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. While Aiken is the heart of Thoroughbred Country, most people aren't aware of everything else this charming region has to offer, with each small town bringing its own unique history, attractions and Southern charm to the table.
Arrive in Aiken
Arrive Thursday night 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.
Enjoy dinner at The Willcox’s award-winning restaurant or, if you’re looking for fine or casual dining, kick off your stay by dining at one of the many delicious restaurants in Aiken or North Augusta.
Explore Thoroughbred Country
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.
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 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 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 a hearty dining experience, check out Macaluso's & Co., the only restaurant that prepares homemade Italian food from Staten Island, NY. On the menu are a variety of pizzas and dishes such as Grandma Lena’s Ravioli & Peas, Macaluso’s Staten Island Style Baked Rigatoni with Chicken Parm, Picante Chicken with Rigatoni and Sausage & Broccoli Rabe with Imported Pasta.
Take a self-guided, interactive tour along Colleton Avenue where you’ll find more than 11 species of oak, five different pines, cedars, hollies, magnolias and more.
A Day at the Races
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 its mouthwatering hot sandwiches and fresh ingredients, or head to The Pizza Joint for some of the best brick oven pies outside of New York City.
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.
Head to Whiskey Alley and explore their selection of appetizers (how about some whipped feta?) along with a charcuterie board before dinner at Malia's, where you'll find the finest, freshest and most ethically produced ingredients in each dish.
Sunday Brunch in Aiken
It'd be wrong not to stay for 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.
There’s also La Parisienne French Restaurant & Bakery, where you can get croissant breakfast sandwiches, fruit-filled crepes or a farmer’s breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon and buttery home fries.
Pick up some sweet treats on your way out of town at Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe. Offering a variety of bulk candy, chocolates, pralines and fudge, Cyndi’s can satisfy any sweet tooth.
Interested in a more equestrian-centric trip? Check out A Weekend of Horse Racing in Aiken
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