The capital of South Carolina, Columbia offers many great hotels, and things to see and do, including excellent museums, parks and restaurants.
Visit the Columbia Museum of Art, stroll along the scenic Riverfront Park, stop by the South Carolina Military Museum, and explore the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden.
Best Things to Do in Columbia, SC with kids include the South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture Children’s Museum and Saluda Shoals Park.
1. Columbia Museum of Art
© Columbia Museum of Art
The Columbia Museum of Art is more than just a modern art museum; it is also a thriving social hub of Columbia community. The museum holds several world-class permanent collections. The museum’s Renaissance and Baroque art donated by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation includes treasures such as Botticelli’s Nativity. The Columbia Museum of Art is one of the top Columbia attractions.
The extensive European collection also boasts Monet’s mesmerizing View of the Seine. In addition, the Museum has extensive Asian, Contemporary, Modern, American, and Vogel collections. The museum also has monthly visiting exhibitions, and it organizes block parties, concerts, art classes, lectures, tours, and many kids’ programs.
1515 Main St, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-799-2810
2. Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden
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Where else can you go from an African forest to the Australian plains and Carolina’s bogs in one day but at the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden? Opened in 1974, the 170-acre zoo and garden is located along the magnificent Lower Saluda River. The zoo section is designed as a series of realistic and natural habitats for about 2,000 animals from all over the world. You can meet a baboon with diabetes, feed friendly giraffes, and observe lions, koalas, and much more. If you are looking for fun things to do in Columbia SC with kids, this is a great place to visit.
Each habitat also has special graphics and interactive computer programs to help visitors learn about the animals and their world. The Botanical Garden consists of lush woodlands, theme gardens, historic ruins, rare plant collections, the ruins of an old textile mill, and a beautifully restored log cabin that serves as interpretive center.
500 Wildlife Parkway, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-779-8717
3. Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park
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Starting at the end of Laurel St., Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park is Columbia’s most popular jogging and biking trail that takes you for two and half miles along the lush banks of the Broad River. The park is a lovely place to relax, take a slow hike, sit on the bench, and meditate while watching the river waters pass by. If you are wondering what to do in Columbia, South Carolina today, this is a great place to start exploring.
You can also learn a lot about the history of Columbia, since this park was the site of the original Columbia waterworks, the first textile mill in the world that was operated by electricity, and the oldest South Carolina hydroelectric plant, which is still in operation.
Feel free to roam through the old mills, look at the old pump houses, or sit on the bank and throw your fishing line into the water. This lovely park also hosts annual outdoor music concerts such as Riverfest and Greekfest, along with a few smaller ones.
4. South Carolina State Museum
© South Carolina State Museum
The South Carolina State Museum is the biggest museum in the state, but what kids most love about it is the 4D theatre that shows 3D movies with a twist: while watching a movie, you can feels your legs being tickled, wind blasting in your face, your seat vibrating, and other fun surprises. Adults love it too.
Located on the banks of the Congaree River in downtown Columbia, The South Carolina State Museum has four floors of fascinating permanent and temporary exhibits, an observatory, a planetarium, and the popular 4D interactive theater. The Museum contains about 70,000 artifacts through which visitors can learn about South Carolina art, history, natural history, technology, and science. Next read: South Carolina beaches and South Carolina resorts
301 Gervais Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-898-4921
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5. Governor's Mansion
© Governor's Mansion
The governors of South Carolina live in a magnificent mansion on nine acres of nicely manicured land in the historic district of Columbia. However, the mansion is not only their home (all thirty of them so far), but it is also an important public space. The rooms open to the public feature all sorts of treasures used by previous governors, which are now permanent parts of the space.
Beautiful china, antique furniture, valuable original paintings, and historic documents all showcase the heritage and rich history of South Carolina. The beautiful building is a great place to show famous South Carolina hospitality, and it is often used to entertain visiting local and foreign dignitaries.
800 Richland St, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-737-3000
6. EdVenture Children's Museum
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The first thing kids and their parents see when they enter EdVenture Children’s Museum is Eddie. He is 40 feet tall and weighs 17.5 tons. He might be made of plastic, but he is the biggest kid in the world. Kids not only get to climb all over him but they can also go through him to see and touch all his organs, from his spine to his brain. EdVenture Children's Museum is one of the best things to do in Columbia SC with kids.
They can even slide down his intestines – what a way to learn anatomy! There are 350 exciting and fun hands-on exhibits in the museum designed for kids 12 years old or younger to learn through play. Their families are allowed to come too. The museum has a goal of inspire kids to enjoy learning and become life-long learners.
211 Gervais Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-779-3100
7. South Carolina Military Museum
© South Carolina Military Museum
The South Carolina Military Museum showceses South Carolina’s military tradition and is the largest museum of its kind in the country. Its goal is to honor national guards as citizen soldiers and chronicle their past through an extensive exhibition of artifacts, exhibits, and displays. Visitors can see authentic firearms, weapons, artillery pieces, uniforms, and even armored fighting vehicles.
The exhibits and the staff and volunteers bring the military history of South Carolina to life, from the 1670 when the South Carolina Militia was founded, to its present role, and from the time British boots stepped foot on Carolina soil to today’s worldwide operations.
1 National Guard Rd, Columbia, SC 29201, Phone: 803-299-4440
8. Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
© Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
The Hampton-Preston Mansion is one of Columbia's oldest and probably most beautiful historic houses. Built in 1818 for rich Columbian merchant Ainsley Hall, it changed hands and served many purposes throughout its rich history. When Wade Hampton I bought it, he changed the house’s Federal-style architecture to Greek Revival. The next owner, the Preston family, sold it after the Civil War.
For various periods of time, the mansion housed four different colleges and was even divided and partitioned for commercial use. It opened in 1970 after the extensive renovation as part of the Midlands Tricentennial Exposition Center. The garden was a highly acclaimed antebellum garden in its time, with an extensive collection of native plants as well as specimens from over the world.
1615 Blanding Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-252-7742
9. Columbia Food Tours
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Columbia is quickly becoming a foodie town, and it now has many diverse, innovative, and excellent eateries to show off. If you need proof, take a walking tour of the city’s best and most renowned restaurants with Columbia Food Tours. Knowledgeable local guides will take you to five to seven restaurants where you can sample their goodies and learn about the Columbia’s history, architecture, culture, and local cuisine along the way.
There are two different tours that last two to three hours and start on the steps of the State House. Walking from one restaurant to another will only take about ten minutes. This experience is all about food. Phone: 803-760-2618
10. Mr. Friendly's
© Mr. Friendly's
Mr. Friendly’s calls itself “a new Southern café,” so naturally it serves New Southern Cuisine. What that really means is you of course find chicken and grits and fried green tomatoes on the menu, but the chef also offers his delightful daily special; you will adore his take on Southern Cuisine with dishes like Sesame Seared Yellowfin Tuna with salsa made of granny smith apples and ginger, glazed with yuzu-sweet chile, and served with wasabi-spiced mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies.
The best time to visit this popular restaurant in Historic Five Points is Monday, when they serve their award-winning Moonpies, which are heavenly concoctions made of praline wafers baked and layered with mousse, made of white chocolate, and sprinkled with chocolate and raspberry sauce.
2001-A Greene St., Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-254-7828
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11. Il Giorgione
© Il Giorgione
George V. Kessler, chef and owner of Il Giorgione, loves everything Italian, and he shares that passion with his customers. You will be enchanted from the moment you step on the lovely brick-paved patio to when you sit at the large table with fresh herbs in a pot and receive his thin crust Roman-style pizza on a wooden platter along with a glass of good Italian wine. Even the menu is written in Italian. If you are looking for romantic date ideas in Columbia, this is a great place to try.
All ingredients are crisp and fresh, and the restaurant makes its own mozzarella and pasta. Don’t expect any modern versions of pizza; everything is authentic and traditional and delicious.
2406 Devine Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-521-5063
12. Robert Mills House & Gardens
© Robert Mills House & Gardens
This elegant Classical Revival townhouse Robert Mills designed in 1823 for Ainsley Hall, a wealthy Columbia merchan, and his wife Sarah, was one of the very few private homes this prominent American architect designed. He was much more famous for his public buildings such as the Washington Monument. The house originally served as a seminary and a bible college until 1961 when it was meticulously restored and opened as a historic house museum.
The house contains a rich collection of 19th century decorative arts, including English Regency, American Federal, and French Empire furniture and decorative pieces. The house basement serves as a gallery space for frequent visiting art exhibitions.
1616 Blanding Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-252-7742
13. The Oyster Bar Columbia
© The Oyster Bar Columbia
The Oyster Bar Columbia is one of those rare authentic and old-fashioned oyster bars. Their recipe is simple: you sit at their large, comfy bar, get a beer or a glass of wine, and they continue to bring you fresh Gulf oysters, raw or steamed, and a bottle of their famous house sauce; you get to eat until you simply cannot eat any more. They do the shucking, so no need to look for pearls.
For those who want more oysters, they can take advantage of an extensive menu with oysters in various interesting dishes, along with shrimp and scallops. As you can imagine, this cozy restaurant in the historic Vista is often quite busy, and their potent oyster shooters are probably part of the reason.
1123 Park St, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-799-4484
14. Motor Supply Company Bistro
© Motor Supply Company Bistro
Motor Supply Company Bistro is one of those charming places you see through the window and know you would love. Located in the historic Congaree Vista neighborhood in the refurbished motor supply factory, the restaurant is modern and cosmopolitan but with its brick walls and large wooden tables, it is also warm and cozy.
The menu changes daily, so you will not know what to expect until you get there. Enjoy the sweet anticipation and expect a wonderful surprise. Executive Chef Wesley Fulmer happily mixes New World cuisine with French, Italian, and Asian touches, all made from fresh, seasonal local ingredients. The chef makes his own charcuterie and pasta and offers house-butchered prime cuts and South Carolina seafood. Their cocktails are unique and imaginative and the wine list is award winning.
920 Gervais Street, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-256-6687
15. Sesquicentennial State Park
Boasting a convenient location and encompassing more than 1,400 acres, Sesquicentennial State Park is located right in the heart of the Sandhills region in Columbia, South Carolina. Featuring picnic areas, a tent/RV campground, and hiking trails surrounding a 30-acre scenic lake, the park is a popular spot for group camping trips, family reunions, and other gatherings. Sesquicentennial State Park also consists of a dog park, splash pad, playgrounds, Retreat Center, and a historic two-story log house that dates back to the middle of the 1700’s. A variety of interpretive nature programs are offered by the park as well.
9564 Two Notch Rd, Columbia, SC 29223, 803-788-2706
16. Harbison Environmental Education Forest
© Harbison Environmental Education Forest
Located only nine miles from the center of Columbia, Harbison Environmental Education Forest is a lovely forest park spread across 2,137 acres of forest land. Bordered on one side by the Broad River, the forest has more than thirty miles of trails and roads that take hikers, bikers, and joggers through the dense pine and hardwood forest, across cool streams and pleasant leafy glades to the tranquil Broad River.
The forest is mostly maintained to serve as recreational and educational green space for Columbia and South Carolina. Some portions of the forest are used to demonstrate various modern forestry practices such as planned burning and thinning, planting, site preparation, and harvesting.
PO Box 21707, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-896-8890
17. Saluda Shoals Park
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Only a couple of miles from the Columbia downtown you can find peaceful, lush Saluda Shoals Park, a natural riverfront park on the banks of the Saluda River. The park offers rich educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities. This 400-acre park is home to the 11,000-square-foot Environmental Education Center and Exhibit Hall, a state-of-the-art meeting and conference Center, and the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission Headquarters.
The park also boasts a spacious observation deck, miles of biking, hiking, and horse riding trails, a boat launch ramp, and several picnic shelters. The quiet river waters are perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing.
You may also like: 29 Best Romantic Weekend Getaways in South Carolina.
18. Tunnel Vision Mural
A 50x75-foot large work of art, the Tunnel Vision Mural in Columbia was inspired by a dream. The artist from South Carolina painted this otherworldly mural to create an illusion of there being a road to “another world.” Created on a huge wall adjacent to a downtown parking lot, this rather realistic piece of art was made by Blue Sky, an artist native to South Carolina, who was also the artist behind the nearby Neverbust Chain and Busted Plug Plaza. These other two public pieces of artwork are equally oversized. Fortunately, this optical illusion painting has been well maintained.
1550 Marion St, Columbia, SC, 29201
19. World's Largest Fire Hydrant
The “World’s Largest Fire Hydrant,” also called Busted Bug Plaza, is a massive fire hydrant created by Blue Sky, a South Carolina artist. This towering statue was made to appear both broken and colossal at more than forty feet tall. Crafted using steel and concrete, Busted Bug Plaza was also created to stand through a natural disaster. Weighing approximately 675,000 pounds, the World’s Largest Fire Hydrant is an immovable piece of art that looks like it’s been knocked slightly askew by an equally gigantic automobile. Water sprays out from Busted Bug Plaza’s broken base at all hours as well.
1404 Taylor St, Columbia, SC 29201
20. Finlay Park
Finlay Park is one of South Carolina’s best known parks. It also serves as a host to a wide variety of events throughout the year, from Easter Sunrise services to road races to all kinds of festivals, such as The Summer Concert Series and Kids Day. Spanning across approximately eighteen acres, the park was originally dedicated as Sidney Park in 1859, but following the Civil War, it fell into disrepair. After acting as a commercial venture site until late into the 1900’s, the park reopened in 1990 and was renamed Finlay Park in 1992 in honor of Columbia Mayor Kirkman Finlay.
930 Laurel St, Columbia, SC 29201, 803-733-8691
21. Columbia Craft Brewing Company
© Columbia Craft Brewing Company
Columbia Craft Brewing Company in South Carolina has been creating an extensive lineup of authentic beers since 2017, including barrel-aged beers, sours, hazy IPAs, lagers, and ales. A locally-owned and operated craft brewery, the talented staff of Columbia Craft Brewing are committed to crafting a unique and memorable craft beer experience. A home brewing setup has now evolved into a built-from-scratch, custom brewing system that produces quality, award-winning craft beers. Visitors can try a pint or two of the numerous selections of brews available on tap or take a tour of the brewery. Food is available in the tap room as well.
520 Greene St, Columbia, SC 29201, 803-799-6027
22. Woodrow Wilson Family Home
© Woodrow Wilson Family Home
The Woodrow Wilson Family Home in Columbia, South Carolina acts as the Museum of the Reconstruction Era and is the only museum in the United States focused on the country’s post-Civil War Reconstruction period. The only presidential site remaining in the state, this museum features a multi-faceted interpretation of the late nineteenth-century history of Columbia as a means of dispelling prevalent Reconstruction myths. Through guided tours, interactive technologies, and panel exhibits, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home provides a chance for guests to learn more about changing citizenship meanings. The Victorian garden features a working back yard and formal front yard.
1705 Hampton St, Columbia, SC 29201, 803-252-1770
23. McKissick Museum
© McKissick Museum
The McKissick Museum, a free public museum in Columbia, can be found on the historic Horseshoe. Providing public exhibits, scheduled tours, and educational programs for both children and adults alike, the museum makes for a good day trip for people of any age that are interested in “Southern life.” There are over 140,000 objects housed at the McKissick Museum, including one of the Southeast region’s most extensive natural science collections. Museum galleries include exhibit displays around history, material cultures, the arts, and natural sciences. There are also permanent galleries focused on the collections of minerals and gems.
1501 Pendleton St, Columbia, SC 29208, 803-777-7251
24. Mann-Simons Site & Outdoor Museum
© Historic Columbia
It’s thought that the Mann-Simons Site and Outdoor Museum was probably originally built between the years 1825 and 1830 as a one-room house. Over the years, however, the Mann-Simons Cottage has evolved to accommodate the changing tastes and needs of the family. Celia Mann, who was born in 1799 into slavery, walked from Charleston to Columbia, according to family legend. After arriving in Columbia, she worked as a “free-black midwife.” There’s evidence associating her with the house as early as the year 1844. The property today serves as a museum with house tours beginning on the hour.
1403 Richland St, Columbia, SC 29201, 803-252-7742
25. Blue Marlin
© Blue Marlin
Blue Marlin is a popular local restaurant that brings the flavors of the Low Country fare of Georgia and the Carolinas to the community and visitors of Columbia, South Carolina. Guests can dine on a variety of signature dishes featuring a blend of Caribbean, West Indian, and African flavors. The menu at Blue Marlin also includes an array of dishes with Creole and Cajun influences of the Louisiana Delta. Food options include customer favorites like Shrimp and Grits, Salmon Pontchartrain, and Sesame Encrusted Tuna, as well as other non-seafood dishes, such as pasta dishes, fire-roasted chicken, and hand-cut steaks.
1200 Lincoln St, Columbia, SC 29201, 803-799-3838
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