I took a recent day trip to Aiken, just after Christmas. I once lived in Aiken and have maintained friendships there over the years that keep me going back from time to time.
If you like horses, then surely you already know of Aiken’s identity as the “Horse Capital of the South.” Also considered “America’s Polo Capital” due to its establishment as a winter colony for wealthy elites from up north who came to play polo, it is also the training grounds for stellar Thoroughbred race horses such as Dogwood Stables’ Preakness winner Summer Squall and Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice.
During times of the year when the horses and jockeys are training, you can drive into the grounds of one of the tracks on Two Notch Road to watch them train in the early morning. Ease up to the rail, without being loud or obtrusive, and you will be able to feel the pounding of the ground underneath you as the sleek, gorgeous beasts effortlessly gallop past you on the track. You will hear and see the puff of their breath as the riders breeze them down the track. Afterward, head around the corner to the Track Kitchen for breakfast. This is an authentic Aiken experience that has been enjoyed by locals for quite some time. It’s a little green and white building on Mead Avenue that you might miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. My grandparents lived in this same neighborhood, and my grandfather took me on this excursion on a few chilly mornings, way back when.
My grandparents’ old home, which was also where I had my wedding:
If you’re up for an actual race event, check out one of Aiken’s Triple Crown events in the spring. Here I am at last year’s Steeplechase.
Now, moving on to lovely, hip downtown Aiken…
There’s so much to downtown Aiken in the way of shopping and dining that I can’t really fit it all in here. But that area has been sort of revitalized (if it really needed revitalization) and has acquired some cool, funky spots like the Mellow Mushroom, where I ate lunch.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Willcox, a historic hotel where my husband and I spent part of our honeymoon. It is a grand old inn that once hosted Winston Churchill, among others of note. The gorgeous rooms are all very special, but no, I don’t have any pictures of our honeymoon suite. It was before the days of camera phones when taking pictures was a little more of a deliberate notion, so I didn’t think to snap any pics of the room to toss up on Facebook. But think of a four poster bed, luxurious furnishings pointed toward a working fireplace, and a bay window looking out at some of Aiken’s beautiful magnolia trees. There’s also a fabulous restaurant at the Willcox, where I dined many times over the years. Most notably, I went to the Aiken High School prom with a friend when I was 17, and we had dinner there. It was always an upscale experience, as you would expect by looking at the outside of the hotel. If you take a look at their website, you’ll see that it’s now part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection, and that Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast are pretty big fans of the place. In fact, a stay at the Willcox, by itself, makes for a nice celebration of a special occasion.
As always, you can call on Azalea Travel to book your stay there. You won’t be sorry. And you won’t be disappointed in Aiken. It happens to be one of my very favorite towns in the south. I have not done the place justice with my little hack smartphone pictures in this post.