Downtown Columbia might not be the first place that pops in your head when you’re looking for a quiet spot to throw down a blanket and read a book or enjoy a picnic lunch. But just blocks away from the Capitol is a beautiful lake and waterfall surrounded by 12 acres of lush green space.
You’ll find this urban oasis at Finlay Park on the corner of Assembly and Laurel streets near the popular Vista shopping and entertainment district. A favorite venue for community concerts, festivals and events, the park features an expansive grassy area with walking paths, two playgrounds, picnic tables, benches and a café. It is one of the largest handicapped-accessible parks in the country.
But it’s Finlay Park’s stunning water feature that is the big draw here. A spiraling rock fountain and waterfall built on the top of a hill sends water cascading down mountain-like streams through landscaped terraces into a 1.8-acre lake.
From the perch behind the fountain, visitors can view the entire park and the city’s skyline. Porch swings offer comfortable seating to sit back and enjoy the panorama.
Originally dedicated in 1859 as Sidney Park in honor of Columbia City Councilman Algernon Sidney Johnson, the park fell into disrepair after the Civil War and served as a site for commercial ventures until the late 1900s. In 1990, the park was reopened as part of the revitalization of the Vista, the area of downtown between Main Street and the river.
In honor of Columbia Mayor Kirkman Finlay, who came up with the idea to redevelop the Vista, the park was renamed Finlay Park. You’ll find a statue of Finlay sitting on a bench by the lake.