Cindy and Dick Rudisill have been living in Aiken for four years, fulfilling long-term dreams and building a new life for themselves in one of the South’s most charming towns. A second marriage for both, they’ve been married for 13 years, and since they found one another, the goal was to move away from the bitter cold of hometown Syracuse, after her children were grown.
“We wanted to live on the East Coast, within a day’s drive of the children,” said Cindy Rudisill. “We knew we didn’t want Florida, and although we owned a townhome on Hilton Head Island, we were looking for something a bit different.”
Part of the appeal of the South, in addition to warmer weather, was a lower tax structure.
The couple found a list of master-planned communities and systematically began to consider them all. They wanted to be near a downtown, and decided that living a bit further inland was their preference. Mr. Rudisill was an entrepreneur in the food service business, while Mrs. Rudisill was in nursing.For both, retirement was more about switching gears than winding down. And then they found Woodside Plantation. Today, they’re enjoying their perfect home, as well as the many friends they’ve met through Woodside.
And then there’s golf.
“I love to play golf and the course is just challenging enough,” he laughed. For her, the Women of Woodside gives her a great outlet where she enjoys being with friends as the club raises money for charitable causes in the Aiken area. They’re also members of the Reserve Club within the community.
One passion which followed them to Aiken was a love of antiques. “At our home in Syracuse, our basement was like an old country store,” she explained. When they moved, the best of it traveled south. Today, it’s on display in their downtown candy store, which is where the long-term dream came true.
“My husband always wanted to open an old-fashioned candy store,” she said. As they were settling in, they began to meet downtown merchants, including the folks at Lionel Smith, Aiken’s venerable men’s clothing store. “They were so nice to us, we just fell in love,” she said. It paved the way to pursue opening their own downtown shop. Plan to visit when you’re in town.
Aiken is a one-of-a-kind treasure, with so much to see and do that you may find yourself stretching your road trip into two or three days.
First, you'll need a place to stay, and although there are many excellent possibilities, The Willcox is a grand old lady who has seen her share of dignitaries as well as romantic interludes. Old-fashioned and graceful, you'll enjoy the common areas of the inn as much as the beautiful guest rooms and impeccable service. How long has it been since you slept on a featherbed? This one is definitely worth a splurge. Bragging rights come with your stay – The Willcox is consistently recognized by Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler, plus a variety of magazines and organizations as one the best hotels in the U.S.
If you can tear yourself away from what feels like a scene from Gone with the Wind, head downtown for shopping and sightseeing. First get your bearings by taking an historic tour, sponsored by City of Aiken Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Experience Aiken’s grace, charm and elegance during this two- hour guided tour aboard their trolley. On the tour, you’ll see and hear about Aiken’s must-see sites, including:
- 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, and the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum (weather permitting).
NOTE: Historic Tours depart from Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum. Purchase tickets in advance by calling 803.644.1907.
You’ll want to drop by Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe, the Rudisill’s downtown venture which has become a town favorite. While you’re there, go beyond the nostalgic candies such as Jordan Almonds and Jelly Belly treats, and check out the equestrian-themed sweets. For children of all ages, you’ll find fun gifts to take home. Don’t leave without exploring the back room, where the Rudisill’s wonderful antiques are on display. Youngsters will be amazed at what they find. Those of us “of a certain age” will be thrilled at the displays.
May we also suggest Equine Divine (this is a horse town, for sure). Equine Divine - located at 126 Laurens Street – is Aiken's only equine exclusive art and upscale home decor gallery dedicated to the numerous equine pursuits enjoyed in Aiken and the people who enjoy them. The Rudisills own dogs instead of horses, but they sure do enjoy watching them stroll through the woods, and graze on the many rolling pastures. It’s part of the culture of Aiken that makes the town so unique – and so appealing.
With or without a noble steed in your own pasture, head for the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame at Whiskey Road & Dupree Place. Commemorating locally-trained horses that are national champions and have won fame on tracks and fields across the nation, this hall of fame is filled with horse racing memorabilia and awards. 803.642.7758. It's surrounded by Hopelands Gardens a dazzling 14-acre garden filled with camellias, azaleas, and other Southern Favorites.
If you’ve accomplished all this, by now it's past time for lunch, but luckily there are a number of possibilities.
Tako-Sushi offers a fusion of Southwestern and Asian and has remained near the top of Trip Advisor reviews for several years. Most popular at lunchtime are crazy rolls and tempura asparagus – yum!
If that sounds like you, try it out. Another great choice is Magnolia Café and Market. Magnolia's offers a highly organic menu while supporting local farms & businesses. They carry a delicious selection of Biodynamic wines, organic beers, ales and ciders. The owners are passionate about organic food and beverage ethical food preparation.
New Moon Café helps get your morning (and afternoon) started with great coffee, smoothies and delicious food. They roast their own coffee in small batches, bake their bread and pastries in house and make soups from scratch – every day. If you love their coffee, take some Moon Beans home with you – it’s available for sale. It’s all simply fresh and very flavorful.
Betsy's on the Corner offers an old-fashioned diner and soda fountain experience with soups and salads, sandwiches and a Blue Plate special with items like pot roast and meatloaf. Specialty hot dogs and hamburgers are favs. Try the pimento cheese fries for gooey comfort food, or, if you’re feeling virtuous, opt for one of their fresh-made salads.
Then, why not visit Plum Pudding Gourmet Kitchen Store? They have a great selection of dinnerware and home decor products. C.E. Corey dinnerware, including her beautiful Aiken China is available there. Hard to find gourmet foods and ingredients are located in their gourmet food department. You're sure to find something for your gourmet kitchen there.
Satiated and tired, head back to your room to indulge in a quick nap on that featherbed. It is a vacation and you'll need your energy (and a camera) to stroll through Hitchcock Woods. The natural beauty and quiet solitude is stunning in this unique southern forest located in the midst of an urban area, the city of Aiken. Maintenance of the trails and protection and management of the natural resources in the Woods, are all directed by the trustees who serve in the same spirit as the founding trustees. You'll feel as though you're in an enchanted forest, and indeed you are.
The Rudisills enjoy the trails and the abundance of nature there and throughout Hopelands Gardens. It’s an unusual, and much appreciated, oasis in the midst of a vibrant downtown. These Aiken residents are appreciative that when this land was donated to Aiken, it was with the condition that there be no motorized vehicles and no construction. Horse drawn carriages permitted.
Later, you'll be ready to dine and locals rave about Malia's at 120 Laurens Street in Aiken. Currently rated Number 1 on Trip Advisor, Mrs. Rudisill says the raspberry pie is a "must order."
Other recommended notables include Casa Bella, a favorite of the Rudisills. They enjoy the authentic lasagna and for meat lovers, the five onion sauce is a winner with their perfectly prepared beef. Rose Hill Estate’s Stable Restaurant and Bar is another popular restaurant, as is Prime Steakhouse, another favorite of the Rudisills.
The Stables at Rose Hill Estate offers the ambiance you want in an equestrian town. One of the few stables repurposed into fine dining in the United States, the feel is elegant, but approachable. If there’s a German-influenced item on the menu, consider giving it a try. The risotto garners raves as does the crawfish bisque (with sherry). Live jazz on Friday nights adds a nice touch.
The Willcox Restaurant is housed in one of the most romantic inns in the south. A beautiful getaway destination, the restaurant’s award-winning chef, Regan Browell, features seasonal cooking with fresh ingredients and a strong commitment to sustainability. Open daily for lunch and dinner (brunch on Sundays), the lobby bar is an appealing first act. The cocktails are original and delicious. The menu changes according to freshness and availability.
Aiken Brewing Co. offers food, fun and beer. Their beer line-up changes often, but the Thoroughbred Red is a great favorite. Play it safe or be adventurous with your choices. You’ll find a favorite soon enough. Open for lunch and dinner, they offer the usual tasty offerings: soup, salad, burgers, sandwiches and more. Have it your way with their Build Your Own Burger option.
There may well be live entertainment afoot, from a local bistro, or Aiken's award-winning theater. Aiken Community Playhouse. Then, it's back to bed for more restful sleep in luxurious surroundings.
The next morning, well rested and ready for more adventure, enjoy a Continental Buffet at The Willcox or perhaps a yummy omelet at Auten’s of Aiken.
Then return to Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum for a very enjoyable experience. Here’s what one Trip Advisor reviewer shared:
“Took out of town friends to this new and very well-thought out venue/resource center. Any town and its residents would be proud to have this vital link with the past greeting and informing guests and visitors. The remarkable model railroad diorama circling the upstairs is at the right height for "little" guests and older ones (like me) will remember our wonderful experiences with HO railroads. We've gone more than once and see or learned something new every time.”
Be sure to browse the gift shop for fun items to take home.
Another fine option is the Aiken County Historical Museum, where children love the kid’s section upstairs, and all ages enjoy the treasure hunt/geocaching. Half the fun is the location, a well-cared-for old winter colony home with 32 rooms, 15 bathrooms and a ballroom. Exhibits include Golf, Pottery, an old log home, military exhibits and even a circus room.
If you’re ready to stroll, return to downtown. There are lots more shops to visit, including many antique shops with treasures from the bygone days when Aiken was a Winter colony for the Rich and Famous.
And finally, depending on the time of year, you may find a polo match (this is called the polo capital of the world) being played, or perhaps a steeplechase. Even if no event is planned, you’re probably going to see horses and their riders strolling the woods or a back street.
As for Cindy and Dick Rudisill, they’re quite content in Aiken. Their candy shop attracts rave reviews, and there’s always something fun to do with friends, after work, golf and socializing, of course. Plan your road trip soon. You may be attracted to put down more permanent roots in this friendly, unique Southern town.
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