$10 Travel: Aiken, SC


$10 Travel: Aiken, SC

     Got ten buckaroos and a hankerin’ for travel?

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     Take that Andrew Hamilton and head to Aiken, South Carolina for some good eats and a stroll through a small southern city with some serious old time charm. Less than an hour from the capitol of South Carolina and right next door to Augusta, Georgia, this Southern city is accessible and convenient for a day or weekend trip on the cheap.

  1. Hopelands Gardens
    1700 Whiskey Road, 10 a.m. to Sunset 

    Price: Free

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         Aiken is known for its thoroughbreds, horse races, and polo, and painted horse statues decorate the downtown. Veer onto a dirt road off downtown Whiskey Avenue, and you’ll inevitably pass several large and well kept stables and racing tracks. Continue down Whiskey to Hopelands Gardens, a public formal garden donated to the city for residents and visitors to enjoy. Several miles of pathways lead you through beautiful gardens to hidden benches and fountains and over little bridges. A quiet and peaceful space, Hopelands Gardens begs to be explored and appreciated, ideally with a picnic and a good book.

    Insider tip: Check out the
    Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and the dollhouse while on site, also free.

  2. Hitchcock Woods
    44 S Boundary Avenue SW, Sunrise to Sunset

    Price: Free

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         For a bit more exploring and longer trails, Hitchcock Woods is one of the largest urban forests in the country, with 2100 acres open to the public for exploring and over 70 miles of sandy trails. Right in the heart of the city, this is a haven for joggers, dog walkers, and horseback riders. 

    Insider tip: Throughout the year, parts of the woods are also used for horse shows and fox hunts, as well as a yearly blessing of the hounds on Thanksgiving morning, a favorite Aiken tradition.

  3. Aiken Museum
    435 Newberry St NW, Tues. - Sat., 10 a.m to 5 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

         Historians may want to visit the Aiken Museum, a preserved 1930s museum celebrating the history of the town and Aiken county, also for the whopping price of free.  Insider tip: If your companions are bored, have them head back downtown to walk Laurens Street and browse the boutique shops for art, antiques, and unique clothing, inevitably with many equine-themed items.

  4. The Pizza Joint
    125 Richland Avenue West, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

         Worked up an appetite yet? Ready to put that $10 to use? Head down the Alley (which is a decidedly not dark and scary place, as the name suggests, but rather a sweet little brick road with murals on the walls) to Richland Avenue and the Pizza Joint. A small chain with four locations between South Carolina and Georgia, the Pizza Joint boasts outdoor seating, occasional live music, and, most importantly, huge pizza slices and over thirty beers on tap. Insider tip: Visit on a Tuesday for drinks and slices at $2 each! Try one of their signature slices, or make up your own creation with their wide variety of topping selections.

  5. Café Rio Blanco
    148 Laurens Street SW, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

         Save room for dessert! Check out Café Rio Blanco, back on Laurens, for the best Cuban food in South Carolina (Okay, that’s an opinion. But I feel pretty confident saying that). If pizza isn’t your thing, come here to enjoy the empanadas, a Cuban sandwich, coffee, and fried plantains, and you will certainly enjoy the atmosphere in this tiny restaurant, where the owners will welcome you, serve you, and make you feel at home.

    Insider tip: Don’t leave Aiken without trying the Key Lime Pie. Truly. If nothing else, try the pie. It won’t disappoint .

         Now, if you’ve enjoyed a slice or two of pizza, and basked in the heaven that is the Key Lime Pie, you should have a bit of that ten left over. If you are achin’ for more Aiken, and the night is still young, let me recommend a few places to finish off your Aiken adventures.

  6. Aiken Brewing Company
    140 Laurens Street, Mon. - Fri., 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Sat. - Sun., 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

         From Café Rio Blanco, you’ll inevitably hear the laughter and commotion coming from a few doors down at the Aiken Brewing Company, the area’s only microbrewery. A constantly changing menu of home brews attracts locals and visitors alike, and the mix of outdoor, bar, and restaurant seating offers an atmosphere for everyone.

  7. Willcox Hotel
    100 Colleton Avenue SW, Mon. - Sat. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


    Photo courtesy of yelp.com

        Are you a classy Southern type? Wish you were? Check out the Willcox hotel, fine dining restaurant and bar, where you can at least pretend to be Southern royalty. The hotel is rumored to have ghosts and boasts visits from Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and an assortment of rich Yankees seeking an escape from the Northern winter. The hotel has been ranked in the top 50 small U.S. hotels, and an evening spent in the finely adorned lobby or lounging on the back patio with a mint julep reminds you why. A drink or appetizer here will likely run you the majority of that $10 bill, but the experience is worth it.

  8. Holley House Hotel
    235 Richland Avenue West, Mon. - Sat., 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Sun.,  9 p.m. to 12 a.m.

         If after a day of travels you feel like dancing, or maybe seeing some locals dressed in their riding gear, skip the Willcox and visit the Holley House Hotel instead for some dancing and low-key fun with the locals. With indoor and outdoor seating as well as live music or karaoke several days during the week, this is a relaxing and fun way to end the night. The building dates back to the late 1800’s, and rumors of ghosts abound.

    Insider tip: If you plan to stay in Aiken, the rates for this downtown hotel are great, and the downtown location can’t be beat, with rooms starting at $65 night.


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