The capital of South Carolina, Columbia offers many great 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
5.Governor's Mansion, Columbia, South Carolina
© 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.
1225 Bluff Road, Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-299-4440
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8.Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, Columbia, SC
© 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. Read more
10.Mr. Friendly's, Columbia, South Carolina
© 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
11.Il Giorgione, Columbia, SC
© 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.Black Bean Co., Columbia, South Carolina
© Black Bean Co.
Black Bean Company is determined to improve the health of people in Columbia. Their inviting restaurant near EdVenture Children's Museum serves all natural, organic wraps, tacos, gyros, and salads bursting with flavors and filled with crispy, fresh seasonal veggies and some interesting tofu. All dishes can be made vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free.
They also have fresh healthy drinks such as fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices, along with excellent coffee. You can also get your “pure energy and good for the soul” wraps and other items by ordering online or by getting delivery or catering for your next party.
701 Gervais St., Columbia, South Carolina, Phone: 803-399-9797
More weekend destinations: 21 Best Things to Do on Hilton Head Island.
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.
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25 Best Things to Do in Columbia, South Carolina
- Columbia Museum of Art, Photo: Columbia Museum of Art
- Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, Photo: Courtesy of Wolna - Fotolia.com
- Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park, Photo: Courtesy of stacy - Fotolia.com
- South Carolina State Museum, Photo: South Carolina State Museum
- Governor's Mansion, Columbia, South Carolina, Photo: Governor's Mansion
- EdVenture Children's Museum, Photo: Courtesy of tigera - Fotolia.com
- South Carolina Military Museum, Photo: South Carolina Military Museum
- Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, Columbia, SC, Photo: Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
- Columbia Food Tours, Photo: Courtesy of MartiniDry - Fotolia.com
- Mr. Friendly's, Columbia, South Carolina, Photo: Mr. Friendly's
- Il Giorgione, Columbia, SC, Photo: Il Giorgione
- Robert Mills House & Gardens, Photo: Robert Mills House & Gardens
- The Oyster Bar Columbia, Photo: The Oyster Bar Columbia
- Motor Supply Company Bistro, Photo: Motor Supply Company Bistro
- Black Bean Co., Columbia, South Carolina, Photo: Black Bean Co.
- Harbison Environmental Education Forest, Photo: Harbison Environmental Education Forest
- Saluda Shoals Park, Photo: Courtesy of jacf5244 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com