip season, check out Keukenhof Gardens for dazzling floral displays. For the more adventurous, the Red Light District provides an interesting evening of sights and entertainment. In the same vein, you can visit the Sex Museum and see the history of sex and related topics. It isn't a big museum so you don't have to set aside a lot of time for this experience. And the entry fee is reasonable as well if you just want to satisfy your curiosity like we did! Stroopwaffles and the famous Amsterdam fries are must-trys for even the pickiest of eaters. You can follow up those treats with a unique craft cocktail at Tales and Spirits (read my blog about T&S here). These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Amsterdam is a unique destination with something for everyone. That is why it secured the top spot of my favorite destinations in 2023! If you are just starting to plan your travels for 2024, consider including some of my favorites in your itinerary. You won't regret it, I promise!

  • Galloping Into a New Chapter: Belmont's Move to Saratoga Springs in 2024!

    Last week the horse racing world was abuzz with the announcement that the 2024 Belmont Stakes would be held at the historic Saratoga Race Track. There are many reasons this decision was so exciting. Let's unpack all the details and the impact of this move: What Is the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont Stakes is a prestigious American Thoroughbred horse race that is held annually at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. It is the third jewel in the Triple Crown horse races, the other two jewels being the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The ultimate goal in horse racing is to have a horse win all three Triple Crown races to win the Triple Crown Trophy. The winning horse will foreverafter be known as a Triple Crown winner. The Triple Crown Trophy was commissioned in 1950, but was awarded to all horses who had won all three Triple Crown races prior to 1950 as well as those who won al three races after 1950. Winning the Triple Crown Trophy is a difficult feat and only 13 horses have been awarded the Triple Crown Trophy since 1919. Some popular names in horse racing are included in that select group including Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and American Pharoah. Being the last race in the Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes can literally be high stakes if one horse has won Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and is trying to win that elusive Triple Crown Trophy. Why is the Belmont Stakes being run at the Saratoga Race Track in 2024? Belmont Park is undergoing massive renovations to upgrade and modernize the race facility to match the world class status of the Belmont Stakes and to provide a luxurious venue for all the other races on the Belmont Park schedule. It is anticipated that the renovations will not be completed until 2026. Therefore, a new location needed to be found to hold the third leg of the Triple Crown. Last week it was announced that the historic Saratoga Race Course was selected as the location for the 2024 race. It is anticipated that the 2025 race would also be run in Saratoga Springs, but that is not official and will depend on the construction progress and other factors. The Belmont Stakes will be held on Saturday, June 8, at the Saratoga Race Course. There will be some differences to the traditional Belmont Stakes Race. First, the traditional Belmont Stakes race distancce of 1 1/2 miles will be reduced to 1 1/4 miles, due to the size of the Saratoga Track. Second, even though the race distance will be shorter, the purse will be larger! The prize money for the winning horse will be increased $500,000 to make the winning purse a cool $2.0 million. Hopefully we will also be watching a Triple Crown winner being christened! In addition to the Belmont Stakes, Saratoga will host a long weekend of racing starting Thursday, June 6 and the race tickets will include 23 stake races for total winnings of $9.7 million. The Belmont weekend will conclude with a New York Showcase Day on Sunday, June 9 which will be races restricted to New York bred horses. The New York Showcase is usually held at Belmont Park on Memorial Day. What does this mean for Saratoga Springs? Saratoga is already well-established as a premier horse racing venue with its annual horse racing schedule running from mid-July through Labor Day. But hosting the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown series, is an amazing opportunity for Saratoga Springs! It will have a huge economic impact on the region by bringing tourism dollars to the local businesses during the somewhat quieter period before the regular racing season. It will also give Saratoga Springs an opportunity to highlight its charm and appeal to the world with the massive media attention that comes with the Triple Crown race. Saratoga Springs is a hidden gem and it will be able to showcase itself as a crown jewel of destinations while hosting the Triple Crown race. Although hosting the Belmont Stakes will be incredible, it will not be without challenges. As the race is being held a month before the official start of the regular Saratoga horse racing season, local business and accommodations will need to ramp up staffing and inventory a bit earlier than usual. Security plans and personnel will need to be put into place to handle the anticipated influx of people coming to enjoy the Belmont weekend. But not to worry, as Saratoga Springs is used to dealing with these kinds of issues during the regular racing season, everyone knows exactly what to do. Necessary planning and actions will just have to happen a bit earlier and on a bit shorter timeline. I have no doubt that it will go off without a hitch and Saratoga Springs will shine like the diamond it is under the national spotlight! Plan Your Belmont Stakes Trip to Saratoga Springs Now! This will be a HUGE event with a lot of people looking to experience this historic event in Saratoga Springs. Hotels and local Air Bnbs are already booking up, so if you want to join in the fun I recommend securing your accommodations now. I would also consider making reservations to any restaurants you want to try as that will probably be challenging if you wait until the last minute. Check out the various blogs I have written on restaurants, shopping and other things to do in Saratoga. They can all be found under my Saratoga Page. While the horse racing will be the primary focus, you will want to make sure to set aside some time to explore everything Saratoga Springs has to offer. It truly is an amazing place and I guarantee that once you visit, you will definitely want to come back again (and again!).

  • Saratoga Springs, NY: A Place to Create Your Own Hallmark Christmas Memories

    Nestled in upstate New York, about a three hour drive from NYC, is the charming little city of Saratoga Springs. At any time of year, Saratoga Spring's charm will sweep you off your feet. But at Christmas time, it legimately feels like you are walking around a Hallmark Christmas movie set. In fact, Saratoga Springs was recently named "The Most Festive Christmas Town in the USA" by the popular magazine House Beautiful. While I can't promise that you will have your own meet cute that leads to a true Christmas love story, I can promise Saratoga will provide all the remaining ingredients for a magical Christmas holiday. You can come create your own personal Hallmark Christmas celebration even if you are single! Read on for a description of each spot you should visit in Saratoga Springs to create the perfect magical holiday experience. The Setting: A lot of Hallmark Christmas movies center around an old historic Inn where the main characters meet and gather. Saratoga Springs has a lot of charming Inns and Bed and Breakfasts that would fill the bill, but the Adelphi Hotel is a grand historic hotel located right on Broadway in the center of downtown. The Adelphi has been recently been renovated and has been beautifully restored to bring back the 19th century hospitality it was known for, making it the perfect backdrop for your holiday story. Read more about the Adelphi Hotel and make reservations here. The Place for that Perfect Holiday Stroll: The next thing on the agenda of a magical Hallmark holiday experience, is a nice wintertime stroll bundled up with cute matching gloves and hat. Historic Congress Park, located a few steps away from The Adelphi Hotel, is the perfect place to walk, talk and take adorable holiday photos. Wander through the Park past statues, spring water fountains (where you can take a sip of the healing spa waters Saratoga Springs is known for), a large ponds, an old-fashioned carousel and the historic Canfield Casino that is now the Saratoga Springs History Museum. Read my blog about all there is to see and do at Congress Park. The Local Breakfast Spot: After an enjoyable morning stroll in Congress Park, the next scene in your own personal Hallmark holiday movie is enjoying breakfast at a favorite local diner. The Country Corner Cafe is cozy and vintage, the perfect Hallmark movie spot. It opened in 1991 and is located just a block off of Broadway on the corner of Woodlawn and Church Street. The Cafe has a reputation for serving some of the best breakfasts in town. I live close to the Country Corner Cafe and can personally attest that there is always a line of people waiting to get in. I always like to go where you see a crowd because you know that means it is good! Grab something yummy off the menu to energize you for a full day of holiday activities! Holiday Shopping: What is more Hallmark movie-like than shopping for the perfect holiday gifts for loved ones. Broadway and the surrounding streets are lined with boutiques, specialty stores and gift shops which are mostly locally owned. You can purchase locally made products at Saratoga Olive Oil Company, Saratoga Tea and Honey, and Saratoga Chocolate Co. There is also a wide selection of other local stores selling unique holiday gifts to delight your family and friends. Some of my personal favorites are Silverado Jewelry Gallery, Lifestyles, Caroline and Main and Northshire Bookstore. Hot Chocolate and Sweet Treat Stop: After an afternoon of shopping, it is time for a festive hot cocoa and pastry stop. Of course Saratoga Springs has the picture perfect spot for that holiday treat. Mrs. London's Bakery is right on Broadway so it is easy to pop in to give your feet a break from all that strolling. The only difficulty you will have is choosing which decadent dessert you want to try. Insider tip: the Chocolate, Almond and Chocolate-Almond Croissants are all amazing! If you are hungry for lunch by this time, you can also choose a sandwich, quiche, panini or salad. They also have delicious soups, especially their Creamy Tomato with Cheddar Cheese. Yum! Check out all your options here. Holiday Cocktails: You can't have a Hallmark holiday experience without the quintessential holiday bar and festive cocktail! Once again, Saratoga Springs can provide the perfect spot for amazing holiday decor and delicious specialty cocktails. Lucy's Bar is just steps from Broadway and is one of my favorite spots to grab a drink with friends. They go above and beyond with their seasonal decor all throughout the year, but Christmas has got to be the best. Lucy's also has an ever-changing drink menu with specialty cocktails crafted by their talented bartenders. The drinks are not only tasty, but they are definitely Insta-worthy concoctions. Festive Finale: Any good Hallmark holiday movie ends with the final scene at the small town's holiday festival. If you time your visit right, Saratoga can provide this ultimate finale for your own Hallmark holiday story. Every year, Saratoga Springs hosts the Victorian Street Walk to kick off the holiday season. The evening includes the Christmas tree lighting, Santa's arrival, strolling Victorian choralers, other live entertainment and a general festive vibe that puts you in a holiday mood. The stores along Broadway generally stay open later that night and often offer yummy treats or even a glass of sparkling wine! All the windows are decorated to the max...some with real people posed in holiday scenes. Come to Saratoga Springs to Create Your Own Hallmark Movie Holiday! Whether you bring your own love interest with you or you are looking to create single lady holiday memories with your girl gang, Saratoga has all of the ingredients you need for a wonderful holiday celebration. The 2023 Victorian Street Walk has already happened, but there is still plenty of time to fit in a Saratoga Springs holiday getaway this year! If you come, you just might see me at Lucy's sampling the 2023 Christmas cocktails. Raise your glass and give me a wink! ;) Happy Holidays!

  • What is There to See in Waco, Texas? A lot!

    I don't think many people have Waco, Texas on their travel bucket list. Most people associate Waco with its' unfortunate history involving David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. However, thanks to the popularity of Fixer Upper, the home renovation show hosted by Waco residents Chip and Joanna Gaines, Waco is shedding the negative association that people may have had in the past. . I decided to make the journey to check out Waco after a cross-country road trip with my daughter Madison who was moving to Colorado. I had really been wanting to check out the Magnolia complex that Chip and Joanna had developed in downtown Waco and figured since I was already in Colorado why not take a quick detour to Waco before heading home? If I am being honest, I was a little unsure of what to expect and a little nervous about the fact that the politics and religion in the area do not really line up with my own. My left-leaning friends and family questioned why in the world I would choose to voluntarily immerse myself in a community that did not in anyway align with my personal feelings and beliefs. I replied that I really wanted to check out Magnolia Silos, but also I want my life experiences to expand my perspective by learning how people in other places live and think. That being said, I honestly wasn't sure how I was going to feel and I did have some moments of personal awkwardness (for example, when the tour guide said a prayer in the tour bus before we headed out to see the sights). However, I do firmly believe in the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, so given that deep faith and conservative values are a cornerstone of this part of the country I opened myself up to their way of doing things. I went in with an open mind and looked forward to exploring the area. My point to all this is to say don't let stereotypes and impressions close you off to new places and experiences. Be open to learning about what makes each place different and unique. I am glad I took the opportunity to check it out, because Waco has some hidden gems that I am glad I got to experience. Waco is approximately an hour and a half drive from Dallas, an hour and a half drive from Austen and a three hour drive from San Antonio. So, if you find yourself in any of those Texas cities, consider taking your own detour to Waco to explore this revitalized city. Here are the hidden gems you can discover in Waco: Magnolia Silos (of course!): The Magnolia Silos complex is a major tourist attraction. Twenty years ago Chip and Joanna Gaines opened a small home decor retail store on Bosque Boulevard in Waco. Since that time, their business has grown to a full-blown empire and includes a hit TV show, a whole broadcasting network (the Magnolia network which has a lot of other home centered shows), a line of products at Target (Hearth & Home), a hotel (The Hotel 1928 opening this November), and of course the Magnolia Silos complex. Shopping at the Magnolia Silos was the main draw for my visit to Waco. It was everything I expected it to be and I LOVED it. Read about everything you can see and do at the Magnolia Silos complex in my recent blog. A Bus Tour of Waco with Waco Tours: I love doing tours when I first get to a new place. They give you the history of the area and point out highlights so you can plan your agenda for the rest of your stay. Waco Tours has several different tour options, including a River Cruise which was rated #1 in North America by USA Today. I didn't have a chance to do that one, but I did their Classic 2.5 hour bus tour around Waco and it was fantastic! The tour guides were some of the best I have ever had. They got to know each person's name and were able to relate certain parts of the tour to personal tidbits we had shared when we got on the tour bus! They were energetic and friendly and knew their Waco history. The tour takes you through several Waco neighbors and tourist sites and explains the ups and downs of Waco history. In 1953 a violent and deadly tornado ripped through downtown Waco killing and injuring hundreds as well as destroying multiple structures. The city was devastated after this tornado and struggled for a long time to rebuild. That makes the financial infusion that Chip and Joanna Gaines have brought to the area that much more significant. Some of the Tour Stops: Fixer Upper Homes: The tour company was started by two couples who had their house renovated on the Fixer Upper show, so you know that drive bys of several of the popular Fixer Upper projects are included on the tour. I like the show, but am not up on each particular project. Some of my fellow tourists knew the specific houses from each episode and were very familiar with the ones we drove by. William Cameron Park: The tour also took us on a beautiful drive through William Cameron Park which is a 416 acre nature oasis in the middle of Waco. The Park is located alongside the Brazos and Bosque Rivers and has a zoo, playgrounds, a disc golf course, breathtaking cliff views, access to two rivers and miles of trails that are part of the multi-use National Recreation Trail system. Learn more about this amazing natural site here. Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds: A nice addition to the tour is a stop by Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds, two local businesses that provide the tour group with samples! Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds are located next to the Baylor Campus and are a popular student hangout. The iconic photo spot in the first picture of this blog is in the backyard area of Common Grounds. Make sure to stop and snap a photo and don't forget to sample the ice cream and coffee! Heritage Creamery: Heritage Creamery is an independently owned and locally operated ice cream shop with two locations in Waco. They use locally and responsibly sourced ingredients in their ice cream and other treats. Getting a free sample of delicious ice cream was my favorite part of the tour! Learn more about Heritage Creamery here. Common Grounds: Common Grounds is a locally owned coffee shop located across from the Baylor campus (and next to Heritage Creamery). It has a definite college vibe including weekly concerts in their backyard outside space. The backyard has a rock that you stand on for that Insta-worthy picture. They have a full menu of caffeine loaded drinks such as their legendary Cowboy Coffee selections using Common Grounds' proprietary secret sauce. There is also a section of drinks called "Sleep Is Overrated". Perfect for those college students pulling all nighters during Finals Week. Check out all of the caffeinated concoctions here. Waco Suspension Bridge and Bronze Cattle Drive Sculptures: The historic Waco Suspension Bridge was completed in 1870 and at the time was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi. It spans the Brazos River and was once used to drive cattle across the River onto the Chisholm Trail. The ability to drive cattle or travel easily over the Brazos River provided an economic boost to the Waco area. The Bridge is flanked by parks. The Indian Springs Park entrance to the Bridge has life size bronze sculptures of cowboys driving long-horn cattle to the Bridge. These statues took my breath away as I walked toward the entrance of the Bridge. They are a must see if you are visiting Waco. The Bridge recently reopened after being closed for a few years for extensive rehabilitation work. I felt very lucky to be able to walk across the Suspension Bridge and feel like a part of history. After crossing the Suspension Bridge, I walked along the Brazos River on a path you can reach from the Bridge. It was a nice peaceful walk on a beautiful day (and I even spotted some wildlife!). Baylor University Campus: Waco is the home to Baylor University, a private Baptist Christian research university. The campus is beautiful and is worth a walk around. Baylor's mascot is the Bears and there are two real life cubs that live o the campus! When we drove by on the tour they were hibernating, but I was lucky enough to catch them out waiting for dinner when I was walking on the campus. It is easy to tell when they are active as there will be a crowd gathered around taking in their cuteness! Dr Pepper Museum: Before my visit to Waco, I had no idea that Dr Pepper originated there. I am most certainly a Pepper (and wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?). I know some of you are old enough to understand this reference and are probably humming a little tune right now. But I digress...as I am a Pepper I was very interested to go check out the museum and learn about the history of Dr Pepper. The $10 fee to get in is very reasonable, especially since it includes a Dr Pepper drink of your choice straight from the soda fountain! I learned a lot of things I never knew about one of my favorite drinks. For instance did you know that when it was first developed it was promoted as a health drink? It was first formulated by Brooklyn-born pharmacist, Charles Alderman, while he was working at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco. Initial promotion of the drink claimed it aided digestion and restored vim, vigor and vitality. Too bad for me that Dr Pepper is no longer promoted as a health aid. The Museum follows the origination of the Dr Pepper from a local favorite at a corner drug store in Waco to an internationally distributed product. It has examples of the variation of the branding and labeling over the years as well as the history of the manufacturing and bottling plant in downtown Waco that was partially destroyed by that tornado in 1953. There are exhibits of the Old Corner Drugstore as well as a section memorializing the sit-ins that occurred at diners and soda fountains across the country during the Civil Rights movements. In addition to the general museum exhibits, the Dr Pepper Museum offers unique experiences such as Make a Soda, Taste a Soda, Paranormal Experience and Extreme Pepper Experience. These special experiences have an additional fee and require reservations. I didn't have a chance to add on any experience, but they sound pretty cool. Click here to read more about each experience and to make a reservation if you will be visiting the Museum. I wasn't sure what to expect when I decided to visit the Dr Pepper Museum, but I can say I was pleasantly surprised with all of the history, memorabilia and exhibits it contained. Not to mention the delicious ice cold fountain drink at the end! As I said, you can get a free Dr Pepper drink (with flavoring added if you want) OR you can get a $1 off an upgraded drink like a Dr Pepper float. Check out the website for the Dr Pepper Museum here to see all the experiences and options available to you if you decide to visit. And you're welcome for giving you a great trivia game answer to the question "Where did Dr. Pepper originate?". Your friends will be impressed. So, Should You Visit Waco, Texas? If you find yourself in Texas within a few hours drive of Waco, my answer to that question is unequivocally yes! I was pleasantly surprised with all there was to see and do in Waco and I thoroughly enjoyed every experience I had. I am glad I took the opportunity to check out Waco while I was out that direction. From the amazing Magnolia Silos complex to the interesting Dr Pepper Museum and all the sights in between, Waco was a great little getaway. If you don't find yourself in that neck of the woods, I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit!

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