If one just went by a drive-by appearance, one might think Saranac Lake is kind of the scrappy little sibling of shiny, tourist-laden Lake Placid. But spend some time there (as I have this week), and you might be impressed. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Saranac Lake is more the rustic, real Adirondacks to Lake Placid’s corporate version of the Adirondacks.
If I had to describe Saranac Lake in one word, it would be “community.” This is a community where people all seem to know each other, are nice to each other and genuinely seem to like each other. Even if you’re an outsider, they’ll treat you like one of their own. There’s also a very DIY vibe to it.
I saw a sign about a free concert on Wednesday, so I went not expecting too much. But for the Music on the Green series, a little park was packed and a really good band from Ireland, JigJam, played. It was truly an event for all ages, with kids dancing and running around in circles with each other. It felt very much like a snapshot of Americana.
My base camp was a nice little inexpensive Air BnB just a few blocks from the center of the charming village. My host Rob said to try Origin Coffee Co., best coffee in town. He was right, but also the people were so genuinely nice. Wednesday was the last day of classes, so many teachers came in and many warm congratulations and general loveliness took place. The bar Bitters & Bones looks somewhat like a shack from the outside but, like Doctor Who’s Tardis, is bigger and more awesome on the inside. I found myself in many great conversations and receiving excellent advice, including on hiking Cascade and Porter mountains.
Don’t get me wrong: I still like Lake Placid and visited it yesterday as well. It’s a beautiful place with many good shops and eateries of its own. But my time there felt transactional — in stores and where I ate, I felt like a customer. In Saranac Lake, I often felt like a friend.
I enjoyed going home, but I’m genuinely missing the briefly established routine of getting a cup at Origin Coffee in the morning, or a drink and conversations at Bitters and Bones in the evening. But to find a place like that, a home away from home, only makes me look forward to visiting again.