Nestled along the Savannah River in the Western region of the Midlands lies beautiful Thoroughbred Country. Known for raising thoroughbred horses after the Revolutionary War, this rural area has become a popular destination for horse racing fans. But what most people aren't aware of is everything else Thoroughbred Country has to offer, with each small town bringing its own unique history, attractions and Southern charm to the table.
Arrive Thursday night
Arrive right in the heart of Thoroughbred Country to the equestrian-driven town of Aiken.
To best experience this charming city, book your stay at The Willcox, an elegant white-pillared hotel established in 1900. It has been voted one of the best hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure and is within walking distance of beautiful downtown Aiken. Another historic hotel option is Hotel Aiken, originally built in 1898 and located in the heart of historic downtown.
Your first night in town calls for a delicious dinner, and The Bradley in downtown Aiken is the perfect place to start. Everything here is made from scratch. One of their most popular menu items is the Bradley burger, topped with caramelized onion, pickle, potato and epic sauce.
Start the day off by having breakfast at The Willcox. Choose from a wide-variety of menu items to enjoy in the hotel's grand living room, often referred to as "the living room of the community," or enjoy your breakfast poolside among the beautiful blossoming flowers.
Or head to Auten's, a family restaurant and local favorite serving breakfast all day. Build your own omelet or try their delicious creamy grits!
Hit the road to the charming little town of Denmark, located in Bamberg County on US-78. Upon arrival, you'll quickly notice the painting of dogwood blossoms on the town's water tower. The painting was designed by Denmark native and award-winning painter, Jim Harrison.
Right down the street from the town's water tower is one of the largest privately owned antique stores in the Southeast, The Caroline Collection. The store features three floors of wide-ranging and ever-changing treasures from around the world, including a large inventory of American and European fine art. In fact, The Caroline Collection has so many antiques that they have three other locations located on the same street!
Once you've worked up an appetite for lunch, it's time for a taste of some authentic Southern flavor in the town of Blackville, just eight miles west of Denmark on US-78. Here you can find Miller's Bread-Basket, an Amish-Mennonite style restaurant with a family-friendly atmosphere. Choose from a variety of delicious eats at their cafeteria-style lunch bar, which includes fresh greens, heavenly mashed potatoes and their famous fried chicken and meatloaf. Be sure to leave a little room for dessert so you have a chance to try their mouthwatering dessert selection of homemade breads, pies and sugar-free sweets.
After you've refueled with some tasty Southern cooking, it's time for a short 10-mile road trip to The Little Red Barn Pottery & Art Gallery in historic Barnwell. The gallery serves as the studio for nationally-recognized Master Potter, Elizabeth Ringus of Paw Print Pottery, and fine art nature photographer, Larry Prince. Here you can explore a variety of uniquely crafted antiques, furniture and home décor made by Ringus, Prince and many other local artists. You can even watch the stoneware clay being turned and shaped on the potter's wheel!
For an exciting dinner to cap off your first night in Thoroughbred Country, check out the Red Pepper in downtown Aiken. Enjoy a friendly atmosphere with live musical performances and a tasty menu offering everything from braised prime rib to Mahi Mahi risotto.
Grab some breakfast at Crêpes Café in downtown Aiken. Begin with an espresso or coffee of your choice, then choose from a variety of sweet and savory crêpes made with fresh ingredients. They also have a selection of gluten-free crepes.
Another breakfast option is at La Dolce, a bakery, café and tea room serving a delicious selection of pastries, muffins, desserts and more.
If you happen to be in Aiken on a weekend during racing season, you'll want to spend your Saturday with the horses. The Aiken Trials are held every spring and feature horses racing on a flat track. The Aiken Steeplechase is held in both spring and fall, and features horse racing on a course with trenches and hedges serving as jumps. Food vendors reside within the events, serving everything from hot dogs to ice cold refreshments.
Aiken is also home to the beautiful Hopelands Gardens. This 14-acre estate was opened as a public garden in 1969. Here you can walk the winding pathways surrounded by gorgeous live oaks and cedars that lead to colorful gardens and breathtaking views throughout the estate. Be on the lookout for local wildlife swimming in the pond and wetlands, including turtles and wood ducks! The garden is also home to the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, where you can get a close look at the history of the great horses and riders who have helped build Aiken into the equestrian powerhouse it is today.
Downtown Aiken boasts a wide selection of delicious restaurants. Grab a table outside What's Cookin' Downtown, a family-owned restaurant known for their mouthwatering hot sandwiches and fresh ingredients.
The Pizza Joint is locally known for fresh brick oven pies, or try one of their many calzones!
Explore the downtown specialty shops all along Laurens Street where you'll find several antique stores, clothing stores and art galleries. Be sure to check out the Aiken Antique Mall for local gems and souvenirs you can bring back home.
For dinner, try Aiken Speakeasy & Eats on Laurens Street, offering a fun 1920s themed dining and drinks experience with weekly entertainment.
Or try the Aiken Brewing Company for an assortment of handcrafted beer and a tasty bar menu everyone will enjoy.
It'd be wrong not to stay for Sunday Brunch in Aiken before hitting the road for home. The New Moon Café is a popular brunch spot in town, serving everything from stone ground grits to breakfast quesadillas! The New Moon Café prides itself on serving delicious, healthy food with fresh, local ingredients.