Destination Aiken: Top 7 Experiences to Enjoy in Aiken, SC
AIKEN MIGHT NOT be South Carolina’s largest city, but when you’re talking about world-class equestrian venues, Aiken quickly rises to the top. It's home to many thoroughbred champions, and polo matches and fox hunts are a way of life here. But did you know that Aiken also boasts a rich arts scene and is home to one of the nation’s largest urban forests as well as South Carolina’s oldest golf course?
At roughly a two-hour drive from Charlotte, Charleston, and Greenville, Aiken makes for a delightfully unique weekend getaway. Here are seven things you absolutely have to explore on a much-needed trip to Aiken.
1. Aiken Training Track
Start your day off in the horse district, which is a connection of dirt streets just minutes from downtown where horses have the right of way. Park your car and stand on the fence and watch the horses train at the Aiken Training Track, where you just might see the next winner of the Belmont Stakes or the Kentucky Derby out for a morning gallop around the track.
2. Aiken County Farmers Market and 3. Hitchcock Woods
From there, head downtown to the oldest county farmers market (at the same location) in the state of South Carolina, the Aiken County Farmers Market. On any given Saturday, you’re likely to find locally raised bison, raw milk, and a plethora of vegetables—each with a story to go with it. Grab the fixings for a picnic and head on over to Hitchcock Woods which boasts over 2,000 acres of forests and 70 miles of trail that can be accessed by foot, horse or carriage.
4. Aiken Trolley Tour
Now, it’s time to really sink in to the history of this charming place. Venture over to the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum (where you're likely to catch some local bluegrass on a Saturday morning) and hop on board the Aiken Trolley Tour. Let Aiken local, Judith Burgess, wow you with stories from Aiken’s golden age when people like Fred Astaire danced down the steps of the Aiken Post Office, and the Hope Diamond was worn around the collar of socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean’s dog.
One area that you won’t want to miss is the charming downtown, where you’ll find a local brewery that has won multiple Great American Brewing Festival Awards along with shops boasting all things equestrian, one-of-a-kind local art, and Aiken’s own Hunt Pattern China. Grab an old-fashioned milkshake at Betsy’s on the Corner and enter the secret code to be transported back to the Roaring Twenties at Aiken Speakeasy and Eats.
6. Whitney Polo Field and 7. Hopelands Gardens
Of course, to feel like you've had a true Aiken experience, you’ll need to head to the Whitney Polo Field and watch six chukkers of polo and stomp the divots during halftime. Lastly, on any trip to Aiken, you won’t want to miss the beautiful Hopelands Gardens where you can gaze at hundred-year-old cypress trees and beautiful fountains. Meander along the walkways, feed the ducks and ponder your next visit to Aiken.
Upcoming Aiken Events
Newberry Street in Downtown Aiken, September 24, 6 p.m.
Cultural event celebrating Oktoberfest with German-inspired food and beer vendors, an authentic Oompah Band performing on the main stage and local music as well. Cost: FREE. Call 803-649-2221 or visit our website for more info.
Ford Conger Field, 931 Powder House Rd, Aiken, Gates open at 9:30 a.m., last race at 3:30 p.m., October 29
The 25th Holiday Cup, with six steeplechase races around the track. Tailgating, a carriage parade, and the Village of Shops round out the event. Cost: $20 each in advance (children 10 and under are free); $30 each at the gate. Call 803-648-9641 or visit our website for more info.
KATYDID COMBINED DRIVING EVENT
Katydid Farm, 359 State Park Rd., Windsor, SC, November 4-5
The Katydid CDE attracts the best carriage drivers across the country. Whether it’s the elegance and tradition of dressage, the speed and daring of the cross-country obstacles, or the precision and drama of cones competition, there’s something that appeals to everyone. Cost: FREE. Call 803-295-6785 or visit our website for more info.
SOUTHERN CITY FILM FESTIVAL
Downtown Aiken, November 4-6
The SOUTHERN CITY Film Festival will bring an array of films, from amateur to professional in 6 categories: Feature Films, Documentary Films, Short Films, ‘Script to Screen,’ Homegrown, Animation, with the winning films receiving a distribution deal to showcase their work. Enjoy watching multiple films throughout scenic locations in downtown Aiken. Cost: varies. Visit our website for more info.
BLESSING OF THE HOUNDS
Hitchcock Woods, Memorial Gate, 11 a.m., November 24
Aiken Hounds is distinguished as having the oldest drag hunt in the nation. In a drag hunt, cloth saturated with fox scent is dragged across the terrain to create a trail for the hounds to follow. Mounted riders follow the pack. The ceremony pays homage to the various traditions of foxhunting, to the heritage of Aiken’s historic hunt culture, and to the skilled hounds that make this sport so engaging. Cost: FREE. Call 803-642-0528 or visit website for more info.
CHRISTMAS IN HOPELANDS
Hopelands Gardens, 135 Dupree Place, Aiken, 6 to 9:30 p.m. December 10-11, 15-23 & 26
The 24th annual Christmas in Hopelands Exhibit features gardens illuminated with over 100,000 lights during this free event. This spectacular walk-through exhibit features over 1.5 miles of lighted pathways and holiday displays along with live music and special events each evening. Cost FREE. Call 803-642-7650 or visit our website.