Aiken, South Carolina, recognized as one of 2020’s Best Small Towns in the South offers residents a sparse suburban feel. Many young professionals and retirees live in Aiken and residents tend to have moderate political views. Today, Aiken forms the center of South Carolina’s “Thoroughbred Country” and is home to first-class polo and racing. It is even home to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. Just about 20 miles from Augusta, Georgia, Aiken is an authentic equestrian community rich in historic charm and tradition. This town is a picture postcard waiting to happen, from the iconic archway of live oaks along South Boundary Avenue and serene Hopelands Gardens to the strong Thoroughbreds you might see warming up in the early-morning light. Aiken’s 216 sunny days a year, nearly two weeks more than the national average, allows its residents to get outside more often to enjoy its walking trails, parks, gardens, tennis, cycling or a day of shopping in historic downtown. The Aiken community is passionate about art of all varieties, and residents support the arts with an enthusiasm that rivals most large cities. Participation is highly encouraged through art education and enrichment classes at the Aiken Center for the Arts. Aiken’s cost of living is 9% lower than the national average.
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The Aiken County Farmers Market is the oldest county farmers’ market in continuous service in the same location in S.C. Vendors sell fresh produce, baked goods, meat, honey, and dairy products, along with handmade crafts. Goods are displayed on tables built by farmers and their families of Aiken County over 50 years ago. The Market, even now, is a place where conversation and recipes are shared with friends, old and new. It is open every Saturday year-round and, during the summer, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, too.
This 14-acre garden features camellias, azaleas, live oaks, wisteria, dogwood, crepe myrtle and other Southern favorites for year-round beauty. Two wetlands’ ponds have boardwalks for close-up views of Chinese elms, cypress, and other native plants. The Arboretum Trail encourages plant enthusiasts and spectators to discover all of the plants and trees the gardens have to offer. Hopelands Gardens is a designated SC National Heritage Corridor Discovery Site. The Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum is on the property. Concerts are held on Monday evenings April – June, times vary. In December, the gardens host Christmas in Hopelands, over 2 miles of lighted pathways, 30 holiday light displays, live entertainment, refreshments, all with free admission.
At first glance, downtown Aiken looks like so many other small Southern towns with its beautiful historic buildings and charming gardens. But lining the quiet streets of this All-American City is one of the most diverse collections of trees found in any municipal landscape. Nowhere is the botanical treasure more spectacular than along Colleton Avenue. A seven-block section of the street has been turned into the Aiken Arboretum Trail. It features more than 100 trees, including 11 species of oak, five different pines, a variety of cedars, hollies and magnolias and Southern classics like dogwood, crepe myrtle and pecan. An interactive self-guided tour has been developed, offering interesting facts about each tree on the one-mile trail. Using a mobile cellular device, you simply call the number posted on the plaque below each tree and enter the tree’s specific number. The plaque also includes the common and scientific names of the species.
The Whitney Restaurant and Bar provides an intimate setting in the historic downtown, this place exceeds its goal to provide excellence in cuisine and service without the pretenses of fine dining. Come discover your new favorite neighborhood restaurant.
Betsy Around the Corner offers full-service dining for lunch and dinner and do so in a family-friendly atmosphere. Using seasonal and local produce when possible, each day’s menu, except Saturday, will feature a “Blue Plate Special”, homemade soups, and specialty sandwiches. You will not want to miss the Saturday breakfast! Touted as the best grits and waffles in the area, it’s Southern cooking at its best!
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