Whether you’ve escaped south for a long weekend or are bedding down there for the winter, Aiken has plenty to offer its snowbirds. Here are four activities and amenities you won’t want to pass by:
1. Watch a morning workout at the Aiken Training Track.
You’ll have to wake up with the sun but set that alarm, pack a thermos of hot coffee and a camera, and go — you’ll be glad you did!
This one-mile loop is an intimate antithesis to the big, bustling tracks you’ll find in Lexington or Ocala. There’s something special about watching the horses making their way around the misty track; were it not for the drumroll of their hoofbeats you might be talked into believing they were ghosts. The track also hosts events throughout the year, including the Aiken Trials in March. Get more information on the website here.
Tip: After you get your fill of watching, fill up on eggs, grits and country ham at the adjacent Track Kitchen. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and cash only.
2. Hit the trail in Hitchcock Woods.
Whether you’re looking to knockout some conditioning work, pop your green horse over some logs or treat your horse to a stroll in the woods after a hard jump school, Hitchcock Woods is a true eventer’s playland.
This 2,100 urban forest boasts over 70 miles of beautiful sandy trails with adorable names like Tea Cottage Path, Peek-a-Boo Lane and Cathedral Aisle — chart a course from the trail map or just follow your nose for a spontaneous adventure (but be sure to grab a map anyway in case your adventure goes astray).
From a tucked-away steeplechase track and surprise cross country jumps to an emerald green show arena — the site of the 100th annual Aiken Horse Show in the Woods, held April 1-3 this year — you never know what lies around the bend. Kate Samuels takes on the grand tour via this helmet cam video.
Tip: The Stable on the Woods entrance is recommended for trailer parking.
3. Go consignment tack shopping.
New tack? Pfft. You can find that anywhere. But scoring a great deal on a previously loved tack treasure feels like winning the lottery.
Many of Aiken’s (many) tack stores have consignment sections: Aiken Saddlery, Sullivan Saddlery, Oak Manor Saddlery … the list goes on. The last time I went to Oak Manor I walked away with some practically new half chaps, a sweet retro-looking helmet cover and a shadow roll cover (not that I needed a shadow roll cover, or have ever used it, but it just seemed like a cool thing to have lying around).
On the flip side, if you have excess tack to unload Aiken is a great place to sell it. Although can you ever really have too much horse stuff, really?
4. Refuel and re-hydrate downtown. Downtown Aiken has several charming restaurant options, most of them locally owned and operated. These are my two favorite haunts: Whether you’re looking to celebrate a great cross country run or drown the memory of a rough dressage lesson, Aiken Brewing Company is the place to go for a cold pint of Thoroughbred Red and hearty pub fare. Hey, you earned those potato skins!
Only in Aiken… Arriving via horseback #aikenbrewingcompany #aiken #gonnamissthistown A photo posted by Kendall Sharkey (@sharkc08) on
Horse or no horse, I’d seriously consider driving five hours to Aiken just to have dinner at Tako Sushi. They specialize in a sort of southwest-meets-Asian fusion; the menu ranges from imaginative sushi rolls to a “tako burger” dressed with chipotle lime ketchup, dijon, green chile cilantro mayo and green tomato jalapeño relish … what?!?! It makes more sense in your mouth than it does on paper, promise.
What’s on YOUR Aiken must-do list? Share in the comments!