Driving south into Saratoga County’s Ballston Spa from the nearby city Saratoga Springs, as you approach the village’s heart you coast downhill toward the valley. You pass churches, residences and eateries, shops and boutiques.
And it’s here in Ballston Spa that you’ll find some of my favorite places.
Ballston Spa Local Jewels
My top 10 Ballston Spa Spots spotlights the village’s thriving business district. Living in Ballston Spa’s Historic District, which features Victorian architecture and a peaceful hush, I frequently enjoy strolls around my neighborhood. Apart from passing the occasional dog-walker or family with children, I spot squirrels frisking about and even the occasional rabbit. Yet, just a short walk from my house (built in 1903), Ballston Spa is alive with a surprising variety of things to see and do. There is a quaint small town vibe here. There are also quite a few recreational gems that uplift and inspire these silvery winter days.
Here are top 10 Ballston Spa local jewels that brighten my days.
Mineral Baths and Spa Treatments
First settled in 1771, known as “A Village of Friends,” Ballston Spa was historically a place for leisure and rejuvenation, offering hotel stays, various entertainment options, and hot and cold mineral baths. Even today, the historic Medberry Inn and Spa offers mineral baths and spa treatments.
Boho Chic Boutique
A well-lit Bohemian-inspired artisan store with a fine art gallery vibe, lives up to its name. It’s filled with many gift-worthy hand-crafted items–pottery, hand-painted wine glasses, handbags, industrial lights, furniture, knitted accessories, and more. “Placing the products as a collective, yet making sure each one shines individually is important to maintaining our aesthetic,” says co-owner Carrie VanDerhoof. This attention to detail is what I love about visiting Boho Chic, whether to pick out a condolence card or to shop for Christmas gifts. “Finding my featured artists is quite organic,” says VanDerhoof, “as no two artists are the same. When I opened my doors in Waterford [the business moved from Waterford to Ballston Spa in 2018], many local artisans simply walked through the door.”
VanDerhoof tries not to have more than one artist per sector (Pottery, Hand Painted Wine Glasses, Handbags, Industrial Lights, Furniture, Knitted Accessories, etc.) This celebration of the individual rings true. “I have always wanted it to feel like one big family,” says VanDerhoof. “I am blessed with the group I have, their hearts are all in the right place…” Often, Boho Chic artisans donate portions of their sales to good causes such as rescue animals, the fight against cancer, women’s rights & equality, and local fundraisers. “We can all do more than we think we can,” VanDerhoof says. “We live in a consumerist society and I believe we can consume smarter and do good at the same time.” She carries fair trade or sustainable clothing that employs women, giving them access to education, safe living environments, and fair wages.
Living a More Intentional Life
There are also eco-friendly, vegan and cruelty free personal care products. Unhappy in her original career as environmental engineer, VanDerhoof found her calling as an entrepreneur through her need to “live a more intentful life.” She says, “Every single day at Boho Chic Boutique, I am surrounded by a collective of artisan energy. Each product has positive energy and that creates a pretty powerful collective in one space.” Like Marie Kondo, VanDerhoof hopes visitors to Boho Chic Boutique will find products to “spark joy.” This has been my experience there!
Price range: $$
While currently seating patrons outdoors-only (weather permitting), service via a takeout window is jovial as ever. Breakfast and lunch specials–such as lox, veggie cream cheese, tomato, onion and capers on a garlic bagel or turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and banana peppers on sourdough bread with lemon chicken orzo–are inventive and tasty. And of course, there is always coffee on offer, including specialty flavors such as Maple French Toast and Peppermint Mocha. With its signature purple and gold color scheme and exposed brick facade, Coffee Planet’s tone is upbeat and hip. Indoor seating under a molded tin ceiling is surrounded by fine art works by local artists. My favorite element of their decor is a collection of globes, conducive to reflection. Whether I needed a refuge away from home to study or a congenial atmosphere for meeting friends, Coffee Planet fit the bill.
Price Range: $
Nomad Coffee and Crepes
The top 10 Ballston Spa spots includes Nomad Coffee and Crepes. Their kitschy decor includes license plates from various U.S. states mounted on the walls. Nick and Alex Furnia, the eclectic twin brothers who run this delightful venue, are always eager to engage patrons in lively conversation. Try the nutty, rich cappuccino and the Wild Bob Crepe, filled with lightly seasoned mozzarella, tomato, and basil. “In the past three years, Nomad has grown from a passion-project to a brick-and-mortar,” writes Nick Furnia. “It’s taught me so much about the real-world and being a member of my community.”
Furnia has an additional business roasting specialty coffee under the moniker Knockabout Coffee. Check out the 1971 Rowe AMI Jukebox that Furnia found for sale from a museum in Gloversville. It was defunct, but Furnia’s friend Jeff at The Vinyl Destination in Ballston Spa repaired it beautifully. Furnia has been buying all his records from Jeff since he was a kid. The jukebox boasts a range of music, from The Originals to Johnny Cash. “Nomad is the result of many compromises,” Furnia writes. “We have no plans of leaving Ballston Spa, but we do intend to scale here, and start completely fresh with the lessons we’ve gathered over the years.”
Price range: $$
Located on bustling Front Street, Wiswall Park has the scenic charm of a small town hangout. And is also home to the Ballston Spa Farmer’s Market, which runs June through September. I especially love Wiswall Park for its circular footpath surrounded by benches looking over a central garden arrangement. There is a charming mineral spring, and a pavilion stage for a free annual summer music concert series. Wiswall Park tends to be quiet, which makes it a nice place to take a break from nearby shopping.
Nestled at the bottom of a hill in northeast Ballston Spa, Kelley Park welcomes families with young children and dog-owners, as well as adults looking to connect with nature. A well-trodden footpath meanders alongside the Kayaderosseras Creek, through woodland, reaching a pebbled beach overlooking the creek. Deeper into the park, there is a rugged nature trail. I come here with friends or family for a touch of wilderness. Halfway down the woodland path, a well-placed bench looks out over the creek. I have often sat here with a friend, or in solitude, to enjoy the therapeutic sight and sounds of flowing water. Maintained and lovingly protected by the volunteer-staffed Friends of the Kayaderosseras, the creek is home to fish (I’ve seen trout swimming there) and waterfowl. There is a canoe/kayak launch. Kelley Park also has a picnic pavilion, playground, and fenced dog park.
Daisy Dry Goods
Daisy Dry Goods is an antiques’ version of Aladdin’s cave, packed with enticing arrangements of antique and vintage furniture, hats and clothing, china, aprons, books, bedding, and more. The vibe is part super-elegant grandmother’s living room, part collectible oddities’ bonanza. I always head straight to the store’s rear, where several racks of tightly-packed vintage and antique women’s clothing stir my inner–and, perhaps, outer–fashionista yearnings. Years ago there, I discovered a fitted ankle-length silk dress in a red, navy, and khaki floral print, with tasteful ruffles that, when I wore it, made me feel a little like Audrey Hepburn. Check out the discount box beside the entrance; in there, I’ve seen everything from children’s books to a silver-plated butter knife.
Price range: $$
The Old Iron Spring
The village of Ballston Spa drilled The Old Iron Spring to a depth of 647 feet in 1874. The spring still flows today. Rich in iron, which helps oxygenate our blood, the cold spring water is refreshing to sip or cool your face with in hot weather, but turns a surprising rusty-orange if left standing overnight (ask me how I know)! Of the visitors to Ballston Spa I have invited to sip from the Iron Spring, only one person enjoyed the water’s metallic flavor as much as I do, but there is a sense of sacred ritual to stooping before the spigot jutting from its pagoda-like housing structure and, with cupped hands or an actual cup, bringing the water to your lips.
The Whistling Kettle
The Whistling Kettle offers a selection of 125+ fragrant teas, served by the pot. The food menu includes savory sandwiches, crepes, and salads. Exposed brickwork and diner-style booths add easeful charm. I love sliding into a booth here and studying the menu of teas, particularly the black teas, including Autumn Haze, Buckingham Palace Earl Grey, and Celebration. The festive ritual of pouring fragrant tea from a tall stainless pot and sipping while it cools makes The Whistling Kettle a delightful destination, whether flying solo or with company.
Price range: $$
Housed in the Christ Episcopal Church’s former rectory, Noah’s Attic is an extremely affordable thrift store (imagine a pair of second hand shoes for less than five bucks). Supplied exclusively by donations, the venue has a function-first yet whimsical vibe. I have discovered many chic clothing options here. The upstairs is devoted to clothing and shoes. Downstairs, you can find furniture, china and cookware, books, greeting cards, and bric-a-brac. I love finding unusual treasures here, including a polka-dotted belt and 1980s high top sneakers. Ever generous, Noah’s Attic offers people receiving Social Security benefits a free bag of clothing (per person) each month.
Price range: $
National Bottle Museum
In no particular order The National Bottle Museum certainly makes the Top 10 Ballston Spa spots you shouldn’t miss. The museum exhibits bottles from many American epoques, documenting the history of bottle-making with a fascinating array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Each year in the early 1800s, Saratoga County’s mineral water consumption required production of millions of handmade glass bottles. Three thousand of these are on display at the Museum. Current exhibits include Ellenville Glassworks 1836-1866 and Whimseys, which includes unusually shaped glass pipes for “end of day” times. My personal favorite pieces are the permanent exhibit of oddly-shaped, neon greenish-yellow uranium glass–mesmerizing and a little intimidating! Once nicknamed “canary glass,” uranium was added for aesthetic reasons, but most production ceased during World War II. The National Bottle Museum has a serious, meditative atmosphere. Visiting with a friend, I was inclined to whisper.
Price: Admission is Free
Written by: Effy Redman
Effy Redman is a memoirist, educator, and disability advocate living in Ballston Spa, NY. She has published work in the New York Times, Vice, Ravishly, and Chronogram, among other places. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from CUNY Hunter College. Follow Effy on Twitter: @effyredman.