Introducing Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia—South Carolina’s capital city—invites visitors to engage with the roots of southern culture, from food and drink to historic tours and museums. Don’t miss Lizard’s Thicket for homestyle favorites (meat ‘n three dominates the city), and take time to tour the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, an antebellum home on Blanding Street. While all things southern dominate Columbia’s culture and food, it’s not all sprawling homes and ice-cold sweet tea.
The city has experienced a major urban revitalization in its downtown, and now entertainment districts like the Vista and Five Points teem with outdoor cafes, local coffee shops, art galleries and niche boutiques. You’ll also find the city home to USC’s beloved Gamecocks and brilliant Fireflies baseball team. Looking for a natural escape within city limits? Columbia’s location at the convergence of three rivers affords you plenty of opportunities for gorgeous views, such as from Riverfront Park’s 2.5-mile walking trail. Of course, there are also plenty of great Columbia Country Inns & Suites hotels to stay at, too!
Top Experiences in Columbia
- History: Columbia has over 250 years of history to share. Explore national and state exhibits at museums, such as the South Carolina State Museum and the SC State House, which features an African American monument. Walking tours through historic homes and neighborhoods (there are 15 districts to choose from) are a popular option.
- Arts and Entertainment: The Columbia Museum of Art is located in the heart of downtown Columbia, just a few blocks from the State Capitol Building. Exhibits are diverse, and the Norman Rockwell pieces are a favorite. Admission to the permanent collection is free on Sundays; the entire facility takes about two hours to explore.
- Sports and Outdoors:
- University of South Carolina - Sports are a huge part of this college town. Head to Williams-Brice Stadium for Gamecocks football or the Colonial Life Arena for hoops.
- Congaree National Park - If you are more geared towards outdoor adventure, then Columbia has it. The Congaree National Park is the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. There is no fee to enter, and visitors can join ranger-led tours of the tallest trees east of California.
- Lake Murray - Travel 15 miles west of Columbia via I-26 to this 50,000-acre recreational lake that is perfect for spending summer days on the boat with friends and family. No boat? No problem. You can rent one, or head to one of many parks for kid-friendly beaches and fishing piers.
Best Bets: Columbia Riverbanks Zoo
Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens is a family favorite. Home to 2,000 animals, the zoo also features butterfly gardens, aquarium exhibits and on-site restaurants. If you’re visiting with kids, don’t miss the zoo’s three-acre interactive children’s garden featuring a dino dig, giant tree houses and a splash zone.
When to Visit Columbia
Columbia is nicknamed “Famously Hot” for a reason. During the summer months, be prepared with a water bottle and a collection of cool things to do, such as picnicking in the shade at Finlay Park or tubing on the Saluda River. Spring and fall bring a refreshing reprieve from the heat for Columbia hotel guests, with moderate temperatures during the day and nights that are perfect for al fresco dining. Columbia’s central location also means it seldom sees the brunt of the rare snowstorms that visit South Carolina during winter. Winter is brief, affording you even more sunny, mild days for strolling Main Street or exploring parks.
Columbia Travel Tip
You’ll often hear downtown referred to as “ColaTown” or “Soda City.” While this expansive area is best accessed by car, you may find certain neighborhoods, namely the Vista and Five Points, are ideal for snagging a parking spot and exploring on foot.