Things to See and Do in Aiken, South Carolina

aiken county historical museum, aiken, south carolina
Aiken County Historical Museum. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Are you visiting Aiken for the first time? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do in this equestrian city in South Carolina.

When I have a visitor from out of town, the first place they want to see is Hopelands Gardens, also home to Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, but I also take them to The Alley– for a more local, authentic experience. Amp the Alley is a live music event in The Alley.

When I want to escape the crowds or tourists, my favorite place to visit is Hitchcock Woods. At 2,200 acres, Hitchcock Woods is the nations largest urban forest and is owned by the Hitchcock Foundation. It’s a wonderful place to walk, hike or take a horseback ride.

If this is a romantic trip, I recommend South Boundary Ave for kissing with a view.
The best way to get an understanding of Aiken is to take a historic tour with Tailored Tours of Aiken. This fascinating car tour covers 55 points of interest including The Willcox Hotel, Joye Cottage and Hopeland Gardens, among others.

Museums are wonderful, but if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to visit The Spray Ground at Citizens Park.

biscuit, grits, what's cookin restaurant, aiken, south carolina
Biscuit and grits at What’s Cookin’ Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Southern cuisine:

If you are looking for typical Southern food, I recommend breakfast at What’s Cookin, order a “biscuit with” scrambled eggs and cheese or bologna with grits. For lunch or dinner, go to Betsy’s on the Corner, order the hot palmetto with pita chips, a grilled sandwich and a chocolate malt!

The best place to go for coffee & a breakfast treat is The Track Kitchen after a polo match at Whitney Polo Field. Polo, the sport of kings, has been played on historic Whitney Field since 1882. The folks at Aiken Polo Club couldn’t be more friendly.

Looking for cheap food in Aiken? Go to Una Mas Taqueria. I ordered the chicken burrito – tasty, filling and bargain priced.

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The Aiken Brewing Company is the spot for late night dining with plenty of good beer. For an expensive, yet quality meal, go to Prime, Malia’s, Casa Bella or The Willcox. The Willcox is also a great place for Sunday Brunch and if you want to rub shoulders with equestrians, I’m told the horsey set gathers at The Willcox on Tuesday nights.

Seeing a lot of horses around town? Aiken is best known for being an equestrian community. Take a horse-drawn carriage drive with Aiken Classic Carriage. This custom tour lets you peek over the walls and look into Aiken’s storied past.

Did you know that Aiken is known for polo? Plan a visit to Aiken in the fall.

When you come to Aiken, get your picture taken on South Boundary.

carriage house inn, bed & breakfast, historic hotel, aiken, south carolina
Carriage House Inn, circa 1872 photo © Nancy D. Brown

The best vantage points for taking in a southern sunset are had by walking to the top of The Carriage House Inn rooftop, but you have to be a guest to access the roof. The Carriage House Inn is located downtown and is a good place to stay when you visit Aiken.

In Aiken, outdoor lovers will want to hike the Hitchcock Woods, bike throughout town and up and down Colleton Avenue, horseback ride through Hitchcock Woods, and walk around downtown. Looking for a little exercise, walk along the Aiken Arboretum Trail.

After a day of adventure, The Willcox is the best place to go for a spa treatment

thoroughbred racing hall of fame & museum, aiken, south carolina, hopeland gardens
Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

If you are a museum lover, Aiken’s best museum is Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

Looking for exciting night life? Head to the Alley every Thursday Night for Amp the Alley; it’s the place to go for live music.

The Aiken Standard will keep you posted on what’s happening in this small town.

You can tell a lot about  Aiken from visiting and watching a Steeplechase. Someday I want to return for the blessing of the hounds.

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polo pony, aiken polo club, whitney field, aiken, south carolina
Polo ponies play on historic Whitney Field. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

In the spring you should attend Aiken Bluegrass Festival. In the summer you should attend Hops n’ Hogs and in the fall you should attend Aiken’s Makin.  Come to Aiken for Joye in Aiken in the winter time. The entire city is lite with holiday lights.

Just outside of Aiken you can visit Palmetto Shooting Complex and the NWTF Museum in Edgefield and have lunch at Park Row Café.

I’ll bet you didn’t know the Hope Diamond lived in Aiken for awhile. You can learn the back story at the Aiken County Historical Museum. I also learned that Aiken was nominated for Best Small Town by Southern Living magazine. I’m glad I had a chance to discover Aiken. Have you had a chance to visit Aiken, South Carolina?

nancy d brown, horse, equestrian, hitchcock woods, aiken, south carolina, coker springs
Nancy Brown riding in Hitchcock Woods by Coker Springs.

Insider Tip:

Check out the often over-looked Aiken Trolley Tour in Aiken. For additional insider tips follow Nancy D. Brown on Instagram and Twitter @Nancydbrown and @VisitAikenSC on Twitter and Instagram.

Article, photography and YouTube video by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Visit Aiken SC, however all opinions are my own.

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