Spend a Day in Aiken SC

A Day in Aiken

Many people, when they think of Aiken, tend to think horse country. While it’s true that Aiken hosts world-class equestrian events and is home to several thoroughbred champions, there is much more to be discovered in this quaint southern city, named Best Southern Small Town in 2018 by Southern Living Magazine.

Aiken Trolley Tours
Experience Aiken by trolley! During the Aiken Visitor Center and Train Museum’s Saturday-only Trolley Tour, you’ll cruise comfortably under a canopy of Live Oaks as you ride and learn about the city’s historic homes and churches, the Battle of Aiken, the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum and the picturesque Hopelands Gardens.

Hopelands Gardens is home to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum

Hopelands Gardens
Aiken’s famous gardens are pleasant to visit no matter the time of year. Walk along stone and sand/dirt pathways to fountains, a reflection pool, a rock fountain and Dollhouse, home of the Aiken Garden Club. Oak Alley (pictured above) is a dramatic drive lined with old oaks that form a canopy above. You can enjoy a touch and scent trail, gazebo, pond, wetlands, statuary and swings. Christmas in Hopelands, held each December, is an enchanting walk-through exhibit featuring over two miles of lighted pathways and illuminated displays. Over 100,000 twinkling lights in the peaceful setting of Hopelands Gardens are a must-see during the holiday season.  Hopelands is also home to the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Admission is free to Hopelands and the museum.

Visual Arts in Aiken
The Aiken Center for the Arts’ Gallery is a unique gift shop featuring an eclectic collection of local artisan works such as handcrafted jewelry, paintings, pottery, baskets, and clothing. You’re sure to find something you like, and sales support the arts in Aiken! The Center also hosts a art exhibitions throughout the year.  aikencenterforthearts.org

American Darling Cowhide Bags from White Rose Eclectics in Downtown Aiken

Shopping in Downtown Aiken
The shops and boutiques in downtown Aiken allow you a unique shopping experience. From art galleries, to antiques, fashion, giftware, and equestrian supplies to rare books, sweets and gourmet kitchenware… you’ll love spending a day here. For a list of shops, click here.

Joye in Aiken!

For more than a decade, Joye in Aiken!, a local performing arts organization, has hosted nearly 500 accomplished musicians, actors and dancers (primarily from The Juilliard School) to participate in the weeklong Performing Arts Festival held each March, where a wide variety of events are made available to the public at low or no cost. The principal venue is the restored Joye Cottage, formerly a Whitney-Vanderbilt winter home in Aiken.

Performing Arts Festival

Aiken County Historical Museum
The museum is located in a former Winter Colony cottage (at 17,000 square feet!). The Winter Colony was the winter home of wealthy folks like the Whitneys, the Astors, the Vanderbilts, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The museum houses a diverse collection of historical exhibits ranging from Natural History to a 1950’s soda fountain to a handmade miniature circus to an 1800’s log cabin. Learn about Aiken, its residents and its interesting beginnings here. Gift shop on site. 803-642-2015.

Lunch | Betsy’s on the Corner
Located downtown, Betsy’s is fine food in a fun, diner atmosphere. Enjoy homemade soups and salads, southern-style favorites like Betsy’s Famous Chicken and Dumplings, handcrafted burgers, hotdogs, specialty sandwiches, and daily Blue Plates. Afterwards, indulge in a frosty shake or ice cream treat from their old-fashioned soda fountain!
159 Laurens St. NW | 803-226-0078

Dinner | Malia’s
Consistently ranking in the top 3 eateries in Aiken, we highly recommend Malia’s. In business for more than 30 years, diners keep coming back for the delicious offering of this downtown restaurant. Hearty entrees include NY Strip, Braised Short Rib and Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops and lighter main dishes include Roasted Salmon and Seafood Etouffee. 120 Laurens St, NW | 803.643.3086

Annual Highlights

Aiken’s Makin’

Aiken’s Makin’
One of the best arts and crafts events in the Southeast! This two-day festival features fine arts, handmade craft exhibits, food, performing artists and more. aikensmakin.net

Battle of Aiken

Come see history come alive with cannons, cavalry horses and living history experts at the Battle of Aiken, a 3-day re-enactment of Civil War battles, military encampments and living history presentations. More here.  

Aiken Horse Show
This annual equestrian competition is held at the legendary show ring in the Hitchcock Woods. The show is a prestigious and popular event that attracts equestrians and spectators alike. aikenhorseshow.org

Christmas in Hopelands
An enchanting walk-through exhibit in Aiken’s Hopelands Gardens that features over two miles of lighted pathways and illuminated displays during the holiday season. visitaikensc.com/holiday

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