Nestled in the heart of South Carolina, Columbia is a vibrant city that brims with southern charm, rich history, and a dynamic arts scene. While it may not garner as much attention as its coastal neighbors, Columbia offers an array of intriguing attractions that cater to every interest. From family-friendly museums to expansive parks, the city is packed with delightful destinations. This comprehensive guide explores the absolute must-visit spots in Columbia, SC – prepare to be captivated by the city’s allure!
1. Unleashing Your Wild Side at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
One of Columbia’s standout attractions is the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden. Spanning 170 acres, this expansive zoo is home to over 2,000 animals, making it one of the largest in the United States. Here, you can get up close with a diverse range of creatures – from playful seals to majestic lions, and even curious Komodo dragons.
The zoo features several distinct sections, including a petting zoo, reptile house, and bird complex, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the captivating world of each individual species. Interactive exhibits offer insights into various habitats and conservation efforts, while feeding sessions provide unforgettable encounters with gentle giraffes.
Adjacent to the zoo, the Riverbanks Botanical Garden showcases over 4,200 species of plants from across North America. Stroll through lush gardens, discover rare plant collections, and explore ancient ruins amidst thick woodland. With its exotic flora and serene trails, the Botanical Garden presents a tranquil retreat from the city’s bustling rhythm.
2. Exploring History at the South Carolina State House
The South Carolina State House stands as an emblem of the state’s rich past and vibrant present. This Greek Revival structure is adorned with a regal copper dome and grand marble hallways, reflecting the city’s architectural elegance.
The State House grounds house several historical monuments, shedding light on different periods and personalities that shaped South Carolina’s history. As you navigate the building’s exterior, you’ll find five stars marking the impact of Union cannonballs during the Civil War – a stark reminder of the city’s resilient spirit.
Inside, you can tour the legislative chambers and halls at no cost. Witnessing the grandeur of these spaces stirs a sense of awe and provides a fascinating glimpse into the state’s political landscape.
3. Sparking Curiosity at the EdVenture Children’s Museum
If you’re traveling with kids, a visit to the EdVenture Children’s Museum is an absolute must. Home to “Eddie” – the world’s largest child statue – this museum is a playground of learning and discovery. Kids can climb through Eddie’s brain and slide out of his intestines, gaining a unique understanding of the human body.
With 350 hands-on exhibits, the museum invites children to learn through play. From piloting a flight simulator to exploring a mini grocery store, kids can immerse themselves in various interactive experiences. The museum’s mission to inspire a love for learning makes it an engaging and educational stop on your journey through Columbia, SC.
4. Discovering Art at the Columbia Museum of Art
Art enthusiasts will be enthralled by the Columbia Museum of Art. This prestigious institution houses an impressive collection of artworks spanning over 5,000 years. With over 25 world-class galleries, the museum showcases everything from Renaissance masterpieces to contemporary creations.
Among its diverse collections, you’ll find works by prominent artists such as Claude Monet and Andy Warhol. The museum also features an interactive kids’ room, inviting younger visitors to get creative with various hands-on activities. Whether you’re an art connoisseur or a curious explorer, the Columbia Museum of Art promises an enriching cultural experience.
5. Embracing the Great Outdoors at Congaree National Park
Located just 30 minutes from downtown Columbia, Congaree National Park offers a welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. This natural haven boasts towering loblolly pines, tree stalagmites, and the serene Congaree River. The park’s diverse ecosystem is home to a variety of wildlife, including bobcats, otters, and wild turkeys.
With its extensive network of trails, Congaree National Park is a paradise for hikers. The Boardwalk Loop Trail is a popular route, offering an accessible 2.6-mile trek through the park’s stunning landscapes. If you’re keen on water-based adventures, the park also offers opportunities for kayaking and canoeing.
6. Savoring Local Flavors with Columbia Food Tours
Columbia’s burgeoning food scene is a treat for culinary enthusiasts. To sample the city’s best gastronomic offerings, embark on a Columbia Food Tour. These guided walking tours take you through five to seven local restaurants, allowing you to savor a diverse range of flavors.
As you relish the delicious fare, you’ll also learn about Columbia’s culinary traditions and the city’s architectural gems. Whether you’re a foodie or a history buff, these tours offer an enriching exploration of Columbia’s vibrant culture.
7. Walking Through History at the Waverly Historic District
The Waverly Historic District is a testament to Columbia’s rich cultural history. As the city’s first suburb, Waverly is home to a diverse community of artists, professionals, and social activists.
The district’s historic landmarks, including the Bishop’s Memorial AME church and the Heist-Russell House, offer a window into the city’s past. A guided walking tour of the district unveils fascinating stories of the area’s history and its enduring cultural significance.
8. Catching a Show at the Nickelodeon Theater
For film enthusiasts, the Nickelodeon Theater is a must-visit. Known locally as the “Nick”, this intimate cinema showcases a daily roster of three independent films. The theater’s casual setting and eclectic film selection make for a unique movie-going experience. Occasionally, the Nick also hosts film festivals, offering a platform for fresh cinematic voices.
9. Navigating the Greenways
Columbia’s Three Rivers Greenway is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. This expansive trail system stretches 15 miles along the Broad, Saluda, and Congaree rivers. Paved paths make it perfect for walking, biking, or rollerblading. Along the way, you’ll encounter scenic boardwalks, unique artwork, and informative exhibits about local wildlife.
10. Tasting Local Brews at River Rat Brewery
For craft beer aficionados, a visit to the River Rat Brewery is a must. Here, you can savor a selection of local brews while enjoying a menu of mouthwatering bites. Its laid-back atmosphere, complete with an outdoor lawn area, makes it an ideal spot for a relaxed afternoon. Remember, River Rat Brewery is also dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friends along!
Columbia, SC is a city that proudly wears its history and culture on its sleeve. With a mix of natural beauty, vibrant arts scene, and compelling history, it offers a rich tapestry of experiences for visitors. Whether you’re exploring its historic districts, savoring its culinary offerings, or immersing yourself in its educational attractions, Columbia, SC promises an unforgettable adventure.