Putt, Peruse, Race or Ramble into Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina
Equestrian, golf, art and history lovers set their own pace on a spring getaway
THOROUGHBRED COUNTRY, SOUTH CAROLINA—NOVEMBER 2022—Whether travelers are looking for the colorful excitement of horse racing, the satisfaction of championship golf or a new place to peruse history and art, Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, delivers a winning spring getaway just east of Augusta, Georgia, along I-20 and west of Columbia, South Carolina. Comprised of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties and bordered by Interstates 20, 26 and 95, this region showcases rolling countryside for golf, horse camping, equestrian events and outdoor recreation. Picturesque small towns throughout the countryside feature shops and galleries filled with visual-folk art, antiques and Mennonite quits and craftworks. Delicious dining, museums and more are also waiting to be discovered.
Downtown Aiken: Arts, Architecture and Charm
Thoroughbred Country’s epicenter is Aiken, which developed into a mild-climate winter retreat for the rich and famous in the early 1900s. Their pastimes included polo, thoroughbred racing and golf, traditions that continue today. Surrounded by a one-of-a kind parkway system and lush with beds of flowers, historic downtown Aiken offers unique dining and shopping choices including art galleries, antiques, gift shops, a brew pub and a wide variety of restaurants. Explore Aiken on an electric bike rented from Pedego Aiken (4019 Pavilion Pass, Suite 100, Aiken; 803.226.9007) or make a reservation for the Historic Aiken Trolley Tour (406 Park Avenue SE, Aiken; 803.293.7846) at the Aiken Visitors Center to see historic homes and churches, equestrian sites, the Civil War’s Battle of Aiken, the live Oak canopy and the remaining Winter Colony residences. Stretch your legs in the lavishly landscaped floral delight of Hopelands Gardens (a guided walking tour is included with the Historic Aiken Trolley Tour). From April through June, attend a free outdoor concert series at Hopelands which features every genre from jazz to big band, clogging and fiddling to classical.
The Center for African American History, Art & Culture in Aiken is located in the former Immanuel School which educated African American children in Aiken and surrounding South Carolina counties from 1890-1932. The building is a rare and sophisticated example of Late Victorian vernacular school architecture. The center hosts lecture series, art shows and traveling exhibits to celebrate, educate and preserve African American history, art and culture (120 York Street NE, Aiken, 803.502.4858). Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site in Aiken County interprets the lives of the African American and white families who shaped the cultural history and landscape of this plantation from 1855 through Reconstruction, and up to 1975. Redcliffe Plantation has been named as one of the "Top 10 Sites to Visit in South Carolina" by the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission (181 Redcliffe Road, Beech Island, 803.827.1473).
Aiken is internationally known as an equestrian training center, producing champion thoroughbreds that are commemorated at the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, which has been named the Carolinas’ “Best Equestrian Attraction” (inside Hopelands Gardens, 135 Dupree Place, Aiken; 803.642.7631). Thoroughbred Country offers dozens of spectator events, from matches, tournaments, horse races, stable tours and more. In March and April, three weekends of racing known as the Aiken Triple Crown are held at various venues, including trials, steeplechase and polo events. The spring polo season at the historic Whitney Field runs from April-June and fall season is September-November. The Aiken Horse Show will be held March 31-April 2, 2023. Visitors can bring their own steed to horse camping and trail sites as well as to refined bed and breakfasts. To find equestrian events, visit the Search Attractions page.
Golf aficionados know to book far ahead for a place to stay as well as play during the first full week of April when a certain tournament is held at Augusta National. Room rates and greens fees are at a premium and availability is scarce, but there’s a sweet spot only 30 minutes away: Aiken is the closest town to Augusta that offers stellar golf, great dining, less expensive accommodations and a refined and welcoming ambience. While Thoroughbred Country tee times and lodging are much easier to book than badges for the hallowed course, they do fill up quickly.
For more golf details with nearby courses to play during golf’s greatest tournament or year-round, check out Master Your Golf Game in Thoroughbred-Country.
Art and Antiques, from Fine to Folk
Peruse local artworks in the region’s galleries, including Southside Gallery of Aiken (2258 Whiskey Road, Aiken; 803.226.0554) and the Aiken Center for the Arts (122 Laurens Street SW, Aiken; 803-641-9094). Farther afield, explore the Arts and Heritage Center of North Augusta for art and regional history, along with works in every medium by local and South Carolina artists (100 Georgia Avenue, North Augusta; 803.441.4380). Visit the Jim Harrison Gallery in Denmark (4716 Carolina Highway, Denmark; 803.793.5796) and in Barnwell, the Little Red Barn Pottery & Art Gallery, where local artists sell hand-turned pottery, South Carolina face jugs and other unique works (12080 US Hwy 278, near junction of US 278 & SC 37 west of Barnwell; 803.541.7900).
A large Mennonite community makes its home in nearby Blackville, which shares their craft, quilting and culinary arts with visitors. The Mennonites are a division of the Christian church known for their emphasis on simplicity, peace and mutual aid. For mouth-watering Mennonite and Amish take-home treats and crafts, stop by the Healing Springs Country Store (2563 Healing Springs Road, Blackville). While in Blackville, drink from God’s Acre Healing Springs and learn its restorative history, from indigenous people and soldiers from two wars, until it was legally deeded over to the Creator (Springs Court, Blackville; 803.284.2444).
Roadside joints, cozy cafes, freshly baked Mennonite goods, white-tablecloth dining, as well as everything in between, can be found in Thoroughbred Country, along with plenty of Southern favorites like barbecue, grits, collards and fried chicken.
In Aiken: Have breakfast or lunch at the Polo Grounds Cafe (225 Barnwell Avenue NW, Aiken), which serves sweet and savory crepes, bagels, parfaits, smoothies, salads and daily specials, or Betsy's Round the Corner (224 Park Avenue SW, Aiken; 803.226.0078), a 1950s-style soda fountain counter and grill, serving breakfast, burgers, lunch Blue Plate specials, shakes and more. La Parisienne French Restaurant and Bakery blends classic French recipes with modern American style and offers an array of fresh pastries, cakes, and breads. Breakfast, lunch and brunch with a wine, cocktail and beer menu (233 Chesterfield Street, Aiken; 803.226.0899).
In North Augusta, South Carolina: Andrea and Marion Petruzzi moved from Florence, Italy to establish DiVino Ristorante Italiano, which serves authentic Italian Cuisine and specialties from Tuscany for brunch, lunch and dinner (465 Railroad Ave Ste 100, North Augusta; 803.426.8675). Shawn Thomas, James Brown’s son-in-law and former bodyguard, attracts celebrities and locals for authentic American soul food at DeShawn's Seafood & Chicken. Come for fried, broiled and low-country boils, a splurge-worthy, all-you-can-eat crab legs special and a seafood and soul food buffet on Saturdays and Sundays (630 Atomic Road, North Augusta; 803.442.4444). Freeman’s BBQ in Beech Island is just what one dreams of: a true ‘cue joint where outstanding flavor, not architectural frills, is the whole point (1060 Sand Bar Ferry Road, Beech Island near Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site; 803.827.1623).
In Barnwell: Chrome Dome & Nutt's is a full-service restaurant and bar serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in a casual atmosphere with a pool table and a local clientele. Ingredients are South Carolina produced and locally grown whenever available. The owners are mindful of food allergies and the menu is nut-free (3120 SC-70, Barnwell; 803.621.2054).
In Blackville: Miller’s Bread Basket serves Amish-Mennonite cooking for lunch and dinner along with salads, delicious desserts and delectable fresh-baked breads (483 Main Street, Blackville; 803.284.3117).
In Fairfax near Allendale: Govan's Sports, Blues, & Soul Food is a stylish addition to this small town that serves everything from fried chicken and wings to oxtails, fish platters, gumbo and sides, along with tasty live music on the weekends (158 7th Street West, Fairfax, 803.632.6006).
That’s just a few of the outstanding restaurants in Thoroughbred Country. For even more delicious dining, visit the Where to Eat page.
When it comes to a place to rest your head for the night, Thoroughbred Country offers a variety of accommodations. Choose from historic hotels, comfortable bed and breakfasts, favorite hotel brands, cabins, campgrounds and hunting lodges, even campgrounds and a resort where you can bring your horses on the Where to Stay page