Similar to other Southern capitals cities like Baton Rouge and Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina and its surrounding communities often get overlooked by travelers. But exciting things are happening here. In the last decade, the former industrial zone has become The Vista, the city’s most sought-after district for shopping and dining. Craft breweries like River Rat, Swamp Cabbage, and Conquest have all opened up. The Indie Grits Film Festival is an annual event for up-and-coming filmmakers from the South and beyond. Quirky murals and art projects cover downtown. And nature lovers can find places to connect within a short drive of downtown’s skyscrapers. The next time you’re passing through Columbia, give yourself time to explore.
What to Do
Riverbanks Botanical Garden– A favorite of local families, Riverbanks is a large complex that includes a zoo, ziplining courses, and a botanical garden. Enjoy wildlife feedings and educational experiences for all ages. Give yourself at least three hours. 500 Wildlife Parkway
South Carolina State House– Even if the legislature isn’t in session, you can take a tour to learn about how a bill becomes a law. There are also self-guided brochures with information on the statues around the grounds and points of interest inside the building. 1100 Gervais Street
EdVenture Children’s Museum– Young visitors will appreciate this children’s museum that offers educational experiences, field trips, camps, and afterschool programming. Exhibits include the world’s largest statue of a child and another on what it’s like to be a vet. 211 Gervais Street
Columbia Museum of Art– Located within the University of South Carolina, this award-winning museum features the work of American, Asian, and European artists. They also host regularly changing exhibits. Their Kress and Vogel collections showcase works donated by benefactors. 1515 Main Street
Robert Mills House and Gardens– This National Historic Landmark honors native son Robert Mills, the architect behind notable structures including the Washington Monument. He designed this home for wealthy merchants in 1823. The ornamental gardens are not original to the home but are no less beautiful. 1616 Blanding Street
Saluda Shoals Park– This community park outside downtown Columbia hosts regular events like their display of Christmas lights. It also boasts an education center, trails, boat launches, and a children’s playground and splash pad. 5605 Bush River Road
South Carolina State Museum– Learn about the history of the state at this impressive museum that also includes an observatory, planetarium, and 4D theater. Permanent exhibits showcase South Carolina art, history, natural history, and science and technology. 301 Gervais Street
Congaree National Park– As South Carolina’s only national park, this former private land was saved by forward-thinking locals. Walk through the elevated boardwalks over cypress knees. Take a guided tour with a ranger or stay the night at their wilderness campsites. 100 National Park Rd, Hopkins
Lake Murray– A short drive from downtown is the area’s lakeside communities. Each has something different to offer, but you can go boating, swimming, and fishing. There are also golf courses and other attractions.
Newberry Opera House– Catch a performance at this historic theater, first built in 1881, in neighboring Newberry. Grab dinner at one of the quaint town’s restaurants before a touring act or show by a local group. 1201 McKibben St, Newberry
Two Gals and a Fork– Explore the Vista area of Columbia and visit some of its best restaurants through this food tour. They’re all accessible by foot and portions are large enough to make up an entire meal. Drinks are also available if you want to imbibe.
Soda City Farmer’s Market– Every Sunday morning, farmers and artisans bring their wares to town to sell to hungry locals. Bring your furry friends or little ones to walk the stalls and pick up a bite to eat. You can also pick up a CSA basket of fresh produce. 1500 Main St
Where to Eat
Yesterdays Restaurant & Tavern– A longtime Five Points establishment, Yesterdays serves up Southern food like Southern fried chicken, burgers, and shrimp and grits. 2030 Devine Street, (803) 799-0196
The Southern Belly BBQ– South Carolina is known for its barbecue and The Southern Belly is more new-school. It’s a short walk from the State House and the interior resembles a dive bar. Choose from one of half a dozen sauces for your pulled pork and pair with a local craft beer. 819 Harden Street, (803) 764-3512
Terra Restaurant– For farm to table fare, look no further than this pretension-free restaurant. The menu takes advantage of ingredients from local vendors for dishes like heritage pork chops with grits and pimento cheeseburger. 100 State Street, (803) 791-3443
Groucho’s Deli– While it’s now a regional chain, Groucho’s started here in 1941 byHarold “Groucho” Miller. Sandwiches feature deli meats with melted cheese, paired with their special sauces and potato chips. 611 Harden Street, (803) 799-5708
Motor Supply Company Bistro– This former auto shop is now one of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. Start with the charcuterie plate and a craft cocktail. The menu changes daily, so you can be sure that what you’re getting is fresh. 920 Gervais Street, (803) 256-6687
Liberty Tap Room & Grill– Grab dinner on the lake as the sun sets or bring your boat to dock at the marina. The menu includes a local selection of draft beer as well as fish and chips, burgers, and steaks. 1602 Marina Road, Suite D, Irmo, (803) 667-9715
Blue Marlin– Set inside the city’s defunct train depot, this restaurant is the perfect place for a night out. Their shrimp and grits are made with plenty of butter and cream while steak and crab cakes are also favorites. 1200 Lincoln Street, (803) 799-3838
Where to Stay
Columbia and its surrounding communities have plenty of accommodation options for every budget. TownePlace Suites by Marriott Columbia Northwest/Harbison is further out of town, but is an extended stay hotel with all the amenities like in-room kitchenettes and free breakfast. Inn at USC Wyndham Garden is in the heart of it all, on the University of South Carolina campus in a historic building. For convenient access to Riverbank Zoo, Embassy Suites by Hilton Columbia Greystone boasts free breakfast and nightly cocktail receptions. Aloft Columbia Downtown is another chic option for those who seek boutique style hotels. Stay in an old home at bed and breakfasts like The 1425 Inn or rentals via Airbnb. If you’re traveling with an RV or tent, you can also take advantage of campgrounds like The Barnyard RV Park as well as the state and national park campgrounds.
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My stay in Columbia was coordinated by Laurie Rowe Communications and Capital City-Lake Murray Country.