SPRING IN AIKEN

SPRING IN AIKEN

Spring is my favorite season. Spring gives me a feeling of revival. The birds sing more, the days are warmer and brighter, the grass is greener, colorful plants and flowers are popping up, berries are in season, school is almost out, pools are opening, and butterflies are soaring. Spring in Aiken has sprung!

With all that Aiken has to offer in the spring, I have the privilege to be a tourist in my own hometown.  Whether it’s taking tours, shopping, visiting art galleries, or dining in restaurants, I’m always finding something unique and fun to do. From starting the day at sunrise until sunset to night time, Aiken is sure not to disappoint.

To start your day, Aiken has many local breakfast places to choose from. One particular breakfast nook stands out to me – The Track Kitchen. This place is a hidden gem, so keep it quiet! It’s basically nestled in the middle of horses and stables. To get there you walk or drive on a dirt road, go to Sumter Street and then Mead Avenue, and if you don’t slow down, you will miss it. It is a little white house with a sign that says ‘All Welcome, 7 Days a Week.’ When you walk in, you order at the counter, and it’s cash only. Go ahead and help yourself to coffee and water. The cooks put a lot of love in their food, and they make you feel like family.  The dining area is detailed with pictures of horses and riders on the walls! I had 2 eggs over easy, grits and sausage, and it was delicious! After eating, walk around to check out the stables and horses. The Training Track is also down the dirt road, so take a drive to experience the equestrian atmosphere. Other places to enjoy a local breakfast on a spring day are Autens, Betsy’s On the Corner, The Little Bake Shoppe, New Moon Café and What’s Cooking.

Having a full stomach is probably a good thing before heading over to the Farmers Market. Their cheeses make me hungry. They have stands that sell pretzels, sweet rolls and coffee crumb cakes. Make sure you take plastic bags or a basket to fill it up with veggies and goods. I never leave with my straw market tote empty. Depending on what’s in season, fresh goods include corn, tomatoes, beans, fruits and local meats. What’s even more fun is watching the cooking demonstrations. To be continued – be sure you read my next blog about the Farmers Market!

To enjoy a lovely spring day, you must get out and enjoy it! I love exploring a town by just getting out and walking around. Whether you love food or history, my picks represent a few options and will ensure you have a fun, informative time. Some of the best things in Aiken are free.

If you prefer to avoid the crowds, but still enjoy the experience of having someone tell you about a place, the Aiken Citywide Arboretum Trail tour may be your thing. With your cell phone and a brochure with a map, you can take a self-guided tour. While everything within a 4 mile radius of downtown is a part of the arboretum, start at the library or Hopelands for a cell phone tour.  My favorite tree is the Long Leaf Pine (pinus palastris) because it is so tall, and Hitchcock Woods are full of them! There are a total of 104 trees on the Colleton trail and 50+ at Hopelands. Be sure to charge your cell phone and take your camera.

To experience Aiken’s popular trolley tour, make sure you reserve earlier in the week for one of Saturday’s trolley tours. My tour guide was Miss Judith!  Judith Burgess is an engaging, enthusiastic tour guide. She has tons of knowledge to share and reveals many jaw dropping stories about Aiken. On the tour, you’ll see and hear about historic homes and churches, equestrian sites, the civil war’s Battle of Aiken, the live oak canopy on South Boundary,  a guided walk through Hopelands Gardens, the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum, to name a few. 

Another experience is to shop local while you taste your way around the downtown. Be sure you stop by Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe! I love this store, and it makes me feel like a kid again. It’s a fun place to visit and sample with retro and assortments of nostalgic candies - jelly bellies, fine chocolates, and over 700 candy items to choose from. Also, you can find the finest pecans from Savannah and peanuts from Virginia. The shoppe has antique advertising and resembles an old country store or something you would find in the mountains. What I like to do is buy a couple of bags of candy, and then walk downtown and window shop. Shops range from antiques, clothing, home design, furnishing, pharmacies, photography, gift shops and art galleries.

Downtown isn’t complete without lunch and a spa. Walk or drive to The Willcox and invite your friends. Be sure you book your appointment at the spa before eating lunch. From lavish scrubs to wraps and thermal therapies, I recommend the Oxygen Inhalation Therapy. The oxygen therapy is said to be one of the most powerful and efficient methods of detoxifying and cleansing the body. You can choose from Bulgarian Rose Otto, Roman Chamomile, Peppermint, Lemon scented Tea Tree or Lavender, and it’s only 15 minutes for $15. When eating lunch, ask for a poolside table. It doesn’t get any better than that. The food is exceptional and prepared by talented Chef Regan Browell. Browell’s cuisine inspiration comes from her New Zealand upbringing and international travels. My favorite lunch dish is Southern-style board, little rock caviar, shaved ham, pimento cheese, bread, and my favorite dinner dish the fig and carmelized onion-filled chicken breast over parsnips and kale in a hard cider reduction. The Willcox has received high honors for sustainability and is routinely recognized by Wine Spectator and Best Chefs of America.

For the rest of the afternoon, you’re sure to find an event or festival going on this time of year, check here for a great list. Until May 1, the Aiken Spring Classic is taking place at the Highlands Event Center from 8 a.m - 5 p.m. The Aiken Spring Classic draws participants from all over the country, Canada, and several foreign countries to compete at the Premier Level. The Aiken Charity Horse Show will be at the Aiken Horse Park from May 4 -14. The Aiken Blue Grass Festival will take place on May 13-14 at the Aiken Fairgrounds. Hops and Hogs will be in downtown Aiken on May 20. Be sure you catch one of the outdoor movies, Southern Nights, under the stars on the biggest screen in Aiken brought to you by Southern City. And, for evening plans, make sure you check the calendar for a list of entertainments playing in Aiken restaurants. I have to say I really enjoy sitting outside at The Stables Restaurant downtown. You’ll have to discover that experience yourself – no spoilers about this one!  Have fun on making memories on your spring day in Aiken.

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