Saratoga is the “Summer Place to Be” if you’re into chic, historic, and late-night. But what about the kids? Is there something for them besides boring gardens or a long day at the track watching dad study the tip sheets? You bet. Try this low-cost, low-travel, nostalgia-filled trifecta.
Begin by getting wet at the football-field–sized Peerless Pool in Saratoga Spa State Park. Built in 1962 to serve 3,000 people at once and 8,000 daily, this vast, rubber-bottomed pool has to be seen to be believed. The shallow end begins with zero-depth entry (i.e., you can walk into the water) and gradually deepens to four feet before inching back to a depth of three feet at the far end. It’s perfect for the six-year-old still learning to swim, the twelve-year-old who wants to hang out and play Marco Polo, even the grandparent just looking to beat the heat.
My favorite part of the Peerless experience is people-watching—it draws folks of every size, shape, color, and sensibility. I think of it as Saratoga’s melting pot. The complex also features a double water slide, a children’s wading pool with a mushroom fountain that spills very cold water, and an expansive lawn for bring-your-own picnicking, Frisbee, or reading under a tree. Go early or late and you can practically have the place to yourself. Or make it the midpoint on a family bike ride through the state park (rent bikes at the park’s Gideon Putnam Hotel).
Kids under five get in free; five to eleven and seniors, $1.50; twelve and up, $3. Open weekdays 10 a.m.–6 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m.–7 p.m., June 24 through Labor Day. The park charges a $6 entry fee per car. For more: www.saratogaspastatepark.org.
Next, visit Murphy’s Driving Range and Miniature Golf, on Route 9 a mile south of the state park’s main entrance. Built in 1945 and billed as the oldest combined driving range and mini-golf course in the US, it has a character and spirit that’s lacking at new-fangled putt-putts: no garish colored-water fountains or plastic replicas of pirate boats. In fact, it’s a tad run-down, which makes it real. Best of all, holes-in-one are possible. This is a place where five-year-olds can succeed and even best an older sibling.
Admission is $5 for children, $7 for adults; $6–22 for a bucket of balls. Open 9 a.m.–9 p.m. April through September.
Finish your day at the Malta Drive-In, a few miles further south on Route 9. This vintage drive-in screens first-run, family-oriented double features and boasts three rows of traditional car-window speakers for those adults who fondly remember the real deal. Opened in 1949 by Sarto Smaldone (twice mayor of Saratoga Springs), the drive-in’s first movie was Abbott and Costello’s The Noose Hangs High. The second feature starred Roy Rogers and Trigger. Today special benefits include jump-start service for cars (you never know), an open-door policy for pets on leash, and a fabulous snack bar, including twenty varieties of candy and thirteen ice creams. Plan to arrive early so that other people’s SUVs don’t get in your way, and also to take part in a distinctly American tailgate-party atmosphere, with kids playing kickball and families picnicking. Cost is $7 for twelve-year-olds and up, $3 for eleven and under. Open May until September. Check www.maltadrivein.com