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Guide: Things to Do in Columbia

Bob Christian @Vagabond3 Bob Christian @Vagabond3
Jade and Bob of Vagabond3 offer a family couples’ perspective that is bright, whimsical and fun. To see more of their family adventures, check out their Instagram handles: @vagabond3 and @civilmatador
More from "Bob Christian @Vagabond3"

Content and photography originally posted by Vagabond3

South Carolina’s capital is known for so many things – the region’s best zoo, the state’s only National Park, the Gamecocks – that visitors come from all over, with dozens of reasons to visit multiple times a year. After exploring for four days, we crafted our easy-to-follow family travel guide to Columbia — packed with all the things to do, places to stay-eat-enjoy, and the best nearby attractions. We fell in love with Columbia, with the friendly people, the beautiful blooms, fun museums and parks, and quirky hotels and street art, and know that you will too after a short time in the city. Whether you’re traveling with your family or on a couple’s getaway, this guide will help you plan the perfect trip!

congaree national park
Jade and Augustine at Congaree National Park. Credit: Vagabond3

Planning Your Trip

When to Visit

Columbia, South Carolina, is a year round destination with every ‘must see’ activity and ‘must eat’ dining option open year-round. The best time to visit might be the shoulder seasons though, when the weather is moderate and the visitors are fewer. Our spring trip had cool sunshine-filled days but not the crowds of a Fall football weekend.

Getting To

Columbia is accessible either by plane or car. The nearest airport, Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE), is served by many major airlines and is only about 20 minutes from the heart of the city. If you flew into Charleston for a few coastal vacation days, don’t hesitate to make the short drive northwest to explore Columbia.

Getting Around

You will need a car to experience Columbia. Even if you stay in a highly walkable area (which is most of the downtown and Vista areas), much of the best of Columbia spreads out into the surrounding areas. Each area has its own vibe and energy, and we highly suggest exploring each one during your visit.

How Expensive Is It?

Experiencing all Columbia has to offer is an affordable trip. We were pleased to find that most of the restaurants we visited had moderate prices, and many of the activities we took part in were free or reasonably priced.


Hyatt Place in the Vista, delightfully walkable

Situated right on Gervais Street, this hotel backs up to some of the best dining in the city. Staying here puts you next door to the Blue Marlin and smallSUGAR, as well as dozens of other dining options. More than just food, you can walk out the Hyatt and see the State Capitol, the South Carolina State Museum and even walk along the banks of the Broad River.

Hotel Trundle, modern and upscale

Picking out your check in drink – beer on tap or a glass of wine – gives the perfect indication of the type of experience you’ll have staying at Hotel Trundle. Though, by the time you’ve reached the front desk, the handful of unicorns you’ve already passed have probably given a pretty clear picture. From the warm, welcoming foyer to the elegant, modern rooms, this spot feels like a destination in itself.


Breakfast :: Biscuits

Immaculate Consumption

The first bite convinced us this place was delicious, still talking about our biscuits days later proved this place was a can’t-miss dining spot. This coffee house is home to a simple breakfast menu with a DIY selection that can and will please anyone.

Lunch :: A South Carolina Pride and Joy

Spotted Salamander

Serving up breakfast and lunch with down home charm, this restaurant feels something out of Mayberry while tasting new, and exciting. The chef here has made such a big name for herself that she was chosen to be one of the South Carolina Chef Ambassadors, representing the state regionally and nationally.

Dinner :: Sustainable Local Seafood – Upscale

Blue Marlin

This staple of the Columbia dining scene manages to feel upscale while still being comfortable and relaxed. Dining here is a meal to be savored — choosing generously from the app section, indulging in their boutique selection of wines and cocktails, taking your time with your main course, and lingering into dessert.

Surprise :: Walking Brunch

Soda City Market

Open year-round, this Saturday market takes over blocks and blocks of downtown streets with vendors, artists, and (of course) food. Visiting a market while on vacation is a great way to discover more about the heart of the city, pick-up some truly unique mementos, and taste a wide array of the up-and-coming dining options. I personally prefer having a walking, pick-and-go meal, sampling things from across the whole range of options.


Riverbanks Zoo

The region’s best and nationally ranked zoo is perfectly designed for a full day without being overwhelming or exhausting. Spend the day walking between the enclosures, around the botanical gardens, and even getting soaked in the kid’s area splash parks. Our favorite experiences were the lorikeet and giraffe feedings and the kangaroo walk-thru. Next time, we’re definitely taking on the ropes course.

South Carolina State Museum

This part-museum, part-exhibit, part-observatory, part-planetarium has four levels of thrilling and educational attractions and exhibits. We suggest taking a half-day to enjoy all there is to see hear. Our two favorite parts were the ‘special exhibit’ on display while we visited, which mixed pop culture with hands-on experiences and the observatory. While we didn’t get to visit the observatory during one of their Second Shift Tuesdays, where they open up the museum after-hours to experience the observatory viewing at night, the on-hand staff was very generous with their time – answering all our questions about the sky, the telescope and pulling up recent photos they had taken of nearby stars, planets and galaxies.

Sesquicentennial State Park

With camping, hiking, splash pad, and kayaking, this is an ideal day, half-day, or overnight spot for visitors to Columbia. Even if just visiting for the day, I highly recommend packing a hammock and stringing your line between some of these massive pines.

SC State House Grounds and Tour

Stroll into the State Capitol, and take in a free guided tour during any weekday. Here is a great mix of the history of Columbia and South Carolina, as well as a fun way to see government at work.

Congaree National Park

The state’s only National Park is located just 20 minutes from the center of Columbia. Here there are 25 miles of hiking trails, 2.4 miles of which are boardwalks, which were awesome for us. There are also canoe trails, but visitors have to bring their own canoe.

Content and photography originally posted by Vagabond3

Bob Christian @Vagabond3
Bob Christian @Vagabond3
More from "Bob Christian @Vagabond3"
Jade and Bob of Vagabond3 offer a family couples’ perspective that is bright, whimsical and fun. To see more of their family adventures, check out their Instagram handles: @vagabond3 and @civilmatador