As the state capital and home to the University of South Carolina, downtown Columbia offers the energy and excitement of a vibrant urban center. But just a short drive away, visitors have the opportunity to experience the unhurried lifestyle and warm hospitality of the classic small Southern town.
Here are three great small-town day trips within an hour's drive of Columbia:
This is horse country, but you'll find much more than polo ponies and thoroughbred racers in Aiken, a dynamic little town near the western edge of the state. The downtown features a fun mix of shops, boutiques, restaurants, galleries and gardens-and an avenue of oaks named among the "Ten Prettiest Streets for a Stroll" by USA Today. Along with the famed Boundary Street, the all-American City also features the 2,100-acre Hitchcock Woods, with more than 67 miles of trails and a citywide arboretum boasting one of the most diverse collections of trees in any municipal landscape.
The centerpiece of this picturesque small town is the Newberry Opera House, built in 1881 and beautifully restored with state-of-the-art technology. Today, the historic performance hall presents a wide range of entertainment from big bands to Broadway-style musicals to classic Italian operas. On Main Street, you'll find more historic buildings, now home to nifty gift shops, clothing boutiques, antique stores and hip pubs and eateries. Featured in Crampton's "The 100 Best Small Towns in America," Newberry offers plenty of other must-see spots in the historic district and surrounding countryside, including Wells Japanese Garden, Enoree River Vineyards and Winery and Lynch's Woods.
The town's storied past dates back to its founding in 1732 as a small backcountry settlement along the banks of the Wateree River. Some 60 historic sites can be found among nine distinctive neighborhoods. Topping the list is the Camden Revolutionary War Site, offering visitors a taste of life during the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods. Camden also is home to the world famous Springdale Race Course, which hosts a major steeplechase each year-the Carolina Cup in the spring. Broad Street and the surrounding area features an assortment of popular restaurants, funky antique stores and markets like the Ten Eleven Galleria, a loft space with a cluster of eclectic shops and eateries.